Being a Writer

Bob gives his thoughts on being a writer...

Q. What sort of books do you enjoy writing?

A. I aim to write well-plotted novels with strong characters and lively dialogue. I want each story to be a page-turning adventure filled with mysteries that will draw the reader on.

Q. Where did the idea come from for your novel ‘Leonardo And The Death Machine’?

A. I wanted to write something which was distinctly mine and yet would follow on naturally from the novels I had been writing with my friend Jane Yolen. The idea of inventing an adventure for the young Leonardo da Vinci seemed to have strong appeal to everyone I mentioned it to.

Q. So how did the story come together?

A. Having decided to set the story when Leonardo was fourteen and beginning his apprenticeship as an artist in Florence, I read numerous biographies and histories looking for material I could weave into a novel. I found that in 1466 there was a conspiracy to overthrow the city’s rulers, the Medici family. I realised I could have Leonardo stumble upon the conspirators’ plot and so end up in all sorts of danger. Elements I knew had to be included were Leonardo’s training as an artist, his future as an inventor, his relationship with his estranged father and mother, and his friendship with Sandro Botticelli - plus murder, sword-fights and hair’s breadth escapes.

Q. While you were researching, did you discover anything unexpected?

A. I found that young girls were taken from places like Russia and Circassia to be used as household slaves in Florence. Slavery had been banned, but when a plague drastically reduced the population, slaves were introduced to provide servants. Learning this, I decided to make one of the major characters a runaway slave girl named Fresina. In fact she turned out to be my favourite character in the book.

Q. And how did you come to write ‘Will Shakespeare And The Pirate’s Fire’?

A. I had a vague idea for such a book in mind, and when my publishers asked me to come up with another book to follow ‘Leonardo’ I proposed that.

Q. What formed the basis of the story?

A. I supposed that Shakespeare’s two most ‘fantastic’ plays , ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘the Tempest’, both of which feature spirits and magic, were inspired by an adventure in his youth. Once again I did extensive research and in doing so put together the cast for my tale, including the Queen’s astrologer John Dee, the young adventurer Walter Raleigh, and the notorious Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.

Q. Was it daunting to be writing a novel about the world’s greatest writer?

A. I wanted to do Shakespeare justice by having the book feature many of the elements of his plays and at the same time be a swashbuckling adventure which would keep readers hooked right to the end. The feedback I’ve had suggests I succeeded.

Q. And how do you plan to follow that?

A. I recently completed a new novel, a fantasy adventure set during the Dark Ages called ‘The Iron Rose – A Tale of Knights and Magic.’ It tells the tale of Bradamante (Brada), a girl who, after many adventures, becomes a knight in the court of the emperor Charlemagne. In the course of the tale she travels from the castles of Aquitaine, to the Moorish city of Toledo, encountering magic and danger along the way. The novel’s climax is a thrilling battle which should leave readers gasping for breath.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. My latest project is an adventure set five hundred years in the future, fusing elements of fantasy and science fiction into what I hope will be my best book yet. It’s a story about a brother and sister searching for their missing mother, who has disappeared in a mysterious crystal city. They are accompanied by a malfunctioning robot, a scatter-brained princess, and a talking dog, and encounter all manner of fantastic creatures and fearsome dangers along the way.

Q. What is it like being married to another writer?

A. As a teacher of Creative Writing, Debby is very good at bringing out the best in her students. She does the same with me, reading all my work and making sure I stay on top of my game.

Q. Are there any favourite books you read as a child?

A. The one that springs to mind, and which I wish I had a copy of now, is ‘Jim Button And Luke The Engine Driver’ by Michael Ende. I borrowed this over and over from the library when was about seven. Years later when Michael Ende’s novel ‘The Neverending Story’ became an international best seller, I kept waiting for ‘Jim Button..’ to be published again. I’m still waiting. Another that comes to mind is a SF novel called ‘Thunderbolt of the Spaceways,’ which I read about three times, but I’ve no idea who wrote it.

(ed: the last book Bob mentions may be 'Thunderbolt of the Spaceways': The story of a daring pioneer of the twenty-second century by Hereward Ohlson published by Lutterworth Press in 1954 - now out of print)

Q. Do you have any favourites among more recent children’s literature?

A. I love ‘Walk Two Moons’ by Sharon Creech. I was completely riveted by Michael Reeve’s ‘Mortal Engines.’ ‘Archer’s Goon’ by Diana Wynn Jones is another favourite. I also really enjoyed reading Terry Jones’ ‘Nicobobinus’ to my three sons when they were growing up.