Being a Writer
gives his thoughts on being a writer...
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.
Where did the idea come from for your novel ‘Leonardo And The Death
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.
how did the story come together?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.