ASK THE AUTHOR
When did you start writing?
I first tried to write a novel when I was about fourteen. I went upstairs one Sunday afternoon to start it and gave up after half an hour, after discovering how hard it was. I started writing seriously when I was in my twenties, but it took me ten years and a huge amount of rejection before I got anything published.
What was your breakthrough?
I went on an Arvon Foundation writing course (Arvon is a charity that runs short courses for would-be writers at various centres around the country) and one of the tutors, who liked my stuff, introduced me to a literary agent (agents are the middlemen who represent writers and sell their work to publishers), who sold some television scripts I’d written and later my first novel.
Getting an agent was the key to my career. Without an agent it is very difficult to get a book published. Think of a writing career as a bit like setting off to sail single-handed from Britain to Australia. If you head off without a map or a compass or any idea how to get there, you might just be lucky and end up in Sydney. On the other hand, you might capsize and drown somewhere in the English Channel. An agent gives you the map and compass you need to get to your destination.
How and where do you write?
I have an office in the attic of my home in Sheffield. I write the first drafts of my books with a pen and a pad of ordinary lined A4 paper. But as I go along, I transfer the writing to a computer – that sort of acts like a first edit because I tweak some of the story as I type it. Then I rewrite as many times as necessary to get the book right. There’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “Good books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.”
How long does it take to write a book?
That’s difficult to say. I always have different ideas bubbling away on the back burner of my brain and they could be there for several years before I get the time or the inclination to develop them and turn them into books. But once I get going on a story, it probably takes six months for a first draft, then three or four months for my own rewrites, then a few weeks of polishing based on feedback from my editor and other people at the publishing house.
Have you written any other books?
Escape from Shadow Island is my first book for children, but I’ve written twelve books for adults. They are all thrillers, covering subjects such as cigarette smuggling in the European Union, genetic modification and bird flu, corruption in the Vatican and the modern 21st century surveillance state we live in.
Where did the idea for Max Cassidy come from?
Ideas are funny things. They rarely come if you try to force them, but then they can hit you at unexpected moments. Many of my ideas spring up while I’m doing boring, routine tasks like the washing up, or mowing the lawn.
Max is one of those characters that has probably been lurking in some hidden corner of my brain for many years. I first read about the legendary escapologist Houdini when I was at junior school and found his tricks and stunts fascinating. But it was only recently that I thought a boy escapologist would make a good hero for a series of children’s thrillers.
Is Max based on anyone in particular?
Not really. He’s mostly invented, but he probably has bits of my own sons in him and a little bit of the kind of kid I would have liked to have been when I was his age – only I couldn’t pick locks or get out of handcuffs or swim a hundred metres underwater.