5. Which character is your favourite in ‘The Outlaws: Scarlett and Browne’?
Ooh, that’s a tricky question! I have to honestly say that I can’t really choose between Albert and Scarlett, my two main characters. Scarlett is the most important, in a way: it wasn’t until I really figured out who she was, and how I could write about her, that the book began to come together. We follow her from the start (when she wakes up surrounded by four dead men) to the finish, and she’s a feisty, funny and formidable companion for us. But if it was just about her, it would quickly become a bit one-note, so the arrival of Albert, who is gentle, kind and (seemingly) a bit hopeless, brings a vital balance to the narrative. I think he is a very interesting character, and I admire his optimism and kindness. So… it has to be a tie between the two of them!
6. What is your method for coming up with characters?
Meeting a new character is like meeting a new friend. To begin with, you don’t know anything about them, but there’s something about them that attracts you or interests you. Perhaps (like Scarlett) they’re a girl who wakes up in the wilds, surrounded by four dead men, and who sets off to rob a bank. Perhaps (like Albert) they’re a boy who has just been rescued from a bus crash, in which he is the only survivor. So they’re interesting – but now you have to find out what makes them tick. And the only way to do that is to write. By having them react to things, by having them (above all) talk to each other in different scenes, using different emotions, you slowly figure out who they are. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you can talk in their voices, react as they would react, and so bring their stories to a conclusion.
7. What advice could you give to an aspiring author?
Have fun and enjoy what you are doing. That’s the essential point. You have to remain true to your own instincts and vision. Always create something that gives you joy: if you manage that, the chances are that others will share the reaction.
Other than that, it’s really about the long haul. Getting recognition is often a slow process, so you have to be happy to keep plugging away, enjoying the act of creativity for its own sake, and being aware that you’re honing your skills every day. Finally, if you can, find someone you trust to read or comment on your work – someone who will be critical as well as encouraging. It’s a solitary business, and having someone in your team to share the successes and knock-backs with you is a good idea. In short: persevere and have fun.
8. Who was your favourite author as a teen and why?
That’s a great question, but also difficult, because books and authors swim into and out of your life as you read and change. Perhaps the most important books are the ones for which you remember exactly where you were when you first read them, where they attain the status of an event in your life. I could probably pick a dozen writers that had this effect during my teenage years. One in particular was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction called Jack Vance. As a young teen I’d read lots of fantasy, so much so that a lot of it was beginning to get a bit stale. But then, when I was about 15, I discovered Vance’s Lyonesse, an epic story about princes, magicians, fairies, trolls and mountebanks, all set on an imaginary island in the Atlantic. I was ill in bed with some kind of chest infection, as regularly happened in those days. I had bought the book speculatively, and it was a revelation: earthy, ironic, humorous – in many ways the antithesis of serious (even po-faced) fantasy writers who were following Tolkien’s model. It did me far more good than the Lucozade at my elbow. It was a book which acted as a kind of early signpost to the kind of writer I’d one day become.
9. What is your favourite book that you have written?
Another difficult – even impossible – question! I’m proud of all of them. The book which changed my life was The Amulet of Samarkand, the first novel about the djinni Bartimaeus, because it was here that I really discovered my voice as a writer. I’m very proud, collectively, of my five Lockwood & Co. books too. And, right now, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is one of my favourites. I think it’s one of my best books, and I do love my central characters.
10. Do you find it easier to write stand alone books or series?
All books are difficult, and each has its own challenges. It doesn’t matter if it’s stand-alone or part of a series. It’s true that, if you write a series, you get the slight advantage that your world and your characters continue from one book to the next, meaning you don’t have to start from scratch each time. But actually that raises another problem: how do you make the next book sufficiently different to make it worth reading in its own right? It has to function (I think) as a separate story, with its own narrative arc, while at the same time linking to whatever went before. That isn’t always the easiest thing – as I’m discovering now, as I work on the sequel to Scarlett and Browne!
11. What is one thing you would tell your younger self if you could?
Don’t worry so much. Relax and have fun. Follow your creative instincts and just enjoy telling stories!