1. When I started reading Twisted Symmetry my first thought in the opening pages was that it was similar to The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti, then I carried on reading and discovered that it actually wasn’t (apart from a tribe of feral street children that is) – what influenced you in the writing of The Bad Tuesdays epic?
I love reading and I love reading imaginative fiction, but without doubt, the greatest influence upon the writing of The Bad Tuesdays has been film. I wanted to capture the thrill, the mystery and the menace of some of my favourite films; films which made me see the imaginative genre differently after I’d watched them: films like Alien, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Other influences include comic book art – rendering the impact of that into words is a challenge but it’s a challenge I’ve enjoyed trying to meet. And then there’s music. I don’t just hear the music, I see pictures. These pictures, whole scenes in fact, from Bach to Motörhead, the Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers have found their way into the books.
2. Science fiction scenes aside, is there any part of the story that is based on your personal experiences?
I work as a barrister, specializing in serious crime. Before that I was an army officer. I suppose it’s no surprise that there is some military activity in the books, and a fair number of criminals. Personal experiences must leak through into the writing, although I didn’t set out to base any particular part of the story on specific experience. ‘Write from experience’ is what budding writers are always told and that must be true, although the experience doesn’t have to be dramatic for the writing to be good. It’s the sense of reality behind the fiction, even the most imaginatively outlandish fiction, which makes the writing shine. That is particularly important when it comes to characters. Chess and her brothers, Box and Splinter owe a lot to my experience of young people who have lived through horrendous personal experiences of their own.
3. In my minds eye I pictured London as the city in the story, then I realised that it was not explicitly named – did you have a specific city in mind when you wrote the story or is it left to the reader to decide?
The city isn’t meant to be London, although in places it feels like London. But it also includes elements of Manchester, Rome, Bolton, Stoke-on-Trent and Delhi – and a huge dose of imagination. Ultimately, the reader can decide where they want it to be, if they want it to be anywhere in particular at all.
4. One of the passages that stuck in my mind was that “children are not liked and only sometimes by their parents” that is not an exact phrasing as I do not have the book to hand but did you make the main characters street children to make readers more aware of their plight as feral kids do not get a lot of positive press or empathy and are often figures of hate and fear.
This is a great question. Thank you for asking it! I made Chess, Box and Splinter street children for various reasons. First, I wanted the chief characters to start from a position that was disadvantaged in every way – which makes the threats and challenges they face the more overwhelming (these are young people who start with nothing and have to take on everything). Next, I wanted to show that people who some might dismiss as human rubbish are capable of terrific feats. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Finally, as you suggest, I wanted to give the leading roles to the sort of children who don’t usually get them. One of the surprising consequences for me has been the mixed reactions to these characters. Some readers and reviewers have had a real issue with the type of young people that Chess, Box and Splinter are. I suppose that in some quarters there is a set idea of what fictional young people’s characters should be. If that is so, Chess, Box and Splinter do not make cosy reading.
5. Why do you think that young people are generally viewed in a negative light?
I don’t think young people are viewed inevitably in a negative light. Right now, look at how we admire our Olympic athletes, many of whom are fairly young and were even younger when they committed to their goals. And work that young people do for charity has a particular attraction to the media. The energy and openness of young people is highly attractive. But young people can be frightening to older people, because they don’t always follow the rules that adult society depends upon. Also, because their social groupings tend to be broader and less discriminating than adult groupings, en masse they may appear threatening. However, it’s difficult to identify bad things that young people do that adults don’t – the offence seems to be in being young and doing it. I think there’s a belief that young people should be as malleable and well behaved as small children because we haven’t yet made them adults. When they fail to conform to this, the reaction is highly critical. But that’s our fault for inventing an ever-broadening middle ground between childhood and adulthood. How can someone be expected to be child and an adult at the same time?
6. Do you ever read the works of other YA authors? If yes, who can you recommend?
When I was a YA I read loads of YA authors. I read less YA fiction now, although my (teenage) children read lots, so I keep up to date. In particular, I like Cliff McNish and Philip Reeve and I’d recommend them both.
7. With The Spiral Horizon being the last book in the Bad Tuesdays series do you have any further tales in mind for the Tuesday siblings?
Chess, Box and Splinter have been on an enormous journey and with The Spiral Horizon, they reach its end in their own ways. But possibilities for further tales exist for some of the other characters. One day I’d like to write the back story, which exists already in detail. Elements of it surface during The Bad Tuesdays sequence. However, in my mind, this might not be suited to a YA format.
8. Do you have any new stories coming out in the near future?
I’m planning a new story now (when I’m not lawyering). I’d like to think it would come out in the near future.
9. What more do you think can be done to help children that live rough in the UK (and even abroad)?
This is a massive question and not one I could answer swiftly, if I could answer it at all. It touches on issues of social justice, exclusion, parenting and economics. The problems of children living rough in the UK are not always the same as those for street children in other countries. So far as the UK is concerned, I think that as a starting point, it is important to understand that children living rough would not chose to live that way if they believed they had a secure and safe alternative, and they knew how to reach it. Since most of them are not in a position to get to help themselves, help has to get to them, and does so via many of the outreach organizations and projects that already exist. Understanding that street children would prefer not to be living on the streets, and being ready to support those organizations that try to help them is something that most of us can do. If more people did that, the benefit to children living rough in the UK would be enormous.