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Kevin Brooks Interview

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Kevin Brooks' first children's book, Martyn Pig, enjoyed rave reviews when it was released in 2002 and won the Branford Boase Award in 2003 as well as being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2002. His latest book, Kissing The Rain, has just been published by Chicken House.

Jubilee Books: Take us back to the time before your first book, Martyn Pig, was published. What were you doing?
Kevin: I had been working in the customer service department for National Rail but packed that job in about 6 months before Martyn Pig was published.
I was still doing quite a lot of writing while I was working there though. I'd sent the manuscript for Martyn Pig to just about everyone and there were a few people that were interested but nothing concrete.

I'd actually already started on my next book and came across Chicken House Publishing in a magazine and thought I'd send them the first chapter. Barry (Cunningham), who runs Chicken House, called me the next day and asked to have a look at the rest of the book. When he finished it he rang me again and said that he'd like to offer me something.
I'd only really been concentrating on writing full length novels for a few years but had got used to being rejected because I'd spent quite a long time in the music business. It was kind of relief and excitement when I made that breakthrough.

Both Martyn Pig and your second book Lucan have been pretty well received and you also won the Branford Boase award. Have you been surprised by how well your books have been received?
It's quite strange, it's all happened in quite a short time. When things started going OK it wasn't a huge surprise because I didn't know what else to expect. I realize now though that it's gone pretty well in a short space of time. As for the prizes, it's nice to get involved in the awards when schools and kids are involved and to meet people in the same industry.

You mentioned that you;d been a musician in a previous question. Had you tried other types of writing, like poetry for example, and how did you end up becoming a children's writer?
I'd always written in some form, little poems and things, but it wasn't an ambition to write for teenagers. When I started writing seriously I concentrated on writing novels for adults and teenagers to try and find out what I was good at or what came naturally. It took a while and when I came to Martyn Pig I didn't approach it as a book for teenagers, I just wanted to write a book about a teenage boy.

I found I preferred writing for that age group and it felt very natural to me. I found that when I was writing for adults I tended to lapse into pretentiousness a bit, whereas when I was writing for younger people it made me concentrate on writing the story rather than rambling or digressing or trying to write cleverly. I think that helped my writing and the more I did it the more I realized it suited me. I feel pretty much that kind of age anyway.

Are you particularly conscious of your readership?
Not really when I'm writing. I suppose if there;s a reader in mind it's myself, I feel pretty much the same as when I was 15 anyway so I don't have to imagine what it's like to be that age. I also dont much like the idea of writing for a particular market so I just write stuff that feels OK to me and hope it strikes a chord with the readers and so far the feedback has been good.

Your latest book, Kissing the Rain, has a very strong lead character, Moo, and a very tense plot. I was wondering which of these came first or if they were developed together?
They kind of evolved together really. Before I start writing I tend to think about ideas for wuite a long time and with that book it started with a very basic idea of a character with a dilemma, it was as simple as that. I wanted to put them in a situation where they had a choice of doing one of two things to resolve a conflict and they couldn't choose either of those things. I then began building up this character and I did actually see a boy standing on a bridge at one point and thought that would be a good idea. He wasn't anything like Moo but I started thinking about this boy and developing this character in my mind.
From then it was just a case of putting that into some kind of story. I read quite a lot of crime fiction and I like the way crume situations can stir things up and put characters in situations that give them conflict that they have to resolve. So the two ideas merged together over a period of time.

Tell me a bit about Moo's narrative?
When I was thinking about the character I wanted him to be not particularly articulate and not very good at expressing his feelings but having those feelings. I wanted him to have trouble articulating his feelings in a conventional way.
I've been reading lots of letters and emails I get from kids and I was reading a lot of web blogs about kids with weight problems and I found out that when a lot of them write about themselves they're not particularly terrific at articulating what they feel but it comes out quite powerfully. Through having trouble trying to do that you sometimes get these very powerful emotions coming out.

You mentioned that you read a lot of crime novels, did you do other research into legal and courtroom procedures?
I did actually, I don't generally do a lot of research but if I'm not sure about something I do try and research it. I really had to find out how witnesses work and legal procedures. I found on the internet some lawyers and barristers to make sure I got it as correct as possible.

To what extent do you plot your books?
I don't plan them in detail but I do plan how it starts and how it ends, all the key details along the way. I've usually got a page or two page plan of the story and where it goes. As I start writing things do evolve and change slightly but it's nice to have that framework to come back to. For me it makes it easier to write, you've got that sketch, that framework of key points. It also makes it less daunting than starting at page one and having a whole book to write in front of you, instead of looking to the end you're looking to the next key point.

Where and when do you usually write?
When I'm actually writing a book I try to do a full days work so usually between six and eight hours a day actually writing. I like to do as much as possible because it means that I totally immerse myself in the story and am living it all the time so when I'm not writing I'm still thinking about it. I usually do three or four hours in the afternoon and then the same in the evening.

What writers have influenced your writing?
I've always read lots of different things and I think everything has an influence to some extent. I like crime writing, lots of American stuff, I started off reading Raymond Chandler and I still read a lot of American stuff like James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, Denis Lehane and people like that.

In my early years J. D. Salinger was always a big favourite, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Jack London but then I also like reading a lot of non fiction stuff and I really like Westerns.
I think you can get different things out of all sorts of different books and I think because I spent so long reading all kinds of different things out of all sorts of different books and I think because I spent so long reading all kinds of different things I think that has really helped. When Martyn Pig came out, for example, there were some reviews mentioning that it was well plotted and structured and that was a surprise because I wasn't aware I had done that, but when I think you read and read all the time you somehow soak up how to plot stuff without realizing it, it's a very subconcious thing.

Do you read much other teen fiction?
I don't read huge amounts although I read more now because I'm involved in it more and am meeting people and learning more about it all. Because I won the Branford Boase award last year I'm judging this years competition so I've got piles of books to read for that. When I'm working on books I try not to read much teen fiction.

A writer I really like at the moment is Jack Gantos, I met him last year in America at a conference and he was very nice to me and gave me some of his Joey Pigza books. I met him again when he came to London and he gave me his book Desire Lines which is one of his recent ones and I think he's a fantastic writer.

You mentioned visiting America, was that book related?
I'm published by Scholastic in America so they arranged it. I met some people at Scholastic and some booksellers in New York and then went to a young adult writing conference where I did a few workshops and speeches.

And how are your books doing there?
Quite well actually. Chicken House have a deal with Scholastic in America to publish their books their so I was automatically published there. I just assumed that is what happened to everyone but I now realize a lot of British teenage writers don't do particularly well in America or aren't even published there. I also get quite a lot of emails from kids there.

What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a screenplay for Martyn Pig at the moment. Some young filmmakers have got an option to make the film and I met them and they asked me to write the screenplay for it. I've just done a story for Barrington Stoke and have finished a fourth book for Chicken House which is being edited at the moment.