Saturday, 28 April 2012

Do I need a villain?

This is a genuine question I’ve been posing myself lately as I try to develop a new project. And unlikely as it seems, I’m finding it hard to answer.

I write for a young readership, a group of people who have been spoilt with bad guys over the years: The White Witch, Voldemort, Mrs Coulter, Mayor Prentiss, Capricorn from Inkheart, etc, etc. Some may be cheesier than others, but they are all fine examples of villainy, and I like to think my own Adam (from Haunters) would fit in nicely (or rather, not so nicely) beside them. Surely I need a real bad ‘un in my new book too.

But part of me, the part that – I’m embarrassed to say – has literary hang-ups, has been tugging his goatee of late. Do we really need one, he says, adjusting his authorial corduroy. Isn’t relying on a baddie to provide narrative tension a bit like relying on adverbs and exotic dialogue tags to tell the reader what’s happening? Can’t circumstances themselves create conflict and imbalance, without the need for some dastardly cape-swisher scheming in the shadows? Did Mark Haddon need a baddie to make The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a compelling read? Did David Almond need the wicked cheese in Kit’s Wilderness? And so on…   

That part of me could do with a slap, I know, but he does have a point. We all love a good villain, but nothing connects with readers quite like a sympathetic character struggling with true-life adversity.

So do I need a villain? I haven’t quite decided. But one thing I am sure about – by God, they’re fun to write!

Any views on this? Any favourite literary bad guys you want to share?  

Monday, 16 April 2012

Haunters in print!

Whenever I go away, I always feel slightly nervous about what might be waiting on the doormat when I get back. Especially anything in a brown envelope with a window in it. But this time, after a wonderful Easter week in France, I got back to find – Indeed, beneath a brown envelope with a window in it -- this: a finished, printed copy of Haunters!

I’ll leave you to guess how excited I am about it:)

…but, but, it really is a beautiful object, isn’t it? Its colour combination and design is so fresh and bold, and its spine just cries out, ‘Oi – read ME!’, which is exactly what good spines need to do these days. Aren’t Chicken House just fab with their covers? And here’s a glimpse inside too, because the chapter headings are scratchy, edgy and mysterious, and every one different. Just perfect for the story.

When I think how long and difficult this book’s journey to print has been, I’m almost amazed to see it in my hands now. It could so easily have died on my hard-drive, or wasted away in the slush pile, or been edited to smithereens, or…

This seems a good moment to mention that I am having a launch party for Haunters, at the children’s department of Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge -- the bookshop I used to work in. It will be on the official publication date of the 24th of May, and be from about 6:30pm onwards. I will probably read an extract and go a funny colour, but I’ll also be around to sign copies and generally look ill-at-ease but very happy. In any case, I’ll try not to dribble. There will be wine and interesting people. Please come along if it’s at all possible.