Saturday 31 May 2014

The Write Way with Simon Packham – #countdownya

As part of the huge celebration for the 5th of June, when a vast amount of excellent UKYA books will be published, I am happy to welcome author, Simon Packham onto the blog. As you might have guessed, Simon’s new book, Trust Games will be published on this auspicious day.   I managed to catch up with  Simon earlier this month and interrogated him about his writing secrets for a special edition of The Write Way.
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1) Your latest novel, Trust Games, is about to be published, can you tell my readers a little bit about it?
Like most of my books, Trust Games is really about friendship. What does it mean and how far would you go to preserve it? Beth thinks she’s found the perfect friend in Hannah. So what does she do when she finds out that Hannah’s having a ‘relationship’ with a teacher? 
2) What kind of research did you need to carry out before writing Trust Games?
I trawled the internet for every newspaper article I could find on the subject. As with my book ‘Silenced’, which deals with the aftermath of a teenage car crash, there was no shortage of material. I’m also lucky enough to have a sister who is a practising child psychiatrist and I always have long chats with her about the various ways my protagonists might react in different situations.
In terms of on-going research, my 18 year old son and 15 year old are invaluable founts of knowledge on many school related topics, particularly when it comes to finding the humour in things. A few months ago there was a huge fire at my daughter’s school that made the national news. I was amused to hear that what rankled most with the pupils was that when they were evacuated they weren’t allowed to take their bags with them, which meant no one could film the fire on their mobile.  
3) From cyber bullying in ‘coming 2 gt u’ and underage sex in ‘Trust Games’, you have shown you are not afraid to write about difficult topics. Do you get teenagers asking for advice in response to reading your books? 
I hope the books themselves might be of some small value to teenagers experiencing something like cyber-bullying – or at least as the starting point for discussion. I was bullied for a short while at school and ‘comin 2 gt u’ was in part a letter to my twelve year old self. But fortunately for all concerned, I’ve never had to act as an agony uncle. The main requests I receive on my website are from German students (where ‘comin 2 get u’ is a best-seller) asking for any autobiographical information that could earn them ‘extra credits’. 
4) Is there a difficult subject you still wish to tackle within your writing?
I don’t like to think of myself as an ‘issues’ writer, but publishers are quite keen on them. I was very interested in assisted suicide for a while, even flying to Switzerland with my best mate ‘Big D’ for a lad’s research trip. But there have been so many books on the subject now that it would have to be a very original take on it. If there was something else on the agenda, I don’t think I’d want to tempt fate by mentioning it! 
5)  I understand that you used to be an actor, what made you take up writing instead? 
Even when I was acting, I had a couple of plays performed in fringe theatres as well as writing some incidental music. I stopped acting initially to look after our two small children (which was no great loss to the theatrical profession) but as soon as Jon started nursery I began to take my writing more seriously. It took me several/ many years to get my first book published (an adult novel called The Opposite Bastard) but it was something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never regretted it.
6) Has your previous career, helped or hindered your writing?
It’s perfect preparation for the inevitable rejections and coping with criticism. Creating new characters is of course something you’re very used to, and having been called upon to deliver some very poor lines in my time, I take a lot of care over my dialogue.  
7) Being an experienced writer, do you find the process gets easier with each book you write?
Not really. It’s a bit like popular music. You have your whole life to come up with your first album and only a year to write the next. The same with books; maybe you get a little bit better at the technical side of things, but sitting down and doing it never seems to get any easier.  
8) Do you try and aim for a daily word target when writing?
It’s a pretty weedy target compared with some writers I hear about, but I try and do at least 600 words a day. I often I manage considerably more; occasionally I don’t make it.
9) Do you edit as you go along or do you wait until the first draft is finished?
Every time I start a new book, I tell myself I’m going whizz through the first draft and edit later. But I just can’t do it. I’ll sit a fiddle over every line until I think it sounds right - hence my answer to the next question. Unfortunately when the first draft is finished I still go back and re-write it again.
10) When is your ideal time to write? Morning, afternoon or evening?
I work best from 7.30 in the morning until midday. The internet is disabled on my work computer until 1.30pm (although I often cheat on other devices) and it’s always more difficult once I’m on-line.
11) Which authors inspired you whilst growing up?
I loved Richmal Crompton’s William books, probably had a bit of a crush on Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking and was a big fan of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear. As with my writing now, I always preferred a more realistic setting (although a talking bear isn’t that realistic I suppose) and I can remember really enjoying The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe right up until the point they arrived in Narnia.  
12) If you could have written any other book in the world, what would it be?
A toss-up between American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis and Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.  
13) What are you working on right now?
I’m on the 17,499th word of a new book provisionally titled ‘Only We Know’. Like my other YA books it’s again set at St Thomas’s Community College and was partially inspired by the young person I found myself sitting next to at Christmas dinner last year. More than that, I’m afraid I can’t say.
14) What advice would you give unpublished authors?
This is the hardest question of all because I know it’s the answer I would have skipped to myself before I got published.  I’m very wary of giving advice to anyone beyond ‘you’ll never regret brushing your teeth, but here are three random thoughts:
1. All criticism is autobiography.
2. Keep sending your work out. Rejection is the norm, but you might just get lucky on your hundred and first submission.
3. It’s probably worth compromising now and again.
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Thank you Simon for a fantastic interview. I hope to have my review up very soon.  As mentioned earlier in the post, Trust Games is published on the 5th of June.
To find out more about Trust Games and Simon Packham:
To find out what’s going on next on the #CountdownYA blog tour, please click here.

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