1. What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you as a teenager?
I was prone to all manner of stupid acts as a teenager, many of which probably aren’t safe to repeat in public. At least not without severely denting my standing within the community. The scariest thing that happened which wasn’t my fault was when I was perhaps 13 years old and in Sea Scouts. We were on summer camp on Brownsea Island (home of Baden Powell’s scout movement) and one day the patrol leader took us on a power boat out into the English Channel. In hindsight, and judging by the number of enormous, ocean-going merchant ships that passed us by, I’m not entirely convinced this was legal. At the very least we must have contravened a number of maritime laws. Anyway, the skipper drops anchor and tells us all to strip off – we’re going for a swim. One after another everyone climbs onto the cabin roof and jumps overboard. I was one of the last two kids. Not wanting to be the very last one, I rushed past my pal and – against my better judgement – leapt off the cabin.
The only diving I’d ever done at school was the pencil dive. It was a 15 foot drop off the roof before I hit the water, and when I did I performed a pencil dive that would’ve snaffled a medal at the Olympics. Move over Daley, here comes Bling. The water barely moved as I scythed into it like a knife through butter, descending swiftly, going ever deeper. Previously, at my local swimming baths, my journey was halted when I hit the bottom of the pool. However, on this occasion, there was no bottom. I was just going down, down, down. I suddenly threw my arms out to halt my descent.
Looking up, I could see the boat way, way above me, strangely small. And there were the bodies of my friends, kicking as they trod water, little toy figures that bobbed in the clear surface water, silhouetted by the sun overhead. I looked down.
Blackness. A never-ending, impenetrable void of arse-haemorrhaging horror. I’d seen JAWS. I knew what was out there. I didn’t belong in the water. Nobody did. Do you see gills on my face? Nope, just regular teenage acne and bumfluff. I kicked like crazy, making for the surface like a sub-launched missile. I erupted amongst my pals and clambered over them, landing flopping on the deck of the power boat like a stranded flounder. And there I lay, my mind clouded over with the mysteries of the darkness below. I’ve never been in deep water since. I can’t bring myself to swim in any body of water where I can’t see the bottom. Those feelings and memories have stayed with me, and I think they’ve played their part in feeding my imagination as a writer.
2. You write character pairs/groups really well. Why is this? Do you have any favourites (your own or others’ creations!)
Writing a lone character can be fun, especially listening to that internal monologue. Joe Abercrombie is an exceptional writer when it comes to that inner voice, and it’s fair to say I’m a fan. But there’s a lot of fun to be had with the banter between friends, and enemies for that matter. There’s plenty of opportunity for comic and emotional mileage with buddy acts, and I got to play around with those combinations a lot during the writing of WEREWORLD. Drew and Hector are the most obvious pairing in the series, even though they’re only really together for the first book – people forget that! They’re pulled apart by the beginning of book two and their reunion doesn’t come about again until. . . well, that’d be a spoiler, wouldn’t it? There was the simmering friendship of Gretchen and Whitley, as each girl realised the other loved the same man. Then other sparky companions who fall in with Drew such as Red Rufus the Hawklord, and the various gladiators of Scoria. I really loved writing that series as there was such a broad canvas to play with.
HAUNT is a departure for me. I’m writing in the real, contemporary world now. The relationships within ‘Dead Scared’ (the first of two Haunt titles for Simon & Schuster) are all based upon my own friendships, from my childhood and teen years. Will and Dougie are an amalgamation of myself and all my friends -from high school, from VI Form, from art college. Even the mates from my adult life will see themselves in there, hear their voices. Regardless of the fantastic elements of the story, I wanted the friendship of the leads to feel utterly real.
As for my favourite pairs and groups, I’m going to have to go with the four hairy footed midgets from Lord of the Rings.
3. You listened to a writing playlist for Wereworld. Did you do the same for Haunt? What were your favourite songs?
I did indeed. Originally, my early draft of HAUNT was going to be set back in the Eighties, my own era, and the music I listened to as I wrote reflected this. However, I quickly realised that the majority of the pop culture references I was dropping into the book – and there are plenty – would go straight over the heads of tweens and teenagers today. So I contemporised it. There’s one particular line I reluctantly changed: originally, “He was the Ant to my Dec,” was “He was the Eric to my Ernie”. Guess I’m showing my age there. And my taste in quality double acts.
In light of that soundtrack, I intended to have a ‘mix tape’ to go with the book, or at the very least a playlist that could go in the back of the book. And each track was to be played with each chapter. Chapter One, which features a very dramatic death (I doubt that’s too much of a spoiler, considering the theme of the book) was soaked in Bob Smith’s fevered warblings: The Cure’s “Close To Me” was the weapon of choice. There’s the chapter at the hospital where Will can’t decide whether to remain in the world of the living or depart to the other side: The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” So each chapter had its own distinct track. It actually still works, however I doubt many of today’s young people would recognise any of the (let’s face it) kick ass tunes.
4. For Wereworld, you initially had a 2 book deal, but this quickly grew into the 6 published books. How do you plan your series?
It’s always one story. How many books it takes to tell that story is a less obvious thing. For example, in the case of HAUNT: Dead Scared, this book really charts how one handles the challenges of becoming mortally-challenged. Poor Will has a lot to deal with in this story and it’s lucky for him that his long-suffering buddy Dougie is prepared to endure his haunting. By the end of the story though there are many unanswered questions. We revisit these in the sequel “Dead Wrong”, as it quickly becomes clear that there’s a wider spectral world out there for our duo to investigate.
I’ve also very recently signed a book deal with Viking US for a new middle grade fantasy horror series, although like my other work that’s certain to skew older right through teen into adult – MAX HELSING: MONSTER HUNTER. That will most certainly be a series, and if you want to hear more about that particular hero we’ll need to do another interview! But suffice to say, these are truly exciting times for me as a writer. Some stories aren’t intended to be series, others are. It really is horses for courses.
5. What triggered the move from Bob the Builder to YA/MG novels such as Wereworld and Haunt? Is there a connecting thread between them?
If you can see a connection between my preschool shows and my older audience works you’re a better man than me. There isn’t one, beyond the fact that I’m ‘creating’. If you work in creative industries, you want to create. That could be with pencils, paintbrushes, puppets or paperbacks. It’s all about telling stories ultimately. I loved the work I did in television, from Bob through to my own creations like FRANKENSTEIN’S CAT and RAA RAA THE NOISY LION, but I suspect I always felt slightly dissatisfied, restricted in my storytelling. There are no such barriers with my writing. I thought I had the best job in the world when I was making cartoons – turns out I didn’t. I do have the best job now though.
I pursued novel writing because it was a burning desire, born out of a gloriously geeky youth and many late adult nights running roleplaying games. That’s where I learned to spin a yarn and tell a tale. I suspect my experiences carving a career out of the world of animation and picture books taught me a lot about discipline and dedication which stood me in good stead as I began to seriously write. I’m a firm believer that if you want something badly enough and you have talent, you can do it. You just need to hone that talent, work on it, kick it into shape. That’s what I did, and I’ll continue learning on the job until the day I snuff it. Hopefully that day’s a long way off, and when I do go it’ll be kinda groovy. I’d hate to come back as a ghost. . .
Follow Curtis on Twitter @CurtisJobling