Tell me what inspired you to write for children?

Two things really.  First, I have two young children myself, 8 and 11 now, and over the past few years I have really enjoyed getting back into children’s literature and reading them stories at bedtime.  There’s so much excellent new stuff nowadays! (although I also read them the books that I enjoyed as a child). I got excited about children’s books all over again, and started telling my children my own made-up stories.

The second thing is that my wife has started to have books published for children over here in Sweden (in Swedish) and her success has been a spur to me.  I thought, “if she can do it, then maybe I can too.”

Reading books to my children, and then making up my own stories to tell them, and the fact that my wife encouraged me to write down my stories, all those things resulted in me actually putting down on paper the stories I was telling my children.

I have always loved writing, all sorts of things, and having young children myself, and being so caught up in the books that they have been reading – everything just came together to spark my own writing.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

Actually, not that tough.  I saw on Twitter that Sarah Odedina from Pushkin Children’s was holding open submissions and was asking for the first 10,000 words of a middle grade manuscript.  I sent in the start of “Gribblebob”, she liked it and asked for the rest, I sent it and she liked the rest too, and that was that!

How long did it take to write?

Not that long really.  I probably started to tell my children the story in the spring of 2017 (I’d had the name “Gribblebob” in my head from the year before, I think) and after my wife suggested I should write it down I started writing in the summer of 2017.  I sent the first 10,000 words to Sarah in, I think, February 2018 and polished off the remainder and sent it in in March 2018.  So really only something like six months.

How many publishers turned you down?

None.  I sent in the first 5,000 words to an agent at the end of 2017, and they weren’t interested, but Pushkin Children’s were the first publisher who looked at it and they liked it.  I was very lucky!

What kind of reactions have you had to this book?

Well, my children liked it, and that was the most important, as I wrote it for them, and they helped me write it too, with lots of input and suggestions.  My wife liked it, and also those friends who read bits of it as it developed.  Now that reviewers are starting to comment on it it seems generally that people like it, which is lovely.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m writing something now that is influenced by the knucker holes of Sussex – bottomless pits where a knucker lives – a sort of water dragon.  It also takes in some of the old Nigerian myths and legends, such as Mami Wata, the water spirit.

Do you try and read the online reviews you get on say Waterstones website?

Well, I’ve only had a few so far, but yes.  I know that not everyone can like what you have written (my wife just had a review for one of her books that said something like “this is the worst book I have ever read”) and that you can’t take things too personally, but it is nice to know if people like something, and the bad reviews can hopefully help you improve, by perhaps identifying the parts that people don’t like.

Would you ever consider writing for teens or adults?

I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.  But maybe my style is more suited to children, I don’t know.  Basically I write what I like to write, and my audience so far has been my family.  As my children get older maybe the things I write will do too.

What did you do before becoming a writer? Or indeed still do?

Since moving to Sweden in 2002 I’ve been working as an English Language teacher, mainly with Swedish business people, but recently I’ve also been working on proofreading, translating, cultural seminars and things like that.  Back in the UK I did too many things – Tenant Participation Officer, Car sales, Executive Officer at the MOD, Marketing Manager at BT, Trainer and more.

Which author inspires you?

So many!  Graham Joyce is great, the fact that he writes so well for both children and grown-ups.  Such a tragedy that he died so young, with so many books unwritten.

I love Neil Gaiman.  Neal Stephenson, Neill Cameron (Neals of all sorts are good.  I used to adore Neal Adams too, who drew and wrote for DC comics!)  My wife, who writes both for children (as Elvira Ashby) and adults (as Elvira Berg) is also a great influence – I see her enthusiasm, and dedication and it has an impact on me.  I loved the Narnia books when I was little, so CS Lewis, and people like Alan Garner have been a big influence too.  Pamela Butchart is very funny, and so are people like Andy Stanton and Ursula Vernon (my children and myself love the Danny Dragonbreath and Mr. Gum series).

I guess Neil Gaiman in particular, as he writes in so many different genres, and is great in all of them.  Walter Mosely is also great as he pushes himself and doesn’t write in just one genre.  I love his Easy Rawlins stories.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Everything. A good book is a good book, regardless of the label.  Children’s, YA, sci-fi, romance, fantasy, biographies, whatever.

What is your biggest motivator?

Hmm.  I love to write, just for the sake of writing. It gives me something, just to sit there and write, so just to fulfil that need is motivator enough.   But apart from that, I guess to finish a story for my children, or my wife.

What will always distract you?

The Internet.  Spotify.  My children.  My wife.  The call of the fridge.  My phone.  Tetris.  Coffee.  Everything distracts me!

How much say do you have in your book covers?

Well, there’s only been one so far!  I didn’t get to choose the artist (although I am thrilled and so lucky to get the geat Jen Khatun) but I did have some say as to what I liked and didn’t like – there wasn’t much I didn’t like!  Just some suggestions about how the title was worded.

As a child were you a great reader?

Absolutely!  I loved reading.  Right from primary school where we had the “Three Pirates” series, and Professor Brainstawm, and Stig of the Dump and  Mary Worth, Paddington, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and so many others, up to secondary school and Moonfleet and To Kill a Mockingbird and more.  I loved the Narnia books, and Alan Garner, and the White Mountain trilogy, and basically everything.  And not just books!  I devoured comics too.  Batman, Wonder Woman, Claw the Unconquered, The Grim Ghost, The Phantom Stranger, Red Sonja, Captain Britain, the Archie comics, Dennis the Menace (the American one), Donald Duck, the Legion of Superheroes, Luke Cage, Captain Marvel (both DC and Marvel versions).

I used to have long conversations with my friend Jonathan Hepbir (who is now a fantastic gypsy Jazz guitarist) about whether Superman could beat the Hulk (of course) or if Man-Thing was better than Swamp-Thing (he wasn’t).

Which book shop is your favourite?

When I get back to the UK I love “City Books” in my hometown of Brighton and Hove.  In Stockholm I like “The English Bookshop” in Södermalm and “Bysis Bok” also in Södermalm.  When I was growing up I loved “Vortex Books and Comics” in Brighton, which has now closed down.  I used to like going to “Forbidden Planet” in London, just off Oxford Street, and the “Science Fiction Book Store” in Gamla Stan in Stockholm is fantastic too.

I’ve only been there once, but “Barter Books” in Alnwick, in an old railway station, is beautiful.

I’m also partial to a Waterstones.  The one in Brighton, by the clock tower, is great.

What can you not resist buying?

Well, at the moment it is second hand comics and books for my children!  Kalle Anka (Donald Duck), Bamse the Bear (so disappointed he has not taken off outside of Sweden, he’s great) and things like that.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?

No, not really.  I have Spotify playlists that I like to listen to.  When I finished off Gribblebob there was one list of folky/country tunes that really helped.  It’s on Spotify now under the Gribblebob name!  Coffee is also important.  And the odd Marmite sandwich.

How many books in your own to be read pile? (Let’s have an honest count please)

Okay, well, probably something like eight at the moment.  Those are the ones that I am really keen to read right now, but there are lots more.  I have a lot that my wife has recommended too, that I need to get around to.

What is your current read?

The bedtime book with the children right now is the new Secret Seven from Pamela Butchart, “The Theatre Ghost”, I am also reading a book just with my daughter, “The Wild Wolf Pup” by Amelia Cobb and the “Thatababy” cartoon strip from Paul Trap with my son.  I’ve just finished “Vicious” by VE Schwab (she’s fantastic) and I am about to start on “Rosie Loves Jack” by Mel Darbon.  Also by the side of my bed I have “The Lore of the Land” by Westwood and Simpson that I love to dip into, and “Elvis Recording Sessions” by Ernst Jorgensen where I can geek out totally by checking when Elvis recorded what and who with – did you know that Glen Campbell played guitar on Elvis’s version of “What’d I Say” from the “Viva Las Vegas” soundtrack album?  No?  Well you would if you had read Ernst’s great book!

When we moved house, four years ago now, the one thing that the moving people complained about was the boxes of books.  “Have you read all these?” they asked.  “Why do you need so many books?”

Because books help make a home.  That’s why!

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