Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… Christopher Lloyd

For my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month, I interview Christopher Lloyd about his inspiration for creative non-fiction books.

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In the interview he explains how he realised that in order for children to explore learning, their own natural curiosity knowledge needed to be stitched back together again, not chopped up into separate subjects and curriculum.

“Afterall, the brain is not divided into separate sections for maths, music, art, languages, history, science – how absurd! It is all connected! So my books became all about ways of connecting knowledge into giant narratives.” (Christopher Lloyd)

Christopher revealed he originally submitted the proposal for What on Earth Happened? as a children’s book but when Bloomsbury bought the rights, they wanted him to write it for adults, so he had to change tracks. Ten years later, the original concept has finally been published (and entirely re-written) as a children’s book: Absolutely Everything! A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention.

The first Wallbook timeline books were his first children’s books and they were written as a result of his home educating experience. He stuck sixteen pieces of A4 paper together and started drawing pictures and writing captions. Three months later (and various pencil, and rubbers consumers) the blueprints for the Big History Wallbook were born.

The Big History Timeline Wallbook cover

His latest book, Humanimal, explores the connections between humans and other animals. The whole concept of What on Earth Books is to find new perspectives for looking at the real world – far more amazing than anything you can make up! Once I had finished Absolutely Everything! I was left with the dangling question in my mind – how clever are humans really? Are we so much more advanced and intelligent that other life around us? Or is that just a human arrogance fuelled by ancient religions and modern scientific traditions?

He states:

“Children have an intuitive sense that humans and animals are far closer than many professional adults realise and I thought it would be good to create a book that’s scientifically rigorous but totally accessible to younger people to explore this theme further.” (Christopher Lloyd)

The title Humanimal shows his conclusions were that the links are very strong indeed – far more profound than the differences, hence the need for a new word – describing us all as Humanimal is in many ways, far more accurate than the artificial divisions we wedge between species by using traditional scientific conventions. After all, human DNA is approximately 84% similar to dogs and 98% the same as chimpanzees.

Humanimals

He explained that during the writing process he divided the book into three themes that best characterise what most people would say it means to be human – Living Together, Having Feelings and Being Intelligent. He then researched to see what other animals have behaviours that seem similar and came up with a huge list. It was then a matter of honing them down to see which ones made the best stories and could be backed up by really reliable scientific evidence. The copy then went through a rigorous editing, fact-checking process before he received it back again to make any final stylistic changes with the editor.

His tips for other non-fiction children’s writers is to think what you want to write then think what will make the child go WOW! when they turn the page. There are plenty of triggers for this rush of dopamine in our natural reward system such as powerful visuals, finding out stuff that’s surprising, giving them different routes through the information.

“I think non-fiction had traditionally been poorly served as in terms of the priority given to it by schools in reading schemes and honestly many children find learning about the world we live in so fascinating. I hope that more focus will be given to non-fiction at festivals, in schools and generally in the field of writing for children.” (Christopher Lloyd)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #222 Apr Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

You can discover more about Christopher Lloyd and his What on Earth Books on his website: www.whatonearthbooks.com and follow him on Twitter: @chrislloydwoep and @whatonearthbook

Another interview with… Sue Wallman

This month for my Research Secrets column I have interviewed Sue Wallman about her research for her award-winning YA thrillers. I have previously interviewed and blogged about Sue Wallman before when I interviewed her for Papers Pens Poets. Take a look at: An interview with… Sue Wallman

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Her first book, Lying about Last Summer was selected for the WHSmith Zoella Book Club, and is about a girl who feels guilty about the death of her sister who drowned in a swimming pool the previous summer. While at a bereavement camp, she receives messages from someone claiming to be her dead sister. That book was followed by See How They Lie, set in a luxurious wellness retreat in the States. My third book, Your Turn to Die, is about three families who meet every year to stay in an old house, and my latest, Dead Popular, takes place in a boarding school by the sea. They are all published by Scholastic in the UK.

Sue told me that when she is researching:

“I prefer to write first and check later, unless it’s impossible to get the scene down without prior research. It feels more efficient because then I understand exactly what I need to know.” (Sue Wallman)

Her main research tools are the internet and talking to experts, or people who have experienced what she wants to write about. For example, Dead Popular is set in a boarding school. Sue didn’t go to boarding school, so she sought out people who had. Someone told her how she and her friends would use their phones to photograph staff inputting a PIN on a gate, then zoom in afterwards. She used this information when her characters to crept out of their boarding house. Such ‘real life’ accounts help Sue to develop her story.

“One of the reasons I write for teenagers is because I clearly remember how it felt to be one myself. I can tap into the emotions I felt in the 1980’s pretty easily and that’s very useful, but to write in a voice which feels authentic to today’s teenager requires me to do a lot of listening.” (Sue Wallman)

Sue listens to how her own children speak with their friends, and it’s often different to how they speak to adults. She loves teenage slang and find it fascinating but does not to use too much of it in her novels because it dates, and can be particular to a certain region.

As a school librarian Sue is well placed to listen to teenage speech patterns. She listens to the way the students start their sentences with “Wait,” or “Also” and end it with “right?” and writes down phrases which appeal. Recent ones include “Don’t kill my vibe” and “If you’re interested, hit me up.” If she is not sure how to phrase something, she simply asks but is aware the danger is when you don’t know what question to ask.

Sue told me that her characters really come alive for her when she is discussing them with others as if they’re real. She explained this is because the voice is not just about the words – it is young people’s sense of injustice about situations they have no control over, loyalty to friendship groups, anxieties about how they are perceived, and their opinions on a diverse range of topics.

In the interview, Sue explained how setting is especially important in thrillers because it builds suspense. She describes her thrillers as claustrophobic. She revealed that  bereavement camps like the one she wrote about in Lying About Last Summer don’t actually exist but regular activity ones do, and there are also various charities which run holidays for teenagers, so she meshed them together. She also makes use of experiences she has had in different areas of her life – for example, one of my daughters had a paint-balling party so I used paint-balling as an activity in the bereavement camp.

Her research tip to other thriller writers for children is to think about the sorts of phrases your own characters use. Type them into the search line of your search engine and a blog or article may come up, written by someone with those views and experiences that you can use as good background knowledge for your novel.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #222 Apr Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

Find out more about Sue and her books on her website: www.suewallman.co.uk, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @suewallman.

An interview with… Joy Court

In November 2017, I interviewed librarian Joy Court, about some of the children’s book awards she was involved with for my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum. Joy is a professional librarian and was the Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals – the oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards in the world of children’s literature.

Joy Court photo

The Carnegie Medal

The Carnegie Medal was introduced by the Library Association 80 years ago and is awarded for outstanding writing for children and young people. It is named after Andrew Carnegie, a self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA. His experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve:

‘…if ever wealth came to me it should be used to establish free libraries.’

Andrew Carnegie

He set up more than 2800 libraries across the English speaking world and, by the time of his death, over half the library authorities in the UK had Carnegie libraries. He must be turning in his grave with the current shocking spate of library closures.

One misconception of the Carnegie Medal is that it has been taken over by teenage and YA publishing. There is only one definition of a children’s book – it is published on a children’s list (technically listed on the Neilsen database). Until the industry differentiates between children and teenage publishing we cannot.

A book can be great for many different reasons. For the purposes of the Carnegie we are looking for a book of outstanding literary quality.

“The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.”

Past winners include: Tanya Landman with Buffalo Soldier, published by Walker Books; Sarah Crossan with One, published by Bloomsbury and 2017’s winner was Ruta Sepetys with Salt to the Sea, published by Puffin.

The Kate Greenaway Medal

The Kate Greenaway Medal was created 60 years ago to award outstanding illustration for children and young people and was named after one of our most iconic British illustrators.

Previous winners include: William Grill with Shackleton’s Journey, published by Flying Eye Books; Chris Riddell with The Sleeper and the Spindle, published by Bloomsbury and 2017’s winner was Lane Smith with There is a Tribe of Kids, published by Two Hoots.

Judging

Both medals are unique as they are judged by librarians and are completely devoid of any commercial influence. Neither publishers, nor authors can submit their books and the judging is not influenced in any way by sales or publicity. She read every single book nominated for them but does not get to vote. Joy’s job was to ensure every book got a fair chance and all the procedures were followed correctly.

In the early days, judging was carried out by men in suits behind closed doors (the Library Association Council). Now the judging process is under the control of children’s librarians from the 12 regions of the UK including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are elected for a two-year-term by their regional Youth Libraries Group committee, thanks to the pioneering work of Eileen Colwell, the first specialist children’s librarian and founder of the Youth Libraries Group. She must also be turning in her grave at the loss of specialist posts.

Gradually the system of nominations, election of judges and the criteria has been honed and improved to keep pace with new developments in the world of children’s publishing. You have to be a member of CILIP to be able to nominate and can then nominate two books for each award. Unlike many other awards we publish our judging criteria on our website.

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2017 winners

Impact

These awards have a huge impact on the world of children’s literature because of the enormous shadowing scheme. There are around 5000 groups shadowing the awards each year, with hundreds of thousands of young readers reading and commenting on the shortlisted books. This means a lot of shortlisted books will be sold and figures show an ongoing increase in sales from winning the medal.

The medals have always been international in outlook. Books first published elsewhere in the world can be eligible providing they are published in the UK within 3 calendar months of original publication. In 2014, books in translation (first English translation published in the UK) became eligible. We can genuinely say that the medal awards the best writing in the world.

You only have to look at the list of winners to see they have become classic titles that are always available in bookshops. I believe 80 years of ‘they all want to win the medal’ has led to the development of the UK ‘world-beating’ publishing industry we have today.

UK Literary Association Book Award

Joy is also a Trustee and National Council member of UKLA and helps to manage their book awards. They are nicknamed the ‘Teacher’s Carnegie’ as they are the only awards judged by teachers. The 60 teacher judges involved in the initial shortlisting are selected from around the geographical area where the next UKLA international conference will be held – 2018 is Cardiff.

UKLA invite publisher submissions according to three age categories 3-6, 7-11 and 12-16. A publisher can submit 3 books per imprint. A publisher like Penguin Random House has many imprints: Jonathan Cape, Bodley Head, Corgi, Puffin, Red Fox, etc.

In 2017, the winning book in the 12-16 category was The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen, published by Andersen Press. In the 7-11 category the winner was The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna and published by Flying Eye Books. The winner for the 3-6 category was There’s a Bear on MY Chair by Ross Collins, published by Nosy Crow.

As the conference moves around, we are gradually infecting the UK with teachers hooked on reading quality books. The impact in their schools and upon the young people they teach has been positively awe inspiring.  And of course books recommended by teachers are very popular with schools and parents. I strongly recommend authors to ensure their publishers are aware of the UKLA awards, which may be only 9-years-old but are growing in influence all the time.

 Other Awards

There are many awards for children’s books in existence today and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is probably the best source of information about them. Many are administered by the Booktrust so it is worth looking at their website and others are linked to children’s book writing festivals. Some awards require a submission fee from the publisher, so it can be very difficult for an individual author to influence this. It can be a marketing budget based decision.

In the feature, Joy recommended researching local awards in your area run by your local library service. Becoming well known in your local area – visiting schools and doing local bookshop signings is a good way to get your books noticed and considered for such awards.  Once over the hurdle of submissions / nominations every award will have a different system of judging and / or voting, often by the children readers themselves.

The Coventry Inspiration Book Awards, which she created, has a tense system of Big Brother style voting. The book with the least number of votes is voted off each week until we get a winner. This ensures readers keep voting to keep their favourites in.

Anything which raises the profile of books and reading has to be a good thing. We all know that bookshops can have a bewildering array of titles and something having an award sticker can make a huge difference to sales. The most important thing about children’s book awards is the pursuit of excellence.

Joy Court can be found on Twitter: @Joyisreading

An interview with… Julie Cohen

Julie Cohen writes romantic comedy for Headline’s Little Black Dress imprint and novels for the Mills & Boon’s Modern Heat imprint and is a Richard and Judy bestselling author. I interviewed her for my Research Secrets column in the #92 May 2009 issue Writers’ Forum.

She told me she loves research because it means she gets to do stuff she wouldn’t normally do. She has ridden roller coasters repetitively for a roller-coaster designer hero; gone to famous restaurants for a celebrity chef hero; rode on the back of a BMW motorcycle at 80 mph down the M4 for a motorcycling hero; ran from South Street Arts Centre in Reading to the station in high heels just to see how fast it could be done; visited art deco cinemas, retro diners, art galleries, cities and parks to research settings for her books. But, Julie believes the best resource is to get out there and talk to people.

Her original sources are all people. She explained talking to them is utterly inspirational and helps her get into the heads and lives of my characters. She has also met some really cool people who she has looked up online, in the phone book, or through research books.  Usually she emails or pick up the phone and rings. She has found that most people are happy to talk to you about what they know and told me their opinions are just as useful as the facts for developing characters.

She explained it is always important to acknowledge experts who have taken time to help or whose expertise you’ve used extensively. She like to send a thank-you email or note and often sends them a signed copy of the book when it comes out.

It is not until she is about half to two-thirds of the way through a book that she begins to see what information she actually needs.  That’s when she starts making lists of questions to ask, and that’s generally when she start calling experts and asking for interviews.  Because her books are more focused on the characters and the story than on research details, she does not see the point in getting huge amounts of information she probably won’t need.  Instead, she pinpoints what she has to know for the story and only uses (and often only find out in the first place) what’s vital to the story, or what seems to add vital flavour.

“I’m not a plotter when I write, and generally my first forays into research are pretty vague.  I use the internet first – and then the local library and bookshop. I’ll just dabble around in a subject finding out some stuff to see if any of it inspires me. My books centre round people and relationships rather than facts.” (Julie Cohen)

Julie told me that quite often, doing her research, she will find a central metaphor that she can use and examine through the whole book. For example when researching comics for Girl from Mars, she was intrigued by the concept of the gutter, which is the name for the blank spaces between panels.

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Because comics are static but portray action, the reader actually fills in the action between panels. The blank gutter is extremely important to make this happen. In her story, it became a metaphor for change happening when you’re not looking, for filling in the blanks, which are both key themes to the story.

You can find out more about Julie Cohen and her books on her website: www.julie-cohen.com

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #92 May 2009 Writers’ Forum online from Select Magazines.

An interview with… Holly Rivers

In my Writing 4 children column this month (issue #221 Mar of Writers’ Forum) Holly Rivers, explained what inspired her to write a story about a stubborn young inventor called Demelza.

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The idea struck her in 2016 and she put pen to paper immediately and very quickly realised she never wanted to stop writing.

“I could see her clearly from the very beginning: her red hair, her cosy attic room, her quirky inventions, and her thinking hat.” (Holly Rivers)

For the first time in her life she had found something she wanted to do every single day for evermore. Holly believes this realisation massively changed her life for the better, and revealed sitting down to write always makes her heart beat a little faster. She explained that she spent a year writing the (very long and very messy) first draft of Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, before spending a further year honing the manuscript on The Golden Egg Academy’s Foundation Course.

Holly told me the fact she is absolutely fascinated by anything spooky, macabre and ghostly inspired her to explore how a logical, science-minded character such as Demelza would react to finding themselves in a mysterious supernatural environment.

“Having an inquisitive stem-girl protagonist was really important to me, and I think there’s quite a lot of young Holly in Demelza. A few of her inventions were things I actually attempted to make as a child — namely the ‘Magnificent Belly Button Cleaner’” (Holly Rivers)

A lot of her inspiration comes from the sci-fi and fantasy books/films she enjoyed as a child such as: Ghostbusters, E.T, Labyrinth, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the books of Roald Dahl, The Goonies, Pippi Longstocking, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

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Many of her characters are inspired in part by real people, for example Grandma Maeve’s eccentricity, warmth and humour all stem from her own wonderful grandmothers. Ms Cardinal was also inspired by someone, but she wouldn’t say who. Holly said that so much great material can be mined from keeping your ears and eyes open, and I can often be found jotting down snippets of conversations that I’ve overheard, making notes of an unusual mannerism, or sketching an interesting outfit that somebody is wearing.

Demelza jacket lowres

The children she works with are huge inspirations too  and Holly has no doubt that bits of their brilliant (and often mischievous) personalities have found their way into Demelza, Percy and Miranda, and she believes this has made their characters all the richer.

She has also spent a lot of time in Mexico, where Dia de Los Muertos is the annual holiday celebrating the dead and observing the way that different cultures mark death was also a big inspiration for her book.

“Some people can have such a sombre, stiff and austere outlook on death, so I wanted Demelza and the Spectre Detectors to hopefully open up the conversation around death to a young readership in a ‘lighter’ and more accessible way.” (Holly Rivers)

Her writing tip for other children’s fiction writers is to read:

“I try and read or listen to at least one book a week, and I make sure that the titles are diverse and genre-crossing. One week I might be reading a quirky middle grade such as Beetle Boy by M G. Leonard or the latest YA from Frances Hardinge; the next I might be listening to an old Agatha Christie on audio book, and the next I might be dipping back into the Tank Girl comics (for the umpteenth time!)  I feel that most of my own development as a writer has come through exploring, savouring and digesting other people’s work.” (Holly Rivers)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #221 Mar Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

Find out more about Holly and her books on her website: www.hollyrivers.co.uk, Twitter: @hollyrivers_lit and on Instagram: @hollyriversauthor

An interview with … Anne Rooney

For the latest issue of my Research Secrets column in Writers Forum I have interviewed Anne Rooney about her research process for her non-fiction children’s books.

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Anne Rooney’s books range from lavish, large-format to smaller, cheaper books. Dinosaur Atlas (2017) and Animal Atlas (2019) for Lonely Planet are good examples of the first type, with fold-out maps, flaps, and fantastic illustrations. How to be an Eco-Hero (2020) is an example of the smaller format and has line drawings.

Anne loves doing research. She said:

“There’s a childish part of me which goes ‘Wow! look what I’ve found!’ — and that’s essentially what my books are. My older daughter says my job is basically being a perpetual student, and that’s pretty much true.” (Anne Rooney)

Anne explains that research can take you to all kinds of places: the distant past, deep below Earth’s surface, the furthest reaches of outer space or far inside your own (or something else’s) body. This is why she finds it more adventurous than writing fiction. Throughout the interview she used her book, Dinosaur Atlas (illustrated by James Gilleard), to demonstrate what she meant and discuss the research she covered.

“It covers the whole world and 160 million years, so it is quite ambitious. It sounds like it’s just ‘find out about dinosaurs’, but it’s far more than that.” (Anne Rooney)

Dinosaur Atlas

Anne explained how her research varies considerably from one book to another and how it differs slightly between fiction and non-fiction, but not necessarily more than between different types of non-fiction or different types of fiction. She told me the real difference is whether you are completely immersing yourself in an unfamiliar environment — 16th-century Italy, say — or checking details, such as which flavour crisps were available in 1980. The same applies in non-fiction. Some topics take tons of in-depth research and others take far less.

Anne said:

“Perhaps research for fiction can get you into more trouble more easily. In Off the rails (Evans, 2010; reissued, Readzone, 2014), a boy witnesses a crime from a moving train. I took the train journey, found the right spot, and tracked the other locations and journeys on Google maps. A few days later, my younger daughter challenged me: what had I done? Why did Google maps have an overlay marked ‘dump body here’? That doesn’t happen with non-fiction — though my lists of street prices of illegal drugs have raised eyebrows occasionally.” (Anne Rooney)

Anne also spelled out why there’s as much work to do understanding and sometimes explaining how we know something as what we know. Do we know what colours dinosaurs were? Why not/how? How do we know what they ate? In a world with a very cavalier attitude towards facts and truth, books for children need to set a good example by showing how truth is rooted in rigorous investigation that can be replicated and explained. Dinosaur Atlas features life size photos of bits of dinosaur. Anne suggests that museums are the best source for this: actually seeing a tooth the size of a banana makes it clear that absolutely has to go on the page.

dinosaurs

To research a book like Dinosaur Atlas, first Anne sets out what she needs to know. The parameters are set by the format of the book, including illustrations. An important part of research is providing an artwork brief and reference – that is, pictures the artist or picture researcher can use as a guide. The better and more detailed the ref is, the more likely they are to come up with a suitable picture the first time round.

My PhD supervisor told me years ago that you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know people who know everything you need to know. One of the best resources is people. I’m lucky to know lots of knowledgeable and helpful people! I had a consultant on this book, Dr David Button, who works at NHM in London and could answer any tricky questions I couldn’t resolve on my own.

Dr David Button, who works at NHM in London

Dr David Button

She explained that with a book like Dinosaur Atlas, the reference has to be accurate, and that means knowing which sources are reliable and which not.

“There’s a lot of dinosaur stuff out there and it’s important to know which sources are reliable and which not. You need to look for things that cite authoritative sources. It’s not all reading. I also watched YouTube videos produced by reputable channels such as PBS and the BBC to get some kind of idea of dinosaurs as living creatures.” (Anne Rooney)

She mentioned there are some brilliant professional paleolithic artists out there and Computer Generated Imagery  (CGI) created by experts where you can see the exact posture for theropods, because dinosaurs such as the T-rex didn’t stand upright as they are often shown, but had a more horizontal posture.

posture for theropods

Her starting point for choosing dinosaurs was to get a good geographic spread. She started with the Natural History Museum’s Dino Directory  as you can search about 300 dinosaurs by date, by type (eg theropod, sauropod, ankylosaur) and by continent, so it was a great way to get an initial list of possible candidates. Anne told me for details of specific dinosaurs, there are some great online databases, such as Prehistoric Wildlife  and blogs such as Everything Dinosaur.

Her research tip for other non-fiction book writers, it to integrate research into your life.

The world is buzzing with fascinating information. Keeping your research antennae alert all the time and note down everything that might be useful for any book you might ever want to write, anything that sparks your curiosity, even if you don’t have any immediate use for it.

She also explains you need to keep on top of your particular areas of expertise. Read the relevant magazines or journals, subscribe to email updates from all the relevant organisations and not everything potentially interesting and suggests that you keep track of your sources rigorously. Footnote everything. Keep the library call marks and the URLs of all your sources. You never know when you might need to go back to them.

Find out more about Anne Rooney, her research and her books on her website: http://www.annerooney.com, Twitter @annerooney and Instagram @stroppyauthor

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #221 Mar Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

An interview with… Sarwat Chadda

Sarwat Chadda’s first novel, The Devil’s Kiss, was released by Puffin in May 2009 and was quickly followed by the sequel, The Dark Goddess. He has also written a breathtaking action adventure series for children aged 8-12 years, called Ash Ministry and writes under the pseudonym Joshua Kahn. He is currently working on a project with Rick Riordan. I interviewed Sarwat about his research in 2009 for my Research Secrets column.

He explained that for him the research comes before the writing because he loves reading about history, mythology and fairy tales way back when he was an engineer. He likes to start something on a whim and then explore the area, culture and background until he reaches a saturation point. This gives him enough information to sound convincing and have all the key characters and locations in place.

Ultimately, his books are about the character and feels everything else is scene setting. To help create his characters he looks into his life and projects how he was at the age of his protagonist. He said the core needs come from there.

Sarwat insists research shouldn’t be a chore it should be part of the fun.

“We’re not just putting words down on paper we’re offering readers our unique take on the world. If you’re finding it hard work constantly, question why you’re doing it. Writing is about passion, life’s too short to be wasted on something you don’t love.” (Sarwat Chadda)

Most of his research is done through books. In fact, he admits that his biggest cost is books, but he was buying them before he decided to become a full time writer. Sarwat believes that libraries are our greatest resource. I agree. Use them or lose them. He explained:

“The Internet has its place, but nothing beats getting really into a subject in a library and second hand book shops. They’re great since you’ll come across stuff that’s years old and since I’m writing about mythology, those sort of books just set the mood perfectly.” (Sarwat Chadda)

He said the danger is over-research and getting yourself trapped by it. But he does not have a system for the way he does his research. because he feels the best thing about writing is the license to mix it all up how you like. His tip to other writers is not to stack your books in a too organised manner. Mix them up and see what happens as you’ll come across connections otherwise impossible to see if it’s all logical.

Sarwat explained sometimes the ‘official’ version doesn’t work and you have to tweak it. This happens a lot in historical fiction, especially with combining characters and moving dates. But that’s why it’s called FICTION. In his adventures he admits he makes up all the difficult and dangerous stuff.

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For all that sort of practical detail on the ‘day in the life of a warrior’ he got in touch with various re-enactment societies and visited shows around England. Since his books are based on the Knights Templar, he found their working understanding of the practical nature of the arms and armour of a medieval knight, very useful.

“They explained the nitty-gritty of the sword hilt, the practicalities of the weight of armour, its properties and the weapons designed to overcome mail or plate. It’s all these details that make the story breathe with a sense of reality.” (Sarwat Chadda)

To find out more about Sarwat Chadda and his books take a look at his excellent website: http://www.ashmistry.com or follow him on Twitter: @sarwatchadda 

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #93 June 2009 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.