I'm pleased to present Joe Layburn, author of Ghostscape, for an interview! I came across Joe's work while looking around Frances Lincoln, publisher of Keren David's debut novel When I was Joe.
1) In the book it mentions that the idea for Aisha came from when you taught Somali girls, and Richard is based on your father. What gave you the idea to combine their two stories together?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the modern and historical East End. Like generations of my family, I know it well and, though life is not always easy for the eclectic mix of people who find themselves there, it’s a vibrant, exciting place.
Richard and Aisha have both experienced war. They’re different, of course- in terms of their culture, religion, the era they live in (!)- but like many of the primary aged children I met when I first became a teacher, they’re more interested in what they share in common.
I wanted to write a story that linked the modern and historic East End together and showed how the “spirit of the Blitz”- the idea that we’re all in it together, is something worth promoting in multicultural Britain today.
2) The story is a reminder of the horrors that a lot of children have faced, and do face in this world. It also promotes peace and understanding between religions. At the end of the day, we're all human. Did you intend to deal with all these issues or did it just happen?
Three of my dad’s young cousins were killed in a bombing raid during the Second World War- and I grew up knowing that story. I met a lot of refugees when I taught in East London with their own amazing and often painful stories to tell. Of course, when there’s war, in Britain, Somalia, wherever, children will be among the victims.
A lot of the children I talk to about my books like the idea that there are messages in them. Many adults are maybe too cynical for such things- and possibly think they know everything already- but I think children are willing to consider books that put across a point of view. I like to think that I can write really engaging, entertaining stories, but it’s important to me that they have something to say as well.
3) Your next book, Street Heroes is coming out in a few months. Are you able to tell us a little bit about that; the inspiration for writing it, where it is set?
Street Heroes is part of a series- the first one comes out in May, the one after that in January 2011. It’s about a group of ordinary children with extraordinary powers. The main character is Fatima who is able to communicate by telepathy with a whole network of children- one of them is Georgie.
Georgie’s dad is George Smith, the leader of the British Fascist Party. Everyone assumes that Georgie shares his father’s extreme views on race and immigration, but Georgie’s not sure what he thinks, especially once he starts hearing Fatima’s voice in his head.
After Muslim extremists try to kill George Smith, he decides to march with his followers down Cable Street in the East End and terrorise the many Muslims who live there. He wants to re-enact the historic Battle of Cable Street- when fascists tried to intimidate the Jews who lived there at that time- but were stopped by Jewish people and others who stood alongside them.
So, can Fatima and her friends stop George Smith and which side will Georgie be on?
There you go- you want to read it already! Yes!!!
4) Are you able to tell us a little about the next story you're working on
Street Heroes 2 takes up where the previous story finished. It has a particular focus on child runaways. Once again Fatima and her friends take a stand against injustice and evil.
5) What has the road to publication been like for you? At what moment did you feel 'Yes, I can write'? What do your friends and family think about it all?
Trying to get published was difficult and disheartening until I decided to do what a former journalist should have done in the first place and research the market properly. My publishers, Frances Lincoln, are perfect for the sort of books I want to write. There’s no point sending your stories to publishers where you’ll never be a good fit.
6) What happens in a typical writing day for you?
I worked as a television journalist for fifteen years, mostly for Channel Four. My experiences then gave me lots of ideas for stories, but it’s only since I became a primary school teacher that I’ve had the time to write them and have also found the audience I want to write for. I do like to have stretches of time when I can write, and though teachers are meant to be planning lessons etc during the school holiday, it’s during breaks from school that I get most done.
7) A few random questions: Can you write through any distraction (music/children/ etc) or do you need silence? What is your favourite writing snack/drink?
I like a bit of quiet but that’s not always possible. I think sometimes you just have to crack on even if the conditions for writing aren’t perfect. It’s always easy to put off making a start..
Favourite snack? Bananas- great brain food and, unlike, say, banana cake or banana smoothies, you don’t pile on the pounds even though, as a writer you tend to sit around a lot.
I'd like to thank Joe for answering the questions. Check out his blog. Street Heroes will be reviewed here when it is released.