Thursday, 29 May 2014

Author Interview: Jonathan Meres on World of Norm: May Need Rebooting

I'm delighted to be hosting a post here today as part of the tour - I recently read World of Norm: May Need Rebooting, and it was great to get the chance to talk to author Jonathan Meres about the latest in his popular series. There's just under a week left of the tour - check out the schedule page for what's left to come!We actually have not one but TWO stops today. For the other one, head over to author Keris Stainton's blog to read her interview with Lisa Glass, whose Blue looks wonderful.

1.  When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

I really hope this doesn’t come across as glib or arrogant – and if it does then I apologise profusely and I’m very nice really despite what you might have heard – but I don’t actually have to imagine my readers, as I get to meet so many of them face to face at events.  Which is brilliant, obviously.  So, what can I tell you about them?  Well they’re generally aged from about 8 to 13 and even older than that.  And shock, horror – they’re not actually all boys!  Far from it in fact.  Just as many girls.  Which may come as something of a surprise to a lot people who are quick to label Norm as ‘a boy book.’  It absolutely isn’t.  It’s ‘a book book.’  And Norm’s a universal character.  In my opinion there’s nothing remotely geeky, or nerdy, or dorky, or wimpy about him.  He’s a perfectly normal (pun totally intended) nearly 13 year old kid.  Who just happens to be a boy.  But it could just as easily be The World Of Norma.  Which was my mum’s name, by the way, for any psychoanalysts out there.  Before Norm was published?  The honest answer is I didn’t imagine my readers when I closed my eyes, or any particular age-group.  I just wrote what came naturally.  And what came naturally, was Norm.  Previously I’d written picture books, teen fiction (as it was called, back in the day) and stuff for grown-ups.  I guess you could say I’ve found my feet now with Middle Grade.  Took flipping long enough!

2. I really liked the way you captured the relationship between Norm and his brothers. Do you have any siblings, and if so, did you argue as much as your characters do when you were growing up?

Well first of all, thank you.  Second of all, yes I do.  I’ve got an older brother.  Always have done actually.  So I can’t totally relate to Norm, as Norm’s the eldest of three and I’ve always been the baby of the family.  I don’t remember arguing a great deal.  We got on pretty well on the whole I think.  But that was way back in the 20th century, when folk used to leave their front doors open and you could go out with a fiver, go to the pictures, have a meal, buy the latest Jethro Tull album and still have change for the tram home.  So in that case, how do I manage to capture the relationship?  Easy.  I’ve got three sons.  I just watch them.  It’s not rocket science.

3. Norm falls asleep in school early on in the book, which is one of the main causes of his problems. Did you ever have a cheeky snooze in lessons yourself, or were you a well-behaved pupil?

A cheeky snooze at school?  Never.  College?  That was a different matter.  Especially if we’d been – ahem – out for lunch beforehand.  Which, I must admit did happen rather a lot, because ‘college’ was actually nautical college in Liverpool.  I joined the merchant navy straight from school and would spend six months at sea followed by six months ashore.  But that’s another story.  Sorry, what was the question again?  Oh yeah, at school I guess I was pretty well behaved.  Didn’t used to get into too many scrapes.  No more than anyone else anyway.  I may have been a bit too mouthy or cheeky on occasions – and with hindsight I suppose I did like to make my classmates laugh.  And teachers come to think of it.  But it would be way too simplistic to label me as ‘The Class Joker.’  Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t.  I’m a seething cauldron of contradictions, me.  Actually no I’m not.  I’m just trying to make myself sound far more interesting than I actually am.

4. His other main problem is that his bike gets stolen. I feel his pain at losing a treasured possession - my phone broke 2 days ago and I'm struggling massively without it! What's the one object you'd be lost without?

Well, I’d be pretty lost without a cafetiere, or any other means of making a decent cup of coffee.  And I don’t care how middle class that makes me sound.  Decent coffee is a fundamental human right – schools please note.  Especially schools who are thinking of getting in touch with me to do an event.  If you’ve got one of those industrial sized tins of a certain brand of ‘mellow’ instant coffee taking up half the staff room? Forget it.  Find yourself another author.  Apart from that?  I’d be pretty lost without any means of listening to music.  And my guitar.  And my flute.  And my personally signed George Best book (along with the rest of the European Cup winning Man United team of 1968).  Oh and my reading glasses.  I’d be well stuffed without them.

5. Norm's language is - as I'm sure the boy himself would say - flipping funny! Do you have any tips for writing great dialogue?

Again, thank you very much.  I do enjoy writing the dialogue.  It’s all the other stuff I sometimes find a bit of a chore.  Well, maybe not a chore.  But a bit more problematic let’s say.  It’s almost a relief when I get to some dialogue.  It comes very naturally to me.  And I think writing naturally is probably the key.  Just listen to how other people speak.  Real people.  Not people on the telly or the radio.  I can’t bear listening to screamingly middle class dramas or so-called comedies on the radio where people sit around pretending to clink their crockery and talking absolute guff.  My tips?  Well when it comes to writing dialogue either spoken by children – or intended to be read by children, I’d say go easy on the vernacular and the slang.  Not only will it date very quickly (see ‘Yo! Diary!’ by Jonathan Meres, ‘Yo! Diary! - And Another Thing’ by Jonathan Meres and ‘Yo! Dot Uk!’ also by Jonathan Meres) but there’s nothing worse than a grown-up desperately trying to be ‘down with the kids.’  They’ll smell it a mile off.  Innit?

6. You were a stand-up comic before becoming an author - what are your best and worst memories as a comic?

A huge number of best memories.  Amazing gigs with all kinds of amazing people at all kinds of amazing little venues.  At the other extreme, being almost knocked off my feet by waves of laughter generated by three and a half thousand people at the Edinburgh Playhouse.  Performing in London’s glittering West End.   Getting nominated for The Perrier Award.  (Note nominated by the way.  That’s me.  Always the bridesmaid.)  But to this day, getting boiled sweets lobbed at me by several hundred irate Bros fans at the Hammersmith Palais remains a career highlight.  Worst memories?  Well I still cringe whenever I recall truly dying on my backside for the first time.  Couldn’t face walking back out through the audience afterwards.  Just horrendous.  And with hindsight I don’t suppose it was a great decision turning down the opportunity to be on Saturday Night Live.  I thought that if I did it, I’d somehow be ‘selling out’ or something?  I know.  What an idiot.  But hey, that’s showbiz.

7. Norm is rather unimpressed when he's headhunted to play for a football team in this book, as he'd much rather be on his bike. Rumour has it you have a secret ambition to play for Nottingham Forest? Is this true, and would you go for winning the FA Cup with Forest, or for winning a major mountain biking competition?

Oh it’s absolutely true.  I would have loved to have played for Forest.  I still have occasional dreams where I am doing.  Or rather, I’m about to.  But I can’t put my boots on, or find my way out of the dressing room or something.  And then all my teeth fall out and when I wake up there’s a damp patch on the mattress.  Actually that last bit’s not true.  But I was captain of my school team.  Oh, all right then, my primary school team.  But given that I went to a really tiny village school that could barely scrape a team together without enlisting a couple of dinner ladies, that wasn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds.  FA Cup winner’s medal or mountain biking medal?  No contest.  And besides, I’ve actually forgotten how to ride a bike.

8. You also have a past which involves appearing in numerous pop videos - if you could get a band to record a theme song for World of Norm, who would you pick?

Yes, that’s also true.  Erasure?  Strawberry Switchblade?  Nik Kershaw?  And they’re some of the cooler ones!  Actually probably the coolest one I was in was ‘Rise’ by Public Image Ltd.  Which was great because I kind of missed out on punk as I was at sea at the time, but at least I can say I’ve had a light ale with John Lydon in a trailer behind King’s Cross station.  A theme song for Norm?  Well, being a complete and utter megalomaniac I’d probably insist on doing it myself.  But failing that?  Blimey, that’s very difficult.  It’s a toss-up between XTC, Queens of the Stone Age or Outkast.  No, wait a minute,I’ve got it.  Lindisfarne, featuring Pharrell.

9. What are you reading at the moment, and would you recommend it?

The Hunger Games.  And please nobody tell me whether Jennifer Lawrence dies in the end.  I’m guessing probably not, because there’s at least another two films to come.  Would I recommend it to the handful of people who haven’t already read it?  Absolutely.  Thoroughly enjoying it, although to be honest it’s not my ‘normal kind of thing.’  All those kids running round in dystopian hoodies and that?  But then I’m not sure exactly what ‘my normal thing’ actually is.  When it comes to books – and music for that matter – I have a ridiculously wide taste.  Which is one reason why I’m really rubbish at answering questions beginning ‘What’s your favourite…..’  The other reason is I’m incredibly indecisive.  I don’t actually read a huge number of children’s book.  And I never read any of the ones liable to be sharing shelf/table space with Norm in well-known high street booksellers.  And won’t until I know for certain that I’ve written the last ever Norm.  That way I can’t ever be subconsciously – or even consciously influenced by them.  And I certainly can’t ever be accused of ripping them off.

10. What's the last thing you Googled?

You mean apart from myself?  That would be ‘How financially viable is it to sell old rope?’  Oh and how to spell ‘Megalomaniac’?

11. What's next for Jonathan Meres?

In the short term?  Something like 25 events/sessions in June to promote May Need Rebooting.  (It’s all about shifting units folks.)  Slightly longer term?  A Norm activity book, called May Need Filling In comes out in September, followed by Norm 7 aka Must Be Washed Separately, in October.  And I’m currently playing around with possible story lines (and titles) for Norm 8.  I’m not going to lie.  There’s a part of me that’s desperate to write something completely different and non-Norm-related again.  And I will one of these days.  But there just isn’t time at the moment.  Admittedly, as problems go, that’s a pretty nice problem.

Fab interview - thanks, Jonathan!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Week 3 Recap

Well, we've now passed the halfway point of #Countdownto5thJune (actually, we're quite far past the halfway point, given the delay in this round-up post - sorry!) but the quality is as high as ever, with 7 fab posts last week!

On Friday 16th May, Web of Darkness author Bali Rai stopped by The Reader Ramblings to talk about his upcoming book for Random House, and about censorship and diversity. It's a fascinating post which I really enjoyed reading - and there'll be more from Bali on Thursday 29th May, as he's interviewed at Fabulous Book Fiend.

Saturday 17th May saw Kim Slater, author of Smart (Macmillan) drop by Queen of Contemporary to discuss the cover design of her gorgeous book. I've just read, and enjoyed, Smart, and the main character's love of LS Lowry plays a big part in the book, so the cover is a perfect homage to the great artist - and Kim talked us through all the decision-making that went into it.

On Sunday 18th May, Helen Grant - always fabulous to talk to - stopped by Choose YA for a superb interview about Demons of Ghent, coming from Bodley Head, about urban exploration, and writing in general.

Monday 19th May saw an author from one of my very favourite publishers, Strange Chemistry, appear! This was a notable interview at Death,Books and Tea, as it was part of not one but TWO blog tours - as well as being in Countdown, Lisa O'Kane kicked off her own blog tour for Essence here. A fab interview; I particularly loved the dream cast and photos!

Tuesday 20th May gave us another brilliant interview, as Take Back The Skies (Bloomsbury) author Lucy Saxon appeared on Snuggling on theSofa. I'm not that much of a steampunk fan but Debbie's great questions and Lucy's awesome answers have made even me really excited to read this one!

 Wednesday 21st May was very exciting for me as the tour headed to my own blog YA Yeah Yeah; I was thrilled to get a chance to interview Natasha Farrant for the second time! I loved talking to her after the paperback release of The Things We Did For Love a few years ago, and it was fascinating to catch up with her and talk about her wonderful Faber and Faber series, the Bluebell Gadsby diaries, since the upcoming Flora In Love was really fabulous.

Rounding off the week, on Thursday 22nd May, one of my favourite MG authors, Ellie Irving, was on one of my favourite blogs when it comes to MG books, Nayu's Reading Corner - a perfect match! As well as a great guest post about her research for The Mute Button (Corgi), there's also an ultra-easy to enter competition to win a copy of the book. Check it out!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Week 2 Recap

Well, we're nearly halfway through the #Countdownto5thJune tour, and week 2 was just as amazing as our fantastic week 1!

The week got off to an incredible start as we had our first Countdown to 5th June video! MASSIVE thanks to James Dawson, author of the upcoming Say Her Name for Hot Key Books, for recording this, and Matt from Teen Librarian for setting it up and sending him such brilliant questions. (And, of course, a huge thanks to the pupils at Matt's school who came up with the questions.

While the website says Countdown YA, we definitely wanted to get some books for slightly younger readers in and Caroline from Big Book Little Book was the perfect person to host an author for this, as BBLB covers a wide variety of ages. Jennifer Grey, author of Faber and Faber's Chicken Mission series - which will start with Danger in the Deep Dark Woods - gave us her this brilliant guest post, a 'call to wings'.

Matt Whyman is, I believe, unique amongst all the participants in Countdown to 5th June because he has not one but TWO books coming out. (Admittedly, he's one of many authors involved in Andersen's short story collection War Girls, while Hot Key's American Savage is just his own work!) He'll be talking to Countdown graphic designer and co-tweeter Daphne at Winged Reviews on Sunday 25th May, but he dropped by last Sunday to speak to Kirsty at Kirstyes about War Girls.

Monday saw another Hot Key author, Nigel McDowell, take part in a brilliant interview with Faye at at A Daydreamer's Thoughts. Faye is a real blog tour expert - putting together the fabulous one currently going on for Kim Curran's Glaze (check out YA Yeah Yeah tomorrow for my spot on it!), and asked some superb questions here.

Katy Moran spoke to Raimy - who like last Thursday's participant Sister Spooky is one of the bloggers I've known the longest - on Tuesday. I've been following Readaraptor for several years but this interview, about Katy's The Hidden Princess - coming out with Walker - is one of my favourite that Raimy's done!

I am spectacularly excited for ALL the books coming out June 5th, but regular readers of my reviews at The Bookbag and on YA Yeah Yeah will know that a series which holds a special place in my heart is Susie Day's Pea's Book series. The lovely Red Fox have just sent me a copy of book four, Pea's Book of Holidays, and it is taking all my willpower to finish this post before reading it - especially after Susie's amazing interview with Cicely of Cicely Loves Books somehow got me MORE excited!

Finally for this week, we have the only book that's already out! I own a gorgeous hardback of Keren David's Salvage but it's such a brilliant read that I'm STILL going to be tempted by the paperback when it's released on 5th June! She took part in a superb interview today with Jesse of Books 4 Teens.

Thanks again for taking part, everyone!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Week 1 Recap

Okay, week 1 of #Countdownto5thJune has come to an end - and what a fantastic week it was! If you've missed it, here's where you can catch up on our first seven brilliant posts.

I interviewed Keris Stainton over at The Bookbag. I was thrilled to get The Bookbag on board as they gave me my start book reviewing nearly 5 years ago, and Keris is a favourite author of mine, who I've interviewed before in a couple of joint interviews, but never by herself. I loved finally getting the opportunity to do so, and finding out about her thoughts on age banding, UKYA and Twitter, amongst other things. I was one of the first bloggers to read Keris's upcoming Starring Kitty, first in the Reel Friends series, for Catnip, and still haven't calmed down enough to write a halfway sensible review. However it's amazing and I've pre-ordered already!

On Saturday, Jo from Once Upon A Bookcase interviewed debut author Sarah Sky. Sarah's Code Red Lipstick, coming from Scholastic, looks brilliant, and it was great to read this interview, in which we found out how Sarah got her idea from CRL and just how much research she did - including the highlights from last year's Counter Terror Expo! Having spent six months or so trying to meet Jo in real life, it was rather appropriate - and really great - that I finally met her on Saturday, as well. Thanks to Jennifer Bell, author of the utterly-wonderful looking Ivy Sparrow series coming next year from Random House, for the intro.

Sunday saw an author writing her first children's book feature. Bea Davenport, who's also the author of last year's crime novel In Too Deep, has The Serpent House coming out with Curious Fox. It's an intriguing sounding time travel book, and reading about how Bea came to create it was fascinating. (Although, snakes - eek!) Many thanks to Andrew from The Pewter Wolf for hosting this post!

On Monday, bloggers Charli and Tori over at To Another World interviewed Helen Douglas, who has Chasing Stars coming out with Bloomsbury. Charli and Tori are both big fans of Helen and it was very clear in their questions, which were fantastic! I loved the desert island one, especially. Of course, Helen's answers were just as awesome.

Tuesday saw an especially exciting post for me. I've been a fan of Theresa Breslin's for nearly 20 years, since I first read her amazing Whispers In The Graveyard. To have her join in Countdown was really brilliant, and I was in awe of the superb questions Cometbabe asked her. I found it particularly interesting to read questions about her writing - her routine, her support network, and the fab tips she gave for other writers. Theresa is one of the many wonderful authors who've written for Andersen's short story collection War Girls - check back later in the tour for Matt Whyman at Kirstyes (this Sunday) and Sally Nicholls finishing the tour off at Pretty Books on Wednesday 4th June.

Wednesday's post was an unexpected bonus in many ways - I had the schedule worked out when Will Hill, author of Department 19, got in touch to tell me his release date had been changed. When he asked if I had space, I immediately said "Yes" - and I'd have somehow MADE space if I didn't! Zero Hour, book 4 in the Harper Collins series, is one of my most-anticipated reads of the year. I was so pleased that he came on board for the tour, especially as it meant I could get Oh, The Books - a relatively recently formed collaborative blog run by my fellow book club member Asti along with Kelley and Leanne. All three had fab individual blogs prior to combining for OTB, which is awesome. Will's fabulous guest post talked about characters developing a life of their own, and focused quite strongly on my personal favourite of his characters, Larissa Kinley.

Rounding off week 1 was a really fantastic combination - Holly Smale, an author I love (can't wait for Geek Girl: Picture Perfect, coming from Harper Collins), along with Sister Spooky, one of the first bloggers I ever met. (And still one of my favourite people in this entire brilliant community.) As if that wasn't awesome enough, she was taking part in the outstanding 20 Random Questions feature, one of my favourites on any blog. I'm possibly slightly biased as it's part of the Countdown tour, but this is my absolute favourite yet. Holly is funny (when talking about why she'd be a cat), touching (telling us who she'd want to be stuck on a desert island with), and thought-provoking (sharing the best piece of advice she's ever been given.)

Wow! What an amazing week that was. Did you read all the posts? Leave us a comment and let us know what your favourite was! And what are you most looking forward to next week, or later on in the tour? Check out the schedule here if you're not sure what we've got coming up.

One last massive "THANK YOU!" to everyone taking part, particularly Daphne from Winged Reviews for the graphics design and tweeting - it's her amazing button that's featured in all the above pictures.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Nearly Time!

Countdown to 5th June will officially start TOMORROW, as The Bookbag run my interview with Keris Stainton! It will run until the 4th June, when Stacey at prettybooks interviews Sally Nicholls.

I'm so thrilled that the event is kicking off, and that there's been so much interest from bloggers, authors, publishers, and publicists. I'll be posting a weekly round-up here - probably on Wednesdays - but please take a look at the schedule and bookmark any blogs whose posts you're particularly interested in (all of them, right?) and/or follow @countdownya on Twitter where we'll keep you up to date daily with the tour's progress.

There have been so many people involved in this tour that I don't want to pick individuals out, except for one. Daphne from Winged Reviews has been utterly amazing, designing our glorious graphics - the banner above and the button below - AND taking over the Twitter feed this week as I've had a stressful week at work and knew I wouldn't be able to cope with it. A particularly massive thank you to her, but also to all the other bloggers and authors involved.

In addition to the announced schedule there's a few other cool things to come - a competition at the end of the tour, and hopefully at least one Twitter chat.

I really hope everyone enjoys this, I know I will!