Festival of Literature for Young People in 2015 | Blog Articles / Interviews



Nerf guns and gadgets: becoming a spy with Steve Cole


Steve Cole introduced his talk by telling the audience about all of his books and a little bit about each of them, such as Z-Rex and his Doctor Who books. Already his audience were engaged because of his enthusiastic energy.

He moved on by talking about secret agents as he is now writing the Young James Bond series following on from Charlie Higson who is the FLY festival's honorary patron. Cole spoke about how he got really involved with writing the book because he found the era it’s based in, the 1930s, really interesting and he wanted to do lots of research.

Cole continuously kept the audience engaged and laughing out loud by explaining how "many of the secret agent gadgets could also be used as flasks", while gulping quickly from his red bull can.

Ian Fleming was the original writer of the James Bond series in the 1950s. He was from a rich background and worked around secret agents and gadgets, so when he wanted to begin writing he chose to write about that.

Cole went on to say how Fleming wanted a ‘boring name’ for his secret agent character, so when he was reading a nature book about birds with the name James Bond, he knew that this would be the boring name for his character. This led to the first book in 1953 – Casino Royale.

Cole then asked the audience to become a spy themselves and made them think about what they could use themselves to get out of a tricky situation if they were in the 1930s as the new book by Cole, Shoot to Kill, is based in 1934.

He also went into detail about all different kinds of guns, which he said he only knew about for the purposes of research for the book. On the topic of guns, Cole took two students from the crowd to shoot at a target with their own Nerf guns, before joining in himself.

Vintage technology was his next topic. He showed us lots of different and weird contraptions from the 1930s and their interesting backgrounds and uses. He started with the goofy bike, showed us a baby cage and finished with the first electric car which was in fact from 1881 not the 1960s which the audience had first thought.

He finished his talk by reading some of Shoot to Kill, his book, and ended on a real cliffhanger, just to make sure the audience would definitely want to find out what happened, if they hadn’t already been inspired to read his books from the fun, full-on talk he’d already given.


Anthony McGowan asks “does truth matter?”


Anthony McGowan asks “does truth matter?"

Anthony McGowan began his talk by introducing himself and the idea of truth which he said puzzled him. He was interested about whether the truth in a story was actually that important and about if it mattered if it wasn’t at all true. He also apologised for if over the talk he led us to hate him. This added a spark of interest and the audience were all wondering what he could possibly be talking about.

The first story he started by telling was about his school days in his home town of Leeds at the tough school which was where all the “estate kids” went. He remembers his first day at high school when a car drove up to the school gates and a boy got out; was kissed; then sent off to school by his mum. He then recalls how this boy ended up being “tortured by the tough kids at school”, but how he managed to stay out of being bullied because his geeky group were friends with one of the tough kids who helped to keep them out of harm’s way.

Later he described an event which horrified much of the audience. McGowan had made sure that the boy would stay out of his friendship group and would continue to be bullied. Personally, I was very surprised that McGowan could share this story, but as children I don’t think we have enough morals to even realise what effect we have on other people’s lives. McGowan then asked the question “Do you hate me yet then?” following on from the statement at the beginning of the talk.

McGowan read from his book “Pike” as well. This gave the audience a chance to hear his books spoken how the writer wanted them to be read. The audience were completely captivated meaning when McGowan shouted out some of the lines people recoiled, surprised.

Returning to the idea about the truth of stories, he told a story about shooting a dog with a crossbow. Then the audience were confronted with the question “So which story do you think is true, which one is real?” I didn’t know whether the bullying story or the shooting a dog one was, so I’m sure most of the audience were confused about which one to believe. McGowan told us that the story about him helping bully this boy at his school when he was a teenager was true. Again, McGowan asked whether we hated him yet.

At the end of the talk, he invited the audience to ask questions. At first everyone seemed rather stunned after McGowan’s talk, but eventually people started asking questions. McGowan was asked to mention tips for aspiring writers, saying that being able to complete something is very important in the beginning and poetry or short stories are a good way to go about this.


Alan Gibbons Workshop: Gothic fiction


After delivering an entertaining and interesting talk in the UEA's Julian Study Centre lecture theatre, Alan Gibbons lead a workshop based on gothic fiction and the famous story of Dracula.

Many of the students had come from Gibbon's earlier talk and so were all ready for his humour to start off the workshop.

Once they had all arrived, Gibbons began by talking about the history of vampires in literature and how the myths have been created. He began in the 1400s in Transylvania, which he was quick to point out is actually a real place in the central part of Romania. He spoke about the counts and countesses that the rumours are based on and about the first Dracula novelist, Bram Stoker. Stoker was an Irish writer now known for writing Dracula in 1897.

Gibbons then went on by introducing the students to writing their own 21st century gothic novel there and then. He gave everyone suggestions, helped them to set the scene and then opened it up to them to begin creating their own gothic novel about Count Dracula. I could tell that many of them were ready to start being creative and making up their own characters and plots.

He pointed out the importance he gives to “how” over “what” in his descriptions and about how it the descriptions needs to be sharp and crisp and not bore the reader but it does need to be creative and to involve the reader so that they can set the scene and imagine exactly where the characters are and what is happening.

He also gave the tip that if you want to describe why a character is doing something, you could incorporate a flashback or use thoughts and memories to be able to go back and explain why. He also said that being able to weave everything in, adding details subtly is key to engaging the reader.

Gibbons involved more humour in this workshop by describing Dracula’s touch as like being touched by “frozen fish scales” and also stating that the main character in his example gothic story “was born to make money like Alan Sugar in killer heels.”

During the workshop the students were able to write their own story of Dracula and create their own gothic novel with lots of extra examples and encouragement from Gibbons, whose main advice was to “bring it alive” and build up the gothic imagery.

All the students left the workshop with many half completed gothic stories which Gibbons advised them to finish and ended by saying he hoped any aspiring writers would be able to be published at some point in the future.


Meg Rosoff Interview


FLY was delighted to welcome prize winning author, Meg Rosoff on Wednesday 15th July who delivered a stimulating talk to a packed auditorium, exploring the inspiration behind her most recent novel, Picture Me Gone and confessing that in the very beginning “I couldn’t write a good plot!”

Hannah Hudson caught up with Meg afterwards to chat about some of the topics covered in her talk, including plots, films and mathematics!

How did you know you were a good writer if you knew that you couldn’t write a good plot?

I knew I was a good technical writer, like I can write a good sentence. I’ve noticed now particularly having a daughter, who has just turned 18 and is doing an English A Level, she finds writing essays agony and all that kind of stuff. Where as I find that really easy and always have found that really easy, but I sort of thought everyone found it really easy.

But that’s different than writing a book. So I’m quite good at writing a letter or advertising copy or a press release, but writing a book is different because then you are really telling a story.

I thought you had to have all the stories in your head and had to sit on a bus to overhear people’s conversations and create dialogue that way, but it’s not like that at all.

It’s a totally different skill being a novelist.

‘How I Live Now’ became a film recently, can you tell me more about the production?

It was made into a film in 2013 with Saoirse Ronan and quite a famous director and they shot it in wales. They changed it quite a lot from the book.

Saoirse and George who was the love lead fell madly in love on set and he was her first boyfriend so that was kind of a well even if this hasn’t gone well at least I’ve brought these two young people together.

It was an interesting process, it took ten years for them to make the film. There’s something really strange about seeing your book be made into a film ‘cos some of it’s exactly how you imagined it and some of it’s totally not at all.

I didn’t mind if it was different to how I’d imagined it; it wasn’t the film I would have made but then I’m not a film maker, but it was quite a good film.

Next time I wouldn’t trust them quite as much because of the things I would have done differently but then every author says exactly the same thing, you can’t hold on to control of it because even if you do sometimes you make a mess of it.

But if you don’t hold onto control of it then you can say they ruined my book or then if it’s really good you can say that was my book they made into that wonderful film.

So you talked about the theory of graphs in your lecture, why are you so interested in them?

I think that’s just the way my brain works, but I think that everyone has loads of different pictures in their heads.

I’m not that visual a person I tend to like; I would say when we get a postcard in my house because my husband is a painter that I’ll say “oh did you see that postcard from Tim.” And he says “No, but there was a beautiful picture”, so you know he’ll look at the picture and have seen that and not even bother turning it over to see who it’s from where as I look at the writing and don’t bother with the picture.

It’s difficult now with computers because people tend to see like calendars. I used to ask people how they see a week but now with Google calendars people see that instead. People see things differently, like I’ll use a word with three syllables but change it or one with two syllables because it just feels more right. And I thought that everyone did that but I don’t think that everyone does do that. Its finding out what your brain does that no one else’s does.


Steve Cole Interview


After Steve Cole’s talk, Hannah Hudson was able to catch up with him to ask him a few questions and find out more about being able to become the new Young James Bond writer.

How did you get into writing?

Well, I went to UEA, long ago, I was doing my undergraduate here in 1989 to 1992 and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a very vague plan of breaking into the media through local radio, so that’s kind of what I did.

I always had dreams of writing but always imagined it was just an impossible dream and there was too much competition. But I wanted to work with words so I got into magazines and got into that and became a book editor, working on stuff like Doctor Who. Of course, I had to write stories for these magazines, I had a few floating around so I sent them off. I was very lucky and got published and I always used to write in my spare time. I went full time in 2002, so it was mostly through editing books and magazines, got me into writing and commissioned and published. I was working for the BBC and we couldn’t always afford to pay someone to write for a programme externally so I’d have to do it in house so that was a good experience.

What jobs did you have before writing?

Junior Assistant on Noddy magazine was my first title in the publishing world. Before that I was a researcher for local radio and a project editor for science fiction titles at the BBC which in practice meant Doctor Who, Doctor Who, Doctor Who... across all media back in the 1990s.

And then I was commissioning editor for a book company and a managing editor at Ladybird books and I turned my back on it all to go to the other side of the fence doing the writing rather than the commissioning.

What were some of your favourite authors when you were a child?

When I was growing up some of my favourite authors were Roald Dahl. I loved Fantastic Mr Fox, I loved the way he made you look at things in different ways like Fantastic Mr Fox, ‘cause he doesn’t actually seem that fantastic at first and that’s because he’s like killing chickens and stealing and belching and drinking cider and all that, but he’s a very alive character, he’s doing what it takes to look after his family. The farmers themselves were eating far more of their stock than the poor fox. So [Roald Dahl] was very clever at making you get unusual sympathies.

I also liked Stanley who did the super hero comics because I was massively into Marvel Comics as a child, they helped me get into reading. And a man called Terrance Dicks who wrote lots of Doctor Who books and they were my favourite thing to read and I was always looking for the next Doctor Who book. I can remember working with Terrance Dicks on the Doctor Who books which was really a dream come true. As an eight year old seeing him at the local library wanting to be him.

How was writing Young James Bond for you?

Well, it’s an on-going experience actually, the first one is one but there are going to be a few more and it’s been great to work with the Ian Fleming estate and on official James Bond fiction.

That means that when you write “My name is Bond, James Bond”, it’s like proper, it’s part of the official James Bond thing. You know, I’ve written for Doctor Who as well and that’s obviously exciting and there’s something about, so many people have written about Doctor Who but only a few have written about James Bond, it’s something quite exciting to be one of the only two authors to do Young Bond.

The second book doesn’t come out till next year but I’m fully immersed in James Bond at the moment. I loved watching the movies so to experience that was good, and my mum’s Roger Moore fetish was another important part in that and when I was a teenager, I wanted to compare and see how the books compared to the films and I realised how different the books were and how James Bond was a lot more realistic in the books than the films.

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