Frequently Asked Questions
What's your latest book?
IIt's called EVERY HIDDEN THING, and it's the story of two teenaged fossil hunters searching for the first T-rex -- and falling in love.
Will you be writing a third book in The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein?
I have no plans to write one at the moment.
What's going on with the Airborn movie?
Nothing. The last producers to develop if for the screen have dropped out, and the rights are now once again back to me. If you know Steven Spielberg, feel free to give him my number.
Will you be writing any more Silverwing books?
Maybe. If I did, it would probably be a continuation of Darkwing, because I see a very eventful life ahead for Dusk...
Will you be writing more Airborn books?
I love Matt and Kate and would hate to say good-bye to them forever. But Starclimber does leave them at a very interesting point in their lives... I might return to them, but first I have several other stories I'm going to tell first...
Where do you get your ideas?
From anywhere and everywhere: a newspaper story, a conversation with friends, a place I've visited or seen pictures of, other people's stories... For me the hard part of writing isn't coming up with ideas -- it's shaping and developing an idea into a good story. I find writing very hard work, and I write and rewrite my stories many times before I'm happy with them. I think inspiration is a small part of the writing process; perseverance is equally, if not more, important!
What would you be doing if you hadn't made it as a writer?
I like to think I'd have found some other way of telling stories. Maybe designing elaborate video games like Myst or Riven, or a creating role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Even high end theme park rides have a kind of narrative to them. In university I made a bunch of student films, and found that process very engrossing, so maybe I could have been a film maker -- but I don't think I'm patient and extroverted enough to be a director! When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect -- and I think there are some interesting similarities betweem architecture and writiing -- the kind of writing I do, especially, which is heavily structured, and often takes the reader on a journey through a number of physical environments. I still think it would be incredibly satisfying to design and build an incredible building -- like Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona, or the Chrysler Building in New York.
Why did you write a book about bats?
Once I started reading about bats, I realized what fascinating animals they were, and I was particularly interested in the idea of a migration -- a long difficult journey to escape the winter. Then I wondered what would happen if a young bat got lost on his first migration; how would he ever find his way? Would he have some kind of map? Would he have someone to help him? I really wanted to invent a whole night time world for the bats -- one where sound is as important as sight, with different laws, and different forms of technology and magic. Bats really do have "sound sight" or echolocation, but I invented the notion of sound maps sung from one bat to another, and the echo chamber, but they didn't seem too farfetched to me!
Are the bats in Silverwing based on real types of bats?
Yes. All my characters are based on real species of bats -- even Goth and Throbb! Shade's a silver-haired bat; Marina's a red bat, Goth is something called a spear-nosed bat, also known as the Vampyrum Spectrum. Cama Zotz is based on a real Mayan bat deity of the same name. I also wanted to pick names that seemed appropriate for flying creatures. So I used the names of some angels (Cassiel, Ariel), the names of special winds (Zephyr, Chinook, Scirocco -- you can look them up!) and mythic heroes (Icarus). As for Shade, his name just reminded me of shadows and twilight. Marina means "of the sea" -- she lives on an island as the story begins. And Goth is kind of shorthand for the word "gothic" -- which conjured up all sorts of images of vampires and dungeons.
How did you come up with the names of your characters?
For the bats I tried to pick names that suited winged, airborne nocturnal creatures. Wind names for instance like Chinook, Zephyr, Scirocco. I also used a couple angel names from the Old Testament: Ariel and Cassiel. Shade seemed obvious, for a creature used to shadows. Marina means "of the sea" and Shade meets her on an island. Some names are from Greek and Roman mythology, like Romulus and Remus and Mercury. Goth is from the word gothic -- look it up and you'll see it fits Goth's personality!
How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends on the type of book it is. A picture book for very young readers may only take a couple of weeks to write, but it may take years just to think up the idea, or make sure it works! A novel like Silverwing takes me about eight months total to write. Airborn took longer, about 18 months. First I write an outline of the story, then a first draft, which might take up to six months. Then I try to take a break so I get a fresh perspective on the story when I come back to rewrite and revise. This takes several months. I find that rewriting is when the book gets really interesting -- I understand the story and the characters much better the second time around!
How many books have you written?
I've written 27 books in total. You can learn about many of them here on my website...
What's your favorite book that you yourself have written?
I enjoyed writing Silverwing and researching bats and inventing the characters and the world of the story; but I think Firewing might be the most original and unusual book of the Silverwing series. At the moment, though, I'm most proud of Airborn and Half Brother...
What is the strangest thing you have ever gotten inspiration from?
When I was just starting out as a writer, I was making zero money. So to make ends meet, I took in typing (this was back in the medieval 1990's when not everyone had a laptop yet, and some people didn't know how to type.) Mostly I typed up essays for university students, and people's memoirs, all sorts of things really. The title of one of my early books, Dead Water Zone, was inspired by a metallurgy paper I was typing at the time. And the inspiration for an early picture book, Follow That Star, came to me while typing up a simple Christmas play for a local church parish.
What are your hobbies?
I like watching movies, going for long walks, sailing, travelling (especially train rides), and of course, reading.
What are some of your favourite books?
I have lots for children and teens. Here's some of them:
The Lorax; How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr Seuss)
The Alfie and Annie Rose stories (Shirley Hughes)
Night Cars (Teddy Jam)
Emily of New Moon (L.M. Montgomery)
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
The Wooden People (Myra Paperny)
Danny the Champion of the World; The BFG; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)
Angel Square; Up to Low (Brian Doyle)
The Sky is Falling (Kit Pearson)
Awake and Dreaming (Kit Pearson)
The Maestro (Tim Wynne-Jones)
Dust (Arthur Slade)
B for Buster (Iain Lawrence)
Everything on a Waffle (Polly Horvath)
Skellig (David Almond)
Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve)
Feed (M.T. Anderson)
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (M.T. Anderson)
The White Darkness (Geraldine McCaughrean)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon)
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
What advice would you give a teen who is very much interested in becoming an author?
If you want to become a writer, write. Write a diary, keep a notebook of your ideas, and write whatever it is you love to write: poems, or short stories, or longer works of fiction or non fiction. Write about the things you love. That's what I did when I was a teen. I wrote science fiction stories (a lot like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and other movies I loved); I wrote fantasy stories (like Dungeons andf Dragons, or Lord of the Rings), and I wrote a story about a kid addicted to video games (like me) -- and that became my first published book, just as I was leaving high school. When you write something, get as much feedback as you can. Parents, teachers, trusted friends. Every bit of intelligent criticism is valuable to you. Submit your work to student magazines and contests. And always read as much as you can, because that will help you learn what kind of things you like to write best -- and you can learn techniques from your favourite writers. What makes something scary, or sad, or exciting, or funny. And don't be discouraged if you have to rewrite a story many times. The biggest part of being a successful writer is rewriting, and having the discipline to stick with a story until it's as good as it can be! In the end, the people who really have the passion and skill for writing will write -- because there's nothing else they'd rather do.
What do you guys do when you are faced with writer's block? What helps you get over it?
When most people talk about writer's block, they mean a longish period of weeks or months or even years! Luckily, I haven't suffererd from one of these extreme cases -- and hope I never will! But I think every writer faces micro versions of block throughout each working day. There aren't too many days when a writer doesn't hit a wall of some kind. What happens next? What will the character do? What choices will he make? What choices will I make? Writing, like life, involves so many different options and possibilities that it's often paralysing. When I get stuck, I usually do one of two things. One, I jump forwards, to a part of the story where I know what happens (or think I know what happens). This is good, because it keeps you writing so you don't lose momentum; also, this little glimpse of the future might help you figure out what needs to happen in the past. Two, I go backwards and rethink what I've already writtten. Because sometimes when you get stuck, it means you've left unfinished work behind you -- a flimsy character, an ill-motivated scene, or something. When I get halfway through a draft of a book, I usually hit the wall and don't want to carry on, because there's so much unfinished work behind me. So back I go and rewrite. And then I can usually carry all the way through to the end.
How do I get it published?
If you've written a book that you think is ready to be published, you must first make sure it is professionally typed and double-spaced. Then you need to send your book to a publisher. Check out the Canadian Children's Book Centre. They publish a "Get Published" kit with information about writing for children, and submitting your work to publishers. If you can't decide which publisher to send your book to, visit a bookstore and find some books which are most like yours in terms of length, subject matter and tone, and make a note of the publishers. Some publishers won't accept unsolicited manuscripts. You might want to call them to see what their policy is on reading book manuscripts. If they do accept unsolicited manuscripts, you might want to first send them a one-page letter introducing yourself and telling just a bit about your book, and include one or two sample chapters from your book. If they like what they read, they will ask for the whole manuscript. Be prepared to wait a long time! Publishers can take months and months to reply to a submission -- and at the end of it all, you might only get a form letter rejection.
The other option you have, rather than sending the books to publishers yourself, is to try to get a literary agent. An agent sends your book to various publishers for you, and takes a commission (usually 15%) if he or she sells your book. There aren't many children's literary agents in Canada (try the Yellow Pages). You'll need to submit your book to the agent in the same way you would a publisher, and the agent may or may not decide to take you on. Also, think about joining a professional children's writers group like Canscaip which publishes a useful newsletter and holds meetings around the country. You can meet other aspiring writers, and get tips on how to get your book published. Good luck!
Photograph: Ian Crysler