Joe is 11 years, 2 months and 21 days old, what is he like as a character?
Joe is the sort of kid that when you first meet him you think him very confident and mature, but that comes from being surrounded by adults. It's his conversations with Henry that reveal most about him, he's actually pretty insecure, a little naïve, and frightened but at the same time he's got the spirit not to just sit back and let the world float by his window.
What was the process like writing The Bubble Boy? Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I started with one idea, a kid unable to go outside because he was too ill. So in chapter 1 described his room and gave him a sister, the story grew from that, and I discovered new things, chapter by chapter. At around the half way mark, I knew the ending, in fact I wrote the final chapter at that point. Then it was just like firing a rocket at the moon. I had a point to aim for, I just had to work out how to get there.
What is the message within your book?
The main message is to always have hope no matter how bleak your situation my seem. It's not a flight of fantasy or a point of ridicule for a person to have dreams. I also wanted to write a book about good, and not evil. There's too many evil things around today.
How much research did you do in preparation for writing this book?
All I can say is thank goodness we've got the internet because I was forever flicking between a word document and google. When I first put Joe in his room I didn't give him a specific disease. I wanted his story to come out first and not to be dictated by the parameters of his illness. What made it hard at times is that I'm pretty squeamish, just typing the word 'blood' made my fingers go weak, but in the end I realised that rather than limit the horizons, the research took the story to places I didn't imagine like when Joe discovers Staphylococcus.
What did you learn from writing your debut book that will help you to write future books?
The Bubble Boy is my debut children's novel after I wrote We used to be Kings. The biggest lesson I took from writing is not to be afraid of research. I always used to think to but research would hold up or block the writing where actually it opens it up.
Not all superheroes wear capes, tell us more?
I love Spiderman and the reason he's my favourite is that he's a good person when he's Peter Parker as well as when he's wearing his suit. There's no bad side to him at all. I do hope, in this time when the movie makers are pitting Superheroes against each other that they don't do it with Spiderman. He's not meant to fight his peers, he's here to save the world. In The Bubble Boy I just wanted people to see that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, that doing good things can be cool and that you don't do them for reward or recognition, you do them to make other peoples lives better. Sometimes I feel like Bubble is a tribute to doctors and nurses in the NHS, I don't mind if it's seen as that.
The book is very poignant, do you recommend a box of tissues when you read the book?
Bubble is poignant, but overall I'd like people to see it as a happy story, one of hope. There are two scenes that upset me when I was writing, one of them is just one line about the Snooker Ball Kid. I couldn't believe how attached I got to a kid that we never actually get to meet. So okay, the story is upsetting at times but sad things happen in hospitals. I was talking to a London bookseller a couple of weeks back and she said she loved the way I didn't hold back, or sugar coat it and I agree, I didn't, but at the same time I didn't want to make it gratuitous or unrealistic. I don't think I could bare to write something unreal.
What can a boy like Joe do in London in three hours?
Three hours? God such a short time and so many kids want so many different things. How about I tell you the perfect three hours for Joe? He'd go to watch Arsenal play Man United at the Emirates with his sister and Greg. He'd meet Theo Walcott before the game and half time Amir would do a fly pass with red smoke trailing from the tail like the Red Arrows. Aaaargh! We're running out of time...can you give him an extra two so he can watch Avengers Assemble on the big screen as he makes his way home?
One of my favourite characters is Amir, as he is fascinated about aliens. What does he think they will look like and where did that idea come from?
Amir doesn't have a picture of what Aliens look like, he's more interested in their souls and the feelings they bring with them. My god that sounds a bit deep. I guess I'm saying Amir is a very spiritual person, he doesn't have to see people or Aliens to know they are in the room.
And where did the idea come from?....Well honestly, I put this mysterious person in the room with Joe and he didn't speak for ages, he just kept watching the planes out the window, and when he mutters 'Do you believe in Aliens?' I was as surprised as the reader, but looking back after developing his character, it's the only words he could have said.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell us, such as any new writing projects?
I'm not sure if this is the place to put this but I'd love to tell other writers, published or unpublished, not to give up. The Bubble Boy came out of a moment of being very down about writing. The publishing world can be a harsh place at times but when I idea springs you have to pick it up and run with it. I think most importantly, accept that agents and editors know what they are doing. You may love and be protective of your story but accept what you think is harsh criticism will actually push you to make your story better.
And what next? I've just finished a first draft of a story about bullying. It's upset me more than I could have imagined, but that usually a good thing. It my writing doesn't affect me I can't expect it to do the same to the reader.