We are coming to the end of our brilliant debut author interview series. I'd like to say a big thank you to all of the authors for the time they gave providing some really insightful answers. This week we are finishing with an amazing interview - it's a great contender for a good Halloween read. Ghostcloud is the debut book by Michael Mann and was recently published by Hodder Children's Books on 7th October 2021. It's a lovely hardback with a fantastic visual appeal. It could be a contender for this year's annual book cover wars, what do you think?
Without further ado, let's find out more about the author and their book in this Q&A. Please support all our debut authors by buying their books. Here is a list of all the other INTERVIEWS we have covered which you can check out HERE. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day!
- How would you promote or explain the story behind your book in just 50 words?
- What are you looking forward to most once your debut book has been published?
Celebrating with all my friends in a park with some bubbly (and, perhaps, taking a break from Twitter!)
- What inspired you to write Ghostcloud?
My grandad was a coal-miner in Yorkshire, called Luke, so that must have been a factor. The kids I teach constantly inspire me. But a big one, I suppose, has to be the sky, I hope that after reading the book kids do look at it a little differently.
This is because a big idea in the book is that when you see a shape in the clouds– whether it’s a horse or skull or whatever – that it might just be watching you back. In the book, Luke visits this ‘Ghostcloud’ world and learns to do the things these ghosts can: he learns to ride the clouds, bend their shape to his will, fire lightning and make it rain. And I hope that’s exciting for kids – that there’s a whole new world, above our heads, waiting to be discovered.
- You won your first writing competition at school-aged ten. What have you learned since then that has helped you to write this book?
Some practical things like cutting back on adverbs. Some subtle things – like how to put a bit more of my heritage into my work. I’ve even had to unlearn some things – it turns out it is allowed (and fun) to start sentences with ‘But’!
Most of all I learned that you must write for yourself and not worry about others. Books are so subjective – what one person loves, another one hates – if you try to please everyone, it’s impossible. Start with enjoying it yourself, then anything else is a bonus.
- How do you encourage aspiring young writers who would like to become published authors in the future?
I know lots of authors who got published on their third or fourth book, so my advice would be keep writing, and write to the end. You learn so much from finishing a story.
I’d also say, while you shouldn’t worry whether everyone will like it, feedback from the right people is definitely useful. I found courses invaluable for building up a network of writers and tutors who I trust, and who gave feedback sensitively and thoughtfully.
- How important is getting children into reading for you?
It’s everything to me. I usually teach 9-year-olds, and some kids are already going off books – and it breaks my heart! But I also believe that it’s never too late: the right book, at the right time, and you can get you back into it.
Books open up worlds. They’ve taught me so much about the human experience. They’re also an escape and a refuge when times are tough. Every child (and every adult) needs that from time to time.
- Who did you share your book with prior to it being published and what kind of feedback did you get?
My first draft I shared with my mum and she didn’t comment, which was clearly a bad sign, because she’s one of those people who is lovely about everything. A course tutor also queried the pace and voice. I didn’t take the hint, though, I thought it was well-written, so I sent it to an editor (at Lighthouse Literary) who gave invaluable specifics on what needed to change.
I then started again, with a completely different tone and plot, while on course at CityLit and then Curtis Brown – and this time it was working. I had feedback from the tutors and coursemates (some who kindly read the whole finished manuscript before submitting) and that was invaluable.
- What is the key message you would like readers to take from your book and how important is that to you?
One is that you don’t have to feel brave, to do brave things. Often all you need to do is keep going, one step at a time. ‘It’s not over till it’s over’ as Ghostcloud’s hero Luke says.
Secondly, there’s a message that it’s ok to be halfway, to be a ‘work in progress’. I’m half-Indian, half-white, and as a kid, I often felt I wasn’t one thing properly. Luke feels the same. But through the course of the book, he and many of the other characters, who don’t fit the categories in some way or another, grow to accept the ‘in-between’ and see it’s strength.
- How many bookshelves do you have in your home and, more importantly, what are your most treasured or favourite books that we would find sitting on them?
My partner hates clutter so I don’t have half as many as I’d like, but at least twice as many as he’d like. My most treasured books, hmm, you’d have all the Roald Dahls, all the TinTins, John Wyndhams, Phillip K Dicks, Neil Gaimans, Jonathan Strouds, David Eddings, Julian Mays, Vikram Seths and at least two copies of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. (And a ton more children’s books – Holes by Louis Sachar, Wolves of Willhoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, and I could go on!)
10. If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing/writing process, or books what would they be?
I ask Piers Torday questions all the time – he’s been so wise and helpful to me on the process – as have many other authors, like Vashti Hardy, Ross Montgomery.
But hmm, perhaps, I’d ask Roald Dahl about the Witches – it’s such a fun, terrifying, strange book, with these huge stretches of mesmerising monologues from the grandma about witches, all building up to that epic scene with the Grand High Witch. I love it, but don’t know how he did it.
Then I’d probably ask Tolstoy how he gets his characters are so real, and somehow (at least for me) to capture the whole human experience. Even a drop of that and I’d be happy.
Then I just finished The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud – and it transported me away – and was plotted ever so perfectly. So I’d just ask him if he wanted to go for a coffee, so I could tell him how much I loved it.