Q: Can you please describe how you started writing? Why do you think you have to write?
A: I don't really remember a time when I didn't want to write. I remember being about seven or eight years old and my teacher told us to write a short story and it had to include a dilemma of some kind. I worked really hard on that story and remember being really excited when I handed it in (mostly because I was rubbish at everything else). The next morning my teacher made me stand up in front of the whole class. I thought he was going to tell me how good it was. Instead, and to my absolute horror, he accused me of cheating; he insisted that I had actually copied the story out of a magazine or book of short stories. He gave me a detention and a well-developed sense of revenge -- I continued to write my own stories at home and never looked back. I don't think that I could stop now even if I wanted to.
Q: Among the world's writers, who do you think have most influenced you?
A: I spent many a rainy day reading Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" as a child, but I think Ian Fleming is the writer who influenced me the most. I would love to have created James Bond. But I also really like the work of Bernard Cornwell. His series of "Sharpe" books is amazing, and his detailed grasp of military history is breathtaking.
Q: You have just published a fantasy Chinese ebook for young adults, Poppy Darke and the Cauldron of Fear. What do you try to convey in this book?
A: I often get asked this question! But I'm never consciously trying to convey any message in a story; it's not something I think about. I just want to write an enjoyable adventure story that people will remember. Subconsciously though, I often find, on reading my own stories, that there is a fine line between good and evil. That good people can do bad things, and vice versa.
Q: In terms of fantasy, what do you think a writer should be aware of when constructing plots, creating characters and managing the overall themes?
A: In this day and age, with films, books, television and computer games, every possible story has already been told in a thousand different ways. It's important to be original, but maybe originality is in its last throws of death. Personally I try to tell a story from a strange angle or viewpoint. Writing is, after all, an art form, something to be moulded or painted. Writing is personal to the writer, so it's important to keep your own voice and style, and don't try to be anyone else.
Q: Have you ever encountered problems while writing? How do you conquer them?
A: Writing for me is the world's hardest crossword puzzle, only there's no grid and you have no clues. You have to write your own questions and then figure out the answers. I've never really encountered problems while writing, except the usual, the dreaded writer's block. Then it's just a case of doing something different for a while. I usually have a cup of tea or take the dog for a walk.
Q: In your view, what is the most difficult thing about writing for young adults?
A: The most difficult aspect of writing for teenagers is their tastes and fashions can change overnight. When I wrote Poppy Darke and the Cauldron of Fear, I had to put myself in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl. I had t know everything about her, all of her likes and dislikes and her moods. Not to mention her mannerisms and the way she spoke. For me, a forty-three-year-old welder and ex-soldier, this should have been impossible, and it very nearly was.
Q: If someone asks you how to become a novelist, what will you say?
A: This happens surprisingly often, and I always say the same thing. "READ, read, read, and then when you've read some more, pick up a pen or turn on your laptop and begin writing."
Q: Among all the novels for young adults out there in the market, which aspects do you think should be further developed and promoted -- writing, storylines, style, theme, etc?
A: Writing, storylines, style, themes -- these are not what make a writer, what creates uniqueness. However, every author should be consciously developing all of these things and a thousand others every time they put a word on paper. Through constantly thinking about our writing, storylines, styles and themes, we make ourselves better.
Q: As a writer, in your view, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing your stories as ebooks?
A: The fact is ebooks are the future. The writer can easily sell on a worldwide market place, and the buyer has a vast array of books to choose from at an affordable price, without destroying the world's forests in the bargain. The only disadvantages is that I'd love to see my books in a library one day when I'm an old man, to be browsing the selves and seeing my books with my name on them. To open the sleeves and see dozens of stamp marks where people had borrowed them. That feeling of walking past a bookshop and seeing your book in the window will never be replaced by ebooks, nor will that feeling of pride when a complete stranger asks you to sign a copy.