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charlie higson

Author Interviews

Are you a monster? Lucy Macnab speaks to World of Books about the Charity – Ministry of Stories

By Admin

The Ministry of Stories is a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people in East London. By using storytelling to inspire young people aged 8-18, the company believes that writing can unleash imaginations and build up confidence, self-respect and communication. Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne co-founded the Ministry of Stories in 2010, and are now supported by Meera Syal, David Nicholls and Zadie Smith (among others). Welcoming all forms of writing, from screen-writing, song-writing, blogging, journalism and copy-writing, the company is located in the most deprived boroughs of the country, facing huge challenges for literacy. In its first year alone, over 3000 young people took part in its volunteer-led workshops and writing projects. The charity runs free writing workshops and mentoring for young people in East London. Supported by trained volunteers, including writers, teachers, local people and artists, the Ministry of Stories’ work is designed to fire young people’s imaginations and to make writing fun. The charity has just launched their Hoxton Street Monster Supply Shop – “Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind”. The shop sells everything your little monsters could want, whether this is a limited edition range of Tinned Fear, or The Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping. Through this world of imagination, all proceeds made go towards the cost of The Ministry of Stories and the admirable programmes it runs.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Hello everyone at the Ministry of Stories! And Lucy Macnab who is answering our questions today,

Firstly World of Books would like to say a huge thank you for taking the time to be interviewed by us, we really admire the work you are doing and, as we’re self-confessed bookworms too, we can’t wait to give anything that gets written by your little monsters a read!

Q: We’ll start with a question for the founders of the charity- Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne. What gave you all the idea for the Ministry of Stories? Had you all worked together before?

The Ministry of Stories has been inspired by 826 Valencia, the young people’s creative writing centre and pirate supplies store founded by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari. When I met [Ministry co-director] Ben Payne, we began talking pretty quickly about how we could go about starting something similar here in London. Nick had also been wondering how to go about getting something off the ground. We applied for some seed funding from the Arts Council and the JJ Charitable Trust, and about that time Dave Eggers came to town to do a book reading – the surge of people wanting to help us make it happen, as well as the confirmation of our funding and meeting Nick, helped make it a reality.

Q: World of Books is rather excited about your new shop! What can you tell us about it? And what three top buys do you recommend for all those little monsters out there?

We’re glad to hear that you humans have a taste for the monstrous! Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was established in 1818, though the exact details of why, and by whom, have tragically been lost to history. In 2010, after closing for a much-needed refurbishment, we re-opened our doors and last Hallowe’en we launched our online store, monstersupplies.org. We pride ourselves on being London’s, and quite possibly the world’s, only purveyor of quality goods for monsters of every kind. Many of our customers have been coming to us for centuries. Indeed, some have been coming for considerably longer. Whether you’re a Vampire, Werewolf, Sasquatch or some Thing else entirely, we have everything you need.

This season we would definitely recommend trying Creeping Dread from our range of Tinned Fear or, if you’re a little younger, perhaps a milder form of fear, such as The Chills. Prepared by the most terrifyingly talented authors around such as Charlie Higson – (check out the World of Books interview with Charlie here) and Jeremy Strong, these tins are marvellous for younger monsters. We would also urge you to try our Cubed Earwax, a delicious treat, and the new January stock is tastier than ever. The other essential for any monster household is The Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping, four little books with frighteningly good advice, illustrations and activities.

Q: As you’ve already mentioned, the charity and shop was inspired by the model of 826 Valencia, which was founded ten years ago in San Francisco by Dave Eggers. Eggers hoped that there were writers and mentors in his local community who would be willing to volunteer their time to work with young people in the local area. Because the space he found was in a retail zone, Eggers had the brilliant brainwave of building a wooden ship’s interior, and opening the premises as a pirate’s supply store. There are now seven other similar centres across the USA with different shop themes, and all supporting their own writing programmes. How much response has the Ministry of Stories received since its beginning in 2010? Are there aims to have as many branches across the UK as Egger’s work in America?

We have been very inspired by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari’s project in Valencia, and the other centres around the US – they do incredible work. When we opened the Ministry of Stories in November 2010, there was an amazing response from volunteers, teachers, young people and their parents, wanting to be part of something similar here in London. A year on, we’ve put down some roots here in Hoxton, building great relationships in the neighbourhood. We’ve also had a lot of interest from people around the UK who have been inspired by what we’re doing. It’s early in our story, but we certainly hope to see other Ministries of Stories in the UK in the future.

Q: What value does the charity place on a good book?

The highest value! Reading and writing are closely connected, as any writer will tell you. This year we’re looking forward to working more with our local library, and on projects with young people that respond creatively to reading great books.

Ministry of Stories Poster

Ministry of Stories Poster

Q: Now, we ask this question a lot, but it’s rare we have actually had the opportunity to talk to people who work with aspiring young authors on a day-to-day basis. What three crucial pieces of advice would the Ministry of Stories’ published authors give to writers who are just beginning to find their feet?

The Ministry of Stories is about all kinds of writing, from scripts to storyboards, from poetry to puzzles. We always start our workshops with three golden rules – Respect, Courage and Imagination. Take your ideas seriously and treat them with respect, have the courage to follow an idea in an ambitious direction and give your imagination free rein. You never know where it will take you.

Q: If an adult wanted to get involved, how would they go about doing so?

Very easily. Visit our website and decide whether you could become a member of our 159 Club for those who are as passionate about getting young people writing as we are. By giving £10.60 a month to support our workshops and programmes, you could make a huge difference, click here.

We’re also looking for volunteer writing mentors for our weekday daytime workshops, and you can sign up for this through our website too here.

Q: Now, it’s got to be asked, how do you qualify as a ‘monster’?

Well, that is different for every type of monster, of course. Readers of Frankenstein, Dracula and Moby Dick will have a more sophisticated understanding. If you’re unsure whether you might be a monster, we recommend a visit to our shop, where staff will be happy to advise.

Q: So, lastly, World of Books admires your work to promote literacy with young people, because we also place a high value on books and the learning they enable. Here at World of Books we’re dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public, and, like the Ministry of Stories, we believe books should be passed on for others to enjoy and be inspired by. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, does the team at the Ministry of Stories believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

– Your mission sounds important and exciting. More books for more readers is always a good thing. Books for Victory!

Are you inspired to help more young people get involved with reading and writing projects at the Ministry of Stories? There are lots of ways you can help. Make sure you check out the Ministry of Stories website to find out about giving your time or a regular donation. And whilst you’re there, visit their store for some monster-sized treats!

Fancy catching up on any of the authors we mentioned in this interview? Why not check out the World of Books.

Author Interviews, Celebrity Interviews

“In the end we’re all human and we all have our faults. That’s what’s nice about books – you can create perfect heroes”. An interview with author and comedian Charlie Higson

By Admin

Charles Murray Higson, English author, actor, and comedian, was born 3rd July 1958. He attended Sevenoaks School, and later went on to the University of East Anglia, where he formed a band called The Higsons (alongside David Cummings and Terry Edwards), of which he was lead singer for 6 years. After a brief stint as a decorator, Charlie went into partnership with Paul Whitehouse and also began to write for Harry Enfield. Coming to attention as one of the main writers and actors of the comedy sketch show, The Fast Show (1994-200), Charlie’s television success includes Saturday Night Live, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, The Harry Enfield Television Programme, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and Swiss Toni. Charlie also worked with Paul on a radio comedy show called Down the Line. Although he wrote several novels in the 1990s (if you fancy checking these out, they’re King of the Ants released in 1992, Happy Now in 1993, Full Whack in 1995, and Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen, which was released in 1996), it was not until 2004 that Charlie penned SilverFin, the first instalment in a series of James Bond novels, aimed at younger readers, that depict the life of this iconic character’s school-days at Eton. This highly successful series, made up of five novels, has sold over a million copies in the UK alone. As well as this series, Charlie has also used his enjoyment of horror films and books to write The Enemy, the first book in a series of zombie adventures. The second and third books are called The Dead and The Fear. The Sacrifice will be published in September 2012. Charlie has 3 sons, and lives in North London.

Hi Charlie!

Thank you for letting us interview you, your Young Bond series never stay at World of Books for long as they’re so popular- so it’s great that our customers can read a little about you!

Q: Ok, so we’ll start easy- what is the average day in the life of Charlie Higson?

Up at dawn for a five-mile run, followed by breakfast of raw eggs snake meat, then target practice on the rifle range for three hours. I usually have time to fit in some martial arts training before lunch, and then… I can see I’m not fooling you. The reality of being a writer is rather different. We sit in small rooms making it all up. I have an office at home, and once the kids have gone off to school I settle down at my computer for a full day’s writing. Although I do break it up with a few sessions playing Call of Duty online, which is the closest I came to any action and adventure.

Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

To expand time. Twice as many hours in a day, twice as many days in a year. I could write twice as many books and have twice as much fun.

Q: As we’ve mentioned above, you’ve also written four adult books, all of which can be said to be somewhat gritty and to different extents, dark. Do you find it very different writing adult fiction compared to young adult? Which do you prefer?

It’s no different writing for adults as it is writing for kids. A book is a book, and whoever it’s aimed at it needs to do the same things. You need a good story and interesting characters, you need to grab your readers and not let them go and you have to write some memorable passages that will stick in their minds. In a way it’s harder writing for kids. They are easily bored and you can’t be at all self-indulgent (like many ‘literary’ authors). I like to write books in which lots of stuff happens, I like action and horror, and I suppose all of my books have been quite dark. There are some differences between the adult ones and the ones for younger readers. There is less swearing in my teen books, and no sex, otherwise they’re pretty much the same. At the moment I am writing exclusively for kids as I’m enjoying it, and the kids seem to be enjoying it too. I’m sure one day (maybe when my kids have grown up) I’ll return to writing books for older readers – although of course many adults really enjoy The Enemy series.

Q: And a random one- who is your hero?

It’s hard to find any real life heroes. In the end we’re all human and we all have our faults. That’s what’s nice about books – you can create perfect heroes. I do like people who can make me laugh, though, so I’ll say Tommy Cooper and Vic Reeves, Steve Coogan, Woody Allen and of course my writing partner Paul Whitehouse.

Q: If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice, what would it be?

Don’t wear that awful pale blue nylon turtle neck shirt. Otherwise just enjoy yourself, you’ll be an old man before you know it.

Q: What made you want to write the Young Bond Series? How many times have you had to watch the films as ‘research’?

I was asked if I wanted to write the books by the Ian Fleming estate (Ian Fleming created James Bond, and his family still own the character). It was their idea and they approached me rather than the other way round. As a lifelong James Bond fan it was the perfect job offer. The idea was that I would try to fit in with the original books rather than the films, although I obviously wanted my books to have all the fun and excitement of the films. So I went back and reread the books and picked out anything I thought might be useful – any clues to the early life of Bond. I also wanted to get inside Ian Fleming’s mind and see how he went about writing his books. He was a great teacher. Often when I was writing the books and I wanted to get into the right mood, I would play some of John Barry’s old Bond film music very loud. That was fun and always worked.

Q: What is the current book on your nightstand?

I am working my way through Bernard Cornwell’s series of Sharpe novels, about a British soldier fighting in the Peninsula War against Napoleon’s armies in Spain. I am about two thirds of the way through and really enjoying them. Cornwell writes really well about action and battles, something I am trying to learn about for my new zombie war series. Cornwell also reminds me a lot of Ian Fleming. You can see Sharpe as a James Bond figure, fighting for his country, with the Duke of Wellington as M.

Q: World of Books have actually been lucky enough to interview Mr Cornwell in the past, so we are just as avid fans!

So, on with the questions! The most recent instalment of your zombie adventure series, The Fear, was released back in September. The book carries on the tale of a world where adults over the age of 14 have contracted a mysterious illness which has killed mostly everyone, and made the survivors zombie flesh-eaters. This particular episode tells the tale of DogNut, who attempts to find his friends across the streets of London. Can we expect another in this series? And what characters across the three have you particularly bonded with and enjoyed writing about?

– I am planning to write at least seven instalments of the series. I have created lots of characters all with their own parallel but intertwining stories, so I need the space to fit them all in. My favourite characters so far are Small Sam and The Kid, two young boys who have wild adventures. The next book– The Sacrifice – which I am writing at the moment (or at least I would be if I didn’t have to answer all these pesky questions!) is all about them.

Q: Sorry Charlie! We’re looking forward to the next instalment, so won’t keep you much longer! Do your sons give you constructive feedback? Or are they your best critics?

The Enemy

The Enemy

When I first started writing for kids I had no idea if I could do it, if my style would work, if I could actually write in a way that kids would enjoy. So I used to test everything on my own kids. As I finished each chapter of my Bond books I read them out as bedtime stories to my boys, which is why the books are so violent. My boys demanded more and more killings, blood and mayhem. They were very polite but I could tell from their body language if they were bored – for instance, if they fell asleep I knew I would have to put in another gory death. It was the same with my horror series. I used my youngest son, Sidney, as a guinea pig. I read The Enemy to him at night and if he had nightmares I knew I was doing something right!

Q: And finally, here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

– I love books – physical paper ones. My house is full of them. There will always be a place for real books in the world, though eBooks will save a lot of paper. I hate to ever throw a book away, so I think what you are doing is wonderful. I spend a huge amount of time in 2nd hand bookshops, books have always been recycled in this way. Get the books out there and share them and keep them alive. Keep up the good work.

Fancy checking out any of Charlie’s books? Why not see what Bond was like before he earned his license to kill and pick up a book from our site today? You can find out more about Charlie at his own website over at http://www.charliehigson.co.uk/ You can also find him on Twitter as @Monstroso