Every children's writer must at some point question why they are writing for their audience (not least because others will ask the infernal question 'Oh, don't you want to write grown-up books?'). I came to children's writing after attempting to be a grown up in university, getting a job as a bookseller and rediscovering children's books and the wonders that they held. I immersed myself in the Harry Potters, the Sally Lockharts, Alex Riders, the world of Mortal Engines and the like, but also rediscovered the books of my youth. When I came to develop my own ideas for writing stories I asked myself whether I wanted to write the gritty, hormone-fuelled teen books which were gaining popularity at the time, or go for the pulse-racing adventure stories for the junior fiction market (the term 'middle-grade' had not yet made its way across the atlantic).
I chose the adventure story. (I later tried a teen story as well, but that is currently rotting in a drawer somewhere, never to be seen due to my utter embarrassment) Why? I chose to indulge myself. I concluded that if I was going to spend months and months writing something then it had better be fun. The teen books which I loved were all realist in nature, dealing with hard problems which, if I'm honest, I'm not sure I had the answers to at the time. I may still try my hand at those stories, but only after some serious life experience. Adventures however gave me that tingle of excitement that I recognised from when I was a child. I wanted thrills, chases and action that my ten-year-old self would appreciate and stay up at night to read under the bed covers. I wanted my audience to forego sleep and mealtimes to finish their books, to be transported to another time and place.
Which is why I placed my heroine, Lottie Lipton, in the richest environment I could think of for adventure: The British Museum. Here she can slip between the past and the present, experience world cultures and dip into magic and legend, all from her untidy flat in the grounds of the museum. Because I love a book with a difference, I littered the story with puzzles and codes, inspired by my favourite books as a child.
Of course, when writing my own books I wanted to emulate the books I loved, both past and present. In a last display of indulgence, I wanted to list my inspirations for launching into this crazy author business:
- Choose Your Own Adventure – The famous D&D inspired game books opened up the world of storytelling and let the reader walk amongst the characters and the action.
- Usborne Puzzle Adventures – These were the goto book in my school library, with codes and clues on every page.
- Alex Rider – Okay, I'm a little old for these, but they had the right effect. At age 23 I announced that when I grew up I wanted to be Alex Rider, the fourteen year old super spy created by Anthony Horowitz.
- Sally Lockhart – Philip Pullman matches dramatic intensity with page-turning adventure in these Victorian escapades.
- Mortal Engines – The whole darn quadrilogy was an eye-opener for me, set in a brilliantly imaginative dystopian mecha-world.
Films and other media
- The Goonies – Ask any man my age and he'll quote this verbatim. So best not to ask.
- Indiana Jones – Just the music gives me a tingle.
- The Secret of Monkey Island – This epic role-playing game from the 90s had mind-bending logic puzzles and a swashbuckling theme that kept me playing for hours and hours and hours and hours...
- Doctor Who – It's impossible to say how much this influenced me, but suffice to say that ten-year-old me had a long scarf and invented cosplay years before Comicon.
What inspired you? Give me a tinkle in the comments, or hit me up via twitter (@metcalfwriter) and FB (www.facebook.com/DanMetcalfWriter)
The Lottie Lipton Books are out now, available from all retailers and at www.danmetcalf.co.uk/books/LottieLipton