An Interview with the Author Kevin Brooks
Kevin Brooks is the author of many mysterious books for young adults, including The Road of the Dead, Lucas and most recently, Black Rabbit Summer. In October 2008, he came all the way from his home in England to talk to teens at the Chicago Public Library about his long journey to becoming a great writer. Our teens had so many questions that he couldn’t answer them all while he was here, but he took time out of his writing schedule to share the answers here. Enjoy!
Where is Raymond? Will you write another book so we can find out what happens to Raymond?
I honestly don’t know where Raymond is. I wanted to write a book about someone who goes missing and is never found—because, to me, that must be one of the most distressing things to experience—and so I never allowed myself to “know” what happened to Raymond.
No, I don’t have any plans to write a sequel. I don’t really like sequels!
Where did you get the ideas for the book Black Rabbit Summer? What inspired you to write that particular book?
Ideas for books come from everywhere, anywhere and sometimes even nowhere. The original idea for BRS came to me one summer’s day when I was in a park with my dogs, and I saw a group of young kids (aged 11/12ish) just riding their bikes around, being together, doing the kind of stuff that kids do when they’re that age … and it just got me thinking about those kinds of friendships, and what they mean and what happens to them as we get older.
What are your top three movies? Albums?
Good one! Very difficult, but, without giving it too much thought: Top three movies: 1) Hombre 2) The Outlaw Josey Wales 3) Starman. And albums: 1) Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine 2) Velvet Underground, by The Velvet Underground, 3) The Clash’s first album.
How does your music influence your writing?
Although music and books are in some ways very different, I tend to see them as fundamentally the same thing—i.e., they’re both indefinable and wonderful ways of expressing yourself—and, as such, I think that writing books is very similar to writing songs. They’re both all about the same kinds of stuff – rhythm, pace, emotion, poetry, feelings, descriptions, mystery. So, in short, my music has a huge influence on my writing, basically because I think of my writing as my music.
Which of your characters do you think is most like you?
I try to create characters who are individuals in their own right, who see things and think about things in different ways to me. But, having said that, it’s impossible to develop a character without including something of me in their personality, simply because it’s me that’s creating them. I suppose the character who is most like me, or most like someone who I could have been, is Joe Beck from my book Candy. Or maybe I’m wrong … maybe I’m most like Martyn Pig. I don’t know … I think it’s probably best for other people to decide!
What is your favorite thing to do when you visit the U.S.?
I like to see all the things that feel familiar to me from reading so much American fiction and seeing so many American movies and TV shows. I also like to buy stuff that you can’t buy here in the UK, like cowboy hats, dumb souvenirs, sheriff’s badges, etc.
Do you read YA fiction? If so, what British and American YA authors do you recommend?
I don’t read too much YA fiction, but I know who’s who and who’s doing what. In the U.S., the very best YA writer of all time is Jack Gantos, while in the UK I’d recommend anything by Meg Rossof (who’s actually American, but lives and works over here), Mal Peet, Melvyn Burgess and David Almond.
What crimes interest you the most?
I find all crimes fascinating, from small to large, petty to serious, harmless to heinous, but I guess it’s the really big crime stories that truly fascinate me – the ones that take over the media and thereby involve us all in their stories.
What inspired you to write Candy?
The simple answer is – someone said to me, ’Why don’t you write a love story?’ So I did.
What inspired you to become a writer? Did you always want to become a writer?
Yes, I’ve always always always wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember, and that’s what’s always inspired me. And it still does. I want to do what I’m doing because I love it.
Did you have another ending for Candy?
No, it was always going to end how it does.
How many books have you written?
I’ve just finished my eighth full-length novel, to be published next year, and I’ve also had four shorter novels published.
How long does it take for you to write a book?
The long answer is: including thinking time, it can take anything from 20 years to six months. The short answer is: usually about a year.
Have you had any experiences with book challenges, regarding your books? (Due to subject matter or language, for example)
Remarkably few, really!
Do you know if British teenagers read American YA fiction authors?
Yes, they do.
How do you name your characters?
I think the names of characters are incredibly important, so I spend a LOT of time making sure my characters have the right name. I’ve tried lots of different ways of choosing names in the past – looking through lists of surnames, first names, etc., using telephone books … all kinds of ways. But, in the end, the only way that really works is to think about it, and think about it some more … and some more, and some more … until eventually you get it right.
Which of your novels is actually your favorite one out of them all?
I’m afraid this one is unanswerable. It’s like asking a parent to name their favourite child – just impossible!
Do you think that young adult fiction has rules? What are they?
Rules? Absolutely not!
Throughout your life, were there any obstacles that made you ever want to stop writing?
There were lots of obstacles—hundreds of obstacles!—but they never made me want to stop writing.
As you were growing up reading, did this influence you to become a writer?
Yes, definitely. The more books I read—and I read lots and lots of books as I was growing up—the more I realized how wonderful and powerful stories can be, and the more I wanted to be someone who could create such wonderful, powerful, things. Also, every book I’ve ever read has influenced me as a writer in terms of style, content, structure, etc. Reading is how you learn to write.
Do you use aspects from your life in to create stories?
As both a writer and an individual, all I have is my experiences, my feelings, my memories, so it would be impossible not to use aspects from my life when I’m writing stories. But I try not to simply take my experiences and write about them directly; I prefer to use them as a means of making my characters, my stories, real in themselves.
How do your books connect to your life?
A very good question – but I think to answer it fully would take me a couple of years! So, I’ll just say that books are my life, and I think that pretty much does it.
I plan to be a writer before I’m 15. So far, things aren’t going so well. What steps should I take to succeed in that dream? I read all the time, but I still get stuck sometimes and I get frustrated.
That’s a very ambitious plan! I think maybe you should reconsider slightly and just plan to be a writer at some point in your life instead. There’s no hurry, and a writer needs to experience as many things as possible. I wanted to be a writer at your age, but it took me another 25 years before I finally got a book published – and while that might sound like a long time, I can assure you it was worth the wait.
In the meantime, though, just keep writing. Keep reading, keep writing and try to be patient; getting stuck and frustrated is all part of writing, you just have to keep going.
What does it take to be a great author like yourself?
Well, (he says, blushing with embarrassment!), I’m not sure about the “great” bit, but I think the main thing any author needs is an overwhelming desire to be a writer. There are, of course, lots of other requirements, but it’s the strength of your dream that really counts.
What was your inspiration for Lucas?
I wanted to write a sad story, a story with strong feelings and an evocative atmosphere, a story about life and death and everything in between. The story itself, Lucas and Cait’s story, was my inspiration.
Don’t forget that you can learn more about Kevin Brooks by visiting his website and MySpace page, and copies of all of his books are available to check out for free with your Chicago Public Library card at the Chicago Public Library.