‘Writing is still a hobby to me’
Joseph Delaney, the popular science fiction and fantasy author, will appear at the Lytham Festival next month to discuss his work, including ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’ which inspired the film ‘The Seventh Son’. NIKKI GREEN put the questions to the Preston-born author
For anyone who hasn’t read the Wardstone Chronicles series, could you give an overview of what to expect from them?
“This is a dangerous world where ghosts, boggarts and witches are a constant threat.
“The Spook, John Gregory, has protected the County against such threats for many years but he is growing old and he is now training his last apprentice, Tom Ward, to take his place.
“The dark is increasing in power and soon the Devil himself will be summoned to Earth to begin a new age of darkness.”
These books have sold in translation in over 30 countries. What is it about the series that you think makes them so popular worldwide?
“Most countries have folktales and other stories of the early days of human existence when there was no electricity; after the sun went down it was totally dark and anything could be lurking in a nearby wood or prowling the cobbled streets hunting for prey.
“It is a universal fear and I think that’s why the book has been popular in many other countries.”
The first Spooks book has been made into a film; The seventh Son. Were you aware the film would deviate from the book and were you happy with the finished product?
“The film was many years in pre-production and gradually I became aware that it was moving further from the plot and characters of ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’.
“Three directors and at least four screenplay writers contributed to the film and each of them changed it.
“The final product is a fun film that many children like but too much of the original dialogue was cut and the original elements of the book were lost. I was consulted on a couple of minor things but never asked my opinion on the progression of the ever-evolving changing screenplay.
“With some big stars and a big budget ‘Seventh Son’ could have been amazing. It falls short of that. A great opportunity has been lost.”
To have a film based on your books remains a great achievement. Did you ever expect this level of success when you started the Wardstone Chronicles?
“I thought there would only be three books and never dreamed it would be translated into more than 30 languages and made into a film.
“So despite my disappointment in the film, the general level of success far surpassed my expectations.”
Before becoming an author you taught at Blackpool Sixth Form College. Was writing professionally always in your plan or did it just happen?
“To become a professional writer was a fantasy for most of my adult life. But in 1991 my first version of ‘Arena 13’ got me an agent and from then I was trying hard to get published, writing a book a year.
“I had to make time to write so I got up early in a morning and wrote then before going to my teaching job.
“Years later in 2002, after many rejections, I got a three book deal for the Wardstone Chronicles.”
Could you tell us about your new novel, Arena 13?
“There is a creature called Hob that preys upon the inhabitants of a city. Nobody dare do anything about it. Once a year, he goes to Arena 13 and issues a challenge. One of the human combatants has to fight him. They lose and most of them die in the arena.
“Some are only wounded but the fact of their defeat means that Hob can take them away to his citadel and they are never seen again.
“Some believe Hob steals their souls. But there is much more to the book than that. Some authors write about demons, vampires, werewolves or zombies. There is nothing wrong with that but I prefer to attempt to create something totally different.
“Androids fight in Arena 13; I call them ‘lacs’. They have a vertical throat-slit which is protected by a collar and a throat socket. Also creatures such as the predatory Hob have one mind but many bodies. Kill one and the others will seek you out.”
What is it about fantasy and science fiction that you find so fascinating?
“I like the process of creating fictional worlds that are far different from our own.
“The more detail you add the more convincing and realistic they become. And with reference to science fiction in particular you can ask the ‘What if?’ question.
“In the case of my new series ‘Arena 13’ I asked the question ‘What if androids were created with the intention of fighting in arenas against each other and human combatants. What would those androids be like? Answering questions like that fascinates me.”
You’ve stated in previous interviews that Tolkien is one of your favourite writers. What is it about his books that makes him an inspiration? Did he influence you to go down the fantasy route?
“Yes, Tolkien created a world and a genre. The test of a really good book is whether or not it is worth reading for a second time. I have read Tolkien’s books four times. It is ten years since I last read them. It is time to read him again.”
You recently revealed the title to the next Starblade Chronicles book is ‘Spooks: The Dark Army’. What can you tell us about it?
“The alternative title was ‘The Return of Alice’. So amid the clash of magic and armies, Tom and Alice meet up again and fight together.”
What are you working on at the minute?
“As usual on two books at the same time. The first is the fifth draft of ‘The Dark Army’; the other is the second book in the ‘Arena 13’ series which has not yet got a title.
What do you do to relax when you’re not writing?
“I find writing relaxing anyway – most of the time it doesn’t seem like work to me. It started off as a hobby and nothing has changed inside my head to make it seem any different.
“But when not writing I like to travel, walk and daydream. I also like sipping cold beer in the sun. I like reading, too, and never a day goes by without I spend some time doing that.”
• Joseph Delaney is at Lytham Pavilion on August 7. See www.lythamfestival.com/ for details.