In April we sent our Cockatoo subscribers the brilliant The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason and we were thrilled when the Books.Ink team chose it as their Book of the Month for June. They asked us to put them in touch with Paul so they could interview him for their fantastic blog (check out www.booksink.io) and they’ve kindly allowed us to repost the interview here – thanks, team!
When you were young, were you already thinking about being an author? Did you have another job in mind?
When I was young, I saw myself in the England cricket team at the Oval hitting sixes, or with my guitar in a famous band. Of course, I had no talent for either, but you dream, right?
What were your favourite books when you were our age (11 year olds)?
I read lots of Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World was my favourite. Spike Milligan’s World War II diaries, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.
Were you already writing stories when you were in primary/secondary school?
As a child I often found myself making my own entertainment. I certainly remember writing for fun in my spare time, making up newspapers, writing letters to family, stories. It was towards the end of secondary school that I began to think of taking my writing further.
Why did you choose to write books for children? Do you also write for adults?
I started out trying to write for adults, but to be honest it just didn’t come naturally, and I let writing drift away. Years later when I became a father (and was also a primary teacher,) I wanted to create stories that I could tell my children and my students. I found my writing voice and my audience, and it clicked. Finding what works for you as a writer—and a voice for each story is so important.
What age group are your books mostly aimed at?
Middle grade (KS2), so 8-11 ish.
How long does it take to write a book? How many drafts do you have to do?
It takes me a long time, especially the rewriting and editing process which is so crucial. I lost track of how many drafts it took for the IYC. Finding a publisher and getting it published can also take years. From having the idea of a yeti collective to getting it onto the shelves took about five years. (But don’t let that put you off!)
When you write a book, do you carefully plan everything that will happen or do you make some things up along the way? When do you decide about the title?
A little of both. For books, I do like to have a plan before I get started so I know where I’m heading. Sometimes I’m guilty of over-planning, but I’m getting better about giving the characters more freedom to develop their own lives, and for fresh ideas to present themselves. When I write short stories, I generally start with an idea and just let it flow. Titles? For the Yeti Collective I had the title right from the beginning, which is rare. For most other stories I only land on one at the end.
Do you base your characters on people you know or do you invent them from scratch?
Like many writers, my life influences my writing, including the characters. I borrow traits from people I know or have met, and also put something of myself into my characters. In my new book, there is a character based on my father.
How did you come up with the idea of writing about Yetis? Did you believe in them when you were a child?
I think my first encounter with yetis was Tintin in Tibet, and books of unexplained mysteries—you know the sort. A famous mountaineer called Messner who spent years searching for yetis, said that people want to believe in yetis because we want to believe the world is still wild and mysterious enough to hide secrets. I feel the same way.
Why are Yetis so scared of humans?
They’ve seen the frightening things that are happening to the natural world and to wild animals under our watch. But some yetis like Tick can also see that there are many humans out there fighting to protect it too.
In the book, the Yetis are committed to helping nature and protecting the planet. Are you concerned and engaged in environmental issues too?
I do volunteer with local organisations that work to help the environment and take action in other ways as well, but I feel my writing is the best way I can help to raise awareness. I could always do more.
Do you plan to write a sequel to The International Yeti Collective? If yes, will it be with the Mountain Yetis again or with another community? Will Ella be part of it too?
There is a sequel in the pipeline, called Shadowspring, coming out in October this year. A different yeti sett, a different child, but you will see some familiar faces, and Katy Ridell’s wonderful illustrations too!