The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Antony Wootten Again

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Antony Wootten Again


Summary: After she finished reading The Grubby Feather Gang Sue couldn't get the characters out of her mind. The book had given her a lot to think about and she had quite a few questions for author Antony Wootten when he popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 13 September 2015
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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After she finished reading The Grubby Feather Gang Sue couldn't get the characters out of her mind. The book had given her a lot to think about and she had quite a few questions for author Antony Wootten when he popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Antony Wootten: I see imaginative children who like realistic drama and tension, but I also see adults. I think the only thing that makes my books children's books is that the main characters are children. I like to think my books are just as enjoyable for adults though. I certainly don't dumb anything down when I write for children.

  • BB: I love the idea of Bigshorts: what gave you this idea?

AW: Thanks! I'm glad you like it! When I was a young child, say 6 or 7, I used to love reading. I used to wake up at about 2am and read under the covers until about 6am when I'd fall asleep again. I have to admit that my reading habits changed as I got older though. Although I can remember being gripped by some great books as an older child, I do remember always looking at how many pages there were before I selected a book. I knew I wouldn't have the staying power for a really long one. So, BigShorts is for readers like me – and I'm still like it today – who want a great story with interesting dilemmas and character development, but who don't want to tackle something with two or three hundred pages.

  • BB: I'm delighted to find that the book is the first in a series of standalone novels for the nine to twelve age group. What made you choose the theme of conscientious objection for the first novel?

AW: I really like novels which show that things are often not as simple as they seem. In one of my other books, Grown-ups Can't Be Friends With Dragons, the main character, Brian, is bullied, but he also becomes a bully and gives another character a really hard time. Despite this, I think the reader still likes Brian. In A Tiger Too Many, Mr Barker – the man in charge of the zoo – is seen as the bad guy because he's the one saying the tiger, Ronny, will have to be killed, but we do come to understand why, and we even realise that he's probably actually right! In The Grubby Feather Gang, I chose conscientious objection because it's a really complex issue. It's easy to think of conscientious objectors as cowards, but I wanted to show that it isn't as black and white as that. I hope that paves the way for some of the complex characters that will be in the other BigShorts books.

  • BB: There's an interesting parallel in the book between war at an international level and bullying at school. What's the best way to deal with a bully? And how does that translate at international level?

AW: Wow, that's a tough question!

I think George's father would say to ignore them. That often works. In class, it is very often the quietest children who don't get bullied because the bullies can't get a reaction out of them so they aren't interested in them. But if you take that approach, you have to stick to it 100%. If you ignore them most of the time, but every now and then you snap, then they see it as a game: baiting you until you react. George's mum, however, would just tell you to punch the bully! I think it depends on the bully. But bullies are not necessarily as bad as they seem. Some are, of course, but some, like Stan in The Grubby Feather Gang, are more interesting. Once George comes to understand what makes Stan tick, their relationship changes.

As for how that translates at an international level though, well, that's an even more difficult question. I don't think countries operate quite like bullies. You can't just ignore a country that is trying to bully you; you do sometimes have to take George's mum's approach. War, unfortunately, can be unavoidable. But where negotiation and compromise are possible, that has to be better, and that comes from understanding what makes the aggressive country tick.

  • BB: What would you have done if you'd been in Mr Sander's position?

AW: These questions keep getting tougher and tougher! I have no idea what I'd have done. History tells us that the trenches of the first world war were horrendous and terrifying places to be. I would certainly not have wanted to go there. I'm not sure that everyone knew that at the time though – many people went to war because they thought it would be exciting, and all their mates were going, so I'd probably have been swept along with the masses. I certainly think it was a good cause. Although, I can't help thinking I would not have been able to point my gun at the enemy and pull the trigger, so maybe I'm a conscientious objector at heart. I don't know!

  • BB: I've heard it said that it's a lot easier to write a long book than a short one. Did you find this to be true? Did you need new skills?

AW: Phew, a question I can answer easily! When writing a short book, you certainly do have to be more concise, so yes, to some extent I did find that to be true. I have written a couple of other even shorter books recently for Serial Mash, which is an online reading resource: Buster's Blitz, and The Lost Myth of Mathos (excuse the plug!). That was hard, and I learned a lot from that process.

  • BB: What's the theme of the next Bigshort?

AW: It will either be a story set in the stone age about humans going to war with Neanderthals during Mammoth hunting season, or a very atmospheric medieval story about werewolves and witches. I have finished the stone age one, and am about half way through the werewolves one.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

AW: I write on my laptop wherever and whenever I can. I'm not very disciplined; some writers make themselves write a chapter a day, or whatever, but I just write when I feel like it. Thankfully, I do very often feel like it! I love technology, and if it wasn't for the computer I'd probably not write anywhere near as much as I do now. But I lament the demise of those smartphones with the slide-out keyboards you used to get about 5 to 10 years ago. It was great to be able to carry what was effectively a tiny laptop around in your pocket. You could write anywhere – on the bus; up a tree; in bed! I wrote huge amounts on mine. But today's on-screen keyboards are not as easy to use. When will the manufacturers see sense and start making those fantastic writing machines again?!

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

AW: That my phone had a slide-out keyboard.

Oh, alright. World peace.

  • BB: What's next for Antony Wootten?

AW: More BigShorts books, which I'm very excited about. I'm also looking forward to going into more schools and getting children enthusiastic about reading and writing. This is nothing new, I'm already doing that, but I really enjoy it.

Also, I run a writer's group in the village where I live. We all write stories (mostly for adults) and we are about to publish our second anthology, so that's what I'll be working on in the immediate future. You can find out more on my website.

  • BB: Thanks for chatting to us, Antony - there's plenty for us to look forward to there.

You can read more about Antony Wootten here.

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