The Interview: Bookbag Talks To N S Blackman

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To N S Blackman

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Summary: Jill thought that The Secret Dinosaur: Giants Awake was a super-fun adventure and she had quite a few questions when author N S Blackman popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 24 June 2014
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jill thought that The Secret Dinosaur: Giants Awake was a super-fun adventure and she had quite a few questions when author N S Blackman popped into Bookbag Towers.

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

N S Blackman: Serious, well-informed experts, around five or six years old. When I do school readings there are always a few who fix me with such determined attention that I know that any factual error I make will be pounced on immediately. In my last talk I was corrected for mispronouncing 'diplodocus' and for foolishly talking about a stegosaurus’s spikes – they are, of course, plates. I well remember at that age being totally certain that I knew more about dinosaurs than anyone else (and I even had a poster on my wall to prove it). It was a wonderful feeling and I’m delighted to encourage it.

  • BB: What gave you the idea to write the Dinotek series?

NSB: The idea must have been gathering in my head for a while but it seemed to come to me out of nowhere. I was on holiday in Spain, walking beside a river with my children, sticks in our hands, and I just started telling the story. I think my writing is strongly influenced by places, by nature, and also by emotions. Of course I also spent lots of time at museums when my children were younger and we have the lovely Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs just on our doorstep – we spent many lovely summer evenings there, it's a very atmospheric place to visit towards the end of the day and it’s very easy to imagine the old statues coming to life once the last visitor has gone.

  • BB: We loved Marlin. He is a very resourceful young man. Do you know anyone like him?

NSB: Thank you :) I think Marlin is quite like a lot of people – maybe he’s just a bit more daring and determined than average, but he’s no superhero. I’d like to think anyone would help the Dinoteks if they got chance.

  • BB: What is your favourite kind of dinosaur?

NSB: I do like the Ceratopsians - the horned dinosaurs, like Triceratops and Centrosaurus. There’s something very solid and dependable looking about them.

  • BB: And, if you had to pick, which is your favourite Dinotek?

NSB: Oh dear, it feels mean to pick one – I think Protos is my favourite but I'm certain he wouldn’t approve of me saying that. I do like Flame, because he's very honest and straightforward, and he’s quick to befriend Marlin. And as an illustrator I like drawing Steg – I love all that armour and all those clanking plates. Dacky is very proud but secretly insecure, which I like – and now I feel guilty for not mentioning the little ones. See, I told you I couldn’t choose.

  • BB: What's your theory about why the dinosaurs became extinct?

NSB: This is one of those mysteries that always get raised when I’m doing a talk – and their dramatic disappearance is probably one reason why dinosaurs are so fascinating to us humans. I can’t pretend to be an expert but clearly something very bad happened to the world at the end of the Cretaceous period (at least from a dinosaur's point of view). Was it an impact from space? Or a super-volcano? Or something we haven’t even thought of yet? There’s a great chapter on this in Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – if you have a copy to hand turn to page 303 – I promise you won’t be able to stop reading…

  • BB: Which three books should every child read?

NSB: When young, it should be something with great pictures, preferably done with ink and watercolours. On my bookshelf I still have the very first book I can remember being given – a Rupert Bear annual. I was three and a half and the pictures must have fed my imagination because I loved them then and I still do. A bit older and I think Watership Down is really magical. Older still… Holes by Louis Sacher. No - Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. No, hang on - Tolkein…. sorry, I’ve fluffed this question haven’t I?

  • BB: When and where do you write?

NSB: I move around a lot. Park benches are good but tree stumps will also do. I take a notebook and write in pencil, then I type it up later. (Other times I’m more boring – I just sit at my desk and write)

  • BB: What advice would you give to children wanting to write stories of their own?

NSB: Write your story as if you are sitting right next to someone, telling it to them. Make it so exciting that they just have to stay and listen.

Every sentence should lead the reader forwards and take them on a journey.

And of course, as you are leading the way, you must know where you are both going. Make sure it's a good ending so that your reader will be glad they came with you on the journey.

  • BB: What's next for N S Blackman?

NSB: OK, June 2014… I’m busy working on a large format activity book which is based on The Secret Dinosaur. It’s got lots of new illustrations and doing those is giving me a nice chance to revisit the original story and draw some extra scenes. The activities are based on the story and its got dinosaur and dinotek facts in it too.

The pictures are time consuming though. I can’t wait to finish this because there are three more Dinotek stories in my head that I want to get going on. I start writing in July and the plan is to finish two of them before the end of the year.

I’ve also been working on a totally different idea, something for slightly older readers, which I hope to publish in 2015.

  • BB: Oh, gosh - there's lots there for us to look forward to. Thanks for chatting to us!

You can read more about N S Blackman here.

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