The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Philip Threadneedle

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Philip Threadneedle

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Summary: The Astronaut's Apprentice by Philip Threadneedle is a hoot of a jaunt through space for tweens with Grandpa, Bradley and Headlice. We couldn't resist the opportunity to ask Philip Threadneedle some questions.
Date: 17 December 2010
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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The Astronaut's Apprentice by Philip Threadneedle is a hoot of a jaunt through space for tweens with Grandpa, Bradley and Headlice. We couldn't resist the opportunity to ask Philip Threadneedle some questions.

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

Philip Threadneedle: My friend Neil. He read all of my earliest efforts, some of which were awful. I used to get him to read stuff out loud (so I could check it flowed nicely) and dictate corrections to him as we went.. I think he only put up with it because he used to do a bit of acting, so maybe he quite liked doing the dialogue. I should rope him into doing an audio book!

Also another grown-up, Chloë - who checked my penultimate draft for errors and was really nice about it - and Rachel, who was the first actual young person to read it. I was very nervous about letting her have it, but she tore through it in two sittings and gave me some really good feedback, so high five for Rachel.

  • BB: The Astronaut's Apprentice is a hoot of a jaunt. Where did you get your inspiration?

PT: Thank you very much for calling it a hoot! I can't remember what inspired me to set it in space. I'm definitely interested in that sort of thing, but I also like a bit of fantasy, so I got a childish buzz out of vandalising the Solar System with so many factual inaccuracies. I especially liked proving Bradley wrong. Some of the stuff he says is true in the real world, but it's my book and I make the rules. So when he wheels out a nugget of space trivia, he usually ends up with egg on his face.

I do like to throw in references to real stuff too. Partly because I'm interested in it, but also because I don't want people to think I'm a complete idiot. For instance, when they're speeding past Saturn, they smash into the (very real) Cassini orbiter. Then they collide with Methone, which is one of Saturn's moons. And when they pass Pluto, they see a big moon and two little ones, which matches real life. Pluto's moons are Charon, Nix, and Hydra.

  • BB: I'm always pleased when an author doesn't patronise children and you're one of the most unpatronising I've ever met. The Astronaut's Apprentice talks about childbirth being over-rated, love rats and womanising. Where would you draw the line? Is there anything you think isn't appropriate for children?

PT: Yes! I'm terrible at gauging this. Before I did anything with the manuscript, I had to go through it taking out or changing all the bits that I didn't think were suitable for kids - including the very first line of the very first chapter of the whole book (I was especially worried about that one because it's the first thing you see when you open it). None of them were especially terrible, but it got to the point where I couldn't stop worrying about them, so I just chopped them all out and felt a weight lifting from my shoulders. I'm glad I left a bit of edge in though.

  • BB: What made you want to be an author?

PT: I think it was probably the Narnia books that set me off. When I was very small, I told my classmates I was writing a book about a magical land called Vortongo. I think I wrote a few sentences and drew a unicorn. I dare say I had a pop at doing the map that would go inside the front cover.

Then another boy casually informed us that he was writing a book about a magical land called Borvongo. I was incandescant with rage, but there was nothing I could do, because I couldn't prove that he was copying. That's a really old memory, so I guess I've wanted to write for as long as I can remember.

There were a couple of things that motivated me to write The Astronaut's Apprentice and do something with it, but I'm afraid they're very mundane. I started writing it because I had a hangover and wanted to cheer myself up. I eventually dusted it off and did something with it because I wanted to impress a girl, and I thought it might help if I had my own book out.

  • BB: Which books inspired you as a child and are there any you think every child should read? Do you still have copies of your childhood books?

PT: I do have copies of my childhood books, and I often re-read them. I love the Little Vampire books by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg. The beginning of the first one partly inspired Grandpa's appearance at the window. I think the series is still going strong in German, and not all of the books were translated into English, so I have a new year's resolution to order the lot and work through them as I learn a second language.

I also rate Narnia, The Hobbit, The Worst Witch, and Roald Dahl. Every child should get stuck into those. I think the biggest influences on The Astronaut's Apprentice were probably George's Marvellous Medicine, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and The Little Vampire.

I actually got back into children's books when I caught the first Harry Potter film on TV. I was so excited by the plot and characters that I nicked my little sister's Chamber of Secrets to see what happened next. The next time I was in Waterstones, I checked out the children's section and couldn't believe how many fun-looking books there were. I've never looked back.

  • BB: What are you reading now and what do you think of it?

PT: I've just got stuck into Artemis Fowl and I think it's cracking.

  • BB: Where and how do you work?

PT: I usually write in bed. During the recent cold spell I wrote some words in a tent that I put up in the living room, because my heating broke and it seemed like the best way to keep warm.

  • BB: If you weren't an author, what would you do for the day job?

PT: Let me first of all say how flattered I am by the implication that I don't have a day job!

If I could have any job in the world, I would definitely be an astronaut. I would like to go far enough to turn around and see the Earth shining like a proper planet.

  • BB: Who's your favourite character in The Astronaut's Apprentice? Are any of them based on real people?

PT: The character who gave me the most fun was Grandma because she's so gloriously horrible - so I ought to quickly say that she definitely isn't based on anyone real! If she's based on anyone, it's probably the Grandma out of George's Marvellous Medicine.

My favourite character overall is probably Headlice.

  • BB: What's next for Philip Threadneedle?

PT: I'm working on a new adventure for Bradley and Grandpa called City of Meteors. I'm about to spend Christmas up north with my family so might try to write some of it during the day. Or, I might just veg out and watch the telly instead. Happy Christmas, Bookbag!

  • BB: Oh that's gret news! We'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks so much for the fascinating responses and we hope that you have a great Christmas.

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