The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tim Bowler

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tim Bowler

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Summary: Blade is one of Bookbag's favourite series for children ever - and we mean ever. OUP are giving it a reissue with four books in longer instalments rather than the original eight books in very short ones. Whatever the size of the package, this is one series you shouldn't miss. So of course, we jumped at the chance to ask Tim Bowler a few questions.
Date: 30 January 2012
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Blade is one of Bookbag's favourite series for children ever - and we mean ever. OUP are giving it a reissue with four books in longer instalments rather than the original eight books in very short ones. Whatever the size of the package, this is one series you shouldn't miss. So of course, we jumped at the chance to ask Tim Bowler a few questions.

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

Tim Bowler: I'm aware of my readers at all times in the sense that I want to keep them gripped and hopefully moved by what I'm writing. I'm aware of them in the sense that I don't want to disappoint them and write a bad story. But I never close my eyes and imagine them specifically. Instead I imagine the scene I am writing as though I am experiencing it from inside the main character looking out. I am not that character. I am not any of my characters. But when I write, I momentarily act as if I am that person, whether it's a sensitive girl like Jess in River Boy, or someone as complex and edgy as Blade.

  • BB: How did you come to write the Blade series? What came first? Character and plot or style?

TB: Character came first. Character always comes first. I just wrote the opening scene as an experiment to see where it might go. I knew I wanted to confront the ugly reality of knife crime through a series of books and I wanted the story to focus on a boy who has lived by the knife and yet is desperate to renounce it, but I didn't know where the whole thing was going to go. I simply wrote the first scene (the exchange in the police station) and then ran it past my editor to get her take on it. She liked what she read and asked for more, but by that time I'd already kicked on through the next two sections where Blade starts talking to the reader, drops hints about his past, robs the man in the café, and gets beaten up by the girl gang on the canal towpath. By then I was pretty much hooked. Blade's voice was yakking in my head and it would have been hard to stop even if my editor had disliked it.

  • BB: Did you have the entire story - including the resolution - planned out right from book one?

TB: No, that's never how it works with me. The story (and by 'story' I mean the whole Blade series) came as all my stories do: one page at a time. I can't work from fixed plans that fetter the imagination and map out the route for me. I can only determine what characters will do after I have written about them and found out what they are like. I write best when the terrain is uncharted and all possibilities are open. Having said that, it would be wrong to say that there is no planning at all. The free-roaming unconscious with its lovely, fruitful chaos is always secretly planning, and even when you're not actively thinking or putting down words, it's reaching ahead into the unseen body of the story and offering you its insights. Blade came into being in the same way as every other story I have written. One scene followed another and as more and more parts of the story were written, the unwritten segments began to solidify until I was finally able to see and believe in them.

  • BB: One of the most striking features of the series is the way Blade speaks in an argot a la Clockwork Orange. Why did you choose to use this device?

TB: Blade's slang is deeply personal to him, but it is not a slang that exists outside the story. It's a slang that I invented for Blade as his special way of describing his environment and feelings. The formation of it was an instinctive thing in the beginning and in no way a nod to A Clockwork Orange, which I haven't read. I just found when I was writing the second scene, where Blade introduces himself to us, that he was coming out with these strange words. I wasn't sure why he was doing this, but I decided to push on and edit these funny bits out later. By the time I'd written a few more pages, however, I'd realised that the slang was a critical part of Blade's make-up, and from that moment on I worked hard firstly to make sure that the slang words would be comprehensible to the reader through context (I didn't want a glossary at the back of the book) and secondly to develop my own understanding of the way in which the boy expresses himself. As the story went on, this slang developed into a highly individual and unconventional use of language and I tried at all times to make it crackle with the boy's energy and intelligence.

  • BB: Does everyone deserve a second chance ?

TB: Blade certainly deserves a second chance. I can't speak for everyone.

  • BB: We at Bookbag are regular viewers of your Bolthole Bulletins. How did you come to start this series? Will you ever run out of topics?!

TB: I began the Bolthole Bulletin videos back in August 2009 and at the time of writing I've recorded 67 films and covered several hundred topics. I started doing them out of an innocent desire to be helpful. I'm very lucky in that I receive lots of kind emails and letters from readers, many of whom ask questions or raise interesting points about writing, reading, books etc. I do my best to answer these correspondents myself or to send a reply via my secretary, but back in 2009 I started trying to think of a more personal and direct way to interact with those who wrote to me. I wanted to answer people's questions in a friendly, one-to-one way but at the same time to share with others some of the answers that I thought might be of wider interest. I also wanted to encourage people, particularly the young, with their writing.

I discussed all this with my wife and my website manager and they both independently suggested that I record some short films from the stone outhouse (which people call my bolthole) where I go to do my writing, and then post these films on the website. That's how the monthly Bolthole Bulletins started. I don't answer all my correspondents to camera – I simply can't and most people still receive a written answer in the usual way – but towards the end of each month, I select the queries I feel are most suitable for the next Bolthole Bulletin, record the film, and then my secretary writes to the people concerned explaining that they have a personal message waiting for them in the next Bolthole Bulletin and attaching a link so that they can watch the film. I'm glad you like the Bolthole Bulletins. I really enjoy doing them and it's a great way to speak personally to people who have written in. As to running out of topics, well, it hasn't happened yet!

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

TB: If there's a book entitled How to Escape from a Desert Island, I'll take that. If there isn't, I'll take Treasure Island. I've loved that book since I first read it at the age of ten and I never tire of reading it.

  • BB: Why do you write for children?

TB: I don't write for children. I write about children or, more specifically, teenagers. I write about teenagers because I find them fascinating

  • BB: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a young person who wants to write?

TB: Believe in yourself as much as you can, write as much as you can, and never give up.

  • BB: What's next for Tim Bowler?

TB: Another page.

  • BB: Thanks so much for talking to us, Tim. And thanks again for Blade (and all the other books, too).

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