A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Today is a very special day – it’s our first Author Allsorts book birthday! Fletcher Moss’s The Poison Boy is out from Chicken House today, so to celebrate, I’m asking him a few questions about the book and what inspired him to write it.
Poison boy Dalton Fly, a lowly food taster to the rich, has a lucky escape after drinking laced wine. But his mate is less fortunate, and Dalton wants answers. Who murdered his friend and what were they were really after? With the help of aristocratic girl, Scarlet Dropmore, whose life he unwittingly saved, he sets out to rescue his city from the poisoners within.
Hi, Fletcher. Congratulations on the publication of The Poison Boy – it sounds amazing! Can you tell me a bit about your journey to publication?
If you’ve a few hours to spare I could give you the longest list of bad decisions and disappointments you’ve ever heard! Looking back, my problem was an inability to settle on anything for long enough. So I spent a fruitless year or two on an angsty campus-novel rom-com called ‘An Easy Read’ which was terrible; I had a go at Truman Capote style true crime, I did some food writing, I finished 40,000 words of a novel with a friend before we both lost interest and then, one day sometime in 2005 I think, I read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Wow. What an astonishing piece of work. I’d always loved fantasy, high adventure; anything with a bit of swash and buckle – but I’d forgotten my early enthusiasm for all that and gone chasing stuff I didn’t really believe in. Here was the real deal, I remember thinking. So I began writing for children; a great way to channel all the energy and excitement that Reeve – and then other writers; Jonathan Stroud, Marcus Sedgwick, Chris Wooding and many more – inspired in me. Then it was just the small matter of getting it right. Two novels later, I had a rough and ready draft of a book called Sleepwell and Fly (still the title of my blog…) which, after a further year’s drafting, won The Times/Chicken House Children’s Book Competition in March of 2012. I’ve done a further 50,000 words worth of re-writes since, and retitled it. So hey presto – The Poison Boy is here. But what looks like a relatively short knockabout debut novel has in fact been forged in the heat of seven or eight previous disasters. Like they say – it’s failure that teaches us, not success.
What led you to write THE POISONBOY?
Two things, both to do with plants! One was the name of a honeysuckle I saw somewhere; Dropmore Scarlet. Scarlet Dropmore, one of the main characters, started to come alive in my head from that point onwards. (Weirdly, it happened to me again a few weeks ago; I misread the private numberplate of the car in front of me as ‘Carrick the Shadow’, which it wasn’t, of course. But this guy Carrick has begun a life of his own in my imagination now…) The second thing was visiting a garden in Alnwick in the North of England. It’s got an iron fence around it and big black gates with skulls emblazoned across. Every single plant in the garden in poisonous in one way or another. You’re only allowed carefully planned guided tours in case you accidentally fall into a killer bush or something. But it was a really inspiring place. I began to dream up the lives of two orphaned food-tasters who were highly trained in poison detection. Put them together with a girl called Scarlet Dropmore – who sounded pretty high-born to me – and I had my central characters; I was up and running.
How long did it take you to go from first draft to finished manuscript?
Five notebooks, three years, two laptops, and a lot of wine.
How would you describe your perfect writing day…
Great question! I’d have time to re-read the previous day’s work; I’d be drinking really good strong coffee; I’d be working my way steadily through an endless playlist of suitably brooding music; I’d have instant access to all my favourite books and an archive of inspiring film clips and some poor soul would be paid to bring me cheese and mustard on toast all day. At the end of the afternoon, a sonorous-voiced lackey would recite my work back to me and I’d make a few choice changes whilst gargling Rioja. Then I’d return to my family refreshed and cheerful.
…and how would you describe your actual writing day?
I get in from the day job at six, I ignore a huge pile of marking, put my little girl to bed, exchange stories with my wife Jo, brew up and then I grab an hour or so in the spare room hammering away before exhaustion begins to mangle my expression. (My family have been so supportive and tolerant of this bizarre behaviour over the years – I couldn’t have done it without them.)
What inspires you?
I remember an author – can’t remember who, sadly – saying that a story always starts as a little piece of grit in your subconscious, and you hope it gradually accretes into a pearl. That’s a lovely metaphor; it’s like that for me. Interesting names often work as pieces of grit, as I’ve already mentioned – also songs, films, news items… I make a note of them, file them away and hope they’ll be useful sometime. Here’s an example; I’ve got some scribbled notes about a falling government on the verge of bankruptcy who, rather than continue to pay public sector prison staff just released all the inmates back into society. There was some grainy camera footage of abandoned prison cells daubed in pro-government graffiti, I remember. That there’s a good idea waiting for a story, I reckon. I’ve got a fairly long queue of waiting ideas – here’s hoping just one of them works…
Who are your favourite writers/books?
For children there’s loads; Marcus Sedgwick, Chris Wooding, Philip Reeve, Ursula Le Guin, anyone to do with Author Allsorts of course! – there’s so much to admire out there. Others? I love Kasuo Ishiguro, F Scott Fitzgerald, Steinbeck; I’ve a real soft spot for Wilkie Collins, John Buchan, H Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle. Recently I’ve come to admire authors who are very open and generous in their discussion of the writing process and their uncomplicated advice to other writers. PD James is good for this, as is Ian Rankin and of course Stephen King.
What are your favourite films/TV programmes?
Hayao Myazaki really grabbed me when I first saw ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ late at night on TV one Christmas at my parents’ place. I collect his stuff now which is really something; I’m not usually a collector.
What advice would you give to people reading this blog who want to get published?
OK – I’d suggest this, and I hope it doesn’t sound silly or sarcastic because it isn’t meant that way I promise: dismiss from your mind the idea that anyone was born with the innate ability or gift or talent to be a good writer. They weren’t. There is no genetic predisposition to writing great prose. There are just people who keep practising and practising and practising, seeking feedback and thinking about their mistakes and not repeating them too often if they can help it and then practising and practising some more… you get the picture. Chances are it will be your fourth novel where you start to get good – so write three terrible novels, then survey the wreckage and see what you’ve learned.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got two ideas and I’m going to follow them both up for a while to see which is the stronger. One is set in Highlions, the city where The Poison Boy is set. I think I might be leaning towards working with a different protagonist though. The other is set in Manchester, so… very different. But that just happened to be where Carrick the Shadow lived! I’m yet to be convinced by either; I need another month. Maybe two…
Thank you, Fletcher. Happy book birthday!
Fletcher Moss was an Alderman of Manchester who upon his death over a century ago, bequeathed a beautiful botanical gardens to the people of the city; a noble and generous gesture. This Fletcher Moss has significantly less to recommend him – he’s an Assistant Headteacher at a school in Greater Manchester who needed a pseudonym for the writing he fits in between lesson planning, marking and rattling around the M60 in his second-hand Citroen. He lives in Manchester with his wife and young daughter. He is working on his second and third novels at the same time – surely a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.
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