Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Philip Caveney

Philip CaveneyPhilp Caveney has been a published author since 1977. He began by writing thrillers for adults but since 2007 has been writing for children. His best-known books are the Sebastian Darke adventures, which relate the tale of a would-be jester and his miserable sidekick, Max. He has also created the Alec Devlin mysteries, the dark and sometimes terrifying adventures of a 15-year-old archaeologist. Each book in the series concerns a different ancient civilization. Most recently he has begun the Movie Maniacs series about Mr Lazarus, the new projectionist at the Paramount Picture Palace.

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?

Rarely. I have a vague idea of a story arc but it will develop as I write.

Do you base your characters on real people?

No. I might take an attribute that a person I know has - or perhaps some physical characteristic, but I'd never base an entire character on one person. Occasionally, I might have an actor in mind who I think might play the character in a film and I picture them in my head as I write, but that's as close as it gets.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

I've thankfully never suffered from Writers' Block! Generally it's a matter of deciding which of the many ideas I've got simmering away in my head to go with, once I've finished the current book. I'm prolific, so there's always a bunch of ideas waiting for their chance to be developed.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Making a living from it! Since the advent of e-books, which are quite easy to pirate, advances and royalties seem to have shrunk alarmingly. Which means a writer has to go out and promote themselves, visit schools, libraries, universities and so forth, in order to make ends meet.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

You're doing something you love pretty much every day.

What inspired you to write?

As a teenager, I read Ray Bradbury's classic fantasy novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I was hooked and instantly set about trying to 'be a writer.' Only took me ten years to get my first book published!

Do you follow the same process each time you write?

Pretty much. I imagine some characters and I put them in a situation. Then I tell the story as it happens, seen through their eyes.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

From the word go. Back in the day I used to make notes, then write freehand, then type up the results. But I've been published since 1977, so now I have the confidence to write straight onto the computer. Everything gets rewritten several times anyway.

How much does your editor change what you write?

Again, it varies. Usually, it comes down to a few bits here and there, but with an upcoming novel, I wanted to kill one of the major characters (a young girl) and my editor wanted her to live. This time, my editor won and having had time to consider it, I think she was probably right.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

Unemployed. Or a graphic designer. That's what I studied at college.

What is your attitude to ebooks?

Pretty much all my books (apart from the really early ones) areavailable as e-books. I'm in favour of them, indeed that's how I buy all my fiction. But you notice I said 'buy.' It appals me that so many people who wouldn't dream of stealing a physical book from a shop, think nothing of downloading an author's work illegally. They just don't understand that there's no difference between the two things.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?

Well, Something Wicked This Way Comes, obviously. The Jules Verne classics, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. War of the Worlds. I could go on forever, because I really loved to read!

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Show don't tell. Rewrite (your work will only get better). And simply this... You only get one chance in life to do the thing you love, so you owe it to yourself to give it the best shot you can. If you've done that and you still haven't made a deal, then find something else you're good at it and give that your best shot too.

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