Cliff McNish is acclaimed as 'one of our most talented thriller writers' (The Times). His debut fantasy series, The Doomspell Trilogy, saw him hailed as 'a great new voice in writing for children' (The Bookseller), and has been published in twenty-six languages worldwide. His multiple-award winning novel Breathe: a ghost storywas voted in May 2013 as one of the top 100 adult and children's novels of all time by The Schools Network of British Librarians. Cliff lives in London, but says he would probably move to somewhere warmer and friendlier if he could be bothered with the sheer hassle of it.
Q&A with Cliff McNish
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I wanted the challenge of taking what felt like quite a complicated story and to try to make it gripping for anyone, no matter what their reading age. Plus I was late to reading myself, so I remember exactly what it's like to be lost in language. I feel a natural pull towards reluctant readers.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
The language has to be simple enough so that it doesn't put them off. The plot has to be fast enough to grip them without losing its hold. The characters have to be ones they recognise could be them.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
I love a villain. I also love to create a young or seemingly fairly unimpressive, ordinary child, and give them enormous power – then see what happens.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engage teenage readers?
I've written a lot of novels for all ages, and so I kind of feel I know how to structure a story. If I bring any skill it's my thriller background: the ability to know what makes a story move along.
What difference do books like these make to students who are in need of literacy support?
If they're good enough, the books give them an impulse to read again – and that, if it can be sustained, will lead to huge benefits, not just in literacy but across all subjects.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in your upcoming title, The Craving?
It will be filled with blood – the desire to drink it; the iron determination not to. And a twist I hope no one sees coming.
What are the major themes of your work?
That's a hard question. Probably the theme that emerges most strongly in my work is a focus on characters that despite huge odds find a way to do the right thing.
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
I work by feel on this. I'll eschew the use of certain words – like eschew, for instance. But overall I'll ask the question: will my reader have heard this word? If I don't think so I'll use another, though I'll occasionally break that rule, if I'm going to make it clear what that word means.
What is your favourite children's book?
Probably Alan Garner's THE WEIDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN, a fantasy written over 50 years ago. Or THE MAGICIAN'S NEWPHEW BY C.S. Lewis. Actually, it's imposible to answer that. The best book I've ever read for teenagers, though it's not for reluctant readers, is ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Don't be afraid to write badly. We all do. Accept that you will, but still show your writing to a few people you trust and ask them to tell you what they LIKE about it and WHAT DIDN'T WORK so well. Then RE-WRITE it. All good stories are written and rewritten at least 3 times. Just have the patience and the discipline to do that and to accept reader's criticism as a chance to improve your story, not a personal attack, and you will be half-way there.
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