Iain McLaughlin was born in Dundee on the East coast of Scotland. He still lives there in a house filled with books. He has written more than twenty books and over fifty plays for radio. He has also written short stories and TV scripts. Iain has written for lots of famous characters and shows including James Bond, Doctor Who, Wallace & Gromit and Sherlock Holmes. For a time he was the editor of the Beano comic. He is a life-long supporter of Dundee United and has recently been adopted by a local cat who comes round a few times a week for a free meal.
Q&A with Iain McLaughlin
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I love books. I've been reading since I was very small. I love books and I love reading. It was something my parents did and they passed that love of books and reading to all of my family. My sisters and I have passed it on to the next generation of our family. The great thing about reading is that there is no limit to the worlds you can visit in books. If writing for reluctant readers can encourage even one person into reading and enjoying books, then I'm happy.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
If a book is written with long, complex sentences it is a struggle for a lot of people, not just struggling readers. If they can't relate to the characters or the situation it's hard for them too. I think the important thing is to bring readers into a world they can recognise and dive into. I think it helps to keep books quite short. I sometimes get put off if I see a book running to 900 pages or something. I usually go for a quicker read than that.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
I like characters that the readers can identify with and understand. As a kid I was a bit of an outsider. I was never one of the cool kids. I often write from my own experience and write about outsiders. I also like monsters. A lot of the things I've written have had monsters in them. I really like monsters.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engage teenage readers?
I try to make sure they can recognise some of the characters as being like people they know. Maybe one of the characters is like them or has a similar problem that they do. If they can sympathise with the characters and recognise them, it helps the readers really get into the book. I also finish each chapter on a cliff-hanger to make the reader want to continue so they find out what happens next. It's like the end of EastEnders when the dff... dff-dff drums say that the episode is ending on a cliff-hanger.
What difference do books like these make to students who are in need of literacy support?
I think they act as a gateway into reading. If someone reads these books and enjoys them, it can give them the confidence to move onto longer, more complicated books. They can show that reading is fun, it's a great experience and it's something they can do and enjoy.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in The First Martian?
The first human born on Mars comes back to Earth and has to go to school here. In some ways he's a bit different from the other pupils, and not everyone who visits the school to see him is friendly.
What are the major themes of your work?
The First Martian is about being an outsider and not fitting in, even though you want to. It's also about friendship.
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
In my first draft, I don't have any big rules about language other than to think I was telling a story to my nieces when they were at that specific age. When I finished the book I went back over it and made any changes I thought were appropriate. The language is very important. It has to be just right or it will alienate the readers. My job as a writer is to bring them into a story not turn them away from it, so the language is vital.
What is your favourite children's book?
Probably the BFG but it could be any one of half a dozen Roald Dahl books. I also like Coraline by Neil Gaiman and books by Bateman.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
I would suggest three things. First, read a lot. Read lots of different kinds of books and read books by lots of different authors. You can learn a lot from them by reading. Secondly, write a lot. Just sit and write. It doesn't matter if you don't think it's very good. Harry Kane didn't score a hat-trick in his first match. He had to practice and work hard. Writers have to practice and learn too. Third, keep a notebook handy so you can write your ideas down as soon as you have them It's really frustrating to have a great idea, but to forget it by the time you get home. Carry a notebook. I have a pile of notebooks here that I go through regularly, looking at ideas I have written down.
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