Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joint Abingdon Schools' Author Visit 2012: The 2 Steves

One of the highlights of the year for us is getting involved with the annual Joint Abingdon School's Author Visits. These take place at different schools every year around Abingdon, are triumphs of organisation and logistics, and inspirational to boot as authors strut their stuff and inspire hundreds of children over multiple (and extremely intense) sessions throughout the day.
Following previous years spent in the company of Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick, this year it was the turn of the energetic writing duo The 2 Steves, aka Steve Barlow (or Barlow-beard as he likes to say, to distinguish him) and Steve Skidmore. They performed in front of over 500 children, covering a vast range of subjects that had their audience by turns enthralled, by turns snorting green stuff out of their nose with laughter.
They talked about the process of writing, the power, magic and creativity of writing, some interesting secrets about 'what it's like to be a boy', and a fair amount of grisly details from their iHorror, iHero and Luke Challenger books.

The 2 Steves are ex-teachers and know what kids want to hear. They have been writing for 20 years, and between them have written over 130 books. With a background in helping reluctant readers the books have a definite appeal to boys - but have plenty of fans of both genders.

(Incidentally, I'd have loved these books when I was growing up. I spent far more time than was healthy in the company of Steve Jackson's Warlock of Firetop Mountain and the rest of those 'choose your path' series, so the iHorror 'choose you fate' books would have been right up my street)

Once again, a big thank you to various schools for inviting us to run the bookshop on the day. And the 2 Steve's graciously gave us some time between sessions (whilst glugging tea and scoffing biscuits) to answer some questions about their writing life...

Five questions with . . . The 2 Steve's writing life

1. What are you working on at the moment?
(SB) We're currently been working for two years on a series called "Action Dogs" - sort of Thunderbirds meets Wallace and Grommit. (SS) These are going to be a lot of fun, superbly illustrated by Mark Chatterton, with a group of dogs living in a dog pound, and when the signal sounds, they disappear underground to get their gadgets - such as the bonecoptor - to rescue humans. The first one comes out in August.

2. What is the best writing tip you've ever been given?
(SS) Read lots. Don't give up. (SB) In terms of technical advice, it's a little bit different for us in that we write as a team. (SB) We always plan our books (usually from the end back) and we will bring different ideas together. (SB) We don't really understand writer's block (have you ever heard of a plumber having 'plumber's block?'). The other difference for us is that we tend to act as each other's editor - so our writing actually doesn't need too much editing at the end. For example, with the Luke Challenger series, once you get to the third book in the series (Return to King Solomon's Mines), you know the characters well, and aside from the plot twists, you are pretty confident the books will work.
We don't really have a writing style either - more a 'project' style. We write for our audience, and this reflects our background as both teachers - and teachers involved with getting dyslexic kids to read (both have written books for Barrington Stoke - http://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/author.asp?mid=351

3. What's the best and worst thing about being a children's writer?
(SB) The best thing is being able to see how your book has been received, getting lots of feedback. Kids tend to be forthright and honest - but usually very generous. I think with adult writing you don't get that so much, perhaps a bit at literary festivals. (SS) You do many more talks with kids, often two or three a day, so the capacity is there for more feedback. The other thing which is quite liberating as a children's writer is that constraints you operate under are a strength. When writing an adventure, we can focus purely on the page-turning, exciting adventure of it all - without a lot of the baggage that comes with adult writing. If a character is nasty, they don't need to be foul-mouthed, for example.

(SB) One downside though is when an idea hasn't worked. You very soon know about it,  it becomes obviously very quickly because the kids tell you!

4. Do you have a writer's survival kit?
(SS) Not really. If anything, we are each other's survival kit! We're on the road so much, that we constantly spark off each other with ideas, and often editing/reviewing material. Particularly if a deadline is looming. But we tend to write at home. We are Mac boys, and even if we're not in the same room we'll use web cams to collaborate when we are writing.

5. What was your big breakthrough? 
(Both look a bit startled, and look at each other) I don't think we have one - we're still waiting!

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