Interview with Andrew Lane, author of the Young Sherlock Holmes series
Andrew Lane is the author of the bestselling Young Sherlock Holmes series. He is a lifelong fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective, and is the only chidren’s writer endorsed by the Sherlock Holmes Conan Doyle estate. Andrew writes other things too, including adult thrillers (under a pseudonym), TV adaptations (including Doctor Who) and non-fiction books (about things as wide-ranging as James Bond and Wallace & Gromit).
The latest Young Sherlock Holmes book is the excellent Knife Edge (check out our review here). Book Walrus thought it really cut the mustard, and was delighted when Andrew agreed to answer a few of his questions even after hearing that terrible pun.
What’s the best (and/or worst) thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is that I get to go to lots of schools and libraries and actually talk to the kids who are reading the books. Often, when you write adult stuff, it just gets published and then vanishes, and nobody ever talks to you about it. I’ve discovered, to my great delight, that kids love books, and love to talk about them. The worst thing is that I now feel a great sense of responsibility to the kids that I’ve talked to, and I feel that I can’t do bad things to the characters they love. If nobody told me that Virginia or Matty was their favourite character in the Young Sherlock Holmes books then I could kill one or both of them off quite nastily and quite happily, but I can’t do that now.
No, you couldn’t kill off Virginia or Matty! Book Walrus might have to lie down for a moment just at the thought! Since we’ve started with traumatic things, we have to admit that some of the walrus reviewers find parts of your books a bit scary. Do you sometimes scare yourself when you’re writing them? What else scares you?
I get scared quite easily, and the scary bits in my books are ways for me to try and come to terms with my own fears. You can probably tell by now that I’m scared of dark spaces, tunnels, rabid dogs and rats, and also of being attacked by large reptiles. I’m also (more seriously) scared of being alone, which is why Sherlock often finds himself completely alone, but also often gets helped by friends.
Who is the nicest children’s writer you’ve ever met (or the nastiest if you’re feeling mean)?
The nicest children’s writer I have ever met has been David Almond (author of Skellig). The nastiest one is Steve Cole (author of ‘Astrosaurs’ and ‘Cows in Action’), because he’s mean and vicious and twisted and… actually, no. Steve’s a lovely guy. All children’s writers are lovely.
Do you have any favourite words?
I go through phases of liking certain words. I spent six months trying to get the word ‘aegis’ into everything I wrote (it’s Greek for “shield”, or more broadly for “protection”). I also went through six months of using “opined” everywhere (it’s what you do when you give an opinion). At the moment, however, it’s a much simpler word. I’ve noticed that I keep starting sentences with the word “And”, which is wrong for several reasons.
And (sorry, Book Walrus likes the word ‘and’ too) who is your favourite villain?
This is going to mean nothing to anybody, but my favourite villain is a character called Doctor Fu Manchu. He was invented by a writer named Sax Rohmer in a series of novels from 1911 to 1959, and he’s a super criminal and head of a world-spanning evil organisation, but he’s also very honourable, never tells a lie, and in one book he sends a wedding present to one of the heroes when he gets married.
Book Walrus hears he has a great moustache , so he will definitely try and find out more about him. Sadly steering the subject away from facial hair – Book Walrus’s second favourite subject – if you had to be stuck in a lift with one of your characters who would you choose and why?
Definitely not Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft, because he would be so heavy that the lift cable might snap and the lift might fall. Matty would be good, because he could climb out of the lift easily and go for help.
Which book last made you laugh out loud?
I can’t actually remember. I don’t tend to read “funny” books – I prefer books that are more realistic /naturalistic, and which by their nature don’t have that many jokes in them. Having said that, there’s a fantasy book by a writer named Roger Zelazny in which the hero sees one horrible monster chasing another horrible monster through the woods, and he mutters to himself: “It’s just one thing after another around here…”
Do you think it’s more fun to write a series than a stand-alone book? If so, why?
Series are much more fun than stand-alone books, because I can never get all the things I want to get into a stand-alone book, but with a series if I can’t get something in one book then I can get it in the next.
Do you remember anything interesting that your school teachers wrote on your school reports?
I remember that my English teacher once wrote, on one of my stories that had lots of James Bond action and fight scenes in it, “This is all very well, but why are the characters doing these things?” That was what made me start thinking about characterisation, and character development.
What’s your #1 writing tip?
Read lots of stuff. You need to do that for two reasons – firstly so that you can see what’s already been done (you don’t want to spend three years writing about a teenage wizard at a boarding school only to find out that J.K.Rowling got there first) and secondly because you’ll find some really badly written books out there and you’ll think to yourself “I can do better than that” – which is the first step towards actually trying to do better than that.
If someone was going to use a line from one of your books as an ‘inspirational internet quote’, what line should it be and what picture should they put with it?
“The sensible man don’t look to confirm what he already knows — he looks to deny it. Finding evidence that backs up your theories ain’t useful, but finding evidence that your theories are wrong is priceless. Never try to prove yourself right — always try to prove yourself wrong instead.” (Amyus Crowe). Can’t think of any photograph, except maybe one of the American actor Nick Nolte, who is what I imagine the character of Amyus Crowe to look like.
What 3 books should everyone read while they’re young?
‘The Hobbit’, ‘Stig of the Dump’ and the Tripods trilogy by John Christopher (‘The White Mountains’, ‘The City of Gold and Lead’ and ‘The Pool of Fire’). Also, of course, anything by Steve Cole, especially the ‘Astrosaurs’ and ‘Cows in Action’ series…
Is there a book you’ve read that you wish you had written?
There’s a book by an American author named Tim Powers that I wish I’d written. It’s called ‘The Anubis Gates’, and it’s about time travel and evil magicians dressed as clowns.
Yikes, that sounds quite weird. Speaking of which, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I went to a country called Georgia to do the research for my book ‘Lost Worlds’. In a restaurant there I saw, on the menu, a main course which was translated into English as “The tender parts of a goat, grilled”. I thought it just meant goat meat that was tender, but it was only when I was eating it that I suddenly thought, “Actually, which parts of a goat are the most tender…” That’s when I stopped eating.
Describe your life in 8 words?
“Just when you think it’s calming down – bang!”
Things seem calm at the moment, so Book Walrus will leave it there just in case things don’t stay that way for long . Thank you so much for talking to us Andrew!
Book Walrus loved hearing from Andrew Lane, and is going to spend the rest of the day learning about Fu Manchu, and opining to anyone who will listen.