Tim interviewed about Blade by Bart’s Bookshelf
Monday, 6th February, 2012
BB: Today, I’m thrilled to welcome author Tim Bowler to Bart’s Bookshelf. I’ve been a big fan of his books since I first read Starseeker a few years ago. Tim has written many other novels, including River Boy, for which he won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.
Hi Tim, welcome to Bart’s Bookshelf. Can you start by telling us a little about the Blade series?
Tim: The series is a fast-paced urban thriller about a street-smart fourteen-year-old boy called Blade who has a terrifying skill with a knife and a host of enemies hunting him for the things he has done. There is nothing romantic about Blade’s life, nothing glamorous or stylised about his brilliance with a knife. His ability has wrought nothing but destruction and the consequences of his actions now haunt him at every turn. But Blade is not a thug. He is a highly complex character: lethal, to be sure, but also bright, engaging, even likable. He is also deeply damaged and from the moment we meet him, his life is falling apart. Not only are his enemies closing in but he’s now so tortured by his conscience that he’s finding it increasingly hard to summon his old skill at the very time he needs it most. The story follows Blade as he battles with his enemies, both internal and external, and struggles to make sense of his life – and somehow to survive.
BB: Other than Blade himself, who do you think is the most interesting character in the series and what is it about them that intrigues you?
Tim: Well, I’m going to be greedy and choose three characters. They each in different ways exert a powerful influence on Blade. The first character is Jaz, the three-year-old girl who shows Blade aspects of himself that he never dared believe in; the second character is Mary, the elderly lady who stands by him when all seems lost; and the third character is the one we never meet: Becky, the girl who died before the story starts but whose presence haunts each passing moment of Blade’s life.
BB: I remember you talking at the Scarborough Literature Festival a couple of years ago, and I may be remembering it incorrectly, but I seem to remember that you don’t so much write for teenagers as about teenagers. Can you talk about that a little?
Tim: You’ve remembered what I said perfectly correctly. I don’t write for any particular audience. I am aware that my books are marketed for the young (which is fine) and of course I’m delighted that young people read my stories, but adults do too, and so it would be wrong to say that I only write with teenagers in mind. Having said that, I do (as you correctly recall) write about teenagers, and the reason is simple. Teenagers are just fascinating. They’re a huge challenge for an author because they’re so difficult to get right. They’re not children or adults but creatures of transit, of turbulence – and nowhere was that more evident to me than in the character of Blade.
BB: Was there a difference in approach when you were writing the Blade books, as to when you write one of your standalone books?
Tim: Not really. I always saw the Blade series as one great big story which I was writing in book-size instalments. So although I could see a kind of finishing line at the end of each book, I never saw that as the actual finishing line, because I knew the story would not be over until the very end. I approached the writing in exactly the same way as I would one of my standalone novels: feeling my way scene-by-scene into the story, trying to sense where the narrative wanted to go, throwing away what didn’t work, honing what did; and so it went along.
BB: Now a question I always like to ask. (I think it’s a love of characters that misbehave for their authors!) Do you keep your characters on a tight leash, or do you allow them a certain amount of leeway to tell their own story?
Tim: Oh, I give the characters all the leeway they want. I don’t have a leash, and even if I did, none of the characters would take any notice of it. Blade wouldn’t anyway. Can you imagine him letting me dictate what he’s going to do next? No, to be serious, it’s a valid question and it touches on different approaches to writing. There are authors who plot in detail and who do indeed keep characters on a leash, and there are those for whom that doesn’t work. I admire the former, but I’m definitely one of the latter. I didn’t know anything about Blade until I started to write about him, and my understanding of him grew with every page. It’s the same with all the characters in all my stories. Devising plots and character biographies in isolation from the writing is a worthless exercise for me. I want the story to grow organically and I want the characters to drive that growth and reveal their natures to me as the words fall. The story-making instinct is exactly that: an instinct, and when characters ‘misbehave’, it’s usually the unconscious saying to you: ‘Hey, there’s another way of telling this story. Maybe it’s better than what you had.’
BB: Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?
Tim: I’ve just finished a novel called Sea of Whispers, an elegiac story about a young girl who lives on an island (due out in January 2013), and I’m busy on several new projects. One of these is a four-book series of short novels, linked by a common theme. I’m some way into the first of these. I’ve also just started a longer standalone novel, which I’m slowly feeling my way into.
BB: That just leaves me to thank you for stopping by Bart’s Bookshelf to chat, but before you go, is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your work?
Tim: Well, let me just turn that round and say a huge thanks to Barts Bookshelf instead. One of the things I never forget is that it is a privilege to be read. Nobody owes me their attention and there are a hundred thousand other things that you and the readers of your blog could be doing with your time. I am so grateful that you have spared some of your precious hours for my stories.