How would you describe your book Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf to potential readers?
What sets the nobles, royals and bluebloods of “Wereworld” apart from those of other fantasy novels is that they’re all therianthropes; shapeshifters and werecreatures. The king of the realm is the tyrant Leopold the Lion. There’s Duke Bergan, the Bear of Brackenholme and Count Vega, the buccaneer pirate prince who happens to be a Wereshark. With wicked Wererats, noble Wereboars, a feisty Werefox and a monstrous Wereserpent there’s a rich world to explore. The story follows a young shepherd boy, Drew Ferran, coming of age at sixteen and discovering he is the last in the line of Werewolves and the rightful king of Lyssia. He’s soon hurtling across the continent being chased by the King and his allies, out of the frying pan and into the fire, encountering exotic Werelords along the way. It’s pure fantasy adventure with a liberal dollop of horror thrown in for good measure!
What was the original inspiration for Wereworld?
My love of fantasy and horror ensured that whatever I attempted to write as a first novel would involve both of those genres, and as a lover of werewolves (from folklore through to cinema) the hairy fellows were an obvious choice. I used to live on the North Yorkshire Moors (“American Werewolf” country) and I’d often get time to muse about writing when I was walking the dog through the wilds up there. I was also aware of the old Welsh legend of Beddgelert that involves the slaying of a faithful hound that had killed a wolf, and there’s a nod to that early on in the book.
This is obviously the first book in a series. Do you know how many books there will be in the series and have you planned them out already?
I’ve completed the first draft of the second book in the series, delivering it to Puffin before Christmas, but there’ll be plenty of editing to do before its published in January 2012. I have books 3,4 and 5 in my head, ready to roll, but we need to see how well the first books are received initially. There’s such a broad canvas to play with when you consider its a world of Werelords, there are no shortage of adventures to write about.
I think the Werelord concept is great. Do you have a favourite werelord (other than Drew’s werewolf of course)?
I think it’d have to be the charismatic captain of the Maelstrom, Count Vega. As a scoundrel and a Wereshark you know instinctively what the man is capable of, and he’s a ferocious beast in battle. But as a writer he’s a lot of fun as he says the inappropriate things that other nobles wouldn’t dream of saying.
I expected Wereworld to be a horror story due to the werewolf theme, but it is definitely more of a fantasy story. Is this what you intended from the start?
First and foremost it is fantasy, but once you throw the werecreatures into the mix then there’s obviously huge potential to indulge in horror. The first time I saw a monster transformation as a kid was Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolfman, tame by today’s special effect standards but powerful and frightening to me as a seven or eight year old. That’s stayed with me to this day. It’s nice that the Wolf is the good guy here though – the monsters are different beasts altogether.
My love of fantasy goes way back to Where The Wild Things Are, the book that got me into reading as a little one. I’ve grown up reading plenty of fantasy sagas, especially in my youth, and if ever I was going to write a novel I think it was a given that my first would be fantasy. And it’s epic too (I hope!) so we’re looking at a long story here, a journey for not just Drew but the other characters. I only hope that I “deliver” with each book, as a pet gripe of mine is fantasy sagas that never seem to get anywhere, neverending with no sight of the finish line. I’m hoping that each of the Wereworld books show the characters growing, and ends on a satisfying reveal/triumph/defeat (delete as applicable).
You are well known for your abilities in art and design – did you create drawings of your characters to help you write the story?
Not with Wereworld, no. It’s been a completely different experience for me as obviously being an illustrator I’m used to providing images to go with my stories, via picture books and animation. I’ve provided a map in the front of the book, which I did for myself to help me get my head round the world of Lyssia, and I’ve also provided black and white pen & ink illustrations as chapterheads throughout the book. So I’ve managed to get a little arty. But the cover I didn’t go anywhere near – I did a rough sketch of my own for it, but it was all horror, no fantasy, and wouldn’t have been appropriate. Andrew Farley did a fabulous job with the cover art, and that’s something I couldn’t have done even if I tried.
In the front of the proof copy of the book I have it mentions that you are a long time fan of horror and fantasy. What are your favourite books and/or authors from these genres?
My favourite fantasy novel is probably The Hobbit, coincidentally the first novel I ever picked up from my local library (I must have been around nine or ten years old). The Lord Of The Rings is a close second. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials held me captivated from start to finish, the author effortlessly creating a series of fantasy worlds which could have populated a whole series for any other writer. I do love a good horror story though, and have always enjoyed short stories with lovely dark twists such as Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. My favourite horror novel of recent years was Max Brooks’ World War Z, a wonderful documentary-style account of the zombie apocalypse that features numerous eye-witness reports. Simply brilliant. There are other horror books I could mention but they’re all 18+ certificate and there’s a time and a place!
Do you have any favourite horror/fantasy films or TV shows?
Favourite horror show would be the recent Frank Darabont adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. I’m a sucker for zombie movies. Fantasy movies were my staple as a kid, and it’d be rude not to mention The Lord Of The Rings movies as the benchmark for fantasy movies today.
Which books/authors did you read as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare with the children’s/YA books available today?
As mentioned earlier it was Tolkien’s books I devoured as a teenager, although I spent an awful lot of time playing roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons which I’m sure have influenced me to this day. I often found myself running the games, sharing that task with my friends, and loved spinning my own yarns this way. It’s nice to see D&D is still popular today – a friend bought it for my 10 year old son before Christmas – although the rules have moved on a lot since my day. I’d need my old maths GCSE to understand the thing now!
There seem to be more books aimed at YAs nowadays – I’m sure there aren’t, but the success of the Potter and Twilight books has thrown the genre into the spotlight. I think it’s terrific that there’s so much choice out there for the readership, as well as the older classics that they can explore should they delve a little deeper. My favourite non-fantasy books when I was a boy were The Machine Gunners and Danny, Champion of the World, and it’s nice to see those books are still popular to this day.
You have had a very successful career in animation and illustration – what inspired you to turn to writing for a Young Adult audience?
It was a natural progression. I’d been told for years by editors and publishers the same thing: “You want to be writing for older audiences”. So I did. I’ve had to earn my spurs all over again – my success in those other areas (animation and picture books) counted for nothing when I was attempting to break into novel writing so I was starting from scratch. My first attempt at writing a novel didn’t work, the structure wasn’t quite right and there were flaws, visible to both myself and folk who reviewed it. But I’m stubborn. I put that manuscript to one side and started writing Wereworld intent on learning from my previous mistakes.
Do you have any funny stories you can tell us from your time working on Wallace & Gromit or Bob The Builder?
My time on W&G was brief (a work experience gig) although I did manage to cause Aardman Animation to grind to a halt during the filming of A Close Shave by screwing up a toastie order one morning (that was one of my jobs as a gopher, ‘the toastie run’ – it’s like the Kessal Run but with more butter.)
Bob was a phenomenon, and I don’t know whether I’ll experience that much success with a show again, although my new series RAA RAA The Noisy Lion (screening later this year on CBeebies) does look pretty awesome. I had the most fun on Bob when I was asked to do Bob-style caricatures of the various famous celebrities who cameo-d on the show, including Elton John, Chris Evans and even Noddy Holder. Highlights of the careers of each of those three chaps, I’m sure you’ll agree...
You worked on one of my guilty pleasure films, the wonderful Mars Attacks. Did you get to work closely with Tim Burton and if so what was he like?
I never got to meet Tim on Mars Attacks, as I was painting and trimming and seeming puppets from the studios of Mackinnon & Saunders in Manchester. M&S are the studio who made the puppets for Bob coincidentally, as well as being the clever people behind my other shows Frankenstein’s Cat and RAA RAA. It was my first paid gig in animation and was a joy to work on with a great bunch of people. Tim still works with M&S to this day, as the puppetmakers provide him with his cast for his and other directors’ stop motion animated movies.
If you were to have a dinner party and you were able to invite any three people alive or from the past, who would those three people be and why?
Eric Morecambe – the funniest man who ever lived, and whose folks’ lived next door to my dad’s folks in Morecambe.
JRR Tolkien – the granddaddy of fantasy literature. My old literary agent met him once in a pub in Oxford, and she found him sat staring into an open fire smoking his pipe. Gandalf, it appears, was no work of fiction.
Louis Prima – most people know of Louis as the voice of King Louis from Disney’s Jungle Book, but to me he’ll always be the greatest live entertainer. I’m sure Freddie Mercury nicked all his moves off Louis. Check out Just a Gigolo/I aint Got Nobody medley for sheer genius.
I know Rise of the Wolf has only just been published, but is there anything you can tell us about the second book in the series?
I’m sworn to secrecy! The second book (first draft) is written and is with Puffin. I can tell you that Drew’s epic adventure is only just beginning in Rise of the Wolf and we’re introduced to some fantastic new characters and places in book two. I have books three, four and five in my head but I think we have to see how well received the first two novels are before I embark on that particular quest...
Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of The Book Zone?
If you haven’t picked up your copy of Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf yet... what are you waiting for? Get out there and dive in to the Seven Realms!
Again, my huge thanks go to Curtis Jobling for taking the time to answer my questions, and he is right - you really should get out there and get your hands on a copy of Wereworld, the people at Waterstones know what they're talking about.