Ross Welford’s second novel, titled What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible , was published at the end of last month and if you’ve been keeping up with your Scribbler blogs, you’ll remember that we recently highlighted it as one of our Children’s / YA top picks for 2017. In the first of our features on our selected authors, we decided to catch up with Ross and ask him about his new book and all things writing.
Just in case you don’t know…before becoming a full-time writer, Ross was a journalist and television producer. After signing with his agent, Silvia Molteni at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, his debut novel Time Travelling with a Hamster was bought by HarperCollins and went on to be shortlisted for both the 2016 Costa Children’s Book Award and the 2017 Blue Peter Book Awards. Pretty exciting stuff!
Ross lives in London with his wife, children, a border collie and several tropical fish.
All caught up? Okay then – let’s get on with the interview!
Q. Hi Ross! Thanks for giving us your time today and congratulations on the publication of What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible. Could we begin by you telling us a bit about the novel?
Hi! What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible (which, to save my keyboard, I’ll just call “Invisible” from now on) tells the story of 12 year-old Ethel who stumbles on the secret of invisibility while seeking a cure for acne, and then uncovers more secrets about her life that she never even knew existed. Her friend Boydy (the class loudmouth), her centenarian great-grandmother and the vicious Knight twins are among a supporting cast that propel Ethel to a fresh understanding of the world and her place in it.
Q. Can you give us a bit of an insight into Ethel’s character. If you had to think of three qualities that best describe her, what would they be?
Well, she pretty tough on the outside (you’d have to be with a name like Ethel!); she is quiet and unrebellious (as she admits herself); and she’s highly tolerant of other people’s quirks – which is just as well, because everyone around her is extremely quirky!
Q. Both your first and second novels are set up in the North East of England. Do you have a special connection to that part of the country?
Yes: I was born there and lived there till I was 18, so I’m a Geordie, although I’ve lost most of the accent. Both of the books take place exactly where I grew up.
St. Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
Q. As aspiring writers, The Scribblers are always talking about how best we can meet our writing goals and deadlines. Did publishing your first novel in any way change your writing process when you came to write this one? Is there anything that you learnt first time around that helped you with Invisible.
I don’t mind admitting that for a while I was afflicted with a bad case of Difficult Second Book syndrome, occasioned – at least in part – by the praise heaped upon Hamster. Don’t get me wrong – its WONDERFUL that everyone loved Hamster, but it made for a very nervous start to Invisible (which in any case was a totally different story when I began.) The main thing I learnt, though, was to keep going. When I am mid-story, it’s vital to write most days, otherwise I forget who’s who, and who’s done what. I hesitate to offer advice, but I think first drafts are best written quickly: that way, it’s no great hardship if you have to junk it entirely (as I did with Invisible). It just becomes part of the writing process. If you’ve spent three years crafting a first draft, you’re going to want to hang onto it, even if it stinks. If it’s only taken you a few weeks, then it’s no big deal to start over. Also remember: no one except you will read your first draft. As Terry Pratchett said (I think): “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Q. What was the most enjoyable part of writing the novel?
Apart from typing “the end” you mean? I always enjoy writing the “big scenes” – chases, or tension chapters, or – in Invisible – the scene in the school when the invisibility starts to wear off and Ethel fears she will be living everyone’s recurring nightmare: being naked in public. That became one of the “tent poles” of the story, but I didn’t think of it until I had started writing the book. As soon as I had had the idea, I couldn’t wait to write it.
Q. Do you have any writing Kryptonite? What’s most likely to distract you from getting words down on paper?
Oh God, I’m terrible. It can be anything. Making tea, walking the dog, trimming my nasal hair, checking my emails again, more tea because the first one went cold, ooh look – a new tweet, better reply NOW, I wonder if that thing on ebay has gone, gosh look at the time right I’ll start on the hour, now I need a pee cos of all the tea and the piano is on the way back to my office…and so on. Does this sound familiar or is it just me?
Q. Both Hamster and Invisible are Middle Grade novels. When you started writing, were you clear from the outset that you wanted to be an author for this age group? What is it that particularly draws you to MG?
Having had no involvement with the book world at all, I had never even heard of middle grade! I was a bit surprised when my editor said that Hamster would be aimed at that age group as I thought it was a bit older. I love the genre now and ten year-olds are so funny.
Q. Which books / authors had the most impact on you when you were growing up and if you had to choose your three most favourite children’s or young adult novels of all time, what would they be?
I was an avid Enid Blyton fan, and I read all of the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge. My favourites change all the time, but regulars on the list are:
The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren (if you haven’t read this, you must!)
Jennings & Darbyshire by Anthony Buckeridge (or any of the Jenningses, see above)
Call Of The Wild by Jack London
Q. How did it feel to find out that your debut novel had been shortlisted for both The Costa Children’s Book Award and The Blue Peter Book Award?
I got news of both on the same day: that was a good day! The nicest thing is seeing who else has been shortlisted, and realizing that someone somewhere thinks my book is at least as good as the others!
Q. Finally, as Ethel finds out, invisibility has its pros and cons but if you could be invisible for one day, how would you use your ability?
I don’t think I would like it at all. Realistically, what on earth could you do with such an ability? Perhaps that’s why I wrote about it instead!
Thanks once again to Ross for agreeing to be interviewed and while all of the Scribblers continue to mull over how they might spend their day of invisibility (fly on the wall on a few agents’/ publishers’ walls perhaps), let’s just remind you that What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible and Time Travelling with a Hamster are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books (£6.99pbk) and are available from all major bookstores and online retailers.
You can also keep up to date with Ross’ news on his blog here
Keep your eye out for more of our interviews with great Children’s/YA authors throughout 2017!