Welcome, Jon! So, Mortlock has just been published! Congratulations. Can you tell us a little about it? Who’s it for and what’s it about?
It’s about a girl called Josie and a boy called Alfie. They are twins separated at birth. What brings them together is the death of the magician the Great Cardamom, Josie’s guardian, at the hands of the evil crow-like ghuls. Josie and Alfie are plunged into a nightmare race to find Mortlock and the Amarant (the flower of Life) before the ghuls and their master the evil Lord Corvis does. Obviously, Corvis has nefarious plans for the Amarant and for mankind.
Why did you write it?
It kind of wrote itself in a funny kind of way. It was a story that buzzed around my head as I was running around the lanes of Wirral (as I am wont to do). I guess it was story I had to tell. So I did!
What’s the Mortlock world like? Is it a place you’d like to live?
Mortlock’s world is quite grim and dark. It’s a Hammer Horror version of Victorian London, choking fogs that conceal villainous pursuers, freezing cold winters that pinch at your fingertips and nose. A place where the dead can rise and where the brave can win through if they stay true. Nah, I’d hate to live there. I like to escape there quite frequently though. There is a fair amount of humour in Mortlock’s world too, so that’s quite reassuring.
Could you tell us a little about your influences?
MR James was a big influence. I love that whole genre, tweed –clad gents leaning on mantelpieces, tapping their pipes into the fire and then telling in hushed tones how they saw ‘something’ that could never be explained. Ace!
Dickens had a role too, I love A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. When you consider a character like Abel Magwitch and the many layers. A convicted felon who is so impressed by the kindness of a terrified young boy, he never forgets. He sentimentalises the boy to such an extent that he risks his life to return and see how he has changed. Brilliant! It was the scene in Oliver Twist, when Oliver is sold to Sowerberry, the undertaker that inspired Alfie Wiggins.
As a teacher, I read a lot of superb children’s literature with my pupils. Skellig by David Almond, Holes by Louis Sachar were two of my favourites and inspired me to try my hand at writing.
Talk to us about ballads and how you’ve used those in the novel.
Traditional music has long been a major factor in my life. I love the link with times past. When I play Sir Roger de Coverley on my mandolin, I’m playing a tune that dickens would have recognised (my playing permitting). A tune mentioned in A Christmas Carol. The ballads are such a part of our culture, the culture we share with the Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, Manx all the island people but we ignore them. They are such fantastic gory and heart-rending stories and when you read them you see that people three hundred years ago had similar tastes to ours.
The ballads extracts I’ve chosen highlight a theme from each chapter. It’s not rocket science, in most cases the theme is death or blood! But there are some nice versions that I’ve found that do make a point.
A little bird told me Mortlock’s launch was something a little special – could you tell us about that?
It was a magical evening. Bloomsbury had found a basement room in an old London pub with a stage. They asked me to write a short play based on the idea of meeting a ghul and on the early chapters of Mortlock. Actors performed my play, it was amazing! And quite chilling too. I was able to invite family and friends. It was strange seeing my brothers and sisters mingling with writers and publishers, a kind of unusual mix.
Publishers don’t pay for launch parties as much these days so it was particularly special and a measure of the faith Bloomsbury have in Mortlock. I have to say, they have pulled out all the stops in terms of publicity, with school visits arranged, adverts in children’s magazines, and a huge number of uncorrected proofs sent to reviewers.
What does a story have to do to be great?
I’m very wary of giving out advice about writing. I suppose it has to engage with the reader emotionally and for children’s writing there has to be a sense of satisfaction at the end. I like the fact that Mortlock is a complete standalone story. Hopefully, the reader is left wanting more but knowing where all the strands ended.
Have you always wanted to write for children?
I write for myself, or the child within. I suspect that my profession has guided me to writing for children or moulded my tastes towards children’s literature. I do love children’s literature. There’s no pretension. Children want a good story, well told.
What were your favourite books from childhood? Any you’d recommend fans of Mortlock read?
I didn’t really read before the age of eleven or twelve but my teenage years were a blur of HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Ghost stories of all kinds as well as a whole library of fantasy books. I would say read anything, there’s so much choice these days. You can type a book into a search engine and find a dozen similar titles.
‘Jonathan Mayhew’ is going to be entered into the OED and you can pick its definition: What does it say?
A well-meaning furry creature who can never make a decision.
What’s next for you?
Next up is The Demon Collector, a gruesome tale of one Edgy Taylor, a boy who becomes embroiled in the intrigues and adventures of the Royal Society of Daemonologie. He travels, hunting for demons, collecting them, little knowing that he carries a secret of his own. One that will threaten his very life and the future of Heaven, Hell and Earth.
Blimey, I can’t wait to read that myself!
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m innocent and thank you for having me.
Jon blogs here.