Living Things is the sequel to Elemental in which a 13 year old boy, Tom Allenby, moves to the remote village of Rooksbourne and discovers that it’s the place where all the world’s elemental energy is based. He is able to use that power using an ancient rock called the Earthstone so can control fire or plants or water etc.
In this book he discovers a girl in his class at school seems to have the same powers but she could be a threat to him. There is also something happening in the woods where all the wild life has run away and a figure dressed in a cloak of leaves is wandering about firing static. The first part of the book is written like a mystery with Tom and his friends trying to discover what is going on- once they realise there is a big threat to the whole world everything kicks off!!
What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to do a story that involved trees . When I was a child I found trees fascinating and I wondered whether they were watching everything. Trees can look amazing in daylight but at night time they can seem very powerful and mysterious. That was the starting point. It’s also about challenging Tom who despite not having much experience of elemental power has to be the sensible one when the girl, Ellie Tyler, appears to be out of control. Tom is being forced to accept the sort of responsibilities a thirteen year old should not really have and this will change him.
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
I wanted something that looked colourful and eye catching with just one aspect that’s a bit odd. If you look carefully at the tree on the cover there is something underneath the bark. It’s not actually a scene from the story (or even an oak tree which features heavily in it) but a suggestion of something. It was done by an artist from Streetlight Graphics and the example I gave him was it should look like a hand would look underneath a sheet. Not that it is actually a hand. There are plenty of scenes in the book which would make an amazing cover but I always think it’s like a spoiler when a key plot moment is emblazoned on the front of a book. Best for people to read it.
If it was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?
I’d love Arthur Tyler to be played by Idris Elba, Mrs Tyler would be Adjoa Andoh. Abel Cartwright would need to be someone like Phil Davis. Most of the characters are English except for Rosa who is from Romania. The Tylers originate from Jamaica but Ellie was born in the UK. In terms of the kids I’ve no idea who would play them, but hopefully new faces making their way in the acting world at the time.
Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?
It’s part of a series called Heart of the World. While writing the first one I also developed the plots for a number of other books using the same characters and places and this sequel is a chance to explore some of those in more depth
Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
All of the HOTW are set in and around the village of Rooksbourne in the present day. It’s a seemingly insignificant quaint country village surrounded by woods. My early notes say “Imagine Miss Marple if she could fly and throw thunderbolts!” I might still include that scene on one book.
I wanted to tap into the folklore and traditions of the English countryside without necessarily using actual traditions; I’d rather make up some of my own! Also this sort of place is full of odd locations, cottages, woods, old buildings and a bit separate from modern technology. It’s very easy to convincingly lose phone signals which is convenient for building tension; I even have characters acknowledging this issue in this book. Rooksbourne is actually based on a real village and the school is based on the one I went to, except it wasn’t in a village or in the middle of a wood!
What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?
I have tried writing non fantasy stories but they don’t have the same appeal. On the other hand I do like to include realism. The starting point is always something factual and then matters become exaggerated and the reader- hopefully- comes along with that, I’d much rather start in a school science experiment or a an old place in the woods than have characters zooming off to the future or the planet Zarg!
What made you want to become an author?
I started rather late but I’ve written reviews and articles for over 20 years. I think it was the boom in adults reading Y/A and kids books that made me realise I had a story to tell. I read the Harry Potter books, which are great by the way, but I wondered if I could create something that instead of relying on actual myths like wizards could take place in the real world and involve the elemental energy of the planet.
How do you come up with character names?
It’s difficult because every possible name has probably been used! For the kids I started off with first names; I chose Tom because it sounds solid and reliable then spent ages thinking of a surname. Allenby is a Yorkshire surname but even though he comes from London perhaps he has Yorkshire ancestors. Kyle’s name comes from his father being American. With Amber, I liked the name and that led me to decide her twin would be Jade, both precious stones. Jake was selected because I wanted a spiky sort of name because his hair in the first book is spiky. Some characters are named after real people. Rosa Boswell after a 70s tv producer, Chamberlain after the British Prime Minister of the 1940s.
Name one of your all-time favourite books?
I don’t read a lot of science fiction but one of my favourites is Dune by Frank Herbert. The level of detail is astonishing and you can really picture the place. The film was nowhere near the world I’d imagined reading the book.
Who, or what, inspires you?
I’m inspired by weird things in normal places probably due to being brought up on old Doctor Who were aliens would invade England every month! Most of the stories I’ve come up with begin with a one line idea and expand from there. The first book originated from the idea `what would happen if all the natural energy in the world converged in one place?’
Where is your favourite place to write?
I always write at home without any music in the background or anything but a lot of the actual ideas come to me when I’m outside or travelling. I can’t sit down with a blank screen and come up with something, to demand. it will always be something I’ve scribbled down on a bit of paper or a photo I’ve taken. Travelling by public transport allows you that luxury, if I drove I’d just write books about angry drivers!
What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
Master and Commander- The Far Side of the World (though actually it was based on 2 books I think?)
Name two of your favourite authors.
Charles Dickens and Philip Pullman
Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I can’t eat curry.
Who would play you in the movie about your life?
Lee Ingleby because he can play any role, not that my life would make a very exciting movie except the bit where I skydived off the Empire State Building in pursuit of a dragon.
Tell us an interesting fact about where you live.
It’s a few minutes’ walk from Penny Lane, celebrated in The Beatles’ song.
What are your (writing) plans for the future?
I’ll definitely be doing the third book in the HOTW series next as well as continuing my blog.
Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
I don’t really have one nor in fact do I even have a bucket.
Favourite myth / fairytale?
I’ve always liked the King Arthur myth though there are many different variations on it
Who/What did you want to be when you were a kid?