How do you start to write a story? Don't you find it daunting when faced with a blank page?
My favourite part of writing a book is thinking up the ideas and that can start a long time before I actually sit down at my desk. For example, I first visited Hong Kong (the main setting of Necropolis) twenty years ago. I got married there - and that was when I first began thinking of a nightmarish adventure taking place there. So I get the idea, I develop it, I keep turning it over in my mind and gradually a story begins to take shape. Then I work out the structure, balancing slow chapters with fast ones, violent moments with more reflective ones. So I'm not daunted by a blank page. I look forward to filling it.
What was your inspiration for the Power of Five series?
I grew up with the Narnia books and then with Tolkein and The Lord of the Rings...but I never thought I'd be able to write a full-blooded fantasy sequence. I'm not very good at creating worlds. I prefer to write about the world as it is. But at the same time, it's often struck me that the real world may not be quite how we imagine it. For example, if I walk past a locked up church at night, I wonder what's happening inside. Is it actually empty or are there strange creatures coming together in the dark to engage in mysterious rituals? When I was living in Crouch End, I used to pass a shop at the end of the street that always had furniture in the window...the same furniture all the year round. I became convinced that it was only pretending to sell furniture and I used to like imagining what really happened there. Could it be a meeting place for gangsters? What if it was actually run by visitors from another world?
I love the idea that magic and witchcraft and battles between supernatural creatures could be raging all around us but just out of our sight. This is particularly true of Necropolis. Hong Kong is being taken apart piece by piece but nobody has noticed. And I believe it could happen anywhere in the world: as one of the characters says, "We see only what we want to see because that is the way of the city."
Did you base any of the character on anyone you know?
Scarlett is based on the grand-daughter of a friend of mine. The real Scarlett is only nine years old but it was easy to imagine what she might be like when she's fifteen. I also met a boy who was quite like Matt...he was always in trouble at school and didn't seem to be enjoying himself very much. I went back to Hong Kong recently and many of the characters and locations comes from places I visited and people I met. The lady with the birds of fortune, for example, is exactly as I describe her. She told my fortune outside the Tin Hau Temple (although she didn't say if the book would be a success or not).
Did you make up the Old Ones?
The Old Ones began life as a bad dream. My wife had bought me a strange piece of pottery - a sort of jug with a creature climbing up the side. Some of her presents are a bit on the weird side! Anyway, that night I had a horrible nightmare in which my house was invaded by similar beasts and when I woke up, the pillows were on the floor, the duvet was tied in a knot and I knew I had an idea for a new book.
That said, the Old Ones were named after characters described by a famous horror writer called H.P. Lovecraft and he in turn took them from a strange, sixth century text called the Necronomicon. I've read it and I have to admit I didn't quite understand it but it's a cheerful piece of writing that seems to be describing the end of the world. There's even a little snatch of it in Necropolis. You'll find it at the end of the prologue.
Did writing from a female's point of view feel weird?
Not at all. I'm very pleased with the way Scarlett turned out. I was quite nervous about writing about a girl as the main character - mainly because I'm known as a writer for boys and I was worried that boys might not be interested in following the adventures of a 15-year-old girl. I also wondered if I would be able to do it. Alex Rider, Nick Diamond, Matt Freeman...all my heroes have been boys and in real life I only have sons. And of course I was once a boy, rather than a girl, myself.
In the end, writing Scarlett was a pleasure. She's a little more emotional than my boy characters. She's not afraid to cry, for example. But she's also just as tough as them...as you'll discover in Chapter 4. I like her because she's so unpredictable. So, in answer to your question - no, it never felt weird. I didn't have to put on a dress or anything like that.
Can you tell us anything about the fifth book in this series?
The fifth book will also be the last book in the series! I don't have a title for it yet but I have a feeling that it's going to be the thickest yet (by which I mean page count). It's going to be divided into five parts and those parts are going to be called: Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Ice. I don't want to give too much away but it will finish with a battle, probably in Antarctica and although I've often said that I don't like children dying in my books, not all of the five gatekeepers will make it to the end. I should add that if you read the first four parts carefully, some of the elements that make up the climax are already in place.
Why are all five children orphans?
There are two main reasons. First, it greatly helps the stories if the heroes (and heroine) don't have parents, homes, ordinary lives. It means that they're "out there", on their own, having to depend on their own resources to win the battles. Alex Rider is an orphan for the same reason.
But there's an extra dimension to the five gatekeepers - which is to say, they have more than one identity. If you've read Nightrise, you'll know that they all met many thousands of years together when they defeated the Old Ones for the first time. But they also seem to have an identity that has been drawn from myth and legend. Pedro, for example, is associated with Manco Capac, founder of the Incas (see chapter 15 of Evil Star). Scott and Jamie were also known as Flint and Sapling, characters out of Native American mythology. In Necropolis you find that Scarlett has another name.
The gatekeepers don't have parents because it is possible that they were never actually born....even if that thought does rather make my head spin.
Do you believe in telepathy or any other supernatural powers your characters possess?
I suppose I believe in the possibility of these things - which is to say I have an open mind. I don't think I would be able to write this series if I didn't.
Is it easier to write about faraway settings - eg Peru/Hong Kong rather than England? Have you visited all the places you write about in these books or do you just research other ways?
As I've already mentioned, I spent two weeks in Hong Kong at the start of 2008 and I visited all the places that you'll read about in the book. I hope I've done the city justice. I was truly amazed by its size and energy, by the millions of people packed together in this relatively tiny space. The street markets that Scarlett visits in Chapter 17 are exactly as I describe them...I was particularly struck by the fish sliced in half but still living and I was as revolted as Scarlett.
I think it is important - and, yes, it does make it easier - to visit a city before I write about it. I get so many ideas, just walking the streets. And you're not going to get the noise and the smells from a guide book!
So, I took the Star Ferry, I walked round the Peak and I even visited Macau where, quite by chance, I stumbled on the extraordinary house that I would turn into the headquarters of the White Lotus Society. But what struck me perhaps more than anything was the pollution in that part of the world. I kept on seeing people wearing white masks to stop themselves breathing in the worst of it and that became a big part of the book. If I hadn't travelled out there, it would never have appeared.
Is the King of the Old Ones the devil? Do you believe in the devil - or a power of evil?
What a very interesting question! The King of the Old Ones is vaguely inspired by the figure of Antichrist which you will find in the bible. Try reading the Book of Revelations. It's full of monsters and nightmarish things. But for me he's really just a personification of everything that is bad in the world. I call him Chaos because that's what he represents. An end of order, law and civilisation.
Do I believe in the devil? I don't believe in a figure with horns and a tail. Nor do I think there's a hell we go to if we've been bad (so I'll be more than a bit surprised if I end up there). But I do believe in evil as a force. And when I look at the world, particularly in the past ten years, I think it has been very much in evidence.
Who/what is the Librarian?
I'm afraid you'll have to read the last book to find out - although, in truth, everything you need to know about him is contained in Necropolis. I particularly like the chapter when Matt discovers the library. The choice he is given - whether or not to read the book of his life - is at the very heart of what this series is about. Would you read yours?
If you had to be one of your own characters in The Power of Five, which would it be and why?
Another brilliant question to end with. My first instinct is to say that I would like to be one of the five gatekeepers as I wouldn't mind being a teenager again and always fancied having magical powers. On the other hand, I know what happens at the end and I'm not sure I'd want to be in any of their shoes when they reach the last chapter. I'd quite like to be Richard Cole, the journalist, but then again there's something pretty terrible waiting for him in the last book too. It's very difficult - but I think I'm going to choose Lohan. He's young, a great fighter, a leader and a master criminal. I'd quite to be all these things.