Curtis Jobling is the designer of the worldwide hit children’s television show Bob the Builder, and the author/illustrator of numerous children’s books. Here he talks to us about his writing, his series Wereworld, his new series Haunt and his plans for the future. There is plenty here to interest aspiring writers, fans of the Wereworld series, fans of the supernatural and fans of black humour. Visit Curtis’ Wereworld website to get a taste of the Wereworld books and there is a trailer for Haunt here.
BT&M’s review of Haunt summed it up as
‘…..in part a ghost story, in part a detective case and in part a study of the difficulties of school life. All told it is a fun book. Will, Dougie and their friends are likeable and their relaxed, unpretentious style of talking makes the book a straightforward and enjoyable read.’
The full review can be found here.
When you write a book, what do you want your readers to experience – excitement, thrill, fear? Do you want them to learn something from your books or do you just want them to escape and have a good time?
I’d hope that the main element of my writing is entertainment and escapism. I’ve always loved the fantastic, and that’s evident in the genres I write in, but hopefully there are also moral points to each story. I don’t want to get preachy with my writing – I’ll leave that to parents and teachers – but it’s important that my characters feel as real as possible, regardless of the fantasy elements of my worlds. They need to be put through an emotional wringer that the readership can connect with.
As an author in the teen market, you are best known for the Wereworld series which is a fantasy adventure series aimed at the tween market. It is full of excitement, gore, fighting, bravery and fantastical creature. So far there are six books in the series. What are your plans for the series?
WEREWORLD is aimed, in truth, at anyone who loves a good fantasy story, with a dash of horror thrown into the mix. When it was launched at San Diego Comic Con, Penguin US described it as “Game of Thrones for middle graders featuring werewolves” – there’s actually more to it than that, with only one Werewolf on show (in the beginning!). Though it’s a tween target audience it skews a LOT older, on account of prose, horror and complex storylines, proving very popular with young adults and beyond. The story is now told at six books, but I’ve left enough loose ends to be able to return to the world and tell more stories – that’s something I’d love to do.
The Wereworld series has quite a large number of characters in it – how do you keep up with them all and make sure that they stay in character? And who is your favourite?
I have to plot out each novel in quite intricate fashion, bullet-pointing each character’s story arc and where I want their tale to head. Then I weave them together so that the pacing is correct – it’s story-braiding! But with such a large cast it’s the only way to keep track of them. My favourite characters would be Hector and Vega I think, the Boarlord and Sharklord respectively. Like Drew, the Wolf hero, Hector goes on an incredible journey during the series. And Count Vega is the ultimate rogue, a loveable anti-hero who will do the things that Drew feels unable to do. The Goatlord Kesslar was my favourite villain to write, but that’s a really hard pick as bad guys are always such a lot of fun!
Werewolves have become associated for many people with the Twilight series but your werewolves are very different. There are many interesting historical tales questioning whether werewolves actually exist or not and giving them many different characteristics. What do you think and how would you like your readers to see them?
Lycanthropy is a real condition, the moon madness that some folk suffer from, albeit psychological. My werewolves are your proper bipedal beasties, inspired by my love of horror movies such as The Howling and The Wolfman. In my world, just because somebody looks monstrous doesn’t necessarily make them so.
Your new book, Haunt, is aimed at a similar age range. It is less bloody and brutal but still retains a fantasy element with the story being recounted by a ghost who is stuck on earth. It is a mix of the supernatural and a detective novel. What inspired you to write this story?
HAUNT is inspired by my own childhood and teenage years, the things I experienced, the challenges I faced. I say it’s loosely semi-autobiographical, also being set in my hometown of Warrington in the northwest of England. My friends and enemies all make appearances in the story, and the relationships I had are at the heart of the story. Obviously I didn’t get killed in a hit and run, though, so my similarities with main character Will stop there!
Haunt has a number of themes in it – the supernatural presence of a ghost, coping with loss, teenage friendship, detective work. Did you intend these themes to be part of the book or did they grow out of the characters and events in the book?
I always wanted HAUNT to be a number of things, more than just a ghost story. It’s not as horrific as Wereworld, for sure, although there are uncomfortable, creepy scenes to be enjoyed. I wanted to write a darkly comic chiller with a whodunnit thrown in for good measure. Hopefully the funnies shine through, and the murder mystery our heroes stumble upon becomes the real driving force for the story.
Loss is a recurring theme in Haunt. Without giving the story away, Will’s family is not the only one coping with loss and characters in the book cope with their loss very differently. Is this an important subject for you?
I’ve witnessed firsthand with my own kids how upsetting the experience of loss can be, so that certainly inspired me with the writing of HAUNT. However, I’m far from being an expert on how one deals with bereavement, but if the books acts as a springboard for conversations on the topic then that can only be a healthy thing. Ultimately, the most important element of HAUNT is teenage friendship.
I felt that this book was setting the scene for further adventures of the supernatural kind – is this your intention?
HAUNT is indeed more than just the one story for Simon & Schuster. DEAD SCARED is the first story in which Will and Dougie appear, but I’m also finishing writing its sequel presently, DEAD WRONG. And that won’t be the end of my supernatural storytelling. I’m also writing the first book in a new series of middle-grade fantasy adventures, MAX HELSING: MONSTER HUNTER for Penguin US.
You visit schools which gives you the opportunity to meet your readers. What do you value from these visits?
Visiting schools across the UK and around the world is a huge part of what I do, not only as an author but also artist and creator of animated television shows (Bob The Builder, Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and Frankenstein’s Cat). I recall my time at school and how the visitors we received tended to be from petro-chemical industries or the armed forces recruiting. I imagine what kind of impact the visit of an author, a poet, an artist or a film-maker might have had upon me – it would probably have blown my tiny mind. I hope my visits to schools have a fraction of this impact upon young people. I certainly love it.
What books did you enjoy reading as a teenager? Do you like reading about the supernatural now you are grown up?
I used to read a hell of a lot of fantasy and horror, unsurprisingly. I played a lot of roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu and Middle Earth Roleplaying Game. These married my twin loves of gaming and storytelling perfectly, and it’s certainly where I honed my writing. I read a lot of James Herbert in my teenage years, as did many boys when I was growing up – there wasn’t s Young Adult section of the bookshop back in the day – one went straight from Dahl to visceral horror as I recall. And obviously Tolkien was a colossal influence on me as well. It’s hard to imagine a fantasy author who doesn’t name-check the professor as a reason behind their writing. As an adult, I do still love my horror. I’m a big fan of Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics, and associated TV show, plus read a lot of fantasy by the likes of Martin and Abercrombie.