Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome David Solomons, author of the award-winning and incredibly popular and successful My Brother is a Superhero series, to The The Reader Teacher to answer my questions to celebrate the publication of the fourth and most recent book in the series, My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, published by Nosy Crow on 28th June 2018.
My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar (5)
TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar?
(I don’t do emojis. Is it a terrible thing to admit that I actively dislike them?!)
TRT: What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write the My Brother is a Superhero series… particularly with your most recent book, My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar?
DS: Traditionally, the brain-in-a-jar is a background prop in the average mad scientists’ laboratory. I thought it was about time to get it out of the shadows and give it a starring role as the main villain.
TRT: Also do you find the books in the series get easier or harder to write as you go along?
DS: I love writing stories for Luke and the gang. Coming up with their adventures has proved alarmingly easy, but nailing the title of each subsequent book, that’s a different matter.
TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar/My Brother is a Superhero series, which one would it be and why?
DS: On one level the series is the story of a boy who missed out on the one thing he dreamed of having. For a lo-o-ong time I dreamed of having a successful career as a writer, but it always seemed out of my reach. The irony that the biggest success I’ve had should come from telling this particular story is not lost on me. Which is a long-winded way of saying that I am a lot like Luke Parker.
TRT: In My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, Luke and his brother, Zack swap bodies by accident. If you could pick any fictional character or real-life person to swap bodies with and to inherit their ‘power’, who would it be and why?
DS: The name’s Bond. James Bond.
TRT: I know this Author Q&A is centred around the release of My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar but… I just have to ask about The Secret in Vault 13 – A Dr Who Story too. How is writing, drafting and editing going?
DS: As of this precise moment the copyeditor is running her big red pen through the manuscript.
TRT: How did it feel to be asked to write it?
DS: I was filled with a mixture of delight and sofa-cowering terror. Dr Who was a huge part of my childhood, so it’s definitely a career highlight to be entrusted with a story for the 13th Doctor.
Reading and Writing (4)
TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
DS: From early on I liked playing with language – I continue to have a weakness for puns. So I started writing not with a burning need to tell stories, or express some important point of view, but purely for the pleasure of turning a sentence.
TRT: Did you enjoy writing at school?
DS: I did. I wasn’t good at it, but I was enthusiastic. One huge moment for me was late in Primary school when we wrote a story and then went to the younger children to read it aloud to them. I loved that and I recall receiving praise from my teacher as a result. I’m a sucker for a good review.
TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
DS: I work very hard to put my characters in impossible situations and then figure out how to get them out again. The effort of working that out is exhausting, but the moment when the solution hits me is worth it every time. More generally, I relish writing first drafts, when the world and the story is all mine. Rewriting uses different muscles, but that can be highly satisfying too. I have a sadistic streak when it comes to cutting words – I take a strange pleasure in killing my darlings. Often I find that when I strip back the text, a good joke rises to the surface. The scariest note is structural – anything that breaks the spine of your story will require significant rewriting. ‘What if we took the ending and put it in the middle?’
TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
DS: I grew up in the Land Before School Visits. If I could’ve had someone come to our school it would’ve been a science-fiction author like Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss or Frank Herbert. My passion was the shelf in the library marked ‘Science Fiction’. But most of all I would’ve loved Douglas Adams to drop in and talk Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today? What are you reading, if you are reading any children’s (or adult’s) literature at the moment?
DS: The contemporary children’s books that I know about are those I read to/with my children at bedtime. We’re currently racing through Pamela Butchart’s oeuvre, which we are all massively enjoying. Such a brilliant, funny voice.
My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, My Brother is a Superhero series and Teaching (3)
TRT: Could you suggest ways that your books can be used in the classroom for the many teachers and school staff that will read this?
DS: I do a workshop on How to Write Funny Stories. There is this idea that not everyone can do it, but I introduce a few techniques just to show that there is an underlying mechanism. Teachers could dig into a funny section and explore what makes it so. Look at the choice of vocabulary and word placement. What happens to the humour when you move a word? Does it kill the joke? I’m no expert, but it seems to me that focussing on the funny side of the books would be a good way to engage even more reluctant readers.
I also talk about the idea that stories obey the rules of their genre, and that superhero stories are particularly good at illustrating this, mainly because they all tend to work the same way. Moreover, I broke these rules in order to make the reader laugh. So, for example, rule 1: all superheroes have cool vehicles – the Batmobile, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet. But my superhero (and his brother) get to the scene of the crime on the bus. Can the children pull out the rules of the superhero story and see how I’ve subverted them for comic effect?
TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
DS: It’s Westworld meets the Prisoner, for kids. With a great spa for the grown-ups.
TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
Contact my publisher, Nosy Crow, please. I can’t do a whole heap of school visits as I need lots of time in my office to write the actual books. I am in awe of my peers who can write on trains and planes. I’m useless away from my desk.
Two more before you go (2)!
TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
DS: I wrote two novels that didn’t get published.
TRT: Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?
DS: Why are funny novels treated with less inquiry than ‘serious’ novels?
I have kindly been given a SIGNED series of David Solomons’ books:
My Brother is a Superhero;
My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord;
My Evil Twin is a Supervillain
& My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar
& a Nosy Crow event pack (with plenty of resources, bunting, badges and display materials) to give away!
If you’d like to be in with a chance of being the ONE lucky winner of this very special giveaway and these utterly superb books, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!