Title: Check Mates
Author: Stewart Foster (@stewfoster1)
Cover artwork: Leo Nickolls (@leonickolls)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@simonkids_uk)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 27th June 2019
Series status: N/A
Perfect for Year5, Year 6 and Year 7.
1. Chess ♟️
2. Relationships 🤝
3. Grandfather 👴
Felix Schopp isn’t a problem child.
He’s a child with a problem…
Felix’s ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one realises how hard it is!
When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandad, Felix can’t think of anything worse. Grandad hasn’t been since Grandma died, and he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess.
But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places and Grandad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Stewart to The Reader Teacher where he’ll be answering some of my questions about Check Mates, his reading and writing influences and why he’s a bit like his main character, Felix!
Check Mates (5)
- 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 Check Mates?
Sorry, I prefer words over emojis.
- What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Check Mates?
For experience of life in East Germany I read Anna Funder’s Staziland. For the experience of chess tournaments I used The Rookie, by John Moss. I researched online for the chess moves and had them checked and rechecked by an experienced club chess player. I also interviewed two children with ADHD along with two class support workers. I thought it very important to find out what it’s like to cope with having ADHD and how schools deal with this. Of course I also used my own experiences of ADHD, as it was very evident during the writing of the book because I wrote it in half-hour burst. I just couldn’t keep still any longer than that.
- What was the most enjoyable part of writing Check Mates?
Discovering the characters and watching them grow, was my favourite part. I loved Felix, Granddad and Jake, and each morning when I sat at my computer it was like going back and meeting my friends. I found them all very easy to write, or maybe I should say, natural.
- In Check Mates, the main game of the story is chess. Are you good at the game yourself, maybe a grandmaster? And how does your experiences of the game influence your writing about it?
I’m a total novice at chess, pretty rubbish to be honest. However, I did play at school and in one lunchtime I was winning a game comfortably until my opponent opened his lunchbox and pulled out a peanut butter sandwich. I hate peanut butter and the smell of it made me feel so sick I lost the game. I used the scene in Check Mates, with Felix, only I swapped peanut butter out for Doritos.
- If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Check Mates, who would it be and why?
I’m a hybrid of Felix and Jake. I’m like Felix for the terrible attention span, and like Jake for the randomness of his acts without thinking of the consequences, even though he has good intentions. I also like to think I’m loyal to my mates, like he is to Felix.
Reading and Writing (4)
- What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?
I used to write short stories and poems about my classmates in secondary school. At first, they were scared of what I’d write but after laughing at two stories they seemed to clamour to be the next one in line. It was huge fun, and much like the class comedian it made me quite popular, and we all want to be that. I loved writing in general, especially in English and History. In fact, my History teacher was a big fan until one day he said, ‘Stewart, I love your stories, but History is recollection of real events, not things you make up’. I remember us both laughing. I didn’t change the cause and outcomes of wars, but I did create a few bloody battles in between.
- Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
The first draft is the most fun by far. I don’t plan my novels, so each page is as unknown to me as it is to the reader. It keeps me fresh, but it does lead to a ‘scruffy’ first draft to send to my editor. And that’s when the exhausting bit kicks in, going over and over the whole story again.
- When you were a child, can you remember contacting authors or any of them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
I loved reading Bobby Brewster stories and when the author H E Todd came to my school, I was the happiest kid on the planet. He and his books smelt of tobacco and as he signed my copy, I told him I was writing a story about a crocodile that lived under my living room carpet. He said it was a great idea and that I should finish the story. I recall running home to tell my parents I’d met a real author and wrote the story that night by torchlight. It was the most exciting time and makes me realise the importance of talking but also listening to kids when I visit schools.
- Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. Can you recommend any other children’s books to children (and adults!) who may be interested in similar themes explored in your book or any that you would recommend?
It would have to be Lisa Thompson. She does a wonderful job of addressing some of the issues that affect youngsters today and does it in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. When I was writing All the Things that could go Wrong, I discovered The Goldfish Boy was coming out. Both our books featured a protagonist with OCD and for a while I considered stopping writing mine as she’d done it so well. However, thankfully I continued. Like I tell keen writers, it’s okay to write on the same subjects or themes, after all, there’s more than one book or film about the Second World War.
Check Mates and Teaching (3)
- If you were to ‘pitch’ Check Mates in a sentence for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
A boy with ADHD learns that the best lessons come in the most unexpected places and from whom you least expect.
- Could you suggest ways in which Check Mates could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and primary school staff that will read this and wish to use it in their schools?
I’d love to children to discuss or take part in activities to extend the reading experience, rather that have to study it piece by piece.
For example, they could talk to their grandparents and share stories about them in class. This could lead to empathy with Grandparents and understanding. What did they learn about their lives? What might child and Grandparent learn from each other.
Learn to play chess…link to maths, problem solving skills, planning, strategy, patience, focus and self-discipline. Promote discussions about sportsmanship and fair play.
Cold War, Berlin Wall are not usually studied in Primary schools, so a refreshing topic to raise and for children to be curious about. Promote discussion on separation and the value of family unit.
- 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?
Now I’ve finally got a decent website, it’s best to contact me through there. Stewartfosterauthor.co.uk
Two more before you go (2)!
- What has an interviewer or blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
How does your deafness affect your writing? A young girl asked me this a couple of weeks ago and I thought it best question in a long while.
- Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
I’ve run London Marathon five times.
One last one… (1)!
- Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?
Do you think children should be encouraged to read books that help them escape their problems or should they read books that tackle young people’s issues directly?
Thank you Stewart for answering my questions!
Check Mates is available now to order online and from any good independent bookshop.
Big thanks to Stewart and all the team at Simon & Schuster for inviting me to do an Author Q&A as part of the Check Mates blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.
Extra thanks to Stewart for answering my questions!