Alan Gibbons is an English writer of children’s books who has won a Blue Peter Book Award. He lives in Liverpool, England, where he used to teach in a primary school. His father was a farm labourer, but was hurt in an accident when Alan was eight years old. The family had to move to Crewe, Cheshire. He began to write for his pupils as a teacher, but never tried to get any of his work published. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Gibbons)
In 2016, I attended a writer’s workshop run by Alan, he managed to fit a heck of a lot into that 4-hour session, from how to write catchy opening lines to setting a scenario; we all had to create our own ‘good guy finally comes up against the bad guy’ scene. We were encouraged to focus on detail; through the eyes of a person immobilised in bed, to imagining being trapped in the room we were writing in and writing a first person account of meeting the villain of the piece. He worked fast, gave honest feedback and provided a fresh angle on, what the industry calls, Young Adult literature.
He has over 70 published books!
I am extremely grateful to Alan, for taking time out of his, evidently very busy schedule, to be interviewed. And as you will see, as well as being no slouch when it comes to writing, he has definite views on politics, and is no cry baby!
Hi Alan, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
And talking about flailing; Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
Alan: Always. When you are young, you think you are on a journey and one day you will reach the promised land. Later, you realise you are already in the promised land and you have been wandering round in it without knowing.
Me: Your books often have political leanings; in An Act of Love (2011), two childhood friends are tested by the onset of the war in Afghanistan, in Whose Side Are You On? (1991), you tackle racism. Would you describe yourself as a ‘political animal’?
Alan: I am, definitely. I am on the Left, but spend most of my time arguing with what I perceive to be the moral and political failings of my own tribe.
Too many people on the Left are trapped within the mindset of the past, the sclerotic failings of Stalinism or lack of courage to adopt truly radical political positions.
Me: Do you see any disparity, or connection, between those books that are based in the ‘real’ world, and those of a more ‘fantastical’ nature; such as The Legendeer Trilogy?
Alan: Not really. Fantasy is just as capable of insights into power structures, class relationships and issues of oppression as more naturalistic work.
It is the quality of the ideas behind the book and their artistic execution that matter.
Me: What is the first book (another author) that made you cry? And have you ever shed any tears when writing yourself?
Alan: Nothing makes me cry. De nada. Among the books that have moved me are Jane Eyre and Grapes of Wrath, Alex Wheatle’s Island Songs, Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.
Me: What’s with your obsession with football?
Alan: Growing up as a working-class boy in a white bread and tinned veg part of the North West, we didn’t do feelings so we found an emotional outlet at football grounds. It offered tribal loyalties, heroes and a sense of common values. It was a myth of course. Racism and violence stalked the terraces too.
Me: What other authors are you friends with, and do they help you become a better writer?
Alan: I know people like Bali Rai, Alex Wheatle, Andy Seed, Cathy Cassidy, Steve Barlow, Steve Skidmore and Paul Cookson. I wouldn’t say I discuss writing much with these guys, but I learn from their work and their outlook on the world.
Me: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Alan: No bullshit.
You fall in love with somebody? Don’t hang back. Tell them.
You think somebody’s a clown? Don’t waste time on them.
You want to say that kind of thing in fiction? Don’t self-censor. Do it.
Me: How many unpublished and/or half-finished books do you have?
Alan: Maybe four. I have been lucky that most of my stuff has been published. That is getting less true. With the modern day obsession with the market and shifting ‘units’ and the celebrity culture, writers are facing new pressures.
Me: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Alan: A short novel takes a month, a longer one six months.
Me: And finally, What is your favourite childhood book?
Alan: For younger kids Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
For older kids Treasure Island. Most books could do with losing a good fifty pages. In this book, every word is needed.
To book Alan for a school visit email firstname.lastname@example.org
Next time – Mike Wood on Sci-Fi, music, and Travel.