Thomas the Rhymer; an Interview with author Paul Andruss

Thomas the Rhymer is about an 11 year old boy who sees his brother captured by a fairy queen and his adventures trying to rescue him. 

Suitable reading for ages 12 to adult (adults will get more of the gentle, subtle humour).

 Now an Interview with Paul Andruss : author of Thomas The Rhymer

1. Where or how did you come up with the idea for this book and series?

This is a great question to start with. Because it’s easy! I was absolutely spellbound watching a Harry Potter movie one Christmas. I thought, “I can do that!” It just shows how wrong you can be.

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I always loved myth and legend. Having a lot of Irish blood, it’s probably in the genes. Mum often used to threaten us with the fairies coming to take us away if we were naughty. But as we were about nineteen at the time, it didn’t really wash… Sorry Mum, just kidding!

She gave up using the fairy scam when my little sister, defiant as always, told her… ‘I wish they’d hurry up!’ She was about 4. Heaven knows where she got it from; probably one of us.

For a long time I had no idea how to start. I wrote half the opening chapter, but made such a hash of it I gave up for almost a year. Eventually I realised if I did, it would be the end of writing forever.

‘Thomas the Rhymer’ took 18 months from concept to 1st draft, another year to get it to agents, and 18 months with agents. It was well received by some but not taken any further. The second and third books in the trilogy (Daughters of Albion and Thirteenth Treasure) were actually a lot of fun to write. I knew the characters and how I wanted to explore the fairy world. I think I was a technically better writer at this stage too.

2. When you sit down to write do you have an idea where you are going or does it just happen as you’re sitting there? Or is it actually the Characters writing the story?

Writing a story is a bit like peeling an onion. Not because it makes you weep, but because under each layer is another layer.

I start with a loose chain of ideas and blindly begin writing. Like a journey there is a vague direction, a few waypoints and a destination – but little understanding of how to get there. Once your foot is on the path, you cannot stop until the end.

At a certain stage I get to know the characters. I know when it happens because I start to write their dialogue as I hear them speak in my head. Around this point the characters take over the story. I know what they will do and how they react, and this dictates how the plot develops.

3. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

My favourite part to write is always the end. Everything has come together and in some ways it is as much of a surprise to me as anyone.

With early drafts, I like the end because I know I am going to start editing and can anticipate the fun beginning – where you play with the narrative and dialogue, and loosen things up a little. I can also focus on fudged over sections. With later drafts I can feel pleased with my utter genius… Until I start re-reading and spot all the mistakes!

Writing a novel is a bit like painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The Pope keeps shouting up, ‘When will you be done?’ And you keep shouting back,

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‘When it’s finished!’

4. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

My brother ran away when he was a teenager – for 48 hours! He snuck on a train (without paying of course) and made it all the way to Grandma’s. He was so embarrassed he slept the night in her shed, sneaking into the house to steal food. It wasn’t until the following evening she found him. In those pre-cell phone days, a lot of people in the UK (like Grandma) didn’t have phones. My uncle brought him home.

My parents were distraught. Mum was crying all the time. I remember the police coming. I didn’t really understand much. I just remember sitting in front of the TV wanting to be invisible, keeping quiet and feeling lost.plhrcqrkqkfdm thomas

From there, it wasn’t such a leap of imagination to wonder what a youngster would do if something inexplicable happened. Like an old woman turning young and beautiful, as fairies do, and then vanishing with your bother before your eyes.

I wanted the boy (I felt more confident writing a boy) to be hitting puberty; the age when you begin to doubt your childhood beliefs, but don’t dismiss things like an adult. He also had to be well-adjusted, but without friends. To keep the plot simple, I made the family move town when he started secondary school.

I wanted a plot that started at the beginning and moved seamlessly to the end. Someone recommended starting with Jack coming home in a daze and working back to the fairy abduction. I felt it was wrong for the book.

5. What is your favorite quote from a book of fiction?

Without a doubt, the first line of the first page of Philip Reeve’s ‘Mortal Engines’…

‘It was a dark blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out sea bed of the old North Sea.’

It continues…

‘In happier times, London would have never bothered with such feeble prey. The great Traction City had once spent its days hunting far bigger towns than this…’

The first 2 paragraphs of that novel are the best opening of any book I have ever read in my life. After reading that, I rewrote Thomas the Rhymer to ensure the first scene (the fairy queen kidnapping Jack’s brother) hit the reader on page 1.

6. On that vein who would be your favorite Author? What writers influenced you?

There are so many great authors. Every single one teaches something. They are like sorcerers casting spells. The advantage is, when you fall under an author’s spell you can analyse the words they use and how they use them, and hopefully replicate a bit of their magic in your writing.

Because of the original inspiration I owe a big debt to JK’s Harry Potter. Part of her genius was to recreate an old school (no pun intended) feel that appeals across generations. I wanted to do the same.

7 .Do you have a favorite fictional character?

There are so many.

For me, it is how a character faces and overcomes the trials of life. I had a pretty idyllic childhood, but became increasingly awkward and lonely as a young adult – lasting until my early 20s. I remember thinking it was a test and if I could survive it, I could survive anything life threw at me. (Good grief, what was I reading?)

Perhaps it comes as no surprise my favourites stories are Bildungsroman. (What a great word!) They are coming of age novels. The central character grows up by

overcoming challenges. It forms some of the oldest literature in the world, and figures as an archetype in Jung’s theory of psychology.

It’s safe to say, most of us had a rough time growing up. So we can identify with a struggling courageous youngster. Under all the layers we accumulate with age, that youngster is still inside each of us.

8. What five words describe you?

1) Couldn’t

2) even

3) hazard

4) a

5) guess

9. What if any project are you working on now?(go ahead promote away!)

Imagine if you heard K.J. Rowling published extracts from Dumbledore’s book of magic on her website, giving the fans all sorts of insights into the world of Harry Potter.

Wouldn’t it be wild?I think so

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Although you can read the Jack Hughes books without needing to know what underpins them, I thought it would be nice for readers to explore fairy folklore and how it might relate to the everyday world.

 

Horatio Grin, a character from the books, is part of a group dedicated to hunting down fairies and rescuing their kidnapped victims. He is an expert on fairy lore and a pretty good magician. I had him write a number of articles about the history of the fairies through the ages. They are available here: http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/history-of-the-fairy.php

In his latest project, he discuss

es all sorts of magic, occult mysteries and folklore based around the ancient Celts. The writing is finished. I now need to decide the best way to get each section onto the website.

10. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

After completing my first novel Finn Mac Cool, I sent it to a Literary Agent who specialised in fantasy work. She wrote back saying she thoroughly disliked the two main characters. I was devastated. I still cannot agree. Who wants to hear your babies are ugly?

It left me unsatisfied with the draft, so I revised the novel quite a few times over the following 4 years. Each revision brought home how much better I was getting at writing, and how much I still had to learn. With each draft I tried to make the characters more human, vulnerable, likeable, and less abrasive. So perhaps she was right after all. Damnit!

11. What has been the best compliment?

Can I go for two?

From my editor: ‘I can see fans of Harry Potter & Narnia loving Thomas the Rhymer’

From a senior agent at Pollinger: (Thomas the Rhymer) ‘left me feeling lost to the world, like a child curled up in a comfortable armchair on a cold, wet afternoon.’

I was flattered and somewhat humbled as there are not that many comments. See the entire handful here. It won’t take long! http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/thomas-the-rhymer-book.php

12. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?

All of them – I have never

been published; only recently self-published. I love each of my books deeply and am so proud of them. But, every parent thinks that about their children.

13. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

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Sadly not many people have read my work. I am hoping that will change with this interview. To encourage readers, I am giving away Thomas the Rhymer on my website in various e-book formats. http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/thomas-the-rhymer-book.php

You can also follow the story outline here: http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/story-of-the-book.php

And download my artwork as posters: http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/wallpapers.php

The few who read Thomas the Rhymer were enthusiastic.

One reader said the kids ate far too many Baked Beans. They eat less now.

Another commented on Jack’s fear of his parent’s divorcing. She was a teacher and said kids won’t even think about it. I bowed to her superior knowledge. Divorce is not part of the plot, so I made the upset non-specific – everyone is unsettled by the move. Actually, Jack’s mother is ill. She is hiding it from the boys, which makes the police think his brother ran away when he found a letter from the hospital.

Another reader criticised the ending. She wanted to know what happened next. Obviously I cannot say too much, but it is all there in the last few pages. When I asked other readers, they admitted it came as a shock but liked the ending. They said it kept the book alive in their heads. They kept thinking about what the family would say and how they would react.

‘Daughters of Albion’ keeps the theme alive. It starts a year later – right in the middle of what Mr Gin predicted would happen to Jack, Catherine and Ken.

14. What do you think makes a good story?

It’s not the type of story. I have catholic tastes and will read anything.

In part it’s the suitability the language. Sometimes I fall in love with the way an author writes. Every sentence is a thing of beauty. But visit an Art Gallery: for half an hour it’s ohhh and ahhhh; then it’s “I’m bored, let’s get a coffee.” Beautiful writing is not a great book. Some authors write sparse and flat, but it makes the story pound along and you devour every page.

Liking and caring about the characters. In a recent TV show about the undead, the first half hour was devoted to the main character’s alcoholism, divorce, custody battle for his child. I didn’t know the man, so I didn’t care. I wanted the bloodbath to start.

It’s the same with friends and strangers. Strangers tell you their life story and you can’t wait to get away. With friends you want to share their triumphs and woes. You can’t force friendship; it takes time. When the readers get to like your characters, they will want to know everything about them.

 

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I like a strong satisfying plot. There is nothing worse than squirming in a plot hole. It’s like… “I could arrest you now. But I’m not going to do that… I will hesitate ‘til you escape!”

This is generally because the author thinks he will need the character for the sequel. But it’s clumsy and insults the reader. If that’s all you can come up with, then at least give it a twist. “I could arrest you now. But I’m not doing to do that… DAD!”

15. I think I know your answer but, what’s more important to you Characters or plot?

Characters and plot are interleaved. As I said, at a certain point the characters take on a life of their own. They dictate the plot’s outcome because of the way they behave. But, without a rough plot to follow, your characters can never develop.

By the end of the book it’s a chicken and egg situation. You cannot say what drove the novel to its final form, because you no longer know what came first.

16. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sadly, I’m pretty obsessive and getting more so. I try to write every day, even if it’s just for an hour or two, and even if it’s something mundane like writing emails. If not, I am usually reading or illustrating for the books or blog.

I loved drawing when a kid. But through lack of practice the talent withered and died. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and you can’t draw for toffee, learn Photoshop. After 5 years of practice I am now the Frankenstein of Photoshop, cutting up images and putting bits of them together into new people and creatures.

17. How about a snippet from your book that will hook a prospective reader and make them want to read your book.

A weird creepy tramp has been stalking Jack and his new friends.

-Extract Start-

Less than halfway to Jack’s house, Ken announced, “He’s back.”plhrcqrkqkfdm thomas

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Jack looked around the deserted street. “I can’t see him.”

“Trust me, he’s here.”

“Let’s run,” Catherine suggested.

“Which way?” Ken whimpered, beginning to panic. “How do we fight what we can’t see?”

“He’s there in front of us!” Jack exclaimed with relief as the tramp shimmered into view.

“Back to the High Street,” advised Catherine. “We can hide in the crowd at the bus station.”

They ran down the road, occasionally passing people who did not even look. Typical, chased by a weirdo and no one bothers Jack thought bitterly.

Before remembering no one could see the tramp. Perhaps he’d cast a spell and nobody saw them either.

By now Ken was wheezing and could go no further. Spotting an alley behind some shops, Jack made a split second decision and bundled the breathless Ken into it; thinking they could hide behind skips and bins piled high with rubbish and cardboard boxes.

“What are you doing?” Catherine panted, following.

“We can’t run forever. Hide here, might be a way out!”

Seeing Ken snatch a puff on his inhaler, she realised they had no option. There was a slim chance the tramp might go past.

Squeezing down behind a skip, they peered out.

“Here he is!” Jack whispered.

“What is he doing?” Catherine hissed.

“Looking around! I think he’s going. No, wait, he’s coming. Was there another way out?”

“No, I checked!”

“He knows we’re here!” Ken snatched a hasty puff. He was red in the face and breathing hard. “His mind’s weird,” he wheezed.

Jack shushed him. “It’s all right Ken. Just let me think!” A moment later he turned to Catherine, “Run while I keep him busy.”

“No Jack!” she uttered, horror-struck.

“Jack!” echoed the tramp as if he heard her. “Master Jack, Cracker Jack… Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.”

“Is he mental?” Catherine gulped.

“No, he’s fairy,” Jack reminded her, as Ken nodded in agreement.

“Here I am,” Jack said, bravely stepping out from behind the skip.

“No!” Catherine wailed.

At the sight of Jack, the tramp started crying.

“Master Jack, Tom’s a lost. Master Jack, Tom’s a cold. Master Jack, don’t be cross! Master Jack, take Tom home! For I did dilly and did dally, dally and did dilly, lost my way and don’t know where to roam. Now you can’t trust a story like old Jack-a-Nory, when you can’t find your way home!”

Jack stared stupidly at the tramp.

“It’s all right, he won’t hurt you,” Ken shouted.

“You’ve changed your tune,” Jack shouted back.

“I was wrong. He’s not trying to scare us. He’s scared. The noise, the people, he’s not used to it. It’s driving him mad.”

Coming from behind the skip, Ken walked to the tramp with hands held in front of him as if feeling the air around the man.

“He’s living rough,” he informed Jack. “I don’t think he’s had a good night’s sleep for weeks, or a proper meal, been eating out of bins! Oh dear, he could do with a bath.”

“I know he pongs!” Jack agreed.

Putting his head to one side, the tramp smiled.

“There’s something else, he might look older than us, but inside he’s about our age.”

The tramp smiled again, saying proudly, “For a year and a day I grew away, and I grew straight and I grew tall, and I was the fairest of them all, and she did love me, love me do, but now I’m lost. It’s sad but true.”

“Hello,” said Catherine, following Ken from behind the skip.

“Good day to you mistress mine, Thomas am I, Thomas of Rhyme.” The tramp gallantly bowed.

“Thomas? That’s what she called Dan! She was looking for you, wasn’t she?” Jack said to the tramp.

“Aye,” wailed Thomas, “that she were! Though she loved me most, kissed my cheek and stoked my hair, a new Sir Thomas does she boast and on him lavish all her care. And I am gone, like those before, belovéd once, beloved no more.”

“Why?” asked Catherine.

“Though I both complain and moan, ‘tis no one’s fault but my own. She warned me true when she did say not to dally on the way. Off went the court with my good queen too. Tom followed on but what did Tom do?” he shrieked, slapping his own face and shaking his head wretchedly.

“Tom did dilly and did dally, did dally and did dilly, lost his way and don’t know where to roam. Now Tom’s afraid and all alone, and can’t find his way home.”

With outburst over Thomas blew his nose noisily on his sleeve and smiled a brave little smile.

Telling the strange man to stay put, Jack called a conference.

“What are we going to do?” he whispered.

“We cannot leave him. It is obvious he cannot take care of himself,” Catherine announced.

“Well, I can’t take him home,” Jack countered. “What would my parents say?”

“I’ll take him home.” Ken spoke quietly. “He can sleep in the spare room. Mum will know what to do with him.”

-END OF EXTRACT-

18. What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

Your readers invest money and time in your work. They deserve the best! Don’t confuse them and don’t underestimate them either. Think of your story as their dream, if something breaks that dream, they never get it back. The spell is shattered. The magic lost.

To ensure the story and characters are at their best, the book needs to be edited. Editing ties up loose ends, removes inconsistencies, and picks up errors and sloppy writing. Editing also streamlines the plot. Writers often get bogged down in a plot

and need a fresh viewpoint. Someone to say: if you turn that idea around, this will make more sense. If you move this section a chapter earlier, you will not need those pages of explanation.

Make sure your characters and plot are real. Don’t take shortcuts. Never think ‘it’ll do’ because ‘no-one notices’. Your world should live off the page. The reader must subconsciously believe the characters, when not occupied by the plot, are busy doing much same the everyday things the reader does. Even trolls have to poop! And no, I don’t like thinking about troll-poo either!

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SPELL & GRAMMAR CHECK do not pick up nonsense or repeated clauses. To overcome these failings do not proof-read from the computer screen. You will see what you want to see; not what is there. Reading your work aloud uses different parts of the brain to process the information. You hear errors and stilted or poor narrative. I was told it is even better to tape yourself reading aloud and listen to it back.

As a novice writer, what you believe is your unique style is often inexperience. That was certainly true for me. Be self-critical. But remember, there are about 5 ways to write a sentence. Each is different. But is it better? Do not keep blundering in changing things at random. To review your work: read it, take notes, correct errors and then think about what actually need changing.

Believe me I learned all this the hard way!

19. How did you get into writing? Is this what you always wanted to do?

I didn’t always want to be a writer I wanted to be a graphic artist; then a pop star. Then I grew up. I started writing short stories in college, but settled down quite young. I stopped writing and even the art petered out because of work. I think it’s the same for most people.

I wrote a couple of short stories on my first laptop, then one day decided to write another short story called Finn Mac Cool (currently standing at 179,000 words). Five years later it had turned into a mammoth novel of badly expressed, but great ideas. I kept working on it until it was rejected by over 100 agents. Then I gave up until Thomas the Rhymer got me hooked again.

20. Any last thoughts for our readers?

The whole purpose of books is to love them.

If any readers are also writers, I just want to add…

An agent rejecting your manuscript does not necessarily mean it’s not good. It might have more to do with the agent’s belief a publisher won’t take the risk. Publishing is in crises. A bit of research shows it always has been.

I often took comfort from this story while crying myself to sleep over the latest rejection letter… As the author of ‘Vernon God Little’ walked away with the 2003 Booker Prize, every major Literary Agency asked. ‘Why didn’t you send it to us?’

To each and every one he replied… ‘I did!’

They had all ignored it.

Yet ‘Vernon God Little’ also won the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and the 1st Novel Award in the Whitbread Awards.

Who knows, one day that might be one of us!

 

Who is Paul Andruss ?

It is hard writing an author profile or even brief biography after the interview because I feel I have already said everything. But I know readers like to learn a bit about an author, so I guess I’m going to have to come up with something.

It’s not easy you know. If I had answered Question 8 properly, the first of the 5 words used to describe myself would be shy; the 2nd & 3rd good listener; the 4th & 5th terrible talker. Which is why write. It’s easier.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a British man with Irish roots. Oh right, this is interesting… I have no surname. Well, that’s not true. I have a family name. But it belongs to someone else’s family.

When my great grandfather came from Ireland to Liverpool during the Great Depression there were signs up in lodging houses saying ‘No Dogs – No Irish’. Not the best way for a young immigrant to start his new life. So he bought a Merchant Seaman’s ‘ticket’ (which was like an identity card) on the black market and became that chap. I suppose in the age before computers, you never got found out.

And that’s all we know about our ancestry.

My grandfather was a bit rum as well. My grandparents were both pretty old when they married and had children. Grandma was in her mid-thirties and granddad fifty three. Laughable isn’t it to think that was old in those days!

My Dad tells this tale…

One day when he was about 8 or 9, he was sitting outside his house when an Irish bloke in his 20s came up and asked, ‘D’you live here?’

‘Why, who want’s to know? Dad piped up.

‘Your brother,’ the man replied.

Apparently grandad already had a wife and family back in Ireland!

They say genes miss a generation, so I always felt I was the generation they skipped. But thinking about it, the generation the genes skipped must have been my dad’s… which makes me… far more interesting than I ever thought possible. Excuse me… no time to write… Have to go and do something reckless!

 

 

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