>> FEATURED AUTHORS
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Scavenger: Zoid, takes us into space with a group of humans who left Earth one thousand years previously to search for a new planet. They live on the Biosphere - a vast spaceship the size of a city - but the robots or 'zoids' that were designed to look after them have rebelled and now hunt them down.... The Biosphere has become a battle ground where humans are fighting a losing battle of survival.....
We asked bestselling author and illustrator Paul and Chris to tell us more about the first adventure in the Scavenger series!
Q: You're known for your fantasy series like the Edge Chronicles; is sci-fi a bit of a departure for you?
A: Paul: It's sort of a departure for us but not if you just look at it as another 'world' that we can create and develop. Chris drew the Biosphere and it was just a case of building a world and a story around it.
Chris: We began with a broad concept, what if robots became human; where would that happen and what would be the story behind that?
Paul: I thought we would move a whole bunch of people from Earth to a new planet and, because Chris doesn't want to do ordinary lions and elephants, the animals would have to have mutated and if they mutate, then Chris can draw a variety of fantasy creatures and that gets me thinking in new ways.
Q: How closely do you plan each book before you start writing and illustrating it?
A: Chris: For each book, we start with an idea but we're never quite sure what the outcome will be. Each book is a journey and we never know where they are going. With our fantasy worlds, we start with a proposition but it's only when you hear the characters walking and breathing that you realize what the story is.
Paul: What we like to do is to play with different genres, so we've done the Barnaby Grimes books which are Victorian supernatural horror, and the Fergus Crane books for younger readers, and usually when we're working on one book we'll have other projects going on.
Chris: For Scavenger, we started with this notion of a boy hunting robots for spare parts and we asked what use these parts were for, and how much of a human you can replace with parts before they cease to be who they are.
Paul: And how much can you put into a machine before it becomes human? We didn't want the book to be outlandish, we wanted a coherence and we didn't need magic; you just flip the physical properties. We are both quite logical and will follow through an idea to the end.
Chris: We can't know where an idea is going. We can set out a premise but we can't control where the story will lead; we want to turn the page and to find out where it goes. You have to get the page turning ...
Q: What are your plans for the characters we meet in the first book?
A: Chris: Moving ahead, in vague terms, it will be a trilogy where the characters head from the outer core of the Biosphere into its inner core, which will embody our characters' attempts to make sense of this world and to understand why it's gone wrong. Once they have the answers they will get more questions so not everything is always answered.
Q: If you could bring home one of the creatures from the Biosphere, which one would it be?
A: Chris: If I could I would choose the skeeter character which has six legs and looks a bit like a meercat, but it's loyal and transportable – it will curl up inside your jacket and go to sleep.
Paul: I'd like to have a Cyclop, I'd love to swing through the jungle on its back. Or a robot that would write the next novel for me! Or make me endless cups of tea....
C A tea-making robot! See what I have to deal with?! Although I'm not sure I'd like a killer zoid instead, they're a bit unpredictable, but I wouldn't mind a half life, it would make a nice present and you could have it in the corner of the room and when I got a bit old and doddery I could download myself and my mind would carry on as a half life....
Q: What about the actual writing process, how does that work when there are two of you involved?
A: Chris: Once we have our initial concept, I will draw a sketch and Paul will write a couple of chapters to start us off and then I start to scribble on what Paul has written, as he lets me do that, so I add some passages but they are mediated through Paul's skill as a writer.
Paul: I tend to be a bit indulgent and I wander off and give my characters cups of tea, and Chris just slashes through each detour.
Chris: I have to stop him giving his characters cups of tea and taking them on picnics, he always likes to be nice to his characters!
Paul: So the writing will go back and forth between us four or five times. I am starting the second book and it's my second attempt at the beginning so by the time Rachel our editor sees the text, we are fairly happy with it.
Chris: Editing is an extraordinary process, I feel. Through a very light touch an editor can transform a story; it's that third intelligence at work that makes a story perfect.
Q: Do you ever argue over where the story is going?
A: Paul: We never argue! But we do discuss things, as we are old and mature and sensible....
Chris: This relationship of shared ownership, these books we put together.... I take credit for everything that Paul does!
Q: When are the illustrations brought into the mix?
A: Chris: The illustration starts at the beginning. When we are working on the concept, I produce drawings to show to Paul what this world might be like, what a robot looks like and what their surroundings look like, for example.
When we start going into the writing process Paul takes over and once it's done, I step in and start to illustrate the text and we begin to layout the book. I ask the designer to give me the book in proof form with random spaces and we work through it visually.
With Scavenger it was about exploring the nature of the book, playing with things like how you represent a heat signature and how you present that world, so on one spread we have reversed out the type so that we have white type on a black background.
Q: Not many book for older readers were illustrated when you began working together, has that changed?
A: Chris: When we started creating The Edge Chronicles in the mid 90's, picture books were very much in the ascendant. We had both grown up with black and white narrative tradition so our priority was to have books with lots of black and white pictures in them. Then fiction became very popular through Harry Potter but without the illustrations so we always felt like we were out on a bit of a limb with our illustrated fiction.
Now, though, there are lots of books with black and white illustrations and Jim Kay will be illustrating Harry Potter, what a brilliant thing to do. So maybe the world of illustration will expand further into stories for older readers.
Paul: As a writer, it's daunting to hand over your work to an illustrator who you might not have worked with before, which could be why there is less illustration in fiction. In the past I have done it and it's not worked. Chris and I work very closely together and I trust him not to do something ridiculous with the book. So it can be difficult, as a writer, seeing a character who doesn't look like he or she does in your head; the same when a reader sees the film version of a book.
Chris: The relationship between an illustrator and a writer is a fascinating one and it goes back to Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel; illustrators come to things with their own agendas but when Paul and I work collaboratively, I can pick Paul's brain about what believes things look like.
Paul: In most cases you'll find that authors are often discouraged from talking to their illustrator, there is the notion about that they would bully the illustrator.
Chris: For the illustrator, sometimes working on your own can be more creative but sometimes working together with an author builds a spark and a project will benefit from that.
Q: What are we going to see next from each of you?
A: Paul: Our next book is the second in the latest Edge Chronicles story, the Doom Bringer. We believe that there is TV interest in the Edge Chronicles. It was so much fun to get back to the Edge Chronicles after the first ten books.
Chris: I'm working on the second Goth Girl book, Girl and the Fate Worse than Death. The first book was what an illustrator is doing while his writer is doing something else.... I'm doing the illustrations for that and it will publish in the autumn. Plus I'm doing a new project with Neil Gaiman, which is a huge amount of fun, it always is, this play between an illustrator and a writer. It's been written but we're not sure of the title yet.