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New Guard

Robert Muchamore

In New Guard, the CHERUB agents become embroiled in an ISIS-driven plot to use two kidnapped British technicians to maintain oil rigs in ISIS-controlled Syria. Some of CHERUB's 'old guard' including James, Bruce and Lauren, along with the teenaged Ryan, are involved in a rescue bid on Syrian soil.

We asked author Robert Muchamore to tell us more about the final book in the bestselling CHERUB series and his plans for a future without CHERUB:

Q: Why, after 17 books in the series, have you decided to end the hugely popular CHERUB series?

A: My editor jokes that I've been saying 'I'll never be able to think of another CHERUB adventure' since I wrote book four or five. The more I write, the more I realise I've already done this particular thing in book eight, or seven, or four... It really just feels like it's time to move on and do something different.

I've been writing Rock Wars, my new series, and alternating with CHERUB books, for the last couple of novels and I just enjoyed Rock Wars more and that made me realise that, as much as I loved CHERUB, it was time to end the series.

Q: Why do you think the CHERUB series has been so popular with readers?

A: My gut feeling is that CHERUB offers an obtainable fantasy element that differentiates it from other kinds of books - although the first book, when James goes to a secret campus where he is trained - is not that different from the first Harry Potter book.

But it seems you have either gritty, realistic novels or high fantasy - and CHERUB fills a space in between those.

Q: Will CHERUB ever be made into a film or television series?

A: I do hope so and we have five or six meetings coming up to talk about this with different companies. We sold the film rights about ten years ago but the film never got made and I think that is partly because of a change in how we watch film and television. Now we have the chance to do something new with it.

I have regarded myself as something of a film buff but the last three television series I've seen - Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and Reaper - are far better than any films I've seen recently, which are so formulaic. It's been the big television series that have pulled me in and excited me. People are now talking about their favourite television series rather than film and the big actors like Kevin Spacey want television roles rather than film. It's the opposite of what it used to be.

I think that CHERUB lends itself to television rather than film because of the 'soap' element in the books, which is an important part of its concept. I included that because I realised that my nephew enjoyed watching Neighbours on television. When children get in touch with me about the next book, they aren't asking what the next storyline will be but who will end up with whom? They love that 'soap opera' element and it's so much a part of the series; you'd lose that in an action adventure film. So I think the books lend themselves to television.

Q: Would you want to be involved in writing the film scripts if a television deal was signed?

A: It would fascinate me, either getting involved in the film script or writing new stories for television. I have no idea if I'm any good at writing film scripts but I'd love to be involved in the film in some way, whether that's writing early drafts of the film script or suggesting new stories or helping them to realise the world.

Q: Have you ruled out ever writing another CHERUB book?

A: At the moment I don't want to - but who knows how I'll feel about CHERUB in ten years time. Perhaps the big idea I am trying to think about at the moment will be bigger and better than CHERUB!

At the launch party for the new book this week, author Anthony McGowan bet me fifty quid that I would write another CHERUB book within ten years - and that, more than anything, would put me off writing it....!

Q: What did you set out to do with the final CHERUB book, New Guard?

A: This has possibly been the only time in the CHERUB series where I have written a book for the fans, where I've tied up loose ends and explained what happened next to some of the characters. I wanted the fans to feel like it was proper ending, that the characters have grown up and moved on.

So it's fan-focused and there are parts of the book that speak directly to the long term fans, for example when James and Lauren visit the old CHERUB campus where most of the action took place in the earlier books - they are reminiscing on those times, before the buildings are demolished.

We'd made this into a bit of a teaser for the new book, saying that the CHERUB campus would be blown up, but it was a bit of a red herring.

Q: You've brought ISIS into this book, why did you decide to feature it?

A: I wasn't setting out to be controversial but one of the things I have always done is to make sure that each CHERUB book is set around the time it is published and they are very visibly of that world and time. The Recruit is set in 2003/2004 and included a reference to a camera phone, which was quite new in those days.

It was always important to me that, if you picked up the book, what happened in it could have actually happened in the previous week. When The Recruit came out as a graphic novel in 2011, I wanted there to be an iphone in it.

Q: There is a fair amount of violence in New Guard but we are also shown that it has consequences, is that important to you?

A: I remember reading an Alex Rider novel once where there's a guy who gets shot and he falls off the pier and dies, and that's it. It was very James Bond-sh. But I think that if someone dies, it should be horrible and shocking. I wanted to show that if someone gets shot in the face, it's not a clean, clinical death. I wanted to show the consequences of violence, it's very important that violence isn't sanitised.

Q: You also introduce some great gadgets into the story - do these drones and the microlight exist?

A: When I started the series I was quite adamant that I didn't want lots of gadgets in the stories but as it's gone on I've brought some in but I make them as close to existing capabilities as I can, like the drones. I was pleased to see drones like the ones I've described being used in the recent Eye in the Sky film with Helen Mirren.

Q: Looking back over the series, do you have a favourite CHERUB adventure?

A: More for personal reasons than anything else I would say the first book in the series, The Recruit. Everyone I worked with, family and friends, were so excited and then I started getting my first emails from fans who had read and enjoyed the book. So no matter how successful what I write will be in the future, that is the one that stands out for me.

Q: You were always very keen to connect with your fans on social media, right from the start. Do you think that helped to build CHERUB during its early days?

A: The series became huge on social media, especially at the start. At a time when they had sold maybe 4,000 books, I had received about 300 emails from fans so 10-15 percent of children who had read the books were communicating with me. They helped me to spread the word and it was wonderful to have that level of connectivity with readers.

Some of those early fans are now in their twenties and they are still in touch. But none of us really knew what social media was all about in those days so it happened by accident really.

Q: How do you deal with criticisms of the books as a number of your characters behave quite badly?

A: I remember doing a school event very early on in the series and a 13 year old girl asked me, 'Why is James such a horrible, sexist pig?' And he was, he was misogynistic and homophobic - but that also gave me the opportunity to make his best friend gay and to see him change. So I do offset some of their behaviours with a broader, moral tone.

I think that for the kinds of books I write, there will always be those who complain about them and I'm comfortable with that. I don't set out to shock in my books but I want kids to feel they are real and these kinds of boys will fight, drink and have sex.

Q: You've moved on from writing CHERUB to the Rock Wars series. How many more Rock Wars books are planned?

A: There will be four Rock Wars books and I've written all of them, the third will be out in October and the fourth early next year. I had the idea for Rock Wars a few years ago but it took me a while to start writing the books.

In the first book we find out how the band members meet and begin playing together; the second is about the Rock Wars Book Camp, where they train, and in the third book you'll find out about the competition itself and who wins.

Book four is the aftermath, where we see how one band gets big and successful but we're not sure if that has made them happy while others have gone back to their own lives. Children often talk about wanting to be famous; I wanted to explore what becoming famous might lead to.

Q: Do you know what your next 'big series' will be?

A: It's the first time for many years where I've not had a contract signed for the next few books and where I don't know what I'll be writing next. So I've got a lot of creative freedom - but it's also quite daunting. I'm playing around with a few ideas but at this stage, I really don't know what I'll be doing next - it's an exciting place to be!

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