I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to chat to the author Phil Earle in the run up to the release of the second book in the Storey Street series ‘Superhero Street’ Being a huge fan of Phil’s work it was a joy to talk about the series and his role as Booktrust Writer in Residence.
After writing books for Young Adults, why did you decide to write MG books?
I wanted to prove that I could do more than just write YA and didn’t want to be pigeon holed. My first three YA books were gritty and ever so slightly miserable, then came Bubble Wrap Boy, which was written for a slightly younger reader. It sounds like a well worn cliché but I was a Dad of three kids, but couldn’t read any of my books to them. The Storey Street books allows me to do that.
What was the inspiration behind the Storey Street Series?
I don’t really see it as a series. I enjoy the way writers such as Nick Hornby and George Pelecanos introduce new characters in books in an incidental way. You might read a book by them and realise that you have met the main character before in a previous book and it creates this extended world, I love this. It feels like the author is rewarding the reader for knowing all their novels.
When I talk in schools about where ideas come from, I tell children we are surrounding by stories. As you walk along, look at every door on your street, as behind every door there is at least one story, waiting for you to retell. Storey Street is based on the street I grew up in, in Hull. I used to think that everything in the world happened on that street, for me it was a world of drama. There is great drama to be found in everyday life.
The series is brilliantly illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Was it important to you that your book featured illustrations?
Yes, absolutely. It had to be a lead in to the book and appeal to the 9 year old me. Illustrations break up the text for reluctant readers and helps break down any fear or anxiety a child may have at the prospect of reading it. Illustrated fiction can be used as a stepping stone to traditional novels, but children should read the things that make them happy and fire their imaginations. If that’s comics, graphic novels or articles in magazines, then fine, great! Word count is not important when it comes to reading, it is the reading itself which is important.
Who is your favourite character in the series so far and why?
Masher, he is deeply flawed and that’s why I love him. I made a deal with myself that if I created a ‘bad’ character, then I would write his story. The next book in the series, ‘The War Next Door’, explains why Masher mashes. I believe no child is born evil, children are taught certain behaviours and we begin to find out why he behaves like he does. There may be redemption in sight for Masher.
Mouse is most like me, just like the character, I’m obsessed with superheroes. Although I don’t wear a cape underneath my clothes at all times. (Unfortunately as this was a telephone interview I can’t confirm if this is true so we will have to take Phil’s word for it)
Who if anyone inspired the character in the series?
These first two books are love letters to my parents. I based Jake’s Dad George in ‘Demolition Dad’ on my Dad and Mouse’s Mum in ‘Superhero Street’ on my Mum. One of the original titles for ‘Superhero Street’ was ‘Mum, the Mighty.’ My Mum was certainly bionic, she had to be to put up with me.
They also reflect my love of wrestling and superheroes. My youngest son is 5 and is superhero obsessed. He went through a phase of refusing to leave the house without wearing one or a variety of superhero costumes.
Do you feel like there is a lack of diversity in Children’s books? Did you deliberately choose to have a black family in ‘Superhero Street’.
When I’m writing I don’t describe the characters in great depth, but Mouse was black from the second he appeared on the page. I didn’t question that. It’s just how it was. I want my books to be a reflection of society and on a street like Storey Street there will be lots of different types of families. Mouse’s ethnicity doesn’t fuel the story, the themes of heroism are universal.
If you were a Superhero what would your name be and what special power would you have?
I’m slightly obsessed with rubbish Superheroes. I once read a story about a man who lived in a flat, and spent his days watching people park their cars really badly. He reinvented himself as Parallel Parking Man, saving the day by squeezing their vehicles into tight spots. There’s something special about that I think.
I would love to be able to fly but in real life the thing that would make the most difference would be to be able to make the washing pile disappear or to make the kids tea prepare itself. (Phil promised to pass on this special power to me if he ever managed to make it happen}
In your role as Booktrust Writer in Residence you talk about the there being a book for every child. Can you explain more?
I genuinely hand on heart believe this. When I was 12 I had the door to reading slammed shut on me, when I was told I had to read the classics. That was game over.
Only when I was 26 and working in a bookshop (just to pay the rent), did I read ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar and it filled me with such joy. That was my lightbulb moment.
This is why library and librarians are so important. Once I’d found HOLES, I still needed to know what to read next. Librarians becomes the key to finding that next book, they hold the door open for you.
In your Vlog for Booktrust you say “We’re all our storytellers” do you have any words of advice for children wanting to write?
Yes! Don’t get a mobile phone, don’t wear headphones on the street and not see everything that is going on all around you. Read free newspapers, if you look around there are stories everywhere.
What have you got in store for the next year?
I’m working with the Booktrust until July and I will be interviewing my favourite writers and illustrators. I also hope to hold a huge event in the North-West, where we will talk about there being a book for everyone.
Book 3 in the series ‘The War Next Door’ is due out in October and I’m currently working on Book 4 which is as of yet untitled and is due out March 2017.
I’m also writing a YA Novella for Barrington Stoke based on a story I read in a free newspaper called ‘Mind the Gap.’
A big thank you to Phil for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat to me. You can read my review of Superhero Street here.