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Q&A with David Solomons and editor Kirsty Stansfield

David Solomons with book - cut out

Author David Solomons sat down with his editor Kirsty Stansfield, to discuss his latest book, My Cousin is a Time Traveller – the super-powered fifth and final book in the My Brother is a Superhero series!

Luke’s dad has bought a lot of gadgets recently and not one of them works as it’s supposed to. Maybe it’s because a machine-from-the-future is stalking Bromley, playing havoc with all the tech and trying to stop Star Lad going on a date. Could this be the Rise of the Machines? Luke knows what he must do – he just needs his fellow SCARF members to help, or it will be the end of everything…

What got you into writing about superheroes?

As my editor you know, of course, that the first book in the series was originally entitled My Brother is a Divisional Sales Director. I believe it was you who suggested the move to something more “child-friendly”. Although I will always wonder about the book that might have been…

How much do you plan your books before you start writing?

I feel that the answer my editor wants to hear is that it’s all under control from the first page. And indeed it is. I anticipate not just every plot turn, but am also able to picture the precise position of every comma on the page prior to setting down a single word. There’s definitely not a point in the process – every single time – when I haven’t the faintest idea what happens next. Apparently I’m what’s known as a “catastrophist,” which means that I’m always imagining the worst thing that could happen. This is excellent for writing exciting adventure stories, but less good for walking down the high street in real life without crying.

Long-hand or word processor?

Hardback Black n’ Red A4 lined notebook, Mitsubishi 9800 matured HB pencil imported from Japan, because graphite conducts ideas (it’s a FACT!). Giant iMac that blots out the spectacular countryside view that I’ve spent a lifetime craving and now that I have cannot enjoy without dislocating my neck. Once I’ve warmed up on the page writing a chapter or two, I then spend eight hours deciphering my handwriting before shovelling the words into the Mac. Repeat until mad.

How much do you enjoy thinking up chapter titles?

Is there a version of being an author that consists solely of coming up with punny chapter titles? Can I be that, please?

The pun is the most advanced form of humour. Discuss.

See, this is why you and I get along so well. I am addicted and you are a pun enabler. I’m like an ice-cold, preternaturally handsome racing driver steering a course through a pack of howling cars. I see a gap (pun) and, narrowing my bolt-blue eyes, I go for it! No matter the risk to life, limb or sense. I just can’t help myself. Sorry, what was the question again?

Influences?

I never write under them.

Flight or invisibility?

This is a very strange offer from Easyjet.

Why are people so sniffy about comics?

I read something on Twitter the other day, to the effect that as a culture we individually prize words and pictures, elevating them to the highest art-forms, but when we put them together denigrate the result. Also, I think it’s because comics are floppy. There’s a stiffness hierarchy in literature. Hardbacks (get all the reviews), then trade paperbacks which are hardbacks that aren’t trying too hard, then actual paperbacks. All of these editions can stand up on their own. Not comics. Too floppy. That’s why in a vain push for respectability, they also sell bound comics.

Two novelists under one roof…

You are referring to my wife, the New York Times best-selling novelist, Natasha Solomons (I’m contractually obliged to address her like that. “New York Times best-selling novelist, Natasha Solomons, we’re out of Andrex.”) However, plot twist! We might be looking at three writers under one roof. With his permission, here’s a verbatim extract from my son’s latest school essay. For context, he is six years old.

Some creatures are carnivores and eat meat. Some are herbivores and they eat plants. The Crabajellysquidturtle is different because it is the only animal in the world that is a cottonivore. This means it eats socks, socks, socks! If it is really hungry, it might eat a vest or two instead.

Are you over Blake’s 7 ending yet?

Thanks so much for bringing this up. Paul Darrow, the actor who played the role of Avon, one of TV’s most magnificent anti-heroes, just passed away and now I’m sad all over again. For those unaware of the series, it has an ending that makes the finale of Game of Thrones look like Noddy. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s been forty years, so – EVERYONE DIES! And why, you may ask, is my editor asking me about this, other than to cause me existential pain? It’s because My Cousin is a Time Traveller is the final book in my series and as I was writing it I was thinking a lot about endings. At one point, Luke the eleven-year-old protagonist, is prompted to ask his dad about the TV show, to discover that it has haunted his father in much the same way it has me. However, I would just like to point out to Kirsty that we cut all the Blake’s 7 stuff from the book. Since you ask, here’s one of the excised passages:

“Did Blake and his merry band of galactic outlaws defeat the evil Federation and zoom off in the Liberator, with the promise of more exciting adventures to come?” Those were my favourite endings, because they weren’t really endings at all.

Dad cleared his throat awkwardly. “Not exactly. The Liberator was captured and destroyed, then later in the very last episode all the heroes die at the hands of the baddies.” A glassy expression slid over his face and I knew he was back there, watching TV as a boy. “I was twelve years old. It was a Monday in late December, Nineteen Eighty-One, just after eight-fifteen pm,” he said, frozen in the moment. He shuddered. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”

Best thing a kid’s ever said about your books?

I’ve had a few parents tell me that my books were the ones that got their child reading, which is enough to move even my stony heart. Kids are most impressed when I’m dedicating a book to them and correctly spell their name.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Meryl Streep.

Thank you, David. That was very enlightening and “pun enabler” is the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. A contract for Luke is in the post.

You can take a look inside My Cousin is a Time Traveller below:

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