• Ross Welford

    Ross Welford



    JANUARY 2020

    This story, about friendship, courage and what makes us human, is - as we've come to expect from Ross Welford - an enthralling and big-hearted read that takes us to unexpected places.

    In THE KID WHO CAME FROM SPACE, 12-year-old Ethan is convinced that his twin sister, Tammy, is still alive, after she disappears when out delivering Christmas gifts.

    However, when Ethan discovers the extraordinary truth of where Tammi is - and what he must do to save her - he isn't sure that he is brave enough to do what is needed. Which is where a large, hairy alien called Hellyann, a pet chicken and a troubled boy step in to help.

    We asked author ROSS WELFORD to tell us more about THE KID WHO CAME FROM SPACE:

    Q: In your earlier novels you have explored time travel, becoming invisible and living forever. What took you into space - and alien abductions - for this novel, The Kid Who Came From Space?

    A: The idea that I was a 'science fiction' writer had always kind of taken me by surprise. It's not how I see it at all, though I guess time travel is definitely a SF trope! So I thought this time I'd go full-on science fiction, with aliens and spaceships and even the military. It was fun!

    Q: How did you decide what your aliens would be like and look like?

    A: From the start, I wanted Hellyann (the alien) to be vaguely human-looking mainly because I wanted her to go to school with the other kids, fearing that her identity would be uncovered. In the end those scenes never got written, apart from one chapter on the school bus. Even that ended up spiked because of the timeframe of the story: it all happens in the Christmas holidays. I'm glad she is human-ish, though: I think it makes her more relatable.

    Q: Did you do any research into alien reports and alien abductions before starting to write this book? Did you come across any reports that stood out for you, if so?

    A: I've sort of been interested in that stuff for years, so I was able to make most of it up! There are references to real UFO incidents which students of the genre will recognise.

    Q: Like your earlier books, you use different narrators in The Kid Who Came from Space, a boy called Ethan and the alien, Hellyann. Why do you enjoy using a variety of narrators in your novels?

    A: First person narration is great, but it does restrict the author to a single point of view - so in this one (as with The 1,000 Year old Boy) I have two narrators. It was fun doing Hellyann, the alien. Her 'voice' is a bit stilted and formal, and she doesn't really do jokes, so I had to think very hard about every single thing she said: would she know this word? I've probably made lots of errors...

    Q: Through the novel, Ethan discovers that his 'best' can be better than he believes. Is this an important message for children?

    A: I hate 'messages'! But yes, the thing about trying harder than you thought you could is a good little takeaway. I think we all want our heroes to be pushed to their limits and to discover they can achieve more than they - and we - thought.

    Q: Ethan's friend Iggy, on the other hand, is capable of more than others believe. Was it fun introducing rule-breakers to the novel in Iggy and Hellyann?

    A: Iggy was great fun to write. He has a troubled background (which we have to imagine mostly) and so has a have-a-go attitude which of course helps to drive the plot! Hellyann's home society is extremely ordered - practically totalitarian - in its conformity, so her risk-taking is even more dramatic.

    Q: The novel also features a pet chicken. Why a chicken?

    A: Well, I like pets in stories, and I'd done two dogs, a cat and a hamster...! I was watching a trained chicken on YouTube and I thought - aha! A chicken seemed to fit Iggy's quirky personality. I'd already written a couple of chapters in which he had a Shetland pony and they were quite funny, but a chicken was better and much easier to fit into a spaceship!

    Q: When you come to the end of your novels, are you relieved or sad to let the characters go?

    A: Always sad. They've lived in my head for months and are practically real to me. The frustrating thing is that after my copy has gone to the printers, I nearly always think of extra bits of business or funny lines: they take a while to disperse from my brain.

    Q: Where is your favourite place to write?

    A: When I want to get a lot done, I go to my house in the country where it's just me, my dog (Jess the collie) and - if I hit my word count for the day - the village pub.

    Q: What will your school events for The Kid Who Came From Space feature?

    A: I haven't decided yet. I am a member of the Magic Circle, so my school shows always feature magic tricks with a bookish theme. This time it'll have to include aliens or space travel as well.

    Q: Can you tell us a little about what your next novel is about?

    A: Blimey, give me a chance! In fact yes I can: I've already started it and it's focused on dreams becoming real, and the stone-age. That said, anything could happen. (At this time last year, The Kid Who Came From Space featured a kid with a pet pony, and a mutant crocodile, neither of which made the final cut!).

    Q: Do you read books written for young people and if so, are there any authors / titles that have stood out for you in 2019 that you could recommend to our members?

    A: I read quite a lot of children's books, old and new. My favourite new one was Malamander by Thomas Taylor, which was bold and spooky and funny; my favourite classic was The Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson which, rather embarrassingly, reduced me to tears in a hotel bar.




    JANUARY 2019

    ROSS WELFORD'S latest title, THE DOG WHO SAVED THE WORLD, follows Georgie and her best friend Ramzy after they accidentally befriend an eccentric old scientist. What the children don't realise is that this is the start of an adventure that will include time travel, enormous scorpions, and saving the world.

    THE DOG WHO SAVED THE WORLD is a story about friendship, families and finding courage. It's also about Mr Mash, a smelly mongrel who will eat just about anything - and who does, as the title states, help to save the world.

    We asked author ROSS WELFORD to tell us more:

    Q: In The Dog Who Saved the World, you explore what could happen if the world was infected by a disease carried by dogs. Was this the starting point for your story, or did something else inspire the book?

    A: There was not a single 'inspiration' or 'starting point': it all just kind of grew together. I knew I wanted to do something with a dog, and something where the stakes were really high. 'Saving the world' is about as vital a mission as you can get, so I added a dog to that, and the idea started to grow.

    Q: How did your key canine character, Mr Mash, develop? Like your narrator, Georgie, would you always head for dogs rather than cats?

    A: I knew I didn't want him to be a thoroughbred, and I thought that a dog that ate anything and stank was funny, so I tried that out. But I also knew that at least some of his characteristics should be relevant to the plot, and that wasn't always easy. And although cats are OK, I much prefer dogs. (My own dog Jess has asked me to point out that she is not a mongrel and does not smell!)

    Q: Georgie and her best friend Ramzy are navigating difficult home lives; Ramzy is a refugee and Georgie's dad has a girlfriend who she struggles to connect with. Why were you drawn to exploring these kinds of families in the book?

    A: It seems obvious, but it makes them more interesting! Ramzy's history is a bit mysterious: I didn't want to dwell on it too much as it could have overshadowed the story, so I left his origins a bit sketchy. (It is not even certain that he is a refugee.)

    Q: You often include time travel in your stories - in The Dog Who Saved the World, you have a virtual reality machine that can help characters step into the future. Why do you enjoy using time travel in your stories?

    A: I guess I'm just fascinated by the possibilities for adventure: it's automatically dangerous, for a start! It's also a bit magical, without actually being magic.

    Q: And what complications does it bring? How did you devise the 'rules' of 'virtual reality time travel' in this story?

    A: Other than once trying a VR headset, it's all made up! The rules were hard, though. The trickiest thing is not to get bogged down in them. At one point I was trying to explain everything and it just got tiresome, so I cut it all out. You have to let the readers' imaginations do some of the work!

    Q: Dr Pretorius is the 'mad scientist' in the story, but a very atypical one, how did she develop?

    A: I knew I wanted to do a full-on Mad Scientist, and I ended up loving Dr Emilia Pretorius! I tried to make her as different as I could: she's a very old black woman for a start. But - reassuringly - she cackles crazily and has an american accent which I think suits her. Fun fact: She is named after the scientist in an ancient Bride Of Frankenstein movie.

    Q: When and where would you go to if you could step into the future?

    A: I don't think I'd dare: it might be too disappointing!

    Q: What are you writing now?

    A: I'm working on my next book. So far, I can tell you that it is called Book Five and involves an alien crocodile. The title probably needs a little work...

    Q: Can you describe what you do during your school events, for our teacher readers?

    A: I LOVE doing the school events. They are much easier than writing books! The show is called The Magic of Reading and includes a faster-than-light history of literacy; an improvised story-creation exercise (which is VERY funny - it makes me laugh like mad!) plus some reading-related magic tricks. (I used to be a semi-pro magician, so the magic isn't rubbish.) I've created the talk to encourage reluctant readers, and to support the children who already read enthusiastically.

    Q: What is your favourite escape from writing?

    A: Someone - I don't know who - said that writers are always either writing or thinking about writing. So there's no real time off. That said, I'm writing this on holiday with my family, and I did another chapter of my new book yesterday so why would I want to escape? I have no boss, no office and I spend my days making stuff up. It's a HUGE privilege, for which I am thankful every day!

    THE 1,000-YEAR-OLD BOY


    JANUARY 2018

    ROSS WELFORD's Time Travelling With A Hamster and What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible have won plenty of plaudits and many fans and his latest book, The 1,000-year-old Boy, is just as unexpected and original as his earlier novels.

    The 1,000-year-old Boy follows Alfie Monk who is - as the title suggests - a thousand years old; old enough to have experienced a Viking invasion and to be able to correct an historian about how people lived in the Middle Ages. But what he's never experienced is life lived to the full and, when tragedy forces him to enter the modern world, he wants to do so as an ordinary person. It will take plenty of courage and strong friendships to find his way to becoming an ordinary boy.

    We asked author Ross Welford to tell us more about THE 1,000-YEAR-OLD BOY:

    Q: Time was a big feature in your debut, Time Travelling with a Hamster, why have you returned to it in The 1,000-year-old Boy?

    A: It was an accident, really, although I guess I must be interested in it. I certainly didn't set out to explore the theme of time, and the approach is very different. Rather than use a time machine to experience a different era, Alfie has lived for a thousand years. His 'time travel' is all in his memory.

    Q: Why did you decide to make Alfie 1000 years old?

    A: That came from the title. I just thought 'The 1,000 Year Old Boy' was a cool title for a book, and set about creating the story. At one stage, I tried to make it 'The 500 Year Old Boy' but my editor persuaded me to stick to the original idea, and I am glad he did.

    Q: How did you decide on the 'rules' of being 1000 years old - so for example, Alfie has bad teeth and a strange accent. Were there other things you could have changed?

    A: They all arose during the writing of the book, as I tried to work out what Alfie would be like. I often ask myself, 'What would really happen?' if such-and-such occurred.

    I realised that, even though Alfie gets no older, his teeth would wear down. He would not have had the benefits of modern dentistry, and so on. I hope it adds a touch of authenticity. Likewise his accent: modern British English is not what he grew up speaking. There were lots of other things that I considered for Alfie (in one draft he had white hair) but I like how he has turned out.

    Q: How do you keep Alfie child-like, even when he is so much older than any adult?

    A: I think it is important that Alfie is still a boy. He has not been through puberty, which brings so many changes - and not just physical. This is because of my target readership, and also because I wanted to highlight Alfie's frustration at remaining a child. He is a curious mixture of boy and man, and I think this resonates with middle-grade readers. At that age, children are aware (I think) that big changes are ahead.

    Q: The book explores why Alfie wants to 'grow up' and experience life as an adult - something that worries many children. Did the idea of becoming an adult worry you as a child?

    A: Not that I can remember. I think, like most children, I was eager to join the adult world, and frustrated that it took so long. Looking back, of course, childhood is agonisingly short.

    Q: Why did you decide to tell Alfie's story with two narrators - Alfie and Aidan?

    A: I chose to have two narrators, because I wanted to be able to tell the story from the point of view of a 21st century child. Aidan is very suspicious at first: he just does not believe that Alfie is 1,000 years old. Early drafts of the story were done just from Aidan's point of view, but it very soon became clear that Alfie's side of events would have to be included.

    Q: Why does the cat, Biffa, get to live for 1,000 years, too? Did it simply demand to come on the journey?

    A: I guess she did! Biffa had a tiny role in the first draft, and I was urged by my editor to give her a bigger part. I liked the idea that (SPOILER ALERT!) after all of the adventures, Biffa remains ageless.

    Q: If you could live any time you wanted to in the last 1000 years, which period would you choose?

    A: The past is romanticised. Would anyone really want to live in a world without central heating, anaesthesia, Netflix, ice cream, printing - and yes, modern dentistry?

    So I would decline the offer of living in another period. I would gladly take a holiday in another time, though, starting with a five-star mini-break at a mediaeval jousting tournament.

    Q: And if you could live for 1,000 years, would you choose to do so and what would you do with your time if so?

    A: If I could, I think I would. Do you remember that character played by Bill Nighy in 'About Time'? He used all his extra time to catch up on reading, "Dickens, mainly". That would be me! And films. There are loads of films and box-sets I could catch up on.

    Q: You also explore in the book what the idea of having endless time - and no milestones - would be like. What would be the best and worst things for you about living for that long?

    A: I'd love to be a dad again and again and again, so that would be fun but the down side would surely be seeing my children get old and die. Perhaps I would get used to it but I doubt it.

    Q: Can you tell us a little about what you will be doing for your school events for The 1,000-year-old Boy?

    A: The 'improvised story' is the funniest bit of my school presentation, and the bit I like the best. This year it will have a historical theme, but more than that I cannot really say as it's all made up by the children on the day!

    Q: Where do you write and what are you writing now?

    A: I write in two main places: my study at home in London, and my cottage in the country, two hours from London, where it's totally quiet. I'm working on a new book, to be published in January 2019, but it's all pretty secret at the moment. Sorry!

    Q: Can you describe what would be your perfect 'writing shed'?

    A: Anywhere with no phone reception or wifi. In truth, I try not to rely on having the 'perfect' environment, or lucky charms ("My favourite mug" etc.). It's all just superstition that gets in the way of what you should be doing: applying your backside to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard. That is how books get written.

    Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

    A: Reading, when I'm not writing. When I am writing, reading is often too distracting. Instead, I'll walk the dog, play the piano, practice a magic trick, or fiddle with my aquarium.



    JANUARY 2017

    Ross Welford's debut, Time Travelling with a Hamster (HarperCollins Children's Books),which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2016, left high expectations for his next novel and What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible is just what readers will have been hoping for.

    The novel follows Ethel Leatherhead, aged 13, as she grapples with problems at school and secrets at home. She is an endearing character who tries to do the right thing but, when a combination of some internet-bought pills to clear her skin and a dodgy sun lounger turn her invisible, things get out of hand. There is much humour as well as some tender and real explorations of friendships and family tensions as Ethel tries to put things right.

    We asked author Ross Welford to tell us more about his new novel:

    Q: How are you enjoying the life of an author following the success of your debut, Time Travelling with a Hamster, last spring?

    A: It has been terrific fun, I have loved it, although it was intimidating for a while because of the positive response to the book and I wasn't sure if I'd manage to do the same with book two - but a contract is a powerful motivator and I just had to get on with it.

    I also love the fact that I have a second career after spending so much of my life working in television.

    Q: Why did you decide to turn your main character in What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible - invisible?

    A: Actually it came from an entirely different idea that I had had even before I finished writing Time Travelling with a Hamster. I was thinking about what I would like to write about. I had enjoyed the science aspect in Time Travelling with a Hamster and I had this idea of children searching in the wilds of Northumberland for these strange, hybrid monsters that had been created by a mad scientist.

    The key thing was the nature of the creature but I just couldn't envisage it. Then, after writing 50,000 words of an early draft I thought, 'what if the monster was invisible?', so I started thinking of ideas around that.

    I had liked the relationship between Ethel and Boydy in my first draft, so I decided to retain that. I also liked the gran and I brought her into the novel - initially she was going to be the invisible one, but it took the attention away from Ethel, so I started the novel again with Ethel as the invisible character. That's when I realised it was going to work.

    Q: How hard was it to abandon your first two drafts, especially after writing 50,000 words for the first?

    A: I don't feel either of the drafts was wasted since I developed the main characters Ethel and Boydy in the first draft and I knew what the gran was like from the second draft. It just meant unpicking things a bit and re-writing them, although it helps that I can write quite fast, 2,000 words a day, so in a month I can do a rough first draft and you know after that if it's working or not.

    I have come to writing fiction late in life and I don't really know how to do it, so I'm discovering things as I write. For me, if I have to write an entire draft and junk it, that's just part of the process. The only sad thing for me is that there were some scenes in the earlier drafts that I thought were terrific, and I never got to use them.

    Q: What was it about Ethel and Boydy that made you want to keep them as your main characters in the final novel?

    A: The key was knowing that, at heart, they are both nice kids, they both want to do right. Boydy is a cocky loudmouth who hasn't quite grasped when to be quiet. He decides to rejuvenate the local lighthouse because he wants people to like him and he thinks that showing off is the way to do that.

    Boydy and Ethel are a couple of misfits really, and they find friendship in each other. Ethel isn't unpopular and she hasn't been viciously bullied but she's taken a bit of flack from the twins at school, and she's open to the friendship with Boydy.

    Q: The centenarian great gran also has a part to play in the story, how did she come about?

    A: There are a lot of children these days with who have great grandmothers and centenarians are becoming less rare. I realised I'd never come across someone who is one hundred in a book and who plays a proper role in the story. She's not altogether there but she does play a part in the story, she's not just there for the sake of it. Children are more familiar with very old people than we might think.

    Q: Becoming invisible is one of many changes that Ethel faces at this time and she has lots of questions around her identity. Do you think this age range is a particularly difficult one for young people?

    A: I think any age for children is difficult in terms of what they have to learn but the ages ten to thirteen are hell. A ten year old will be looking forward to being a year or two older, that's the age they start secondary school, but as adults we probably forget what a massive step towards adulthood this is.

    A lot of children abandon their old friends when they move to other schools and house moves are common at this age and for many children that is a rebirth. They might struggle to identify themselves or might want to try out new personality traits on their friends, or they might just want to melt into the background - become invisible. But as Ethel finds out, even this has a price and you discover things about yourself.

    Q: How did you decide what would make Ethel invisible?

    A: I didn't want it to be a 'magical' potion. So many writers use magic very effectively in children's stories but I wanted something that would be rooted in pseudo-science, so I used rays and the nature of light. I didn't go into too much detail about it, you really need to go into quantum physics to explore that. Ethel becomes invisible with an unexplained medicine and a dodgy sunbed.

    For me, if a story has something that is largely implausible, the rest of it has to be really believable. Given that invisibility is a big 'what if' in the story, I decided that Ethel wouldn't find it something that was fun and consequence-free. So, for example, for the first few moments of being invisible, she's terrified, which is what anyone would be.

    Q: What rules did you need to put in place around being invisible?

    A: I decided that invisibility would only make sense if it was organic or living matter in your body that became invisible (although I did also make her teeth, nails and hair invisible).

    I couldn't take the step to make her clothes invisible too, just her body is, which means that she can only be invisible if she's naked. That offered lots of opportunities around pre-teen embarrassment and that leads into one of the key scenes when she is invisible - and naked - in the school hall, when she helps Boydy with a 'magical' trick. It also meant I had to set the book in the summer otherwise she would have been freezing cold.

    Q: How did you develop your evil twins?

    A: I enjoyed creating them and they are inspired by my own twins, a boy and a girl, although mine are much nicer! My two villains are called Jesmond and Jarrow, which are two places in the North East, and although I'm not fond of the twins they were fun to write.

    I also liked the idea that everyone in the story is hiding a secret of some sort, including the twins. They are really just a couple of crooks.

    Q: Would you like the super power of invisibility and if so, what would you do with it?

    A: I think it's one of those superpowers that you can't do an awful lot with, other than listen in on the meetings of world leaders, perhaps, if you were deeply interested in politics, that could be fun. But since I enjoy magic tricks, maybe I'd like to conjure a fantastic magical act!



    FEBRUARY 2016

    ROSS WELFORD's debut novel, about a boy who travels back in time to try to prevent his father's death, has bags of heart and humour.

    In the story, 12-year-old Al finds a time machine left behind by his father along with written instructions about how to use it, so Al can travel back in time and help prevent his father's death.

    The element of time travel, achieved with the help of a laptop and zinc bathtub, lends the story lots of tension and satisfying twists, and there is plenty to appeal to confident readers aged nine years plus.

    We spoke to Ross Welford about Time Travelling with a Hamster and he answered the following questions for us:

    Q: You're a journalist by trade, so what brings you into writing for children?

    A: My day job is writing now, and being a dad. My first job was business journalism, writing about the television industry, then I became a TV producer on programmes like Richard and Judy and The Big Breakfast, and I've been a writer ever since.

    I decided to start writing this novel during National Novel Writing Month in November 2013. Their rule is that you have to write 50,000 words in a month. I wrote the first half of the novel and although it was rubbish, the theory is that it gives you the discipline to finish a first draft, which it did, and then over the next few months I started re-writing it.

    I explore parenthood in the book I think because it's been such a huge part of my life. I have loved being a dad, it's been lots of fun, so that probably drew me to writing for this age group. We have 13-year-old twins and in hindsight, I've probably been trying to write what I think my children would like although my son refused to read it until it was a 'proper book' - as in published. My daughter did read an early draft and enjoyed it.

    Q: The book covers lots of themes and ideas but what was the core of the idea when you sat down to write the story?

    A: I wanted to play with the grandfather paradox, how you can't travel back in time and murder your grandfather because if you killed your grandfather, then you would not exist; so you wouldn't be able to travel back in time to kill your grandfather.

    That idea interested me; what would happen if you really did travel back in time and were responsible for the death of your own dad? What would happen if someone actually did that? I had no answers, I had no idea what the ending of the book could be. I had to write it to find out.

    The idea of Al going back in time in order to meet his dad and to save his life came later. It was fun taking him back to meet his dad - but I realised I had to have a really strong reason why this nerdy 12-year-old would make this fantastically risky journey. A 12 year old boy would have to have a compelling reason to do this - and not even to tell his mum!

    Q: Weren't you tempted to make your time machine a bit more flashy?

    A: I decided that my time machine wasn't going to be anything whizzy. Instead, Al finds it in a bunker under the garage and it involves a laptop and an old zinc tub. I wanted it to be something that could belong in a household, rather than a really flashy machine. I almost wanted the reader to forget the science behind it, so the machine couldn't be big and intrusive.

    I did look into the science of time travel because I wanted my theories to have a scientific plating and for it to seem plausible. I liked the idea of my main character, Al, being a bit geeky, a bit of a nerd. But it was a challenge to introduce these fantastically complex ideas in a way that wasn't a complete turn-off in the story. I think that readers can read the bits they want.

    Q: Are there rules in time travel?

    A: When you're putting together an idea like time travel, you have to have some rules. I decided that Al wouldn't be able to meet himself. That came about because, if you have a time machine and things go wrong (like Al actually causing his dad's death) then why not just go back in time and change what happens? Since Al can't do that (because he'd meet himself), he has to find a different solution to the problem.

    Q: Why did you decide on 1984 as the year you wanted Al to travel back to?

    A: Originally it was going to be the 1970's but that made Al's parents too old. I wanted them to be in their 30's or 40's, so I made it the 1980's. That's when the Falklands War was happening and I was going to put in some background about the period but then decided it was too much detail that wasn't relevant.

    It was quite tempting to paint 1984 as a very different world but really, it wasn't that different from now. If, on the other hand, you think of the difference between 1945 and 1975, it is enormous. In 1945 the war had just finished and so much happened after that, but the main difference between now and 1984 is that there would have been fewer cars on the road and they would have been a bit shabbier.

    People would know about things like computers and laptops, even if they were a bit of a mystery, although they'd have no idea what a mobile phone was. I had to do a bit of research to find what kinds of computers were available then and what was around.

    I remember graduating and moving to London in 1984 and I started working as a business journalist. We were using Telex machines to communicate with Moscow, which seemed very exciting at the time!

    Q: Why do you give Al a mixed race family?

    A: This wasn't originally the case; Al's Grandpa Byron, who is Asian, actually began as Grandpa Bill. I was re-writing an early draft of the book at the point where the grandpa is knocking on the door to take Al to school. When the door opened, Grandpa Byron stood there in his yellow robes and biker gear and from that point on, he became a much more significant character than I had planned.

    I hadn't wanted the grandad to be wearing a cardigan and slippers, like the grandads you see in a lot of children's literature, I wanted him to be vibrant and dynamic and not that old.

    Grandpa Byron has a Geordie Indian accent, like a lot of Indian families from the area. He also has an amazing memory and uses a technique he calls the 'Memory Palace' which helps him to remember things. He teaches some of those tricks to Al and at one point in the story, that becomes really useful to Al. I have learned some of these techniques myself and during my school visits, that's one of the things I do with the children.

    Q: Al travels with a hamster, how did that become such a big part of the story?

    A: For practical reasons really, the hamster (who is called Alan Shearer) needed to fit into the bathtub with Al, and he has an important role to play in the ending.

    I didn't actually know very much about hamsters until I wrote this book. Then at my book launch, a friend of mine who is a professional magician produced a hamster out of nowhere. My daughter saw it and decided she wanted a hamster and three weeks ago, we got one - he's called Teddy though, not Alan Shearer.

    Q: Despite all the difficulties Al experiences, the ending is very hopeful - was that always the case?

    A: In the original ending for the book, Al's mum and dad did not meet because of the changes that happened when Al travelled back in time, so Al ends up living with his Grandpa Byron and his Grandma Julie.

    I wanted to show that you couldn't mess with the past without their being consequences, but my editor wanted a different, more hopeful ending. Once I had written that, it felt like the right ending, but Al needed to work really hard to get that ending; he had to put all his resources and efforts into making that last ditch attempt to put things right.

    Q: What are you working on now?

    A: Now I'm writing a new book that is also set in the North East. I chose that setting because I am a Geordie, I grew up in the town Where Time Travelling with a Hamster is set, which I call Calvercot in the story. That's why Alan Shearer came up; before I decided on the setting, the hamster was called Eric Cantona, but I felt more comfortable with Alan Shearer.

    The new book involves a teenaged girl and her best friend, a boy, and there is a hunt for a monster in this huge, man-made forest and reservoir. The setting is based on Kielder Forest, the largest manmade forest in the UK. I like setting my books in the northeast because I like the accent and it's not written about that much.

    Q: Where do you do your writing?

    A: I write in a small office in London or in a cottage in Oxfordshire if I'm stuck and need to get away to work on a book. I can go with the dog and there are no distractions. There's no wifi there either which is good as I am easily distracted; I'll do anything rather than sit down and write....

    Q: What do you do to relax?

    A: I'll go for a good long walk, or I'll practice some tricks. I enjoy magic and I've got a few tricks I'm good at involving cards and things with rubber bands that I can pull out at a moment's notice. My wife just rolls her eyes when I start doing magic. My children are a bit more tolerant but they're not easily amazed, I think they suffer from magic fatigue.

    It all started when I was about seven and my gran bought me a magic kit for my birthday and I carried on from there, I even worked in children's entertainment for a bit. Now during my school visits I do a time travel trick with a toy hamster. Maybe I can get our new hamster, Teddy, trained up to do that!

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