- When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Tom Clempson: The answer to that changes a LOT from one book to another. On my first book I didn’t picture anyone, because I wasn’t aware that anyone else would ever read it. I didn’t write that book with any readership in mind at all. With my second book I was only too aware of the readership – the exact people who read my first book. I eventually had to learn to not picture readers at all because I found myself writing to please existing fans, instead of writing for the love of writing. Although I have to be aware of who I am writing for I find that I write with more freedom and bravery if I don’t picture the reactions of readers, (it’s especially difficult to write the things I write if I’m constantly aware that my parents are going to read it!) In the end, as far as the readers' reception of my books goes, I have to just trust my instinct. In short, I try not to picture anyone. If I like it, then, hopefully, someone else will too.
- Part of Jack’s problem in the book is finding a real-life villain for his film. (Well, not so much ‘finding one’, as ‘narrowing it down to one’!) Who do you think was the best film villain ever?
TC: I’m going to have to narrow it down! Picking one is so difficult. There are the obvious greats – The Terminator, because he is so relentless and unstoppable; The Joker, because he is so unhinged and unpredictable; Begbie from Trainspotting, because he is the guy down your local pub who could very easily kill you; Darth Vader, because… well, just because. But I find myself drawn to villains who come with a smile. I loved how, in Goodfellas, Robert Deniro’s character teeters on the precipice of being the loyal father figure and being the uncompromising harbinger of death. You just don’t feel safe, especially when he’s smiling. But the ‘villain’ who keeps springing to mind, for now at least, is, surprisingly, Michael Douglas’s D-Fens in ‘Falling Down’. What I love about this character is that we see his journey into “villainy” and we sympathise with him! He is the villain, but moreover he is the hero, which, in my eyes, is absolutely brilliant.
- Have you ever thought of shortening your titles? If I want to praise your books on Twitter, writing out the full title uses up more than half the characters I have! How did you come up with the titles in the first place?
TC: Well, the original title for my first book was just three words long. And it was dull. And rubbish. And my editor, quite rightly, suggested I come up with something different. So I came up with a few alternative titles, and then snuck in ‘One Seriously Messed-Up Week in the Otherwise Mundane and Uneventful Life of Jack Samsonite’ as a last minute, tongue-in-cheek suggestion. I never thought they would actually go for it! The lengthy title actually became quite a talking point for the book, and I now feel a certain bond with it. I love titles that are a bit of a mouthful, however, I’m planning on the title of my next book being considerably shorter…
- You have a reputation amongst book bloggers for being great at providing cakes! (Maybe that says something about the book bloggers I talk to...) What’s your favourite kind of cake?
TC: I would like to make this very clear – Tom Clempson does NOT negotiate with cake-demanders! But, yes, thanks to a certain blogger or two I have become the go-to author for cake (and I have learned, to my expense, that neither Kendal Mint Cakes nor Jaffa Cakes count). Bloggers seem to be quite the cake connoisseurs. I myself am not that fussy, but given a choice, I tend to go for a cake that masquerades as something healthier than it actually is. You can’t go wrong with a bit of carrot cake (Gluten free please. My address is…).
- I’ve seen at least one review describe Jack Samsonite as ‘an Adrian Mole for our times’ (or something along those lines, at least). Are you going to follow in Sue Townsend's footsteps and carry on writing about him as an adult?
TC: Whenever anyone compares my books to something else, I do my very best to avoid ever exposing myself to that something else, just in case I accidentally absorb some of it, and find it impossible to not write like them instead of me. This is why I have never watched The Inbetweeners, and won’t be revisiting ‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole’, which my Mum read to me when I was about seven (and I seriously hope is not that similar to my book, otherwise Child Welfare will be having some serious words with my mum!). So I’m not too sure where Sue Townsend went with Adrian Mole, but all I know is that, as long as people still want to read it, I could happily write about Jack Samsonite until either he or I dies (in between writing other stuff too of course).
- Did you go to university? If so, did you find your personal statement easier to write than Jack does?
TC: I did go to university, I studied Film & Video at University of Wales Newport. I don’t actually remember writing my personal statement specifically for that course, but that is because ALL of my personal statements for anything (college, job applications, author biog) roll into one, big, pathetic, meandering and failed attempt to make myself sound mildly interesting. Trying to ‘sell’ something, and make it sound enticing and appealing is my Achilles heel as a writer. I’m exactly the same when someone asks me what my books are about – I am so certain that they don’t actually want to know, and that they’re just making small talk, that I try to make it as brief and painless as possible, so, invariably, I answer “it’s just about some kid who gets up to some stuff. You probably wouldn’t like it”.
- As well as being an author, you've worked on films including Fantastic Mr Fox and the Corpse Bride, although you describe yourself as a speck of fluff on a cog in the film-making machine. What's been the coolest film-related thing that's happened to you? And did you meet Johnny Depp?
TC: Unfortunately no cool film-related things ever happen to me! I really am just a speck of fluff on a cog (which means, sadly, I’ve never been anywhere near Johnny Depp)! And when potentially cool things happen, like meeting Tim Burton, every ounce of potential coolness I might have within me instantly evaporates, leaving just the empty shell of a smiling, moronic fool. I like to think that I’m not the type of person who would get star-struck, but I totally am. Whenever I come face-to-face with a celeb, the art of conversation deserts me completely. The only celeb I ever manage to not get phased by was John Thompson from The Fast Show. I met him outside the toilets at Cosgrove Hall Film studios and managed to talk to him completely normally (but that’s only because I thought he was the new cleaner).
- If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
TC: This is easy. I don’t know why, probably relating to my ‘I can’t read Adrian Mole’ thing, but I’ve always wanted to ask JK Rowling this question: “After you watched the first Harry Potter film and then went on to write the next book in the series, did you find it hard to picture the characters as they used to be in your head instead of how they are in the film?” Because I did! I had a very definite vision of what Harry, Ron, Hermione and co. looked like from the books, then, after watching the films, my own imagination got completely wiped and all I could see was Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and that stupid CG Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head!
- What are you reading at the moment?
TC: Total Film magazine. I just bought Geekhood by Andy Robb because one particular blogger keeps comparing our books with each other (in a lovely, flattering way), but I can’t actually bring myself to read it because one particular blogger keeps comparing our books with each other, and then that whole Inbetweeners/Adrian Mole thing kicks in again. I did just listen to the Game of Thrones audiobook though, which was enjoyable but soooooo loooooooong. And I’m now listening to Stormy Weather audiobook, by Carl Hiaasen, which seems fun so far. Between my day job, my writing, and my family, I don’t get much time left to read, so I listen to audiobooks while I’m at [my non-writing] work.
- What's next for Tom Clempson?
TC: #I wish I knew! I’ve written about three, maybe four middle grade manuscripts since finishing One Seriously Messed-Up Weekend, but I don’t really know what to do with them, so I’ve just shelved most of them, but I would love some of them to get published one day (apart from the crap one. That can stay shelved). I’ve also planned out book three in the Jack Samsonite series and started writing it, just so I can get a feeling for if I’m going in the right direction with it. And I’ve also outlined a few other YA ideas. I just wish I had the time to write all of these things! So, in all honesty, I never know what’s next for Tom Clempson, but as long as it involves writing then I’m happy.