Sunday, 29 June 2014

Author Interview: Jason Rohan, part 1 of 2

One of my favourite debuts of the year so far has been the brilliant MG adventure Sword of Kuromori. I got in touch with author Jason Rohan to suggest an interview and was thrilled when he suggested meeting up for a face-to-face one instead of doing one by e-mail - my first ever face-to-face interview with an author! It's rather long as we had LOADS to talk about, so I've cut it into two parts - 2nd will be up later this week.

1. When you close your eyes and picture your readers, what do you see?

[Laughs] I've not had that question before! I suppose I see me, if you turn back the clock, but I've also got children, and they're younger versions of the ideal reader is, possibly, between 8 and 14; just someone who's willing to lose themselves in the story.

2. I know that part of your background is as a staff writer for Marvel Comics. What made you decide to make the move from comics to fiction - anything in particular?

I'm not sure if I'll get into trouble for saying this! I was at Marvel for a couple of summers doing an internship in 1984 and 1987 and the industry changed at that time. Jim Shooter was the Editor-in-Chief and he gave Frank Miller the freedom to do Daredevil, and John Byrne a lot of freedom [on Fantastic Four], but in the process he also annoyed a lot of people, so towards the latter end of that time he got the sack and Tom DeFalco came in. Tom DeFalco was very much old-school and was saying, "When I was reading comics they were like this in the Sixties, and that's how we're going to make them now," so he was going to turn the clock back. All the stuff like the Elektra: Assassin series and all that - he didn't like that, it was too edgy for him. So, that was one reason why I didn't want to have to basically suppress all those creative instincts and that freedom. I think once you've started to do more grown-up material within the comics realm, and you've let the creative demons out of the bag, it's very hard to put them back. A lot of people turned around and left at that point. The other thing that really put me off was that a lot of people who'd been there a long time in the business were either somewhat burned-out hacks just taking the money or they were overgrown kids playing with toys, and I didn't want to turn into either of those. So I thought comics had been interesting to do, but it was time to move on, and that was the end for me.

3. I might know what your answer's going to be to this after the last question! Is there any particular character who might tempt you to go back to comics, and would you like to see Sword of Kuromori adapted, either for comics or screen?

The answer is, "Yes, easily!" to both of those. I didn't fall out of love with comics - it was more of an amicable separation. So if Marvel were to come to me and say, "Would you like to come back and write?" I'd jump at the chance. I walked away in 1987, almost 30 years ago. The industry has changed radically in that time. As for which character? I don't know. Part of me would like to take any character and reinvent it. You've got a lot more creative freedom now - look at what they've done with Ms. Marvel, for example. Marvel aren't afraid to take risks, which I think is almost the polar opposite of where they were when I was walking away, when they were very afraid to take risks, so I'd go back. Any book they gave me, I'd love to do. I've always had a soft spot for Iron Man, but they've changed that character so much now that he's almost unrecognisable from where I left him. As for Sword of Kuromori being made into a movie, I recognise that if there were any interest, I'd probably lose a lot of creative control along the way and would need to trust them to do the best job, but certainly, I'm a control freak - I think every author has to be, because you're God in your own world. You play in that world you create, so I'd like to have creative input and control, but I wouldn't count on it.

4. I know that you did a well-received event at the Discover Story Centre a couple of weeks ago, and have done lots of others. What's the best thing about doing events with kids, and are there any drawbacks to doing them?
I come from a teaching background, which I think benefits a lot of authors. You look at a lot of them like Rowling and Colfer; they've all been teachers, which helps a lot, so I don't have any bad experiences. I'm not shy standing up in front of a crowd of children - the biggest audience I had was 260 for my very first event - part of the Hay Festival, for the Scribblers tour - but what I do like is that you get to meet the people for whom you're writing, and you get to put faces to names. You also get an idea of what works, and often children will like things which you didn't really think of as being particularly notable. They'll say "I really liked that bit," and I'll think, "Oh, that surprises me," so you can pick up little hints and tips along the way as well, but, as I think I said before, the enthusiasm and lack of cynicism are great. When you get older kids, they can be a bit too cool to show any interest - they'll sit there and slouch and they won't answer questions - but the little ones really get into it, because what I do is monsters and action and they really get behind that.

5. I met you for the first time at #DrinkYA a couple of months ago and I notice that you've also been taking part in the #ukmgchat - before you started writing were you aware of the UK MG/YA community, and if not, what do you think of it?

I wasn't aware at all - I was a total Twitter virgin! It was only at the start of the year that my publishers, and my editor, said I should probably look at Twitter. I've had a Facebook presence for years but mainly family and friends, and I was always wary of Twitter because there have been so many news stories about people making fools of themselves so I was a bit suspicious of Twitter. My teenage daughter was on it all of the time, and I thought it might be a bit of a time sink, but then when I started using it and realised how accessible it is, and the fact that someone can buy your book and drop you a note almost within five minutes saying, ''I've started reading it; here's a picture of me holding it,'' I realised it's a very powerful communications tool. So, I've slowly been working my way through and feeling how things work. I started off in the background watching people, and took my first steps when I was a bit more confident, but certainly the community is amazing! The fact that so many people reach out and support each other. I was expecting Twitter to be more trolls and anonymous attacks, but what I've seen of it has been not at all that way. It's very supportive and very nurturing, so when the #ukmgchat started, I was almost the first person in there. It's so great to meet other authors! I hadn't really met other authors or bloggers or anything in the previous seven years of writing - I hadn't really realised they were out there in the sense that you could meet up and have a drink without joining a book group. I think it's great, because five years ago you wouldn't have had anything like it - I'm a big fan.

6. You've got one of the most spectacular covers I've seen all year, and I've seen posters of your book in cinemas, which is really impressive and not something you see that often for MG books! Have you been surprised by how hard Egmont have pushed the marketing of your book?

I've been very, very lucky with Egmont! But to be honest, I don't have any real point of comparison. I don't know what 'normal' would be, but I know that when we were putting the book out there, we had about five or six publishers with no interest whatsoever, but then Egmont came out of nowhere, and said, "We want this book now, take it off the table!" Stella Paskins, my editor, has been brilliant. I think it's one of those books where either you get it or you don't, and Stella very much knows her anime and manga. When she came on board, she really put a lot of faith in the book; I think she persuaded a lot of people at Egmont that this was worth getting behind. I think, in hindsight, it's been the best thing, because at a large publisher it might have got swallowed up in the schedules, but a small publisher might not have had enough clout, so Egmont, being a medium-sized publisher looking to flex their weight a bit, really put a lot of work into it and I can only praise the whole team. Benjamin Hughes did the cover - in terms of commissioning it as Art Editor - and he also designed the chapter headings and all the Japanese writing. Stella's editing has made it a smooth, painless process and I'm really happy with the whole team behind it. The cover artist comes from Singapore, which again fits the whole international theme of the book.

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