Interview with Tom Harris
Monday’s, as a rule, suck. Today sucks even worse, because it’s a bank holiday and I have to work. But there’s a little glimmer of happiness in what is otherwise a gloomy day. And that, my friends, is an interview with the wonderfully talented, Tom Harris.
But before we get to that, here’s the first chapter of his YA Novel – The Amber Room, introducing the main character, North.
He sat on the top deck at the front, away from the other school kids at the back who had got on the bus with him. He shielded his eyes, feeling the heat on his face through the glass as the autumn sun peeked out between the terraced houses.
The open staircase behind his seat was his only exit. A blur of sunlight got trapped in his vision as he glanced down the length of the bus to see if he could make a clean getaway when the time came. He could feel the thrill rising inside him like a leviathan.
Four seats back, across from him, sat alone on the double seat was a guy wearing huge headphones, eyes closed, head bobbing. Three seats from the front were a young couple holding hands and giggling; eyes like magnets locked on each other. Second seat from the front was a problem. The middle-aged woman stared at him when he got on and she stared again now. All she had to do was lean across her timid looking husband and…Gotcha! On the seat across from him was an old lady sucking on a mint she had taken out of a packet that sat loosely in the palm of her saggy skinned hand.
North didn’t like mints, but he was going to steal them anyway.
He caught his reflection in the window. The sight of his jean jacket over his drab black and grey school uniform took him back to the Easter holidays when his parents had bought it for him just before his fourteenth birthday. It was the last thing they would ever buy him, probably…
A bead of sweat seeped down his back sticking part of his school shirt against his skin. He pulled his tie off, rolled it up and unrolled it three times, and put it in his jacket pocket. Through the reflection in the front window, the bag of mints sparkled like pure white diamonds.
Goosebumps gathered on his skin. His legs quivered as if he was tapping along to heavy metal. He rolled his neck, stretching, warming up for the main event. A pile of scrunched up bus tickets had collected on the floor below his seat and he spread them out with the tips of his toes forming the letter M for Mint. He let out a small snort of laughter. ‘Second seat from the front woman’ was like one of those pictures that followed you around the room. He avoided her stare through the reflection of the front window and ran his hand across his cropped black hair as the bus pulled to a halt.
The bus trembled at the stop and a rush of heat smothered his body. He picked at the tornPerrowSchoolcrest on the blue cloth school bag that hung around his neck. It was too much of a hassle to take off his jean jacket so he blew cold air down his top. He rocked a little in his seat, full of nervous energy, legs still wobbling like jelly.
The thrill was back.
I told you he was talented. And that’s a hell of a good cover. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce him to you.
Hi, Tom. So, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?
I write Young Adult fiction and everything else is inconsequential! Although, as you were kind enough to ask, Steve, I do like Toffee Crumbles – even though I have no idea if they are an ice lol or an ice cream? Maybe that’s what makes them so appealing? I love Hitchcock’s Vertigo – I’m a big Hitchcock fan. I actually found out the other day that he almost directed the first Bond film which was meant to be Thunderball, but he turned it down and they went with Dr No – imagine what the Bond franchise would have been like under Hitchock’s direction? Wow! I love cricket, football and birds – all three have fascinated me since I was a child. I think watching TV shows and movies are important for writers as well as reading great books. I love reading but stuff like Buffy, Supernatural, Sherlock and The Fades fuel my creativity whilst acting as a release valve from ongoing projects. 24 is not my genre, but I do miss Jack Bauer and attend withdrawal therapy every month! My friends know I love the show and call me CTU, at least it sounds like that to me…
Can you tell us a bit more about your book, The Amber Room? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?
The idea was spawned by reading Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. I then thought about a fresh take with new characters travelling inside these amazing worlds; the brilliant Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime Novels, inspired me to wander down this path. Then the characters got hold of me and became so real that I had to write it. North being a kleptomaniac was the key as it gave him an Achilles Heel that, although unappreciated in our world, is seen as a gift by the mysterious Dr Tan and enables North to become a treasure thief. Once Rosie Boots arrived as North’s guide through Perrault’s fairy tale worlds, I knew I just had to write it!
It took about six months for the first draft but a year in total, including time off to let the draft fester and then return to it with a fresh pair of eyes – which didn’t come cheap on the black market I can tell you! It was just like Minority Report! By the way, Philip K. Dick – amazing! I really did edit the heck out of this and am so grateful for my great critique group – The Registry Writers. Everyone who read it and gave advice played their part in forming the finished version of The Amber Room. Cheers guys!
Who’s your favourite character in the book?
I love Doctor Tan, North and Rosie and it would just annoy them if I picked one as my favourite – lots of squabbling and hiding when I need to discuss the sequel with them. My favourite sections to write were Doctor Tan’s scenes with North inside the Amber Room as I could just allow my imagination to wander into the mind of an eccentric supernatural treasure hunter and his quirky, twisted view on the world. I had some real fun with this and it got a little dark in places too – perfect! I also loved writing the scenes with North and Rosie and their banter as they deal with their attraction to each other as they pop in and out of dangerous fairy tale worlds searching for amber treasure. A lot of these scenes were inspired by a nameless muse and returned fond memories to my flame-grilled heart…sigh…Anyway [necks a shot of Oban Single Malt Whiskey] Let’s move on, quickly…
What made you decide to self-publish?
I just really believed in the story and wanted people to read it. I was very curious about the process of self publishing and wanted to see what would happen. The general idea was to promote myself from within, to catch the attention of publishers and agents through the quality of my work.
This is not a try it and give up if it doesn’t work thing for me. What I’ve produced is as good as I could do at that moment, but I aim to improve as a writer and to keep learning. This is a showcase for my writing which I’m very proud of and since me and the book have been out there, I’ve began to understand the fuller role of the modern author and what is expected. And let’s face it, If any of us can wake up in the morning and do what we love doing then surely that is the greatest gift of all! I hope this is a stepping stone to be able to one day achieve that goal. That’s why I self published!
*If anyone is interested in reading more about why and the processes of self publishing, I did a piece for Hackwriters last week on the very subject, just follow the link… http://www.hackwriters.com/TheAmberRoom.htm
Do you have a favourite book or author? What are they?
I read loads of Young Adult fiction and dip into other genres only when something hits me hard. Like a Hardback to the face or being threatened by a fellow debut author with a machete in a dark alley – I meant to have a word with you about that Steve! You really do take your research for your fight scenes to the limit don’t you!
I love Jasper Fforde’s stuff – so inventive and a work of genius in my opinion. Pullman, Rowling, Suzanne Collins first Hunger Games novel and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road are all outstanding! Neil Gaiman who I recently discovered – shocking that it’s taken me so long frankly – is absolutely amazing! Marcus Sedgwick is also brilliant!
What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?
This is my fun! Everything outside of writing is down-time, spent sprawled across the sofa or clambering up the stairs to bed. There have been reports of me having fun outside of writing – as rare as yeti sightings – which mostly involve friends and booze. I don’t class cricket and football as being fun, they are a plague which I take far too seriously – it’s in the blood and there’s nothing I can do about it! I’m like a moth to the flame when it comes to these sports.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I have drafted the sequel to The Amber Room – The Amber Antidote, which I’m planning on releasing next year. But next up is a contemporary YA adventure thriller called Jackie Jones.
Fourteen year old Jackie accepts a mysterious invitation to a country estate to compete for a huge cash prize which could put an end to his family’s money worries for good. What starts out as being the opportunity of a lifetime, turns into a nightmare when Jackie arrives at Heath Hall and finds that the other contestants not only share his desire to win the money, but also his name!
I also have Hywel which is back to supernatural fantasy which I love. That will come out after The Amber Antidote in 2013.
Fifteen year old Hywel is troubled. He stalks girls, his parents think he’s overweight and now he’s been sent to a fitness boot camp in the English countryside. After following pretty Lara into the woods, Hywel watches beneath a full moon as she is attacked by a Nesthead Demon. Lara is saved but taken by a white wolf, but when Hywel returns to the camp no-one will believe his story until the camp comes under attack.
You can be any comic book superhero – Who would you be?
Batman! I love Batman! Not in a weird way, but I remember seeing what may have been a copy of an old Batman comic at a church fete and being totally hooked. I was desperate to get hold of the first issue to know how he became Batman! This wasn’t so easy back then and it took me ages to find out how it all started with the bat flying through the window and all that. God it’s so dark and brooding and painful and bloody amazing! God! I would love to be Batman!
When I was a kid I used to laugh my head off at the old TV series with Adam West and Burt Ward playing the caped crusaders and I still love that now! KABLAM!
As much as I enjoyed Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s take, and it was great how they tried to stay true to the origins of the comic, the only credible part of the whole Batman franchise left standing after that was the brilliant animated series, where Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame, voiced The Joker! Every film sequel was rushed and the character was overlooked for special effects and guest stars, and also the lead actor kept changing…until Nolan and Bale got hold of it and…Wow! This is the dark, brooding, mystery of a vengeful man that I fell in love with. The two films are incredible, great storylines, great writing and superbly acted and very character driven, which is the key to pulling at emotional heart-strings after all.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
Go for it, you bumbling idiot! Being shy and polite never won fair maiden! You’ll never know if she likes you, if you don’t ask! Fight for her and treat her like a princess and let her know you love her. I’m single because of this stuff, anyone else out there treading gently, go out and declare your love – do it now! Don’t wait for it to happen, it never will! But if she or he rejects you I am unavailable for counselling as I generally give terrible advice.
Also, to slap the South Birmingham Football Manager round the chops with a pair of white gentleman’s gloves for not picking me when I was the best player on the pitch at the trial – well that’s how I remember it anyway! This idiot of a manager picked loads of giant kids and decided to play long ball tactics. I was a smaller kid, a bit like a young Messi – in size only obviously – but I was a ball player – he didn’t like that! WTF? Sorry Steve, you don’t have to post this boring football stuff, I only left it in because it was just great therapy to say that after all these years – cheers!
What skills do you possess that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?
Natural camouflage. My face falls to pieces now and again and I have a strong limp, my shoulder is broken in four places, my head is at an angle and rests against my shoulders as though I’m sleepy and I drag my arms and my left foot just like Daniel-Day-Lewis. I like to eat rare steak and let that dribble from my mouth and I sleep in a graveyard! This could also explain why I’m single – hmm, never thought of that!
You can find and download The Amber Room on Amazon & Smashwords by following the links:
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/148214
And if you feel like learning more about Tom, and why wouldn’t you, you can go to his blog: