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An Interview with Philip Caveney

UK Bookselling Series

by Claire Main

#122, 2 June 2008

So, as I was saying, Philip Caveney, creator of the Sebastian Darke series definitely doesn't hibernate in the winter. In fact, I am on my way to interview him, but I've checked my bag and my chocolate supplies are running dangerously low. How will I tell whether I'm suffering from chocolate withdrawal symptoms or I've entered Philip's world of migrating Buffalope and holidays on the Senova coast? I ring the doorbell and I can hear someone coming to the door. Reality or fantasy, I'm soon to find out.

BOOKTHINK: So where are you from Philip?

CAVENEY: I was born in North Wales, but my parents were in the RAF and I spent much of my childhood trolling around the length and breadth of Britain, with a few years spent in Singapore and Malaysia.

BOOKTHINK: Tell us your latest news.

CAVENEY: The thing that I'm most excited about at present is that we have serious film interest from Hollywood. I can't name any names, but a major player has read Sebastian Darke and wants to make a movie of it! Of course, it might all come to nothing, but it's caused some sleepless nights.

BOOKTHINK: When and why did you begin writing?

CAVENEY: When I was around thirteen, I read a Ray Bradbury novel called Something Wicked This Way Comes. It absolutely blew me away and I quite clearly remember thinking, "This is what I want to do with my life." From then on, I began to write stories. I think I drove my English teachers half mad with my desperate attempts to create fiction from the most inane topics.

BOOKTHINK: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

CAVENEY: In 1976, when I sold my first novel, The Sins Of Rachel Ellis. I don't care what anyone says, the day somebody likes your work enough to pay money for it, is the day you feel different about your abilities.

BOOKTHINK: What inspired you to write your first book?

CAVENEY: I'd been reading a lot of Arthurian books, with particular regard to Merlin and I thought, "I wonder if I could do a contemporary version of it."

BOOKTHINK: Who or what has influenced your writing?

CAVENEY: Funnily enough, cinema is a much bigger influence on me than other writers. I see my books as "head movies" which play on a big silver screen in my cranium.

BOOKTHINK: How did you come up with the title Sebastian Darke?

CAVENEY: I created the character and he needed a name. He was always going to be Darke, and somehow, no other Christian name seemed right for him. I recently received an email from the real Sebastian Darke, telling me he had been given the book and was enjoying it.

BOOKTHINK: What books have most influenced your life?

CAVENEY: Umm... I'm not sure they have influenced my life, but the following titles have been a big influence on my career as a writer: Lord of the Flies, Catcher In The Rye, Something Wicked This Way Comes and the complete works of Elmore Leonard.

BOOKTHINK: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

CAVENEY: Well, originally it was definitely Ray Bradbury. These days I'd have to go for Elmore Leonard. I appreciate he's writing for a totally different market to me, but I've always admired his ear for dialogue and the fact that at seventy-odd his writing is still so cool!

BOOKTHINK: What book are you reading now?

CAVENEY: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. She was one of my fellow nominees for the Waterstones prize, with her first novel, A Pure Swift Cry. Tragically, she died from breast cancer earlier this year. Bog Child is set in Northern Ireland during the years of the Bobby Sands hunger strike. It's fabulous, and the world has lost a wonderful talent.

BOOKTHINK: What are your current projects?

CAVENEY: I'm working on a new series - Alec Devlin. If I had to pitch it as a movie, I'd say, "young Indiana Jones." The first of three adventures, The Eye of the Serpent, which is set in Egypt in 1923, will be released in the UK in August 08. I'm now writing the second books, Empire of the Skull which is set in Mexico and features a lost tribe of Aztecs!

BOOKTHINK: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

CAVENEY: I have for some of the adult titles I've written. But the world of Sebastian Darke is completely fictional, which gives me free rein to invent whatever I like. Alec Devlin has required a lot more research, much of which, due to a shortage of time and funds, is done via the internet.

BOOKTHINK: Who designed the covers?

CAVENEY: David Wyatt, a really skilled artist who has produced covers for lots of fabulous children's books, did the first book. Prince of Pirates has cover art by Johnny Duddle and illustrations by the brilliant Julek Heller. I feel very honoured to have such talented people working on my books.

BOOKTHINK: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

CAVENEY: Selling it! Seriously, the book just fell out of me, but a whole string of publishers and agents failed to see the appeal of it. Then I was finally lucky enough to find Charlie Sheppard at Random House, a really gifted editor, who actually understands what children like to read. This may sound obvious but there are a lot of people in the publishing industry who do not possess this gift.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have any advice for other writers?

CAVENEY: Just one thing. Never, never, NEVER give up.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

CAVENEY: Yes! I'd love to know what you thought of Sebastian Darke. (And when it's out, Alec Devlin too!) After you've read them, you can go to the feedback section of my website and write a review. There's also a specialist website where you can register for updates, enter quizzes, submit jokes and generally have a lot of fun.

Well, that went well. I quickly broke the seal on the emergency chocolate supplies I keep in the car. I took a therapeutic bite out of a Snickers and tried to decide what had been fact and what had been fiction. Suddenly a curtain moved at one of the upstairs windows, and I'm sure just for a moment I glimpsed the unmistakable shape of a pet Boobah.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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