HUW POWELL is a children’s author with an over-active
and uncompromising imagination.
He was born in Bristol in 1976 during the hottest
summer on record and grew up in the village of Pill in
North Somerset, where he wrote his first stories for
friends and family.
At school, his best subjects were Literature and Art,
which he went on to study at University.
Huw started writing while working in London, where he
wrote on trains and in cafe’s using a pen and notepad.
He now lives in Portishead with his wife and two energetic sons.
When he’s not writing, Huw enjoys watching films and spending time with his family and friends.
1) Tell us a little about your background – (geographic, economic, familial) – and your earliest experience/engagement with literature?
I was born in Bristol during the hottest summer on record and raised in the village of Pill in North Somerset. My parents were both teachers and I inherited most of my childhood books from my older siblings. This meant that most of the covers were well worn by the time I read them, which gave them a sense of character and uniqueness – it made them ‘our’ books. As a child, I have memories of visiting our local library on the weekends and discovering exciting new stories. I would go to sleep with a pile of books and comics stacked by my pillow and these would often fall off in the night.
2) What made you want to write and which author/s inspired you to consider pursuing a career as a writer?
I always enjoyed writing stories and even studied literature at university, however I didn’t take it seriously until I was in my thirties and working in London. It started out as a hobby, but I soon found myself scribbling away in cafés and on the tube. At first, my goal was to write a whole novel, just to see if I could do it. Now, my inspiration comes from my family. I want to write the sort of books that my two young sons will enjoy when they’re older.
3) Tell us the story of Spacejackers (no spoilers!) for our audience, how did you come up with the idea with Space Pirates in mind?
Spacejackers is a middle-grade adventure series for 8 to 12 year olds. It’s about a boy called Jake Cutler, who is abandoned on a remote planet when he’s 2 years old. Jake is raised by technology-worshipping cyber-monks, but he has a passion for the stars and a thirst for adventure. His only clue to his past is a mysterious gold pendant that contains 3 crystals: a diamond, a ruby and an emerald. When Jake is 13 years old, space pirates attack the monastery where he lives, forcing him to embark on an incredible voyage through space in search of his missing father and a mythical planet called Altus. Jake soon discovers that space is a vast and dangerous place, and you should never trust a space pirate!
4) Once you became serious about writing, how did you juggle the Monday to Friday workload, along with having a young family but also find the time for writing? What advice would you give to people in similar situations?
Like most new authors, I had to balance writing with a day job and a young family. I drafted the first Spacejackers book at my leisure over 2 years, however when I signed a 3-book deal with Bloomsbury, I suddenly had deadlines. It’s not easy splitting yourself 3 ways, therefore you have to be very strict with the time you do manage to carve out for writing. This means being ruthlessly efficient, including planning your work, tracking progress and making sacrifices (e.g. social life, television, etc). I tend to write mostly in the evenings when my family is asleep, but I still have to resist distractions such as emails and social media.
5) During your interview on ‘The Source,’ you mentioned that you read to your children with the lights on, but when the lights are off you make up stories – how easy does this come to you? How do you balance the intuitive and inventive?
It’s never easy making up stories on the spot, but after a while you start to refine the regular characters and come up with winning formats. My favourite request was for a story about a window, which ended up being a different window every night, whether it was on the side of a hospital or a police station. The window would see everything that was going on inside and outside the building – occasionally it would join in the action, by discovering what it was like to be mended or by stopping a criminal. Whatever the subject, making up stories is a great way to exercise your imagination.
6) When you are developing and editing your stories, do you work from home or venture out to libraries/cafes/open spaces? Are you able to switch off from the world around you? If so, do you still find yourself observing and generating new ideas for future stories?
I used to venture out frequently and still occasionally scribble notes in a café or on public transport, but mostly I write at home on my computer. A few years ago, my wife surprised me with a writing weekend away, which I will never forget. Without any distractions, I was able to really immerse myself in the story and ended up being incredibly productive.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Especially writer’s for Young Adult or Children’s fiction?
It’s surprisingly hard work, but as long as you believe in your ideas and your talent, keep going. If you want to write, then write – stop being an aspiring writer and be a writer. If you’re good enough and you have the right ideas, you will become a published author. Instead of chasing trends, try to anticipate the market and write something that will be interest readers by the time your book is published. I’m hoping that space adventures really take-off with the release of new Star Wars and Star Trek films, not to mention a British astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
8) Describe your initial induction into the publishing industry and how it felt to become a professional writer. What was your experience of editors, agents and publishers? What advice would you give to young aspiring authors wanting to break into the industry but not knowing where to start?
It’s a large and competitive industry, however everyone is really friendly and passionate about books. I used The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook to help me shortlist agents to contact and was rejected several times before being taken on by the brilliant Conville & Walsh. My agent helped me to refine the manuscript and submit it to large UK publishers. I had meetings with 3 of them, before signing a 3-book deal with Bloomsbury. It was at that point that I felt like a bonafide author. I remember seeing the signing mentioned in The Bookseller and being thrilled, but at the same time nervous, as though I had just leapt from an airlock into the unknown. What would people think? What if they hated the book? What if no one bought it? It’s quite a jump from writing a story on your own, to sharing it with the world.
9) Do you have any more Spacejackers stories to tell? Or will the trilogy end with a resolution for Jake Cutler?
The first 3 books will be a self-contained trilogy, however there is definitely scope for more adventures in the series. I’m also brewing an idea for a standalone children’s novel.
10) You have a character in Spacejackers called ‘Nanoo.’ Mork and Minday fan?
Yes, absolutely – there are a few subtle jokes and references in the books for people to find.
11) Best advice you’ve ever received?
There are lots of great books and websites about writing (e.g. Stephen King on Writing). A good tip is to write the first draft of a manuscript as quickly as you can, before going back to edit it. You should also expect to lose 10% of your word count in the edits, because every word must fight for its existence – it has to justify its place on the page. A piece of advice that you often hear is to show readers, not tell them (e.g. show the character reacting, instead of telling the reader how the character feels).
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