Some weeks, nothing of interest drops into your inbox . . . others, it’s like the email fairy is tripping on woofle dust. This has been one of those weeks, with messages pinging in from all corners of the globe.
First, two fan emails – from a girl in Northern Ireland and a boy in Canada – who’d both enjoyed Flip. Then the news from my publisher in London that, thanks to advance orders, the about-to-be-launched paperback of Flip has gone into a reprint a month before it’s officially published. Then, a follow-up message that the paperback has sold 1000 copies in the Philippines. Then a congratulatory email from the organiser of a teen book award in Arkansas, U.S., for which Flip has been shortlisted. Then one from my American editor to let me know that my new novel, Never Ending, has gone down well at a Random House launch conference in New York. And, finally, an email from a teacher at a school in Iceland, forwarding a series of questions from students there who have been studying Flip.
Here is the Icelandic Q&A:
Where did you get the idea for the book from?
When I was Alex’s age I remember being envious of my best friend – he was better looking than me, better at sport, more popular, more successful with girls etc. I used to wonder what it would be like to be him. So, nearly forty years later, that memory resurfaced and gave me the idea for the storyline of Flip.
Do you ever imagine being someone else?
Not any more. But I would like to wake up one morning and discover I no longer have asthma.
Will there be a film of the book?
I haven’t had any offers from film-makers so far. It would be quite a tough role for the main actor – having to be one character inside another character’s body. But Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did it very well in Freaky Friday.
Why did you decide to name the town Litchbury?
A “litch” (or lych) is a covered gate into a churchyard where, traditionally, the coffin is rested during a funeral service before being carried to the grave. It is also known as the “resurrection” gate – referring to the body’s final journey before its soul ascends to heaven. I chose this prefix to symbolise Alex’s resurrection in his own body following a close brush with death.
And “bury”, from the word “borough”, is a common suffix in English place names, so it gave the town an authentic sounding name.
Why is the book dedicated to Damaris, Josie, Polly and Keith Croxall?
Damaris is my wife. Josie and Polly are my daughters (aged 14 and 10). And Keith Croxall was my wife’s father, who died not long before Flip was published. A dedication is the author’s chance to say a special thank you to his loved ones.
Why did you make Alex 14 years old and not, for example, 24?
The novel deals with issues of identity and sense of self – who are we? are we happy with who we are? do we wish we could be different? I remember these being important (and confusing) questions for me when I was a teenager, in that difficult transition from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. So it seemed most apt to make my hero 14 and to aim the story at teenagers.
What do you think about the concept of a soul?
I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in the existence of the soul in a Christian, or any other religious, sense. But I do believe that each of us has a unique, individual consciousness – centred in the chemical and electrical impusles in the millions of neurons in the brain. It’s what makes us who we are, distinct from anyone else. But I believe it is extinguished when we die. In Flip, though, I was more interested to explore questions of the soul and the spirit than to provide answers.