Sunday, November 20, 2022

Q&A with Michael Mann




Michael Mann is the author of the new middle grade novel Ghostcloud. Also a primary school teacher, he lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write Ghostcloud, and how did you create your character Luke?


A: One day I was looking at the shapes in the clouds with my nephew, and this thought popped into my head: what if someone was watching us back? This was the first seed of the big idea behind Ghostcloud, and in my book, the hero Luke, visits this hidden world, right above our heads - and learns to fly, fire lightning, shape the clouds to his will, and much more.


As for Luke, the hero, there are a couple of more personal inspirations for him.


Firstly, my granddad Luke was a coal miner in Yorkshire, so he was definitely an inspiration for my character Luke, who starts the book shovelling coal underground.


Secondly, my dad is Indian and growing up there were almost no books with heroes who were “mixed” like me. Even now, it's rare, especially in genres like adventure and fantasy, so I wanted to address that.


My character, Luke, is half-Indian like me, but many other characters in the book feel “in-between” in some way - which I think we can all relate to. At first, these characters feel they are lacking, but eventually, they grow to realise their differences can be a strength.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, “Smartly wrought worldbuilding aptly engages with themes of identity and equity while conjuring an atmospherically gritty London that’s at once singularly inventive and reminiscent of works by Joan Aiken, Charles Dickens, and Philip Pullman.” What do you think of that description, especially the comparisons?


A: I absolutely love this quote! Those three authors are real heroes to me, so I feel very honoured to be compared to them. I love how Dickens builds his characters (and villains!); they're so memorable and vivid. I love Pullman's worlds - so magic and yet real.


And Joan Aiken's Wolves directly influenced my premise. In her book, wolves came through the channel tunnel, and it changes the landscape and gave a great sense of threat. I flipped this for Ghostcloud - starting with a closed channel tunnel, and asking what might this mean? What danger might have caused it.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I am really proud of my ending - it brings all the strands together, is suitably climactic, but in fact, I only had a loose idea of it at the start. I think I always knew that Luke would have to not just physically defeat the villain, the factory owner, Tabatha Margate, but also “speak up” against her and on behalf of his friends.


A key theme of the book is finding your voice - and your freedom - and in the end, it is that which matters most, rather than any magical powers or gift. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope readers feel utterly transported by the book, and that after finishing, they don't quite look at the sky the same way again! And I also hope that any children of mixed heritage reading it, or indeed any children who feel they don't quite fit the categories, can see themselves in Luke and his friends, and see they can be the hero of a story too. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've just finished the sequel, Nightspark, and that should be out next year. That ties up the Ghostcloud series and I'm really excited about it - it's got a great ending too! Then I'm busy working on a new book, based around mythology in the modern world... 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I'm a teacher too and so for me the most important thing is that kids keep turning the page. So although, I think there is some lovely writing and feeling in there, I've also packed every chapter with cliffhangers and peril and mysteries to be solved, so hopefully they have no choice but to read to the end!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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