Here on Youtube is an interview with Philip Womack, conducted by Izzy Mathie in 2014. There are print interviews below.
INTERVIEW WITH KENILWORTH BOOKS
2018: Tamsin Rosewell of Kenilworth Books conducted this interview, based on THE ARROW OF APOLLO.
Interview on Books for Keeps
2016: Read the interview with Philip Womack on Books for Keeps here.
2014: Lovereading4kids Q & A - website here
A Q&A with Philip Womack on The Broken KingHow would you describe The Broken King to someone who hasn’t read it?
It’s a fast-moving, dark fantasy about searching for a lost sibling, featuring a knight that can turn into a swan, mysterious golden messengers, car chases, demi-gods and a giant snake made out of shadows. And lots of other things.
What’s your favourite scene in the book?
The second chapter, where the hero, Simon, meets a golden woman on a deer with irridescent, peacock-like wings, for the first time. I wanted to create a sense of warmth and mystery and excitement.
What was the most fun to write? What was the hardest chapter or scene to write?
It was all very enjoyable to write: the pain comes in the editing. The first chapter, in which Simon wishes his sister away, went through several edits; so much so that I began to think I might never finish it. So definitely that one.
What were your favourite books when you were young? Have any of them influenced The Broken King?
I loved T H White’s The Once and Future King, a cycle of Arthurian stories, and I think some of that has definitely found its way into The Broken King: the Knight of the Swan, for instance. In the second book we’ll see more of these knights, about which I am very excited.
Can you tell us about the poem that inspired the book? What other poems would you really recommend to young readers?
Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” is a rather extraordinary piece of work: it takes its inspiration from a line in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, spoken by Edgar when he’s disguised as the madman Poor Tom. It’s a poem about a quest for the Dark Tower – only we don’t know why the knight is doing it, simply that many have tried and failed before (including Giles and Cuthbert – hence Giles Cuthbertson in The Broken King.) It’s a hugely atmospheric poem which manages to create tension out of stasis; and I have always been fascinated by the idea of the Dark Tower, as many writers before me have. It looms in the collective mind, frightening yet enthralling.
With Browning, I would recommend “My Last Duchess” to young readers, a poem about a very sinister Duke.
Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to be a writer? Read, observe, listen, practise. I think, especially today, what with the proliferation of writing courses and even degrees, that people view “writing” as something that can be not only taught, but learned and then used professionally. Some of these things may be true, but it’s more complicated than that.
If you have an urge to write, or find it easy to write, then now is no better time than to hone your skills: look at what people say and what they do; think about how people behave and why they behave in those ways. Stories can be found anywhere and everywhere: look around your classroom and there will be hundreds of stories. The writer’s job is to find them, tease them out and make them accessible and interesting to the reader. Remember that: writers have readers.
Chelsey Flood interviews Philip Womack:
This interview was conducted for First Story.Philip Womack was born in a thunderstorm in 1981 in Chichester. He was educated at Lancing and Oriel, Oxford, and is the author of two children’s fantasy novels, The Other Book and The Liberators. He is currently working on a number of projects. Incidentally, according to Tatler, he is Byronically handsome and giggles like a schoolgirl.
First of all, how old are you?
I am as old as the sun. In other words, I am thirty. Just.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer, yes, but since grown ups spend most of their time telling you a) that you can’t be a writer because it’s not economically viable and b) that you need experience to be a writer, I thought I wanted to be other things as well. A diplomat, when I was quite small; I even trained as a lawyer (for about five minutes) when I left university. I think the answer to that question is that I always was a writer and whatever else I did I would have written. I wrote my first story when I was four, which was, I think, about a mouse chasing a cat, although it has since been lost to posterity.
When did you start writing?
When I was about eight or nine I embarked on an epic story about armies of pixies fighting squirrels. I kid you not. I didn’t get very far. It sort of ate itself. I wrote it on a computer with a green screen. That’s how old I am. I basically was always writing one thing or another, whether it was creative writing pieces in school, or some kind of grander project which inevitably came to nothing. I do not mourn the loss of my vampire novel, written when I was a feverish fourteen year old.
What/who are your favourite books/writers?
Ah, that trickiest of questions. Hmmm. I love Philip Sidney, an Elizabethan who wrote one of the first novels. More recently, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley. I’ve recently become a massive fan of the novelist Henry Green. Contemporary writers that I admire are Edward St Aubyn, HIlary Mantel, Claire Messud and Julia Leigh, amongst others. Favourite books include King Lear, but there are too many really.
What kind of thing do you write?
I’ve written two fantasy novels for older children. The Other Book concerned a, well, magic book that the evil Lady Anne was hellbent on retrieving from the hero, Edward Pollock. The idea behind it was that books and children have a very special relationship, and that it’s quite hard to distinguish fantasy and reality when you’re young. My second, The Liberators, discussed freedom, set against the backdrop of a chaotic London, in which the young Ivo Moncrieff had to stop a sinister cult hell bent on removing people’s consciences and turning the world into a nightmare. Yay! I try to weave some kind of subtle message into the plot.
If you write in different mediums, which is your favourite? Why?
I am a fervid book reviewer for many papers; at the moment it’s mostly The Daily Telegraph. I do enjoy crafting a good review – you can often, even in such short and sadly neglected pieces, discuss interesting and profound themes. And you can make jokes. Sometimes.
Can we read any of your work online? Can we see you perform anywhere anytime soon?
Ummm…. I have a weblog ( I hate the word blog). Most of my reviews are posted on the papers’ websites. I am currently obsessing slightly over Tumblr. I’m doing a chat about The Liberators in Cranleigh at the end of April.
How did you get your book deal?
In the most serendipitous way possible. I was walking down Piccadilly in the rain, when I bumped into a girl I hadn’t seen for a while; she asked me down to Dorset for the weekend. Also staying there was a girl who worked at Bloomsbury. She asked me about my book and I said it wasn’t ready; she asked me to send it in anyway. The rest is history.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
Never wear red ties on a Tuesday.
Advice is hard to give as it’s so difficult, every writer’s path is different. I think the best thing I can say is learn how to criticise your own writing. Read, learn, observe, develop. You can’t be a writer in isolation.
Philip Womack is the author of two children’s books. His first, The Other Book (Bloomsbury, 2008), a tale of a boy battling dark forces trying to take over his school met with great praise and saw him proclaimed as “the next JK Rowling.” The Liberators (Bloomsbury, 2010), his second, is a superbly fast-paced thriller about a boy named Ivo Moncrieff who, after being passed a mysterious object by a stranger, discovers a terrifying plot that will descend London into chaos.Although Womack had been gestating the idea of The Other Book for a long time it wasn’t until he went to law school that he had time to begin writing the story. “At law school I hated it so much that I had a lot of time between lectures when I was meant to be doing law and actually I ended up writing this book,” he laughs. It is at this point I discover the wonderfully organic way in which Womack’s writing career started, “I was just doing it for fun because I thought I was going to be a lawyer.”
Womack’s face lights up as he notices my copies of his books. His enthusiasm seems only a little dampened as he discusses the editorial process of publishing a children’s book, “The problem I have with children’s books is that publishers have an idea of what a children’s book should be and if you don’t fit into that category then you’re out, and actually I think that’s quite damaging and limiting.” He describes how one scene was cut from The Other Book that he felt was “innocuous and innocent.” What does he think about this type of censorship that takes place in children’s literature? “Publishers can sometimes be distant from what children like reading, or thinking about, or doing, so that in their mind they have an idea of what a child is like but actually it doesn’t always measure up to what a child wants to read.”
It is this interesting discussion about what is appropriate in children’s literature that prompts me to ask him if he feels that children’s literature has a role, and if so, what it is. “That’s a really good question,” he says, “By reading about these things you come to learn about them. I really don’t like children’s books that have issues – that try to preach. Children don’t like being preached to. I’d like to think it was only to make children think about the world, to encourage them to think about the world they live in.”
Philip Womack is an author whose enthusiasm for writing and literature is infectious. He leans forward eagerly as he describes his new book, “It’s about a school that gets besieged by fundamentalist, ecological terrorists. Inside the school there’s this being called Cave that gets hold of one of the boys and starts sending him messages. It’s all very exciting but I can’t tell you any more.”
As Womack departs I am left with the sense that he is a writer who has a great deal to offer the world of literature. His first two books may have already earned him rave reviews but upon witnessing his genuine enthusiasm and love for creating stories there is the undeniable feeling that there is more superb work to come. I ask him if he has any more ideas for future projects and he replies, “I always have ideas, I wake up in the morning and I have an idea for a book.” It sounds like we have a lot to look forward to.