The author of the smash-hit Fizzelbert Stump series of books is from Reading .. and he’s just released his latest children’s tale, The Imaginary. We caught up with AF Harrold to find out where his inspirations come from in this amazing interview.
You do write for adults but you seem to be able to get into the minds of children in a special way. How do you do that?
I don’t know if it’s true I get into anyone’s mind in a special way. In fact I think books work the other way round: it’s up to the reader to insert their mind into what are just, at the end of the day, a string of words. So, being read by interested readers helps, and fortunately a lot of children are interested. But then again, so are adults, often.
When does an idea become a poem and when does it become something longer such as a novel?
Most ideas probably work best in poems – poems are places specially built to house an idea or two. A novel needs more than ideas, it needs a story and some characters and a beginning and a middle and an end. Poems on the other hand can be just one of those things, or just two. They are the lit windows you glimpse something through as you walk down the winter road (or so I say while thinking of an Elizabeth Jennings poem called Curtains Undrawn); writing a novel means you have to open the door and go in the house and talk to the people in there and find out how their day’s been and what their plans are for tomorrow.
You do performance work and poetry slams etc which is very interactive with people but you must spend long periods reading or writing when you must be on your own. Do you have a preference and does one help or inform the other?
There are few things as much fun as going out and performing, but you can’t do it if you’ve nothing to perform, so the writing business is a necessary prerequisite. Poems, especially the ‘funny’ ones, get tried out in live situations; by speaking them a lot, you learn the stresses and patterns and which words should be cut. A lot of the drafting happens in public, for some poems. (On the other hand, there are poems whose place is on the page, who don’t have this public audition, instead they suffer the same repeated critical performance to an audience of one in my study.)
However, so long as you keep going to new places, you don’t need to write an awful lot. And sometimes writing is hard and head-banging-against-a-wall-ly frustrating, so it’s nice to be able to go and have a bath and read something someone else has written already. Sometime writing works and is fun and there’s no need to leave the desk. But at the end of the day, it all needs to be done, so you get on and do it.
You live in Reading now, have you always lived here?
I grew up in Horsham, in West Sussex, and came to Reading in the autumn of 1993 to study philosophy at the university. One way or another I ended up staying and have been here ever since. At the time I stayed because it was more interesting than Horsham (big record shops, a big bookshop), now I stay because it’s home.
You use humour in your work, is this a conscious effort or an extension of your personality?
I use humour, yes, but I also use not-humour in some places. Both things exist in the world of our normal, common-or-garden interactions with one another. Even in the most serious of corners of our lives there are absurdities, perhaps especially there. It would be wrong to exclude them. While the Fizzlebert Stump books are fairly straightforward comedy-adventures, The Imaginary is a more serious book, ‘about’ some serious events in these people’s lives, but even there there are funny moments because that’s the way the world works.
Would you rather write for children or grown-ups?
I would rather write for me. So, both.
The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and illustrated by Emily Gravett is published by Bloomsbury in hardback, £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-4088-5246-0