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Dan Tunstall Q&A
What is Big and Clever all about?
The main theme of Big and Clever is how it feels to be left out and isolated, and to have no sense of shared identity with other people, when you desperately want to belong. And it's about the extreme lengths people will go to to fit in, to be accepted, to gain a shared identity and to get the self-esteem that comes with the feeling of belonging.
The central characters in Big and Clever, 14 year old lads called Tom and Raks, find themselves getting tangled up in the world of football hooliganism as a means of establishing themselves in a hostile school environment where they had previously been invisible nobodies. Once they're involved, they find it very hard to get back out again, because they suddenly have an elevated place in the school pecking order that's totally new to them and that they are reluctant to give up. The book deals with the concept of the glamour of violence, and the way that gaining power and status by violent means can become addictive.
What has been the response to Big and Clever when you have visited schools?
I have been really encouraged by the positive response to Big and Clever. If I have any sort of manifesto for my writing, then it's to be accessible to kids who might otherwise think books are not for them. I call my writing "Meat and two veg fiction", and by this I mean that it is intended to be unpretentious and straightforward and to touch on the interests and issues that are important to teenagers today. I steer well clear of moralising and teaching lessons and just try to write about real people in real situations. Hopefully the favourable response I've been getting indicates that kids are able to relate to the characters in my writing.
Do you think that kids in 2010 face the same sorts of pressures that you faced when you were a teenager?
I don't think that teenagers in 2010 face a totally different set of problems and pressures to those I experienced at a similar stage in my life. Obviously mobile phones and social networking sites have had an impact in terms of drawing people closer to one another, sometimes in unwanted ways, but the basic facts of secondary school life remain pretty similar. The teenage years can seem like a minefield at times, and the kids who come through unscathed are the ones who have the strongest sense of who they are and where they fit into the hierarchy.
Why did you want to be a writer?
I was first drawn to writing as a kid, and saw it as a logical progression from reading - just saying to myself, "I can do that". Writing is something I've always enjoyed, and something I'd be doing in one form or another whether or not I was getting work into print. I like the process of creating things, and find it relaxing and therapeutic. Obviously I've drawn encouragement from the favourable feedback I've received over the past couple of years when I've really made the effort to get myself published. My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a writing career is just to go for it. Read lots and write lots. Like all skills, the more you practice, the better you get.
What other projects have you got in the pipeline?
I'm working on another Young Adult book for Five Leaves, called Out Of Towners, scheduled to be published in Spring 2011. At the moment my agent Penny Luithlen, my editor Ross Bradshaw and I are revising, redrafting and generally polishing-up until we're satisfied that it's ready to go. I've got a short book called Big Brother coming soon from Barrington Stoke Books, and a story called Last Man In is going to be included in an anthology for Walker Books, How To Be A Boy.
This is a modern, gritty and thrilling morality tale about belonging and about loyalty. It brilliant captures teen life as it really exists in so many places up and down the country. With a spine-tingling intensity it reveals just what life is like for a teen boy when family life doesn’t exist and to get noticed he feels the need to be bad along with the likes of ‘Asbo boy’, Ryan. But at what cost? Shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2010 Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Publications says: "I was drawn to Big and Clever because it did not offer any easy solutions. The main football hooligan is a bright lad, well read and those who follow in his wake are decent teenagers too. We spent a lot of time trying to get the ending right, to give the reader the right to decide what happens next to the two main characters. To give readers something to talk about."
Mikey's trainers are box-fresh Nikes. They're as white as new snow. White leather, white laces, white soles. But something on the right shoe catches my eye. It's a tiny circle. The size of a five-pence piece. It's bright, bright red. Blood. Matt's on his way home from a Saturday afternoon shopping in town. His mum sends a text to check if he's okay, as there's been a stabbing in Renton. When a strange boy takes the seat next to him on the bus, Matt starts to wonder if he might have had something to do with it... *Help Key Stage 3 students move from Level 3b to Level 3a in reading. *Support comprehension with the atmospheric, age-appropriate illustrations. *Encourage shared and guided reading using the ready-made tasks and discussion points on the activity pages at the back of the book.
Andy is a troubled teenager. Fighting is the only thing he's good at, it gives him his reputation, and he does a lot of it - so much that he's going to be expelled and dumped if he can't change his ways. The Head suggests a boxing club, but Andy reckons boxing is for wusses ... until he's knocked out in his first match by a kid half his size. Now Andy faces losing his reputation at school - and that's about all he has left. Will boxing be Andy's doom, or his salvation? Highly readable, exciting books that take the struggle out of reading, Wired Up encourages and supports reading practice by providing gripping, age-appropriate stories for struggling and reluctant readers, or those with English as an additional language, aged 11+, at a manageable length (80 pages) and reading level (9+). Produced in association with reading experts at CatchUp, a charity which aims to address underachievement caused by literacy and numeracy difficulties.