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Matt Whyman is a best selling author and agony uncle for Bliss Magazine and BBC Radio 1's The Surgery with Aled. He has written widely for adults and teenagers, across a range of subjects, including two recent comic memoirs My Life with Minipigs and Walking with Sausage Dogs. His previous YA books include Boy Kills Man, The Wild and Inside the Cage.
Matt is married with four children and lives in West Sussex.
A Q&A with the Author
What inspires your writing? Everything from comic books to videogames and real life in between. The idea for The Savages came from cutting back on the food budget last year, and feeding my children only well-planned vegetarian dishes without telling them – knowing there would be objections and an uprising. As a result, there was a surprise upswing in appreciation of my cooking, until I revealed the truth. It got me thinking about the consequences of what we eat and why, as well as food factions from vegans to, well… cannibals.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career so far? In 2004, I wrote a novel called Boy Kills Man, set in one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia. I didn’t visit the country, but a lot of people assumed I had, and that I was some kind of super brave traveller. Thanks to that book, I was invited to host creative writing workshops for the British Council across Russia and the Middle East, and visited Uganda with Action Aid as part of the Make Poverty History campaign. It was an incredible experience, hair-raising at times, but it would never have happened without that book.
How did you first become an author? I turned to writing as a frustrated film production graduate. I was fed up with the fact that the ideas in my head never translated onto the screen very well, due to no budget and rubbish actor friends. A tutor suggested I give up telling stories that way and just keep it simple. All I needed, he said, was a sheet of paper, a pen, some time and imagination, and I could create a story with convincing characters that could cost millions to film, but without costing me a penny. As a poor graduate, that appealed to me greatly! Twenty five books later, that advice is still fresh in my mind every time I sit down to write.
What are you reading right now? I’ve just finished The Ritual by Adam Nevill – a supernatural horror set in the ancient forests of Norway. It reads as if James Herbert had written Deliverance. For years, every morning on the cusp of sunrise, I have walked my dogs in the woodland behind our house. Not any more.
What was your earliest career aspiration? Unlike my friends, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do. As a result, I flunked out after my A-levels and got a job in a factory as a ‘wireman’ due to a misunderstanding about my surname. It was some years later before I realised that I needed to focus if I wanted to do something with my life.
What advice would you give to budding writers? Writing is a pleaure so long as you’re not dependent on it for survival (I’m an advice columnist as well as a novelist). My advice is to set your sights on another career, and do what you love in your spare time. It takes away all the pressure, and allows you to write to the best of your abilities.
What was your favourite childhood book? A relative once gave me a copy of Struwwelpeter, which I’ll never forget. To those who are unfamiliar with the book, it’s a classic German collection of cautionary fables that is TOTALLY DISTURBING and ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. The tale about what happens to a boy who fails to cut his nails – it doesn’t end well - and the consequences for the girl who plays with matches –ditto - gave me nightmares. I loved every word.
Where is your favourite place to write? When I first started writing, I used to need complete silence and solitude to get anything done. Today, with four feisty kids to look after, I’m quite capable of pushing on happily even if they’re screaming and fighting with each other on the other side of the door. The only time I’m drawn away is to cook their tea or if one of them is bleeding from their injuries. Even then it has to life-threatening.
How do you read- print, digitally or both? I have to confess that I don’t read all the time. I much prefer to switch off watching a movie, playing a videogame or spending time with friends and family. It means the only writing I really come across is my own, which helps to focus on the book I’m working on at the time.
Who do you most admire? In the early 1990’s, living in Bristol and working part time in a call centre to fund my writing, I was on my way to my shift one dreary afternoon when I bumped into…. Mohammed Ali. This heavyweight boxing legend, and one of the world’s most famous sport stars, had arrived early at a bookstore for a signing, and was standing alone looking at some shelves in the sports section. I caught his eye, stopped dead in shock, and he beckoned me over. Unable to speak without difficulty, being in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Ali then performed a simple coin trick for me, though I was already spellbound. It was a truly magical moment, one my shift workers failed to believe, but the bookshop staff backed me up when I returned to ask if it had really happened. Ever since then, I look back on that moment and feel like I bumped into a figurehead from history.
Are there any books you wish you had written? I believe as a writer you should only ever be in competition with yourself. So, I admire lots of books but don’t envy the authors for writing them. I just aim to do the best I can with every word I write – and will continue to tinker with a manuscript right up to the second it’s signed off. It drives my copy editors barmy!
Bestselling Matt Whyman’s new story about the Savage family is both as hilarious and as dark as the original. The Savage family are as regular and normal as any other family. Except in one important particular. And that is in what they eat. Now the Savages are in the USA, a country with larger meals which is a big help. But they still need to disguise their very particular appetites. To do so, the Savages set up a vegan café – about as far from their own desires as possible. But will they succeed in keeping their secret hidden?
Families! They come in all kinds. While the Savages, with their neat-as-a-pin house and immaculately turned out children, might seem very much the same as any other family, they are actually completely different. When Angelica starts going out with a new boyfriend, like many other teenagers, she is sure that her parents will disapprove. When she tells them he is a vegetarian, she knows she was right to worry! Matt Whyman tells a dark story with terrific humour and verve.