Today, we’re delighted to host an exclusive Q&A with The Billionare’s Curse author Richard Newsome!
Good question. A lot comes down to how you define ‘successful’. A middle grade book that adults consider a classic and life changing and a ‘must read’ may be an absolute clunker in the eyes of your average middle grade reader. The book may tackle a difficult but worthy theme, the writing may flow like Shakespeare reincarnate, the characters may have an arc the size of Sydney Harbour Bridge … but if the Middle Grade reader can’t get beyond the first chapter without their eyes rolling into the back of their skull, then what’s the point? I used to work as a newspaper journalist. One of the greatest crimes that some journalists commit, and it is a crime committed every day, is they forget who is reading their articles. They write for their peers, not the person at the news stand. They write to impress other journalists. And their stories and their perspective suffer. Some middle grade authors are guilty of the same sin. They write to impress other authors, or librarians, or prize judges, and along the way the intended reader gets forgotten.
I think a successful middle grade novel must first and foremost be readable by middle grade kids. Everything else – the worthy theme, the character development, the stunning use of language – has to be secondary. That’s not to say that stuff isn’t important. It’s just secondary.
Middle grade can be such a murky moniker, lurking somewhere between children’s lit and YA. What do you think defines middle grade?
If your lead male character still prefers baseball to girls, then you’re in middle grade, my friend. It’s all about life on the cusp. About transitions. About security in the present and uncertainty in the future. It’s where friendships are first tested, and sometimes found wanting. It’s where the simple things are often the most important things. It’s where a broken arm isn’t a tragedy but part of the adventure. It’s a time of wonder, of first freedoms, of staying up later than you’ve ever been allowed before. It’s about failing. And trying again. It’s the first glimpse through the window of life and knowing with every ounce of spirit in your bones that there’s something amazing on the other side. And you have this one special friend, ready to explore it all with you.
Why write middle grade?
Middle grade is the most important time at school. In your first years it’s all about knowing where the bathrooms are and how to write ‘3’ the right way around. In the senior years it’s all test stress and pimples. But in the middle grade, that’s when you learn about life. They are the golden years. I loved middle grade and when I’m writing I am writing a book that my 11-year-old self would enjoy. It’s the time when good reading habits are formed. I love that for some kids, my books are now part of their habit.
This is me in my school uniform when I was 11. I wrote my first book a year later, as part of an English assignment.
Give us your Twitter sales pitch: convince us to read Archer Legacy in 140 characters or less!
For Gerald Wilkins, being the richest kid in the world has its advantages – being the centre of a global murder mystery is not one of them.
I’ve heard you have lots of interesting stories about the world travels you’ve done while researching all three books in the Archer Legacy series. What’s the strangest/coolest story from your travels?
Some fun stuff happened in Greece when researching the Mask of Destiny, including trekking three hours up a mountainside to find an ancient set of caves used for wild parties 2000 years ago. But if you want interesting stories, you’ve got to go to India. It is the most extraordinary destination. I had a great experience researching The Emerald Casket and regretted I didn’t have time to see more of the country. I won’t go into full detail, but it involved a 43-hour train trip in 110 degree heat, no air conditioning and no seat. I was crammed into a sleeper carriage with more people than attended my wedding. And along the way I got adopted by a troop of female National Army Cadets who were on their way to a leadership camp. They couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Hindi but with a bit of sign language we got along. And to pass the time on this very long trip, they sang songs to me. It was so surreal, being serenaded by a bunch of teenagers in army fatigues as we traversed the spine of India. It was a total highlight, and I included aspects of that journey in the book.
On a related note … what’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten during your travels?
India. A little fishing town in the south. A restaurant where no one spoke English. I walked in, they took one look at me and bustled me through a room filled with families enjoying amazing smelling food, and into a room off to the side. For one. There were a dozen tables, it was air conditioned, and I was the only one there. A waiter came by and handed me a menu. It was all in Hindi. I looked through the window in the door, back to the main part of the restaurant, and did a little mime that said ‘I’ll have what they’re having.’ He shrugged, and came back a minute later with two stainless steel buckets. One was filled with orange-coloured stuff and one was filled with green-coloured stuff. He filled a plate with rice, tipped on a scoop of orange and then a scoop of green. Topped me up with naan bread (flat and round) and left me to it. No cutlery so I mimicked what the people were doing next door. Fingers. Tear off some bread, scoop it high with rice, add some green stuff, some orange stuff and top with mango chutney. Explosive. Wild. I have no idea what it was. There was probably spinach involved. But it was totally delicious.
Not everyone can afford to travel around the world, but that’s the magic of reading! In many ways, a book can transport you anywhere you can imagine … what is your favorite “destination” that you’ve “visited” in a book?
There are so many. Middle Earth in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The Mississippi in Huck Finn. The restaurant at the end of the universe in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. England ‘between the wars’ in all of Evelyn Waugh’s books. Really, there’s nothing better than scratching around in a writer’s brain to see the world through their eyes.
I noticed in your bio that you’ve done a lot of work in journalism, which is my “day job.” So as one journalist to another … why is it so satisfying to escape the real world in fiction?
Those pesky facts! They get in the way in journalism. I remember drafting my first book and feeling frustrated that a scene wasn’t going the way I wanted. Then I had a revelation. I wasn’t writing an article. I was writing fiction. I could just make up stuff. It was the single most liberating experience of my professional life.
Private concert: who’s playing
We’re in a tiny bar in New York. Tom Waites is at the piano, with an opening set played exclusively from his Small Change album. From a backroom, Bruce Springsteen emerges, with an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. He opens with Thunder Road and keeps on going. Then from the audience he calls up Eric Clapton, Cyndi Lauper, Australian song writing legend Paul Kelly and New Zealand pop genius Neil Finn. The barman throws us all out at dawn.
Turkish pizza from Neffi’s in Dee Why, Sydney. Minced lamb, tomatoes, sumac, pine nuts and natural yoghurt. Mwah!
Book you can’t stop re-reading?
To Kill a Mockingbird. The only book I finished then immediately flipped over and read again, just to see how she did it. I still can’t figure it out. It works on so many levels.
Living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with?
Anyone who could tell a good story. Mark Twain would make a fair dining companion. Or Marco Polo.
It would have to include some adventure. A trip to the Galapagos islands would be a good start.
Look at your desk right now. Name five things within reach.
1. My spiral-bound notebook that contains the first draft of my next book, scribbled in pencil. If I lose that, I lose everything.
2. My lucky pencil. It’s a mechanical pencil that just feels right in the hand. I used it to write The Mask of Destiny, and an identical one to write The Billionaire’s Curse and The Emerald Casket.
3. A toy truck from when I was five years old. I found it a few months ago and whenever I look at it, it makes me smile.
4. A little wooden painted duck, a present from a South Korean friend.
5. The torn cover from Shel Silverstein’s A Giraffe and a Half, that I’ve been meaning to stick back in place but for some reason I never get around to doing it.
Thanks again for stopping by, Richard! Be sure to check out his website and explore his books, starting with The Billionaire’s Curse:
Gerald Wilkins never considered himself a particularly exceptional thirteen-year-old. But that was before he inherited twenty billion pounds, a Caribbean island, a yacht, and three estates from a great-aunt he never knew. With this fortune, however, comes a letter. One from his great-aunt Geraldine. One that tells Gerald that she was murdered, and that it’s up to him to find out why.
Along with his friends Ruby and Sam, Gerald embarks on a journey that will lead him from the British Museum to dodgy social clubs for the disgustingly rich to mansions in the English countryside to secret places far underground. Who was Geraldine Archer? And what secrets was she hiding? Unless Gerald, Sam, and Ruby can find out before the killer does, they may be next.