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Firstly, we would like to thank Tom for his excellent interview skills, and his willingness to answer some of our probing questions!

Tom Huddleston is the author of The Waking World. A novel set in a post-apocalyptic future, with a fantastic twist on the classic tale of Arthur. We loved this title, watch this space for a brilliant review!

IAPH: How long did it take you to write The Waking World?

Tom: The first draft took 6 weeks. The process of getting the book published – which entailed major and very necessary rewrites – took 8 long, frustrating years.

IAPH: Did you spend a long time plotting and planning the story and how useful was the mythology in the planning stages?

Tom: I always plan my story out chapter by chapter before I start writing. But I like to leave a certain amount of room to surprise myself, to let unexpected things happen.

I probably should’ve spent longer on the world-building process when I wrote the first draft of ‘The Waking World’. I had the basic idea of Aran’s world in my head, but getting it down on paper was another matter. A large part of the rewriting process was about making that world come to life, making it feel real, lived-in. It was all about the finer details – the history of Hawk’s Cross, the naming of the moons, all that came quite late in the process.

And if by ‘the mythology’ you mean the Arthur stories, they were nothing but helpful. They gave the book a structure. But I tried not to focus on that aspect too much, it was just a framework on which to hang my own characters and my own ideas. I didn’t want to just retell the old legends, I wanted there to be an element of mystery and surprise.

IAPH: Other than the legends of King Arthur what were your main influences?

Tom: Oh, too many to mention. I’ve spent the past week writing a series of blogs listing all the books, movies and music that helped to inspire ‘The Waking World’. But if I had to pick one element, I’d say the teenage fantasy and historical novels of the ’60s and ’70s. These were the books my sister and I read as kids: authors like Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliffe, John Christopher, Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones, and loads more. They had adventure and magic and mystery, but there was more to them somehow – a sense of mysticism and wonder, a lot of honest, tough emotion, and a real, tangible connection to the landscape. You could see and feel every rock, every tree.

IAPH: What next after this first novel, will you write more about Aran? Could this series run and run?

Tom: Without a doubt. The first draft of book two is already finished – it’s called ‘The World Below’. It’s quite a different book from ‘The Waking World’ – a bit moodier, a bit more intense, but still packed with action. I have four books sketched out, but by the end of them Aran will still be a teenager, so there’s no reason why it couldn’t keep going.

IAPH: What made you decide to write a King Arthur fantasy tale set in the future?

Tom: I honestly can’t remember. It started with a single image that just popped into my head one day – of a boy in the woods, in the snow, stumbling across the rusted wreck of a car and having no idea what it was. Then I remember reading ‘The Once and Future King’ and thinking great, but what about the Future part?

There was a point at which I considered making it a sci-fi story, keeping the Arthurian element but setting it in a hi-tech future, perhaps during an alien invasion. I still think there’s a great book in there, and I hope someone writes it one of these days. But in the end I came back to this simpler idea, which was closer to my heart. I could set it in the places where I grew up, I could draw on all those folklorish fantasy books that I loved, I could make it about nature rather than technology. It was more me, somehow. I do have a beard, after all.

IAPH: What are the main challenges that you found you faced while reinventing a mythological story in a futuristic context?

Tom: Well I cheated a bit by taking my future world back to the past. The world Aran lives in is closer to the ‘real’ Arthurian time than it is to today. Though that may change in future books…

IAPH: Do you feel it is important for today’s young readers to engage with mythological material such as the Arthurian Cycle?

Tom: Important? Probably not. Fun? Definitely. One of the things that’s interesting about the Arthur myth is that it’s relatively free of valuable life lessons. If you read ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, people are really quite horrible to each other – they’re forever chopping each other’s heads off and stealing each other’s land and women. They’re great tales, but I don’t think anyone should use them as a guide for living.

IAPH: Who are your favourite authors now? Do you read a lot of Fantasy?

Tom: I still read a lot, but I tend to just pick up whatever’s in front of me. I work for a magazine which runs book reviews, so there’s always piles of books to rifle through and pull out something interesting. My favourite authors are all the old, dead ones: Thomas Hardy, Mervyn Peake, John Steinbeck, JRR Tolkein. I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ every couple of years, it’s my comfort book. It’s a world I can completely escape into when the real world isn’t behaving itself.

To be honest, I haven’t read all that much fantasy. But recently I’ve got into George RR Martin (who hasn’t?). I was a latecomer, I only started reading the books because I watched the first series of ‘Game of Thrones’ and was desperate to find out what happened next. So I bought all the books, read them, then went straight back to the beginning and read them again. His world-building is just staggering, the level of detail is far beyond anything I could imagine creating.

But there are a couple of weird coincidental parallels between ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and ‘The Waking World’. We both use the word Crakehall, which is a pretty odd word to randomly use. And he has that wonderful line ‘stick ‘em with the pointy end’, whereas I have ‘the pointy end goes in the other person’, which isn’t quite as snappy. But all this stuff happened completely accidentally, before I’d ever heard of the man.

IAPH: What do you think of the current trends in teen fiction; dystopia, zombies etc? Is Fantasy set to make a comeback with the popularity of The Hobbit? And Game of Thrones?

Tom: I think fantasy – and sci-fi, and crime, and genre fiction in general – is finally becoming less of a dirty word. People are starting to realise that there’s as much drama and emotion and insight in a good fantasy novel as there is in some hi-falutin’ ‘serious’ work of literature, plus there’s a lot more fun to be had along the way. Overall, I think this is a great thing – it’s democratic, and it allows for an academic discussion of books which would once have been dismissed as trash. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series and even the later ‘Harry Potter’ movies have had a lot to do with this –they each treated their subjects with the absolute seriousness they deserved. People aren’t embarrassed to read fantasy any more, and the film adaptations don’t need to have that ‘wink-wink, we know this is all a bit silly’ side to them.

IAPH: Do you think books like yours which focus on adventure, heroism and friendship can encourage teenage boys to read? How can we drag them away from video games?

Tom: Honestly, I don’t know a great deal about what boys enjoy. The only boy I spend any time with is my 8-year-old nephew, and he loves to read and be read to (though that may have something to do with the fact that my sister won’t have a games console in the house). I’d love it if boys found my book gripping, and I know it’s the kind of thing my 13-year-old self would have really enjoyed. But if they prefer to spend their time shooting zombies, that’s fair enough.

IAPH: What’s the best writing advice, guide or technique that works for you?

Tom: I’ve never done a writing course or anything like that. I had inspiring, encouraging English teachers at school and an experienced, knowledgeable, editor in the final stages of rewriting ‘The Waking World’. It’s from them that I learned all the basics.

Someone once asked me how I managed to write a book. And I thought about it, and finally I said, well, I started at the beginning, and then I didn’t stop until I got to the end. Obviously it’s not as simple as that, but I do think the real trick is to just keep writing. Don’t get distracted, don’t get disheartened, don’t worry that whatever you’re writing is rubbish, because first time round it probably will be (mine was). Just get the words down, and know that you’ll always be able to go back and make it better. When you do come to read back over it, you’ll find it really wasn’t that bad in the first place.

Thanks Tom!

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