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Sean Wright



e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sean Wright is the author of the Jesse Jameson series for young readers, fantasy stories that have been bestsellers in Britain, despite coming from a small independent publisher. On his website, the author tells us that he envisioned 'a heroine who amazingly discovers as the story unfolds that she can transform into any creature she can imagine'. After young Jesse discovers that she's a changeling from the Fairy Kingdoms, life is never the same, indeed it turns into a roller coaster adventure for her. A common theme in her adventures has Jesse 'rescuing loved ones abducted by insane witches'. So far, Sean Wright has released Jesse Jameson and the Golden Glow, Jesse Jameson and the Bogie Beast, and Jesse Jameson and the Curse of Caldazar. This multi-talented author does his own artwork - both colorful covers and delightful black and white sketches of magical and monstrous creatures scattered through his books.

Q: Where did your young heroine come from? Is she modelled on anyone you know?

A: The character's name is based on the Wild West Jesse James, of Frank and Jesse notoriety. As a child I was a bit obsessed with the James brothers and Billy the Kid. Of course, the Jesse Jameson of my books is a girl with a boy's name. I liked the idea of that. Girls never seemed tough enough in children's fiction. The boys did the fighting and the girls stood by applauding or swooning or something. That sounds terribly stereo-typical, but it isn't meant to. I wanted to reverse the gender roles (hence Jesse's sidekick, Jake Briggs is such a limp cowardly kid). As the Jesse Jameson series progresses we see Jesse becoming tougher mentality and physically as she learns to use her magic/gifts with more discernment.

Q: Your parallel world of Fairy Kingdoms seems to be one where its creator's imagination runs wild. Do you think that's the appeal for kids, the lack of limits in how far from reality it can get?

A: That's kind of you to say that my imagination runs wild. I like that idea of freedom in writing. But of course even parallel worlds have their boundaries and limits, rules if you like. Without limits, either in the setting or the characters themselves, then there would be little conflict, or no problems to solve. It's crucial to have problems to solve in fiction - especially children's fiction where the average attention span is growing shorter and shorter. Like most kids, I think the appeal of breaking free from everyday physical restrictions is an appealing idea. Without that I think creative writing would be rather mundane and frankly ... boring.

Q: Your monsters are truly monstrous and your witches unrelentingly evil. Where do all these nasties come from? Do you read horror, or are you prone to nightmares?

A: Thanks. That makes me feel like I've achieved something there. Monstrous monsters and witches of unrelenting evil is a common theme in my books. Some authors talk up the dark characters in their books, but very few in children's fiction deliver the goods between the pages.

In a way, I feel, I am mirroring some of the darker aspects of the world in which we live. Terror and terrorist seem to be somewhere near the fore of most people's minds over the past few years. The Bogie Beast and his many brainwashed children gathered around him in caves and caverns - a subterranean city - is a familiar media portrayal, or was at the time of writing, of Bin Laden. So that's where one of my nasties comes from. The Driths (a race of evil witches and warlocks) come from childhood fears of witches and vampires. At night, all alone in my bed, covers tucked up around my neck, shadows dancing on the wall, street lamps casting strange luminous glows, yes I got very scared in my imaginings. The nighttime is a very scary time for young children. Sleeping with the light on? Afraid of the Boogie Man under the bed? Every creak and groan sounding like some-one prowling through the house?

I read a lot of horror. It's my biggest literary influence. Stephen King, Clive Barker and Ray Bradbury, a subtle master of horror, are my favourites, the ones I return to most. But Britain's Ramsey Campbell and the late August Derleth have made massive contributions to horror, pushing borders and boundaries of what is acceptable in their own time. Campbell still does stretch the horror borders. So, yes, you can tell I was weaned on the horror genre as a teenager. Like most kids, I liked to be spooked.


Q: Do you write before you sketch scenes, or sketch before you write? Which is stronger, the visual or the textual?

A: It's all to do with character for me. The situations arise from the characters, the combinations of characters, their motivations, fears, hopes, loves, hates and so on. Creating memorable characters is everything. Of course, telling the story is also important. I see the characters and the problems they have to solve in my head very clearly. I was a songwriter with Buddy Holly's publisher Peer Southern in the mid-eighties, and so words and text are very important to me. It's my background, if you like. Ray Bradbury and Ramsey Campbell are very poetic, lyrical, but their writing can be very scary. They have a unique take on what they see. Horror exists all around us in their books. I'd like to think that it exists in mine, too. But not because I want to terrify people for terror's sake. No, to my mind horror books help us confront, stand up to, purge our fears.

Q: You keep your characters busy rushing from one cliffhanger to another. Do you get as much of an adrenaline rush when you write these scenes as your readers have reading them?

A: Aha, the cliffhanger. Yes, I love that. You know, I was talking to my seventy year old father the other day and he said my books reminded him of the Flash Gordon cliffhangers of his childhood. He'd go every Saturday to the matinee showing at the local cinema to get his next fix of the 'flicks'. Cliffhangers were a way to get the kids back in the seats the next week, but also in my own work I like the 'oh, my God, what happens next?' It's the cliffhanger aspect that I get the most feedback on. How could you leave Jesse dangling like that? Well, I could and I do. I get a kick from that I suppose. But I worry myself with that little wry grin which creases my lips as I write the final line of the cliffhanger book. Spooky.

Q: Do you think kids enjoy reading about dads on the Dark Side (like Darth Vader and the Bogie Beast) and if so, why?

A: You know, this is an odd one. I think an Amazon reviewer talked about the Darth Vader/Bogie Beast parallel. I hadn't thought much about that until now. Star Wars had and still has a massive impact on me. It's your basic swashbuckling movie, and there's a lot of swashbuckling in Jesse Jameson stories for sure. I loved Zorro and Robin Hood (the TV serials) as kid, as well as Star Trek and Dr Who. So, yes, back to your question, I think there's fascination with dads on the dark side. I guess a lot of kids enjoy that - it's the rebel, the breaking of borders, the hero or the anti-hero coming out. The big thing here in the UK with the children I teach in school is Jim Carey's Bruce Almighty. It's a power trip I guess. Being in control of our own destiny. But the dark side is essentially not a nice place to be. And most dark dads come to a sticky end. They are not allowed to ultimately succeed. However ... must stop. I'm in danger of giving too much away for future books.

Q: I really like Gobbit Iggywig (though Mystic Mo would be my second favorite). Iggywig has his own engaging voice; is he one of your more popular characters?

A: Iggywig seems to be universally the most popular, likeable character with both boys, girls and adults. His unique way of talking is very funny when read aloud. I read a lot to the children held captive in my classroom. (chuckles wickedly). Mystic Mo's brief appearance in Book 2 (Bogie Beast) was really a spoof on fairgrounds here in the UK. Fortune Telling booths are still very common. But also based on own personal experience. Spookily, (and I'm not making this up) I visited a very famous gypsy fairground fortune teller when I was seventeen in Skegness. At the time, as an aspiring young musician, I was crestfallen when he said that I wouldn't become famous for another twenty five years ... not as a rock singer but as a writer! Strange, but true.

Q: Of the three I've read so far, I liked Bogie Beast best, partly because you gave Jesse a 'rare moment of self-awareness', when she lets go of bitterness and thinks 'You are so much more than she is.' Do you plan more of this sort of character development or is this not what kids (as opposed to adults) want from your stories?

A: I think moments of self awareness for characters in young children's books are quite rare, although I guess more and more 'modern' stories since JK Rowling have 'more rounded' characters, moving away from stock characters and stereotypes. As Jesse's character develops I see her growing in self awareness, but also in self confidence, which is really important in children's books. Positive self esteem is something I want to promote as a teacher and a writer.

Q: I've found that reluctant readers often go for series like yours, with continuous action. Has that been the case?

A: Yes. The action grabs the attention of a certain kind of reader. As a teacher, I'm very eager to get the reluctant reader (usually, but not totally, boys) to read as widely as possible.

Q: I find much in your stories reminiscent of kids' computer and video games - nonstop action, talismans that can be collected, and new and powerful capabilities that can be won as you advance through the levels. Were you influenced by such games and do you think kids' familiarity with them make your style of story more palatable and popular with them?

A: When I sat down to write the first Jesse Jameson book - The Golden Glow - I made a conscious decision to merge fiction and kid's computer games. Pokemon was very big at the time in the school that I taught at, so the talisman idea - the got to catch them all motif - is also present. Yes, I love computer games and gaming cards, so accessing new and powerful capabilities is a strong feature for Jesse Jameson as she grows as a character. It's almost as if her powers grow as she overcomes the obstacles. Her new gifts are rewards. So, that is very reiniscent of platform quest-type computer games. I'd like to think that my Jesse Jameson stories have a kid-friendly edge because of my love of these games.

Q: Are a lot of English school kids greeting each other with 'Have a horrid day!'?

A: No, it's not something that I'm aware of, but I like the irony of it. It's the kind of phrase children find really funny.

Q: Are there any plans to release the Jesse Jameson series in North America?

A: Not yet. But who knows what's around the corner. It really would be great to have the Jesse Jameson series up there with Harry Potter in North America.

Q: Can you tell us about The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor and anything else you have in the works?

A: I'm editing a couple of important short story collections for Crowswing Books to be published next year. One is entitled When Graveyards Yawn and revolves around the theme of 'revenge from beyond the grave.' The other - The New Wave of Speculative Fiction: Book 1 - has US, British, Australian, Canadian, and South African writers in the line up - some unknown and some award-winning authors such as Canadian, Michael Mirolla, and Britain's 2002 British Fantasy Award winner, Paul Finch. I also have my own collection of short stories due out in May 2005 - Dark Tales of Time and Space - and Book 5 in the Jesse Jameson series - Stonehenge of Spelfindial - will be out October 2005. Another very exciting, busy year.

The Twisted Root of Jarfindor is a teenage-adult spin-off of the Jesse Jameson books. It's set in the same parallel dimensions, with the Union of the Thirteen thick in the action, but way back in time. Although this parallel society is driven by techno-devices, sky-ships, magic, and skulduggery, it looks at a lot of major issues today in our world from suicide bombers to religious fanaticism.

Lia-Va is an eighteen year old addict - a black sword-wielding princess who has claimed her throne the traditional way of her people: by killing her father in a bloody battle. From the golden steps of Elriad's White Citadel she embarks on a strange and blood-thirsty journey aboard the pirate hovering sky-ship, Voyeur. She is driven to hunt down the fabled and fabulous twisted root which legend claims is hidden beneath Brafindorís Church of Our Lady in its chilling catacombs. She is obsessed with her root addiction, cares nothing for the throne or loyal subjects she leaves behind, and will not stop until she gets what she wants.
Islan is a mysterious mute stranger. Lia-Va has hired him as her protector, her back-eyes, as she calls him. But there is more to the gangly silent loner than the renegade princess could ever bargain for.

The cover-art is by the award-winning Les Edwards, whose superb cover-art has featured on classics such as Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea, China Mieville's award-winning bestseller, Perdido Street Station, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, and Anne McCaffrey's highly acclaimed Pern series to name but a few. More recently he has illustrated the Terry Pratchett Discworld Almanac for the Common Year 2005. The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor contains strong language, and scenes of violence and horror.

It really is a breakthrough novel in many ways for me - not least because the national bookchain here in the UK, Waterstones, have reserved the entire paperback print run in an exclusive deal that means the book goes into every one of their 200 plus stores as part of a 3 for the price of 2 offer. Crowswing is at last competing with the major publishing houses in- store. Even Waterstone's PR Dept have taken up Jaarfindor and are planning publicity campaigns both regionally and nationally to promote the book, at both its launch at Halloween and on through to Christmas.

Sean Wright lives in Norfolk, England and is a teacher as well as a successful writer. Find out more about the author and read excerpts of his books by visiting his Website.
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