Debut authors Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, who are established screenwriters for television, stopped by OOM today to tell us about Defender of the Realm, an action-packed middle grade novel about two kids with two very different lives who are about to get caught up in a centuries-long battle for the fate of a nation. Check it out below!
You two are writing partners, and while this is your first novel, you’ve been penning scripts together for a long time. Tell us about your process. What’s it like sharing in the glories and challenges of crafting a story?
Having a writing partner is quite common for scriptwriters - we've been writing kids TV together for years, cool shows like Danger Mouse and Thunderbirds Are Go. At first we weren't sure whether it would be possible to co-write a book together! But we were relieved to find that the process was actually very similar. First we spend ages just talking about our ideas and outlining the story - this is the really fun bit where you can just let your imagination go crazy and think up loads of ideas for characters and scenes. And having someone else there to bounce those ideas off straight away is really useful. You can instantly tell whether an idea is exciting or funny or terrible by their reaction! Once we have our detailed outline then we divide up the chapters and write the first draft of those separately. Writing can be lonely, so having a partner at the other end of the phone to talk to if you get stuck or suddenly have a new idea is great. There's a lot of trust involved in having a writing partner, so it's important to find someone you really get along well with and don't mind making a fool of yourself in front of!
The title hero of the book—the Defender—is basically a super hero crossed with a knight in shining armor. What a cool hook for kids! Did any famous figures or characters inspire you when creating the hero?
The big breakthrough moment came when we realised how much in common kings and queens have with superheroes. They live double lives, with both public and private roles, they adopt a kind of 'costume' and often a new name, and the almost supernatural rituals around the crowning of a new monarch reminded us of some of the moments when superheroes like Spiderman or Batman were created. Once we decided our superhero was going to be a royal, we looked back through centuries of British history to create our own origin myth for the Defender. Pretty quickly we decided that Alfred the Great would be the perfect starting point. Some say he was the first truly English king and he did some amazing things, from saving his kingdom from the Vikings to creating the country's first education system - I mean, you don't get called 'the Great' for nothing, do you? That's why the hero of our book is called Alfie - and his journey over the book series has a lot in common with Alfred the Great's story a thousand years ago - just plus superheroes and monsters!
The book is set in contemporary Britain. It features a fictional royal family, but there’s plenty of real history and geography woven throughout. Did you visit any famous UK spots while writing the story?
Yes! Research is one of the most fun parts of writing a book and one thing Britain has plenty of is history! There are lots of famous places we've visited in Defender of the Realm - from Buckingham Palace to Edinburgh Castle, from the Boat Race on the Thames to Westminster Abbey - and most of them feature a huge superhero battle between the Defender and his mysterious new arch enemy, the Black Lizard. We even had a private tour around the Tower of London with the Ravenmaster - the beefeater who has the incredibly cool job of looking after the Tower's famous ravens!
Alfie—your young protagonist and the crown prince of Britain—suffers a lot from his position in the spotlight. What is it about the British royal family that’s so compelling, both in the UK and around the world?
To us it's that weird combination of a real person, just like you or me, with the enormous duty of continuing a tradition that stretches back for hundreds of years. We really wanted to know what it would feel like, at only fourteen years old, to have been born into that position. What would it do to you? What would your life be like? We really tried to get inside Alfie's head so we could understand that - and then we threw a whole load of new surprises at him to handle - like being a superhero!