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>> A bank, a robber and a house on fire...

A bank, a robber and a house on fire...
07/03/2019

A bank, a robber and a house on fire...


HOW TO ROB A BANK is a funny, true-to-life story about 15-year-old Dylan, who decides to rob a bank to help the girl he was trying to impress when he accidentally burned down her house instead... Author TOM MITCHELL tells us more!

Dylan's inept attempts to rob the bank, and to stay friends with the girl, are awkward, funny and horribly true to life!
We asked author TOM MITCHELL to tell us what inspired him to write for teenagers and where he got the idea for HOW TO ROB A BANK.

Q: What is your day job and what brought you into writing a novel? How did you find the time to write?

A: I'm an English teacher in a secondary school. I've always wanted to write, so teaching seemed like the next best thing - at least it meant I still got to talk about stories. And then I had kids myself and I thought I'd have a go at writing for children. It seemed to make sense.

Q: Did the bank heist films you mention in How to Rob a Bank help inspire the book, or was there something else that sparked the idea of a 15 year old planning to rob a bank?

A: I didn't want to write a book that taught kids an important lesson. That was the starting point. Because I do that (hopefully) in my day job. And I remembered a story of my dad getting locked in a bank toilet - they closed up and left him there. AND I think some of my favourite films are bank heists. So mix all those elements up and you've got the inspiration for HOW TO ROB A BANK.

Q: You seem to know a lot about ATM's, so how much research did you do into robbing banks?? Did watching the films help?

A: Ha! I'm constantly worried about my Google search history. I must be on a few police watch lists. My editor at HC also tells of a time she was on the train and someone noticed the manuscript popping out of her bag and all they could see was the title. She had to explain she wasn't a bank robber.

I researched some real life robberies - criminals have been very innovative and creative. There was a bank robbery in Brazil where a group set up a fully functional landscaping company next door to the bank to disguise their tunnelling efforts. Supposedly they were as great as cutting lawns as they were digging tunnels. And, of course, the films helped - especially Office Space - which is both really funny and also includes sneaking a virus onto a bank's server.

Q: Having done the research, where you at all tempted to have a go yourself?

A: I mean, as my gran used to say, breaking the law isn't cool. But, beyond that, I don't think I'm brave enough. I once took a can of Coke from a box of 12 that had been hanging around near the work fridge and felt guilty about it for months. I'm not particularly light on my feet. I couldn't jump over lasers or any of that.

Q: Robbing banks is quite a serious business, so how did you make your story funny?

A: Robbing a bank is a silly decision. Robbing a bank when you're a teenager is even sillier. I guess it's as simple as that. I tried putting an ordinary individual, Dylan, into extraordinary situations with extraordinary characters. That's how I tried to make it funny. That and a couple of instances of people losing their trousers.

Q: Dylan tries to do the right thing but goes about it the wrong way. How did his character develop, and did you draw on your own teen years / family in doing so?

A: I think your identity is at its most fluid when you're a teenager. And that makes those years both thrilling and tragic. My dad loved films too and I look back fondly to the movies he introduced me to.

Q: What was the most daring thing you did as a teenager?

A: Daring? I once did underwater helicopter escape training, through this thing at school. It was terrifying. They drop a body of a helicopter into a darkened swimming pool and it turns around and you're meant to count to ten and then swim out. But you're disorientated and underwater. But that was nothing compared to asking girls out. That was the proper scary stuff. Not underwater, but still ...

Q: There's a romantic element to the story, although Dylan finds it hard to communicate with Beth, the girl of his dreams. So how did you go about developing their friendship?

A: I guess from personal experience. From remembering those feelings where you're good friends with someone and then you realise that you fancy them and this realisation makes you go loopy and you act strangely but you never actually admit these feelings because that would be the end of the world.

So ... instead ... maybe you plan to rob a bank? I guess many of the worst decisions we've all made have been, at their origin, designed to impress someone we fancy.

Q: The novel is set just outside London, why did you choose that setting?

A: Non-pretentious answer - it's near where I live. And Orpington doesn't really feature that much in literature.

Pretentious answer - the suburbs are like adolescent - they're neither one thing nor the other. A liminal space where strange things happen. There are two Greggs on Orpington High Street, by the way.

Q: Where do you like to go and what do you do to escape day-to-day life?

A: I have two boys - a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. There is no escaping parenthood and they determine where we 'like' to go. I have to say, though, that I love the Kent coast, especially Folkestone. Does that make me sound old?

My second book is set in America and the Society of Authors helped fund a research trip to California last year. That was awesome. Those beaches! You don't get apocalyptic forest fires near Orpington, though. That's one thing in its favour.

Q: Where and when are your favourite place / time to write?

A: It has to be the holidays. I don't necessarily have a favourite place. Sometimes, I take trips away to find a lonely place to write. But I always end up putting on Netflix and ordering pizza. My bed is very comfortable for writing. I just have to ensure that my boys understand not to creep up on me and jump on the laptop/sensitive places. I'd love to be able to write in a coffee shop. Other people are annoying, though.

Q: What has for you been the most surprising thing about becoming an author?

A: That people want to read my book! How nice everyone in publishing is! The views from HarperCollins offices! And, don't tell my classes, but the amount of spelling/grammar/punctuation errors in the first draft of the novel.

Q: What other books / films would you recommend to 11+ readers?

A: Two authors that I like and have met through HarperCollins have amazing books coming out this year. Dominique Valente's Starfell and Nicola Skinner's Bloom. I very much like Ian McEwan's The Daydreamer - a selection of short stories about a boy who daydreams. When I was eleven, I adored John Masefield's The Box of Delights. It's magical and strange and reminds me of Christmas. (Like tinsel?)
 
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