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>> Gifted and talented? Or perfectly normal?

Gifted and talented? Or perfectly normal?

Gifted and talented? Or perfectly normal?

Wonder how you'd manage at a school for the 'gifted and talented' - when you're perfectly ordinary? This is Sam's dilemma in THE GIFTED, THE TALENTED AND ME - author WILLIAM SUTCLIFFE tells us more!

Follow Sam as he is forced to move to a school for the 'gifted and talented' - despite being utterly normal. Sam sticks out like a sore thumb at his new school. How will he survive?


Q: What was your path into writing and were there any authors who stood out for you during that journey?

A: I've wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager. I think reading Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth in my late teens (it's a very rude book!) was the thing that made me know for sure that I wanted to write books - ideally funny ones.

Q: Your earlier novels for teenage readers have been gripping, action-packed reads including The Wall and We See Everything. What drew you to writing a funny book?

A: A couple of years ago I went into my local independent bookshop (The Edinburgh Bookshop) to talk to the brilliant children's bookseller there, Cat, who knows all my children well. My son was ill in bed, and I wanted something funny to cheer him up. She offered Adrian Mole and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which he had both already read, then said "for teenage boys, that's pretty much it".

I had started off writing funny books for adults, but more recently had been writing serious and issue-led young adult books. This conversation made me look again at the genre I'd been writing in, and I left the shop determined to write a comedy about a teenage boy for a teenage audience.

Q: Did you enjoy writing it, and do you plan to return to funny books?

A: Yes - it was much more fun! If this book proves popular, I think I might stay with funny books for a while. I definitely have the sense already that there's an appetite for it. Teenagers love to laugh, and I don't really know why such a huge proportion of the books written for them are so dark.

Q: What gave you the idea of placing a very 'normal' boy into such an unfamiliar environment?

A: The "fish out of water" story is a classic comedy trope. Bizarre and extreme people are great material for comedy, but you need to view them through the eyes of someone a bit more normal (and easier to identify with) or the whole thing can just seem too detached from reality.

Q: Sam isn't always terribly likable at the start, as he's very reluctant to try to make this 'life change' work. How do you keep the reader on his side?

A: Any teen character who was always likable wouldn't be remotely plausible. Every teenager resists change that is enforced on them by their parents. This push and pull between the generations is what provides the main engine for the drama in this book - and every household with teenagers has experienced something similar.

Q: Sam is one of three siblings, both of whom survive the experience better than he does. Why did you want that point of comparison?

A: As a writer, you want to make things hard for your protagonist. The more they are tested, the more they have to find resources within themselves to fight back and try and improve their situation. The family set-up is designed firstly to be funny, but also to make Sam feel like the odd one out.

This is the central comic idea of the book - that someone who has always felt entirely normal is suddenly transferred to an environment where his idea of normal is classed as weird, and vice versa. He then has to decide whether to make himself change to fit in.

Q: The teachers in his new school are a little 'unusual'. Are any of them based on anyone who taught you?

A: My school was very different from the school in the book, but I did put my experiences of performing in school plays (and loving it) into the novel.

Q: If you found yourself at a school for the gifted and talented as a teenager, what talent would you have focused on?

A: Hiding.

Q: There are many very funny moments in the book, but is there one 'stand out' funny moment for you?

A: I think maybe the Mum's collapsing home-made Japanese stool. Or the school play audition with freakishly incompetent rivals.

Q: Where and when are your favourite places to write, and what are you writing now?

A: I mix my writing time between home and various cafes around Edinburgh, where I live. My chosen Mastermind subject would be "Where are the power points in Edinburgh cafes without background music?". I'm now writing a funny (I hope) middle grade book.

Q: Are there other YA writers who make you laugh and who you would recommend to our members?

A: There's not much funny YA out there, and what there is seems to be heavily marketed towards girls. Of those, the one I most enjoyed recently was Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema.

Q: What are your top tips for writing humour?

A: Try and write fast, so your sentences have a pacey bounce and zip to them, then rewrite again and again and again, polishing everything until the rhythm sings and the jokes pop.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: Playing the piano, cycling, wrestling with small children (only my own).

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