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>> Life lessons in a game of chess

Life lessons in a game of chess
12/07/2019

Life lessons in a game of chess


Bubble Boy author STEWART FOSTER tells us about CHECK MATES, his latest novel, which follows Felix whose struggles with ADHD make it hard for him to progress in school. Could playing chess help turn his life around?

When his mum suggests he spends more time with his grandfather, Felix is dismayed; things haven't been the same since his Grandma died and now all his grandfather wants is to teach him how to play chess.

But it doesn't go quite as Felix expects; some lessons can be surprising, and life-changing.

We asked author STEWART FOSTER to tell us more about CHECK MATES:


Q: How did you find writing Check Mates compared with writing your earlier titles, The Bubble Boy and All the Things That Could Go Wrong?

A: I found it a little bit more straight forward than the others because for once I had the story planned in my mind. Whilst I never work to a plan, it was good to just have a rough outline to work to.


Q: What does a story idea need to have to entice you into it, and how does the novel develop for you?

A: I have to find the character first, then once established in my head their story will follow. The character doesn't have to be likeable, but it helps to have empathy or an affinity with them.

Storywise, it has to be unique, but most importantly believable.


Q: The main character in your novel, Felix, has ADHD. Why did you decide to give him this challenge, and how much research did you need to do into it before you could write about Felix?

A: At first I started with no plan to give him ADHD, but as his character grew his restlessness and poor attention span evolved naturally.

From the point of research, I did interview two school children and their support workers, however I drew mostly from my own experiences of the condition. I decided that the best way for Felix to learn was by using his imagination and visualisation. Therefore I allowed granddad to encourage these attributes, rather than suppress them.


Q: Check Mates focuses on Felix and his grandfather, why did you want to cross generations and also to bring history - the grandfather's background - into a contemporary story?

A: In these days where parents have so little time due to work pressures, grandparents have an increased role in their grandchildren's lives. I wanted to encourage children to talk to their grandparents to find out what life was like before computer games.


Q: Felix and his grandfather bond over chess as he teaches Felix how to play the game. What made you decide to use chess as the focus?

A: As a child, I remembered playing Snakes and Ladders with my grandparents and how it made us sit round the table together concentrating without any distractions. Using Chess seemed a natural progression from a simpler game.


Q: And what gave you the idea of the ten 'rules' his grandfather teaches him?

A: I like lists - it gave it a focus and it gives you an insight into the character of the person who has written them.


Q: Do you play chess? Where did you go to research it and all the different moves that Felix's grandfather teaches him?

A: Yes, very poorly! Research of the types of chess moves came from online and meeting a chess expert from a local club. A big influence was the film, Pawn Sacrifice, which Felix watches during the course of the book.


Q: You also explore how friends can affect how we behave and also bring out aspects of ourselves. Why did you give Felix such very different friends - Jake and Rebecca?

A: I didn't want pigeon hole Felix into being a naughty kid, albeit with good intentions. So Jake was there to encourage his imaginative, playful side, whilst Rebecca offered stability.


Q As Felix's perspective shifts, are you suggesting to your readers that we can decide the kind of person we want to be?

A: It's about not accepting who people think we are - it's that through effort, application and dedication we can be anything we want to be.


Q: What would you like your reader to take away from this novel?

A: It's important to believe in yourself and find someone who believes in you.


Q: Where is your favourite place to write and what are you writing now? What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

A: I live on a boat and I like sitting on the on the sofa there to write. I love to cycle up mountains!

 
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