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Joe Layburn worked for fifteen years as a journalist and television reporter with BBC, ITV and Channel 4, often working on programmes focusing on children, and has been nominated for the Royal Television Society's home current affairs award. In 2002 he switched to teaching, and started working in East End schools. It was here that he heard the little-known story of South Hallsville School, Canning Town where, during the Blitz, around 500 people fled after their own homes were destroyed - and the school itself was demolished by a bomb. This was the inspiration for his novel, Ghostscape – Joe's first book for children.
Joe answered some questions about the book in the following interview:
Would you please tell us about the inspiration and creative process behind Street Heroes?
Street Heroes is part of a series – the first one comes out in May, the second in January 2011. It’s about a group of ordinary kids with extraordinary powers. The main character is Fatima who is able to communicate by telepathy with a whole network of children – one of them is Georgie.
Georgie’s dad is George Smith, the leader of the British Fascist Party. Everyone assumes that Georgie shares his father’s extreme views on race and immigration, but Georgie’s not sure what he thinks, especially once he starts hearing Fatima’s voice in his head.
Like all my books, Street Heroes is inspired by the modern and historical East End, and the mix of people who live there. It’s a special place for me, and, like generations of my family, I know it well.
With Street Heroes, I wanted to write a gritty, gripping thriller that would also have a message for our multicultural society.
What inspired you to become a children’s author?
I worked for fifteen years as a journalist, mostly as a TV reporter for Channel Four. That gave me loads of amazing experiences and made me think I could write. But it was only when I left television and started teaching in East London primary schools that I found the audience I wanted to write for – I realised I didn't just want to write any books, I wanted to write for children.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing children’s books?
I’ve always been confident in my ability, but, obviously, when you start out you don’t know if anyone else will appreciate you. I wish I’d known earlier about my publishers Frances Lincoln. They’re passionate about the kind of books I want to write and I wish I’d found them sooner!
For a parent who has a child only interested in watching TV what advice would you give them to interest their child in reading books?
Make reading a guilty pleasure! Tell them the TV or the Play Station is going off but they can read for a while in bed. Then forget to go in and turn the light off.
How would you involve and educate kids about green issues?
Both Ghostscape and the Street Heroes books have clear messages, but they’re meant to entertain as well. Someone who has important things to say about green issues and conservation is a brilliant writer I’ve met called Emily Diamand. But the reason her books are so affecting is because they’re readable and entertaining stories, not political tracts.
Would you please tell us about your causes or charities you are involved with?
I grew up with three adopted brothers: one black, one white, one brown. My family background has had a big influence on my attitudes to the multicultural country we live in, as well as the kind of stories I want to write. Above all, I believe in the idea that we’re all in it together, whatever the colour of our skin.
What are your dreams?
Obviously, world peace, but I also dream that one day West Ham will win the premiership, or at least avoid going bust!
Would you tell us a little about your future plans?
I’m looking to do further Street Heroes books for Frances Lincoln – I’m currently working on Number 3.
What were your favourite childhood books and why?
Animal Farm was the book that made the biggest impression on me. Political and passionate, but very entertaining.
How do you keep in touch with your audience?
I still teach primary age children so I’m in touch with my audience every day. I also do lots of workshops and signing sessions in schools so that’s another good way to meet my readers. It was at a school in East London that I had my best moment as an author. A girl in a hijab asked me to sign her copy of Ghostscape whose main character is a Muslim girl called Aisha. She told me her name was Aisha too. “Did you like it?” I asked nervously. “I loved it!” she said. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Street Heroes: Runaways is a fast-paced thriller that deals with important issues while keeping readers gripped from start to finish. By the aclaimed author of Ghostscape and Street Heroes it is in a nutshell ‘Heroes’ for children. The Street Heroes in the novel are a number of kids each with psychic powers who together must forge alliances in order to fight evil in all its forms.
This gripping story is a ‘Heroes’ for children. In London’s East End the forces of Facism and violent extremists bubble on the surface but they get out of hand when a highly controversial politician gets a threat on his life. He in turn plans to recreate the historical Battle of Cable Street when fascists demonstrated against Jewish immigrants. It’s left to the Street Heroes, a number of kids with psychic powers to put a stop to this racial tension and bullying between different ethnic backgrounds but which side will the politician’s son take?
Ordinary kids with extraordinary powers, the Street Heroes return to help children around the world. Fatima, Georgie, Hyun-mi and their friends fight evil in all its human forms. But whose is the mysterious telepathic voice threatening the heroes? And how can they exploit the world's reality TV addiction to make their message heard by people without their telepathic powers? Street Heroes: Runaways is a fast-paced thriller that deals with important issues while keeping readers gripped from start to finish. By the aclaimed author of Ghostscape and Street Heroes. Follow Joe Layburn's blog by clicking here
Georgie's dad, George Smith is a highly controversial politician whose message is to get rid of non-white people from London's East End. Everyone assumes Georgie shares his father's views, even his father. But while he loves his dad, he's really not sure what he thinks. And then he begins to hear a voice in his head, the voice of a Muslim girl called Fatima ...Meanwhile Fatima is also contacting other children in difficult situations. When an attempt is made to kill George Smith he responds by planning a repeat of the historical Battle of Cable Street when Fascists demonstrating against Jewish immigrants confronted local people. How can the mysterious Fatima and her gang stop Smith, and which side will Georgie be on? By the acclaimed author of Ghostscape, this gripping story is a 'Heroes' for children dealing with issues of racism and immigration. Follow Joe Layburn's blog by clicking here This title is also available as an ebook, in either Kindle, ePub or Adobe ebook editions