1. Could you explain how you (and Mark Huckerby) came up with Defender of the Realm series?
We were thinking about superheroes and wondering why there weren't really any memorable British ones - in the UK we've produced more than our fair share of detectives and wizards and spies but not very many homegrown superheroes. Just for fun we tried to think of why a superhero would HAVE to be British. What do we have that the United States, say, doesn't. Then once we hit upon the Royal Family we realised how many tropes they shared with the typical superhero legend - the idea of leading a double life, of becoming someone else through a mystical ritual, gaining 'power', and - in an ideal world - selfless duty to others. What if when you become king or queen you also inherit superpowers and become a superhero? It was a big, silly, ambitious concept and over the years we couldn't shake off the idea, which we thought was a good sign.
2. What challenges did you face while writing Defender of the Realm series?
We'd never written a book before, which in hindsight we probably should have been a little more worried about! But we figured that after nearly 20 years of screenwriting together we should know a thing or two about telling a story and the idea of doing something that wasn't a script was exciting. In practical terms the main challenge was finding the time, because unsurprisingly no-one particularly wanted to pay us to write our first book! So it was written in our spare time over a couple of years. But we always had faith that it was a good idea and worth a punt.
3. Would you like to see a film/television adaptation of the Defender of the Realm series?
Er… yes, please! We're actually writing the pilot episode right now - which we can't tell you much more about - but watch this space! If it does end up on screen one day we're determined that it should be every bit as big in scope and spectacle as the books - fortunately in the age of Game of Thrones there's nothing you can't do well on TV any more.
4. What was your experience with your writing partner Mark Huckerby on Defender of the Realm series? How was the experience different from working on a screenplay?
At first we were really worried that our prose styles might not blend too well. Scriptwriting is all about stripping out style and just telling the story as clearly as you can - which we thought might not work so well for books... But we were pleased to discover that years of writing script outlines and treatments together did mean that we had developed a 'house style'. And we like to think that some of the disciplines we've learned writing for TV - character-driven stories, fast-paced plots, big set pieces - stood us in good stead for writing a fantasy action adventure for 8-12 year olds.
5. Do you ever get writer’s block when writing Defender of the Realm series? What do you do to get back on track?
Not really. We always do a really detailed outline first, so we know what should happen in every chapter from beginning to end. It's then fun to fill that plot with the details, lines and beats that occur as we write. Sometimes we needed to stop and do some more research - we've really plundered the UK's vast history for the Defender series and everything referred to in the books in based in fact. That was one of our favourite parts of the process. It also helps having two of us - if one of us is struggling we can just call the other up and thrash it out.
6. Did you know how Defender of the Realm series would end or did it come to you while writing the story?
That's a tricky one to answer - we had a three-book arc in our heads that was roughly based on the real story of Alfred the Great's rise, fall and comeback (which is why our modern young king is called Alfie), but it's impossible to work out everything about a new fantasy universe beyond a book or two in advance (and any author who says otherwise is either a liar or a genius!)… so we've certainly changed things as we've gone along to an extent. But yeah, in big picture terms we knew the big beats of our trilogy - but we are still leaving the door ever so slightly ajar at the end of book 3 should we (or our publishers, or - you know - people who read books) decide there is more story to tell.
7. Which of the fictional character (besides Alfie and Hayley) in Defender of the Realm would you love to invite over and have a chat with?
I think it would have to be 'LC' - the Lord Chamberlain - because even though he appears to be a little stuffy on the outside, I reckon he's been around for a LONG time and would know some pretty mind-blowing state secrets. And if that failed you could just tell rude jokes to wind him up.
8. What is your writing habit? Do you write in the daytime or night?
We've always been pretty boring and conventional for writers - I work normal office hours most of the time and not often at the weekend, unless we're juggling a lot and I need to squeeze in some extra hours. I don't buy that you have to write every day or that you have to neglect family and friends all the time to be a 'proper' writer. It's hard enough without making yourself feel guilty for no good reason. I like working early but just can't work at night any more. My mind's fried by 9pm.
9. What book are you currently reading?
I often have two or three on the go depending what I feel like reading that day (but it takes me ages to get through them as I shamefully don't have as much reading time these days as I'd like) - right now I'm reading The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson, which is her second terrific middle grade mystery, and has me hooked, and 'Kind of Blue' by Ken Clarke MP (my degree was Politics and I'm still a bit of a geek for it). Next up I will probably be catching up with Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre and The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. My favourite books last year were Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood (brilliant MG fantasy cross between Lord of the Rings and Watership Down) and Munich by Robert Harris.
10. What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Apart from the Defender pilot, Mark and I are head writing a new animated TV series called MOOMINVALLEY - based on the much loved Moomin novels by Finnish author/illustrator Tove Jansson - if you don't know them, they are strange, hilarious, imaginative and beguiling tales of a family of 'Moomintrolls' and the weird and wonderful friends and creatures they live alongside in a mysterious valley where anything can happen. Apart from being beautiful and funny, they have a great deal to say about tolerance, family life, love of nature and how to deal with disasters. There is a fantastic production team turning them into 22 minute episodes which will air from the end of 2018. We think and hope it will be an amazing series. Aside from that we have various feature projects in the works, including an animated family movie we hope will go into production soon.
11. Which filmmaker do you admire or inspire your work?
Wow - so many. As a child, the first filmmaker who I probably realised had a 'voice' was Terry Gilliam and he remains a huge inspiration. The films Mark and I bonded over years ago were things like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 and James Cameron's Aliens - the sci-fi and horror movies of the 80s/90s were huge for us. And although I like to think my taste has matured over the years (well, a bit!), I still love escapist movies the most - if it has a monster in it then I'm probably onboard. But right now my head is in BAFTA-voting mode and this year I've been blown away by the writing and directing of Paul King & Simon Farnaby (PADDINGTON 2), Taika Waititi, Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost (THOR: RAGNAROK), Kathryn Bigelow & Mark Boal (DETROIT) Martin McDonagh (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI), Liz Hannah, Steven Spielberg, & Josh Singer (THE POST), Anthony McCarten & Joe Wright (THE DARKEST HOUR), Craig Gillespie and Steven Rogers (I, TONYA), and David Soren & Nicholas Stoller (CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE). My film of the year was Jordan Peele's GET OUT which had both Mark and I shrieking and laughing in equal measure in the cinema - just brilliant.
12. When you are writing a screenplay, how much do you think about how your text will be translated into a visual medium?
A lot, but it's hard to think about everything at once - you have to start with story, then structure and theme, before you get into exactly how to tell it visually - but of course in the writing you're constantly playing and replaying how it should look onscreen beat by beat in order to convey the meaning you're going for, and crucially how you transition from scene to scene, while accepting that it's up to the director to interpret what you end up writing.
13. Which one is more challenging for you: writing a novel or writing a screenplay?
Well we have more experience writing for the screen, so I guess we still feel more confident there, but in many ways a novel feels a lot more fun (I hesitate to describe any sort of writing as 'easy'!)… maybe that's just because it's still a novelty for us, or maybe it's because you have so much more space and time in a book, and you can hear what characters are thinking (which for a screenwriter is AMAZING) and frankly you have a lot more control over a book than you do a screenplay - filming anything is expensive and that means you have many more people looking over your shoulder the whole time, which can be stressful.
14. Were you ever on set for the making of Howl or Don’t Knock Twice? If so, could you tell me what scene you were present at that is very memorable to you?
Yes. They were both low budget productions shot in the UK and we got on well with the directors so we were lucky enough to get to visit the sets a few times. On HOWL the most memorable would have to be the opening scene in which Joe the young ticket inspector (Ed Speleers) checks the passengers' tickets, because I got to be an extra (channeling my best 'grumpy commuter' - not much of a stretch for me, tbh) and after about an hour of watching the poor crew trying to get a small dog to bark on cue, I recalled that most of filming is sitting around waiting for someone to call 'Action!'. It's a privilege and thrill to see something you wrote being brought to life, but honestly I prefer sitting at my desk writing - I couldn't be a director. On Don't Knock Twice I remember watching a very emotional, intense scene between our incredible lead Katee Sackhoff and a little known young actor called Lucy Boynton and thinking how she was going to be a big star one day (which seems to be happening!)
15. In your experience, what would you say it takes to be a successful screenwriter?
Hard work, determination, high standards, being 'good in the room' as well as on the page, and above all time.
16. Last question, does Mark Huckerby have any unique or quirky writing habits? If not, do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
This is such a golden opportunity that I am almost dizzy with the possibilities… but rather than making up something HILARIOUS and untrue, I'll go with his APPALLING abuse of apostrophes, the correction of which is reason enough for him to have a writing partner, frankly.
Thanks to Mr. Nick Ostler for sharing this info with us and I hope everything is going smoothly with writing Defender of the Realm: King's Army as well as your upcoming novels/screenplays. I'm really anticipating to hear more news about the adaptation of the Defender of the Realm series. Also, all the best to Mr. Ostler and Mr. Mark Huckerby with writing the script for Moominvalley . As for those reading this, I hope you give this book series a chance and see why it's a page-turner. For more info on Mr. Ostler and his latest novel/project visit his website: www.ostlerandhuckerby.com/about.php Take care as always and have a happy read.