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Nottingham Castle

Dan Tunstall Interview

18 March 10 words: Robin Lewis
"Football hooliganism seems to be less of an issue these days, but this is not to say that it no longer exists"
No this isn't author Dan Tunstall before you ask. It's just a very proud Fox's fan...

Dan Tunstall’s novel for young adults, Big and Clever, was published by Five Leaves last year and covers the misadventures of two misfit youths as they tumble into a world of football violence and heady social power.  It’s been compared to the works of Melvin Burgess, and Dan has given well-received readings in many local schools.  Born in Leicester and a lifelong devotee of Leicester City FC (which we won't hold against you Dan), Big and Clever is his first novel

 Big and Clever - The  central
characters are 14 years old

Dan, tell us about Big and Clever.
The main theme of Big and Clever is how it feels to be left out and isolated, and to have no sense of shared identity with other people, when you desperately want to belong. And it's about the extreme lengths people will go to fit in, to be accepted, to gain a shared identity and to get the self-esteem that comes with the feeling of belonging.
The central characters in Big and Clever, 14 year old lads called Tom and Raks, find themselves getting tangled up in the world of football hooliganism as a means of establishing themselves in a hostile school environment where they had previously been invisible nobodies. Once they're involved, they find it very hard to get back out again, because they suddenly have an elevated place in the school pecking order that's totally new to them and that they are reluctant to give up. The book deals with the concept of the glamour of violence, and the way that gaining power and status by violent means can become addictive.
Football hooliganism is much less in the news and the public eye than in the past, so were you worried about the setting of your book feeling a little distant from your audience?
Football hooliganism seems to be less of an issue these days, at least as far as the mainstream media is concerned, but this is not to say that it no longer exists. There was a recent high-profile outbreak of crowd trouble at the Carling Cup game between West Ham and Millwall and quite a few less well-reported incidents between the "firms" of Midlands Championship teams - Leicester, Derby, Forest, Coventry.
The advent of the internet seems to have brought about a mutation in the form of football-related violence. There are numerous websites dedicated to hooliganism, and encounters between followers of different teams are often organised on-line, so I don't think this is a totally alien world to today's kids.
How have kids received the book when you've read from it at schools?  Do they relate to the characters you've written and their lives?
I have been really encouraged by the positive response to Big and Clever. If I have any sort of manifesto for my writing, then it's to be accessible to kids who might otherwise think books are not for them. I call my writing "Meat and two veg fiction", and by this I mean that it is intended to be unpretentious and straightforward and to touch on the interests and issues that are important to teenagers today. I steer well clear of moralising and teaching lessons and just try to write about real people in real situations. Hopefully the favourable response I've been getting indicates that kids are able to relate to the characters in my writing. 

Dan Tunstall
Dan relaxes with a cuppa, proving you can remain civil whilst discussing violence...

As a teacher (and father) you've witnessed hundreds of kids growing up in front of your eyes over a spread of years.  Do you think that the pressures they face to fit in are the same as ever, or have they become heavier and more complex than when you were a kid? I'm thinking of things like mobile phones and networking sites like Facebook tying kids even more closely to one another 24/7.
I don't think that teenagers in 2010 face a totally different set of problems and pressures to those I experienced at a similar stage in my life. Obviously mobile phones and social networking sites have had an impact in terms of drawing people closer to one another, sometimes in unwanted ways, but the basic facts of secondary school life remain pretty similar. The teenage years can seem like a minefield at times, and the kids who come through unscathed are the ones who have the strongest sense of who they are and where they fit into the hierarchy.
Is writing your full time job now, or are you still a teacher as well, fitting writing into evenings on top of everything else?
I wouldn't describe myself as a full-time writer just yet, although I'm hoping that I might be able to do so in the future. I don't teach any more, but at present I'm juggling writing with a load of other things. It's quite a delicate balance, but I'm hoping it might get easier with time.
What first drew you to writing?
I was first drawn to writing as a kid, and saw it as a logical progression from reading - just saying to myself "I can do that". Writing is something I've always enjoyed, and something I'd be doing in one form or another whether or not I was getting work into print. I like the process of creating things, and find it relaxing and therapeutic. Obviously I've drawn encouragement from the favourable feedback I've received over the past couple of years when I've really made the effort to get myself published. My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a writing career is just to go for it. Read lots and write lots. Like all skills, the more you practice, the better you get. 

Dan's soon to be released ebook

What are you working on now, and do you have any plans to return to your childhood love of horror stories by writing one?
At the moment I'm working on another Young Adult book for Five Leaves, scheduled for publication in Spring 2011. I've recently finished a first draft, so now it's revising, redrafting and generally polishing-up until we're all satisfied that it's ready to go. I've got an e-book called Big Brother coming out this summer from Barrington Stoke Books, and a story called Last Man In is going to be included in an anthology for Walker Books. As far as I'm aware, this anthology will be called How To Be A Boy, but a publication date hasn't been set yet.
With regard to writing a horror novel, I wouldn't rule it out, but as yet I've not hit on an outline that really grabs me. In this day and age it's quite hard to come up with something that's genuinely frightening - real life seems scary enough.  But really, it's a case of "Watch This Space".

Dan Tunstall's website

Dan will be appearing at 'States of Independence' a free regional event at Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Road, Leicester 10.30am – 4.30pm, Saturday 20 March.

Stalls from dozens of independent publishers. Workshops, readings and book launches.
Independent presses from across the region (and some from around the country) will be on site, together with many regional writers whose work is published by large and small independent publishers. Join us for an hour or two or the whole day.


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