When you’re a writer you have a clear idea of your story in your own mind, but inevitably you wonder how much of that your readers will actually “get”. I’ve been so lucky with the Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze reviews so far, because everyone who’s looked at it seems to have picked out different elements that delighted me.
The latest is Danielle Mulholland, whose written a detailed and thoughtful piece for the Australian website Media-Culture Reviews. The way she summarizes the story at the beginning of her article shows how perfectly she’s grasped it, before going on to say:
“This is a well written book with wonderful descriptions, exciting new concepts for the young adult mind and set in a futuristic world where space travel and various gadgets are common place for Johnny Mackintosh, the protagonist and albeit unrecognised and unknown saviour of the world.”
Danielle stresses that anyone reading a book series should start with the first one, and of course that’s absolutely right. I worked very hard to make Star Blaze work as a standalone book and some reviewers have picked up on that, but it’s absolutely the case that someone’s enjoyment will be deeper if they follow the story from the beginning. A paragraph follows that:
“Having been compared to J K Rowling, Mansfield has certainly used her tried and true double life technique to justify his main character’s peculiarities. In his ‘normal’ life, Johnny has Mr Wilkins to give him grief like Harry Potter had the Dursleys making his life miserable. In his alternative life, Johnny confronts other enemies, similar to the Potter versus Voldemort saga.”
There are plenty who’d claim to be Jo Rowling’s biggest fan, but I’d put myself forward as a contender for the label, and may at least be her number one author fan. It was a great honour to be able to write the Sunday Telegraph’s Harry Potter quiz a couple of years back. Until I read the Potter books I’d only written for adults, but I fell in love with her story and knew I could be passionate about writing for a similar audience, in a way that wasn’t reflected so well in my more grown up scribblings.
I think to really love a book you’ve got to be able to empathize with its characters. That’s why I didn’t write Johnny Mackintosh as “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”. I’m delighted Danielle’s review has picked up on Johnny’s double life, and the problems he has at his children’s home, of course compounded by goings on at school. That’s because I want my younger readers to be able to put themselves in his shoes (or maybe trainers) so they can relate to half his life, while wishing the other half is something that may just happen to them. Personally, I never found myself longing to be a wizard, but as a child I always dreamt of being whisked off into space by aliens.
It goes without saying that any review of Johnny that also mentions the Harry Potter books is going number among my favourites. As a writer, the most impressive thing about Rowling is the architecture of her story, over all seven volumes. If you re-read her books (and I’m a great re-reader) you’ll be amazed at the clues planted in the first couple that point the reader all the way through to the end of the story, without giving too much away. It’s a balance I’ve tried to follow.
I’ve heard Rowling say her early drafts practically gave the whole story away and she had to rein in some of the narrative to keep us all guessing – I’m so glad she did. Another technique she used was to write everything from Harry’s point of view and that’s something I’ve followed for Johnny. There are plenty of times I’d like to describe what Clara’s doing when she goes off on her own, or what’s happening on the other side of the galaxy, but so far I’ve stuck rigidly to showing everything through Johnny’s eyes. The review ends by saying:
“Each chapter begins and ends rather dramatically. This technique keeps the young reader constantly engaged and eager to read more. It has all the ingredients sure to capture the young adult mind which is the target audience: betrayal, uncertainty, loyalty, courage, adventure and a thrilling ride into the unknown.”
It’s great to hear when Johnny Mackintosh has been well received outside of the UK. I hope Aussie readers will be pleased to discover that Johnny pays Sydney a visit in the third book in the series. It’s several years now since my own one and only trip down under, but I plan to race my young hero to see who’ll get there first.