Wrap up warm and enjoy the ride...
A superbly inventive and magical debut… will transport you on clouds of pure joy.
— Piers Torday, author of The Last Wild trilogy
A diamond of a book…with one of the best villains I’ve encountered in ages.
— Ross MacKenzie, Author of the Nowhere Emporium
Ghostcloud is an utterly brilliant debut children’s novel.
— Lindsay Littleson, Carnegie Medal Nominated Author
Michael Mann is the author of the wildly inventive Ghostcloud series, featuring Luke Sharma-Smith, a boy kidnapped from the streets of a reimagined London and held captive in Battersea Power Station. The series sees him take on the dastardly Tabatha Margate, learn to fly with his new ghostly friend, Alma, and take on his dream job as an Apprentice Detective.
Winner of SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices 2020, and the 2019 London Writer's Award (Spread the Word), Michael Mann is a primary school teacher and lives in London with his partner and children. Ghostcloud was a Waterstones Best Children’s Book of 2021, a Guardian pick and was included in the BookTrust Great Books Guide 2022.
We are huge fans of the Ghostcloud series and we can't wait to see what comes next!
BG: Hi, Michael! Firstly, for our readers, can you describe the Ghostcloud series in three words?
MM: Soaring steampunk adventure.
BG: Ooh yes, perfect description! More and more, writers are being challenged to come up with original story ideas. The Ghostcloud series was certainly original – what advice can you offer aspiring writers trying to find an original idea?
MM: I’d say not to get hung up on whether your idea is ‘original’ or not. When you boil stories down, so many of them sound similar, but the originality and vitality comes in how you tell them and your writer's voice. I’d say write a story that you love and that excites you – then work on making it the best version it can be. Later on, if you find it overlaps with things, you can always tweak bits here and there.
BG: I love your reimagining of London. Where did you get your inspiration for that world?
MM: I was reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. I loved how she had this jolly, period romp, but set (almost on the sly) in an alternative England, where wolves had come back through the Channel Tunnel and Jacobean dynasty still ruled. It made it fresh and exciting.
It got me thinking. What if in my London, the Channel Tunnel was closed? What if Battersea Power station was still going strong? One thing led to another, and I soon had this coal-burning London, plagued by smog, divided from Europe, where things were decidedly more perilous and anything was possible.
BG: You are a prolific tweeter. How important is it to maintain your author platform and connect with your readers?
MM: Ha! I’m not sure how I feel about that! I actually really struggle with tweeting but force myself to do it in the run up to book launches, so that I know I gave the book the best shot. It’s not that I don’t like it – I absolutely love getting feedback from readers especially – but it takes me ages, plays on my mind sometimes, and definitely interferes with my writing.
Some people enjoy it and do it naturally, but if you’re like me, I think you have to find your balance, and keep checking in. I’m taking a break from it at the moment to regroup, and I know lots of authors who do the same. I much prefer school visits too, so I'm putting my time into those if I can.
BG: You were extremely busy with the launch of Nightspark. What goes into launching a new book?
MM: School visits have been a huge part of it for me. As a teacher, I absolutely love these, and I have lots of teacher friends I can connect with to set these up. They are exhausting at times, but I get a real buzz from meeting young readers – it reminds me why we do it.
Then you often have blogs (like this), sometimes events (e.g. virtual panels at conferences, podcasts), bookshop visits to sign copies and a launch if you want one (more for fun though, to be honest). You also send out advance copies to authors and bloggers, and then wait nervously for the reviews to come in! (Although, to be honest, I try to not check my reviews too much… that way madness lies…)
BG: What has been your favourite launch event for either Ghostcloud or Nightspark?
MM: Ghostcloud came out in lockdown so we had a somewhat limited park-based launch with friends and family. For Nightspark, it was just brilliant to be able to do one in a bookshop – and not just any bookshop, but the one in Battersea Power Station – where my first book was set. I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to do it, and I got to invite tons of friends and writers and drink lots of wine. So, definitely, Nightspark launch wins!
BG: World Book Day has just passed and, yet again, you have been super busy visiting schools and meeting readers. Firstly, how important is an event like World Book Day? Secondly, how amazing is it when someone dresses as one of your characters?!
MM: WBD is really a whole week, and you can reach a lot of readers and teachers – and in a way I find it much more meaningful and rewarding than social media. As for dressing up, it’s just so wonderful when you get a photo of someone dressed as one of your characters. I had this amazing Alma this year, complete with a cloud umbrella, but any photo you get is a joy – because it tells you that your story has permeated that young person’s imagination, and what a privilege that is.
BG: How long did it take to get Ghostcloud out into the world from conception to printed book in your hands? And can you describe the feeling when you first held your debut book?
MM: It took about a year and a half from signing to printing, which is longer than some, but I’m grateful for it as it gave me time to write book two while working part time. My favourite moment was in fact getting the deal – I just remember jumping up and down in the sunshine in the garden during lockdown, with some bubbly, my partner and my little girl. It felt so unreal and delightful.
BG: Did you already have the story for Nightspark in mind when you were writing Ghostcloud or did that come later?
MM: The short answer is no – and it was a bit stressful at times! Luckily, I had played around with various chapters before with my critique group, and there was one they really liked, so that was my sort of touchstone for the book. Then my lovely editor at the time, Anne McNeil, gave me brilliant support and feedback on those first few chapters, until I found my feet. I do like to invent things a bit as I go along, but at times definitely wished I had planned more!
BG: You’ve also written a story for the Faber Book of Bedtime Stories. How did that come about and how does it feel to be included in such a wonderful compilation?
MM: It’s great on so many levels. I love Faber, and one of my first writing successes was a commendation in their wonderful FAB Prize, so it sort of felt like coming full circle. It was lovely to write for a younger age group, especially when I’ve a 4-year-old daughter myself. I now read from that book to her at bedtime. Finally, it was great to be included alongside authors I admire like Emma Carroll, Aisha Bushby and Lou Kuenzler, and to get to meet so many of them at the launch event. Writing is often a solo effort, but this felt so collaborative.
BG: What comes next? Nightspark concluded the Ghostcloud series – are you already working on your next project?
MM: I am writing away at something new, but it’s top secret, and I’m a bit nervous about it still – so I’m keeping schtum!
BG: At Inky Frog we often work with writers at the very start of their journey. What top three pieces of advice could you give to beginning writers?
MM: Firstly, I’d say write to the end if you can. It’s often only when you reach the end that you realise what you need to fix.
Secondly, write for the joy of it, not to get published. So much of the market is out of your control – you can go crazy trying to second guess it. Many writers only get published on their third or fourth book.
Thirdly, be careful who you share your drafts with and when you share it. I benefited hugely from getting input from editors and other writers, but other times, feedback knocked my confidence and slowed me down. Everyone likes different books. If you get feedback from someone and you don’t agree, you should feel free to ignore it. If you keep getting the same feedback, though, then you might need to consider it.
BG: Who are your favourite children’s authors – past or present
MM: Roald Dahl, Herge, Louis Sachar, Neil Gaiman, Joan Aiken, Jonathan Stroud, Tolkien, and many more!
BG: If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be?
MM: Tintin, I reckon. I’d love to travel the world, solving mysteries, and to have a little fluffy dog.
BG: And, most importantly, what’s your favourite biscuit?
MM: Jammy dodgers, with fig rolls and garibaldis as close runners up…
Huge thanks to Michael Mann for taking time out of a hectic schedule to answer some questions for us.
Support a local bookshop and pick up a copy of Michael Mann's Ghostcloud and Nightspark at Bookshop.org