Can you sum up Knightley & Son for a new reader?
Alan Knightley was London’s top private detective until he fell into an unexplained coma for four years. His thirteen- year-old son, Darkus, has spent that time visiting his dad and reading his criminal case files, so when Alan wakes up, he finds Darkus is the perfect partner in crime-solving — if they can get past their father-son issues. Darkus’s street-wise stepsister Tilly joins the duo as they track down a bestselling book that appears to be causing its readers to commit crimes.
When did you first read Sherlock Holmes, and what impact did the books have on you?
I still remember seeing the Complete Sherlock Holmes sitting on my dad’s bedside table, so that image must have stuck around in the back of my mind, eventually becoming Knightley & Son. Sherlock’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a huge influence on me, both for his intricate plots, and for Holmes and Watson, who are two of the most enduring characters ever — mostly because they play off each other’s quirks so well. I thought having father and son detectives could create a nice friction too, because with parents and kids there is always love and a bit of healthy argument.
What is it about detective fiction that so appeals to you? Why do you think it remains such a popular genre with young readers?
I think detective fiction is appealing to all ages because it feels both familiar and new. As a reader you know from the first page that there will be a crime, a clue, a suspect, some red herrings and a conclusion, but the trick is in making it an exciting journey along the way. Especially when you’re young, a good detective novel can be like going on an investigation yourself, analysing the clues and piecing everything together. And strangely that’s exactly what it’s like for me when I write one. I often don’t know precisely which clues will crop up and when, and I sort of have to follow my intuition to figure out how to solve the crime.
You write screenplays as well as novels, are there ploys from screenwriting that you use in writing fiction
Screenwriting is all about telling a story as concisely as possible, and a film script needs to draw in readers (and ultimately an audience) quickly and keep them interested. One way to do that is to start with a surprising or shocking scene that kick starts the story and hopefully makes it hard to put down. However, after that comes the hard work of building characters who are interesting enough to carry the reader through the various twists and turns of the plot.
The Knightley & Son books are your first children’s books, what are you most pleased with in the books?
Knightley & Son was the first book I’d ever written, so I was mostly happy that it worked at all! Now that I’ve written three, I think I’m most pleased with the rather diverse and eccentric family of characters, who are relied upon to solve some quite outlandish crimes, mostly armed only with their wits and their Holmesian powers of deduction.
What in the books was hardest to write?
Keeping a plot interesting while also keeping it logical can be a challenge. If I have no option and have to decide between the two, I usually go for entertainment, because as the director Alfred Hitchcock pointed out, the audience rarely remembers minor logic flaws, but they do know if they’re not enjoying themselves.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I was originally a musician, then a film editor, then a screenwriter. So I came to writing novels quite late. My mother, children’s author Jamila Gavin, has written throughout my life, and I never expected to do the same thing, but genes can be funny like that.
Will there be more Knightley and Son adventures to come?
The third book, 3 Of A Kind, puts Darkus and his dad into greater peril than ever, and ties up a lot of the questions surrounding the villainous organisation, the Combination, and how it was involved in Tilly’s mother’s death. But while some of the characters seem to have breathed their last breath, the door is left firmly ajar for more adventures.
Do you have any writing related mementos or lucky charms?
I have a signed screenplay of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a dedication from writer Lawrence Kasdan, who also worked on the Star Wars movies. It says: ‘Life is the great adventure.’ That line has stayed with me.
The Knightley & Son adventures are published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.