Q&A with Jim Beckett

The Caravan at the Edge of Doom is a funny book with a fantastic opening page. We are so pleased to have been given the opportunity to ask author Jim Beckett a few questions! His answers are of course, brilliant!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! We thoroughly enjoyed The Caravan at the Edge of Doom and cannot wait to read your answers!

Thank you for having me, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

We often talk about how important book openers are, and exploding grandparents is an exceptional start! Was the opening always this or did it change over time?

I think the story always began this way. There was always a lonely caravan on a moor at midnight with a Portal of Doom in the toilet. Perhaps in its very first conception, before I wrote anything down, the grandparents’ caravan toilet may have been out of bounds – for their use only. And there may have been some uncertainty about who would be accidentally passing through. (I’m glad it ended up being Malcolm. Who wouldn’t want to rescue Malcolm?)

Of course, the details were tweaked and twiddled with over and over again. As with every book, there are a thousand similar but ever so slightly different chapter ones lingering in parallel universes. I just have to imagine that this “final” version is the best of all possible worlds…

And although the beginning didn’t change, the middle and end changed a lot. One of the early additions to the caravan-toilet-Land-of-the-Dead-rescue-mission premise was Harley’s sidekick. My agent suggested the protagonist needed a companion – and that’s where Olly was born. For a very short time he was a Dickensian urchin, but I soon decided that 1989 was ancient enough history.

Where did your inspiration come from?

I’m afraid I don’t have a straightforward answer to this question. Childhood holidays were always in a little old campervan, cramped and cosy. The ritual of my dad emptying the chemical toilet is vaguely memorable. Perhaps it represents some kind of youthful epiphany about the true end of all things? About where things really go? I guess the Land of the Dead setting was my adventure-craving head seeking to up the ante on peril and mystery – there aren’t many locations stranger and scarier than death.

Can you tell us about your book in a few sentences?

It’s the story of Harley, who one day has to pass through the Portal of Doom in her grandparents’ caravan toilet to rescue her little brother, Malcolm, after he accidentally goes Beyond in their Nana’s wheelie bag. On arrival in the Land of the Dead, Harley is reunited with her imaginary friend, Olly (who turns out to have been dead all along) and learns that she only has 24 hours to get back to life to avoid Eternal Damnation. She has to travel along the perilous Path of Heroes, completing Twelve Tasks and avoiding the Resentful Beasts of Beneath…

What were the challenges and highlights of writing this book?

The biggest challenge was sustaining the internal logic of the fictional world. It always starts off making sense, but as the story evolves from one draft to the next, each little change sets off ripples that can skew that logic off-kilter. When you invent a world, you make the rules. The trouble is, like Olly, I’m not a great lover of rules.

The biggest highlight was every time my editor sent over new illustrations from Olia Muza. They’re so good!

Are you working on anything else that you can tell us about?

A sequel – The Caravan at the Edge of Doom: FOUL PROPHECY – is written. According to a popular online shopping site, it will be released in January and is available to pre-order now. Olia Muza is working on the illustrations at the moment. I’ve got two other middle grade comedy adventures written – different characters, different worlds. We’ll have to wait and see about them.

How long did this book take to write?

The first draft probably took three or four months. That was a long time ago now. Because it’s my first published book, The Caravan at the Edge of Doom went through several drafts – with my agent providing notes before it was submitted to the publishers, and then the various formal stages of edits. That early first draft is still recognisable as the story that’ll be in the shops. But every little tweak, every gem of wisdom from Sarah and Hannah (and others), made it better. The sequel has gone from synopsis to final draft far more quickly. I like that!

Looking back, what tips would you give yourself?

When I wrote the sequel, I gave myself some tips: Don’t come up with an exciting/funny/intriguing scene that the plot hasn’t got space for. Don’t come up with a character that the plot hasn’t got space for. DO stick post-it notes all over the wall and plan out the plot in rigorous detail before you start fleshing scenes out. Don’t start writing until you know where everything and everyone is going and why.

I followed my own advice and I think it helped to make the process run more smoothly. NOW, for book three and beyond, I think I’d tell myself to begin as simply as possible – because pretty soon the whole story-creating process will get too exciting and the characters, themes, settings etc will spin out of control, and I’ll have to spend hundreds of tense, wonderful hours, chasing those pesky ideas, and wrestling, cajoling and squeezing them into something book-shaped. I love it so much. I just hope the world lets me carry on doing it.

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