Hannah Collisson speaks to bestselling author William Sutcliffe whose first novel for younger children has been chosen for Brighton’s Young City Reads 2015

William Sutcliffe is delighted, and understandably so; an entire city will soon be reading and discussing his latest book.

It was announced last week that Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom has been chosen for this year’s Young City Reads as part of Brighton Festival.

The idea is that one book by one author is chosen for children across the city to creatively engage with, at home and at school, and the project launches officially on March 5 (World Book Day) at Jubilee library.

Primary school classes which sign up will be reading William’s book together between March 5 and May 20, and receive free weekly e-bulletins with puzzles, quizzes and activities to complete.

“It’s fantastic, it’s perfect for the book,” says William. “One of the things I most wanted for the book was to get adults and children reading together.

“My son was about nine when I started writing, and once your children start reading to themselves there is a tendency to stop reading to them.

“It’s a real pleasure sharing a funny book with a kid, it’s such fun as a parent. There are not many books that pull it off.”

Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom is the first book that William has written for younger children (eight years and up), and the first of a series, the second of which is soon to be published.

The central character in the offbeat adventure is a girl called Hannah, whose life is dull until Armitage Shank’s Impossible Circus comes to town.

William has written five novels for adults, including the international bestseller Are You Experienced?, while his first novel for young adults, The Wall, published in 2013, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize.

At its heart The Wall is a commentary on Israeli-Palestinian politics.

William said the impetus to write a book for children came in large part from the pleasure of reading funny books to his eldest son Saul. He recalls reading a Mr Gum book (a series by Andy Stanton) and Saul guffawing with pleasure.

“I had been toying with the idea for ages. When I started out, my books were quite funny, and as I got older, the books seemed to get more serious.

“The Wall was a more serious novel than all the adult novels I have written, and I felt very weighed down by it.

“I thought writing a children’s book would be a really good way to get back to writing humour.”

When writing for children you need a story, says William, but on the other hand if something is funny then sometimes that can be enough, whereas for adults, plot is always central.

“You can be a bit more whimsical and playful writing for children,” says William. “Even really small children who are learning to talk, they play with language, in the same way they play around in the snow; they just want to muck around with it and see what it does.

“I think the eight to 12 age group are the least well-served when it comes to finding something to read, and hopefully this will fill that gap.”

William began writing Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom shortly after the birth of his third child, so didn’t have huge amounts of time to dedicate to it. The first draft was written without too much scrutiny, but then the re-write was more rigorous, he says.

“I have no idea where the story comes from, I think it had been knocking around for a while; sometimes you have an intangible sense of how you want the story to feel.

“The story and characters revealed themselves to me as I wrote.

William explains that he approaches writing projects differently depending on what they are. Because Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom is a humorous children’s book he was able to take a more freeform approach, rather than outlining a structure and sticking to it strictly.

“I have spent most of my adult life writing, and in order to keep the process alive for yourself as a writer you can do different things,” says William.

“I do enjoy taking a different approach each time.”

The book is definitely on the border between the real and the surreal, and the characters are brought to life with illustrations by David Tazzyman.

William and David will be in Brighton for a special Young City Reads event on May 20.

“I have been to Brighton a fair bit, but never made it to Brighton Festival. I’m looking forward to the event on May 20 with David Tazzyman; David doesn’t often do stuff in public.

“The minute I saw the drawings I loved them. He’s really positive about the books. It’s a very visual book and there’s a lot happening physically. He said to me he looks at the books and there’s lots to draw.”

William now lives in Edinburgh, with his wife, novelist Maggie O’Farrell, and their three children aged 10, 5 and 2.

“She has a huge impact on what I write and vice versa – it’s an incredible resource to have in your house,” says William of Maggie.

“Someone who’s a writer can see the difference between a faulty first draft that can be a good book, and a bad book.

“It’s a scary moment when I first show her a draft. We are both really honest with each other, and that can be difficult.

“I wrote half the first draft, then I got her and Saul and read a chunk aloud to them, they were both really positive about it.

“Saul’s never read anything I’ve written before. A lot of his friends at school have read it – it’s nice getting their reaction, as usually children of that age don’t pay much attention to what adults do.”

  •  For further information visit www.cityreads.co.uk/young-city-reads n Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom by William Sutcliffe is published by Simon and Schuster.