An Interview With William Sutcliffe

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For those who haven’t read the book, could you describe the book in ten words?

A satire on the ADHD epidemic, on controlling kids with drugs.

What inspired you to write the book?

The idea for the book came from a conversation with a friend of mine who is a child psychiatrist. She started telling me that one of her main professional concerns is that parents are bringing children to her wanting an ADHD diagnosis not only because they think the child might be genuinely ill, but because this diagnosis, and the associated prescription of Ritalin, will make the family eligible for disability living allowance. I was horrified by this idea – that we live in a country where the state pays parents to drug children who misbehave. This sounded to me like something closer to science fiction than reality, which set me to thinking how I could write a novel that would draw attention to this scandal. I was also drawn by the challenge of writing a book that would slip into the gap between realism and sci-fi.

The book is told from the perspective of several different characters, such as Troy, the mayor, the journalist etc. Was there a specific reason for writing the book from the perspectives of various different characters?

The kids in the book are violent and tough, from a very deprived background. It seemed very important to capture their voices, to make them sympathetic even though what they do is nasty and criminal. Having done that, it made sense to write the book by trying to get inside the heads of all the characters involved in the story. With the adult characters, this opened up the possibility of some comedy inside what is otherwise quite a dark story.

Did you draw any of the events or characters in the book from events in your own life?

The English riots of 2011 (just to be clear – I wasn’t personally a participant) were part of the inspiration for the book. The media were very quick to condemn the rioters, without asking who they were or why they might be rioting. Some interesting books have come out since, talking to the participants, which served as useful research background for my novel.

Did any authors you read inspire you and your writing style, and if so who?

I always have at least one book on the go and I am constantly inspired by books of all kinds. A book I studied for A-Level and subsequently at university was a key inspiration for the form of this novel: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, which invented the style of chapters titled by the name of the character who narrates them as in interior monologue. This is the novel I have read more times than any other.

“The Wall” is regarded as your first YA nove, despite you having previous titles before The Wall, like New Boy. What draws you to the YA genre?

I’m drawn by writing about young people because so much is at stake for them. They are interested in everything, and are actively seeking their path through the world, learning how to navigate complex ideas for the first time. Adults, by comparison, live more stable, less exciting lives.

How do you write? Do you have a specific process? Where do you get your ideas from?

I don’t have a useful answer to that question. I just sit there and do it. If I get stuck, I go for a walk. I’m not sure where the ideas come from. Everyone has ideas all the time. The difference is that writers get them on paper, explore them, and find out where they lead.

What’s next for you?

I’m just finishing my next novel, which I will send to my publisher very soon in the hope that they don’t hate it.

And finally, what tips would you give to any aspiring writers who may be reading?

The best advice I can give is to make yourself some space each day to write, and to try and enjoy the process of doing it. Don’t worry too much about what it is you are writing. Just get some words on the page, and keep going.

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Concentr8 is available now from all good bookshops, along with all of William’s previous titles.

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