Maz’s debut children’s novel Who Let the Gods Out was published by Chicken House in February 2017 and we don’t think she’s stopped since! Today she is lowered, Mission: Impossible style, into #TheRealm to talk to Ian Eagleton about her thrilling and hilarious new book, Vi Spy!
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book Vi Spy: Licence to Chill?
I most certainly can… Vi Spy is the story of Valentine Day, who is desperate to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a spy. But her overprotective Mum, retired super spy Easter Day, has other ideas. Easter is about to marry Vi’s dull form teacher, Mr Sprout, giving Vi an unwanted stepbrother, Russell Sprout. But on her mum’s wedding day, Vi’s father Robert – aka wanted supervillain Sir Charge – comes back from the dead. He claims he’s turned over a new leaf and wants to get to know Vi – and unless Easter lets him, she can’t have a divorce and get married again. But can Vi trust him? And can anyone stop evil overlord Umbra from taking over the world while they figure it all out…?
How would you say Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is similar to your other popular series Who Let the Gods Out?? How would you say it’s different?
I hope that VI has the same balance of humour and heart that readers seem to have enjoyed with the Gods. Like WLTGO, it’s a fantasy story – a child caught between a divorcing supervillain and super spy – but it’s rooted in reality, as millions of children experience the heartbreak of their parents breaking up. But I hope it’s got its own vibe too – we’re not in classical mythology now, we’re in the super cool world of super cool spies…
Valentine Day is a great character – determined, brave, curious and just a bit stubborn! Is she based on anyone you know?
Er… no…! There’s a bit of me in lots of my characters (Virgo always being right comes straight from me!) but Vi and I have a lot in common. I loved spy stories as a kid and thought it would be fun to be one – but I’m just too clumsy and loud to stand a chance! Vi gets her less good points from me – stubborn, grumpy and a bit naughty – I wish I were as brave as her.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Siren – the seductive femme fatale with serious hygiene issues! Do you have a favourite supervillain in the story?
Siren is one of my favourite characters I have ever created! When I was creating EVIL (the Ex-Villain’s Improvement League) I was conscious that there aren’t that many female supervillains – and the ones that we have can often be objectified as a certain kind of woman. So I thought it would be fun to play with that and make a very attractive lady… who has the worst personal hygiene imaginable!
What I think makes your writing stand out is the well-placed humour – it’s a story full of fun, puns and wit! How difficult is it to write the funny side of things and how do you go about coming up with all these hilarious acronyms, jokes and puns?
Please understand, all writing is hard – but this is the bit that comes most easily to me. I tend to naturally see the absurdity in life, so I find it easy to find in my writing. And it’s often the humour that brings the story to life for me and I build the rest around it. I regularly come up with the punchline and work backwards – I figure out what is the funniest end point and then work out how to get there.
Following on from this, it’s worth noting that you also balance the fun and action with some more serious issues such as divorce and bullying. How important is it for you to balance these parts of the story and how do you go about planning to ensure the story is so emotionally rich and varied?
That’s very kind of you to say and it’s massively important to me as a writer that I do both. Life is never one colour and I want to reflect that in my stories. Some days can be very hard and unkind, but a smile is rarely far away. I try to make sure that the funny bits don’t undermine the serious bits and that the serious bits don’t harsh the comedy vibe. I tend to find that they fall into quite a natural shape as the characters go through their journeys and I try to make sure I break both comedy and serious chunks up with some of the other one.
I love the eye-catching front cover and illustrations by Jez Tuya. Can you remember how you felt when you saw the front cover design for the first time?
Jez has just captured Vi perfectly – I love how he has her hanging down, Mission Impossible style! The basic idea for the cover came together very easily and then Rachel Hickman (MD of Chicken House) and designer Helen Crawford-White did a FANTASTIC job of creating a really fun embossed cover with flaps and spy holes. It’s a gorgeous book, I’m very lucky.
Are there any other children’s books you’ve enjoyed reading recently?
I am really struggling to read at the moment with everything that’s going on, but I loved The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery. It’s a magical book, full of friendship and fantasy and adventure – and has Ross’s brilliant wit to light it up.
Finally, can you describe Vi Spy: Licence to Chill in three words?
Fun. To. Read.