An interview with Joseph Delaney

Joseph Delaney

The Wardstone Chronicles began in 2004 with the publication of The Spook's Apprentice. In 2008 the fifth book in the series, The Spook's Mistake, was released to further complement a series that is without doubt the best ongoing fantasy series for young adults. Set in locations based on real places in Lancashire, the inspiration behind the stories often comes from local ghost stories and legends. The Spook's Apprentice, The Spook's Curse and The Spook's Secret have all been short listed for the Lancashire children's Book for the Year Award. The Spook's Apprentice is the winner of both the Sefton Book Award and the Hampshire Book Award.

Joseph Delaney kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in December 2008.

Your first novel was written under the pen name JK Haderack. Was this a reference to the Kwisatz Haderach from Frank Herbert's Dune trilogy?

Joseph Delaney: Yes, very much so. I thought a character who could see into the future was an excellent name for a science fiction and/or fantasy author. Free will versus predestination are themes which figure in 'The Wardstone Chronicles'. Some witches think they can scry the future but the Spook doesn't and believes he can make choices and change things. Lord of the Rings is my all-time favourite read but the Dune Series comes a very close second. Those books inspired me.

Did writing The Wardstone Chronicles in the first person ever become constrictive? Did you ever yearn for the greater freedom that the third person perspective could offer?

Joseph Delaney: No, because I felt very comfortable writing the story from Tom Ward's point of view. Only in the most recent book, 'The Spook's Sacrifice', which I've just completed, has that been a slight problem. It has a larger cast of characters and more action than previous books; it would have been easier to tell the story from multiple perspectives. But I always seem to do things the hard way!

The character of Alice feels like she could turn bad at any moment, you are never quite sure which way she will turn. Was writing her character a similar experience for you or have you always know where she is heading?

Yes, it was a similar experience particularly because I don't do detailed plots in advance and I'm always open to flashes of inspiration and am prepared to change things at short notice. When I tell people that I don't know how the series will end they sometimes don't believe me - but it is true! I like Alice and hope that I can save her - but you never know. Anything could happen!

The stories have a distinct northern feel to them, was this something you were conscious of and were you ever worried about ostracising some readers?

Joseph Delaney: They are set in the north, in Lancashire where I live and it was the choice I made from the start. I never really gave much thought to the fact that it might ostracise some readers because the County is a fantasy world, and readers of fantasy are usually robust and able to enter imaginatively into such creations. I was aware however of the pitfall of using strong dialect which really can put people off and make a book difficult to read. So there are a few colloquialisms and light touches but I tried to make the books accessible.

Would you personally have made a good Spook's Apprentice?

Joseph Delaney: Not at all! I hate total darkness and if I wake up in the night like to be able to just about see my hand in front of my face. I don't think I would have survived the night in the haunted house in 'The Spook's Apprentice'!

The following is taken from The Spook's Curse: "The Spook paused and sighed deeply. 'I don't believe in the God they preach about in church,' he said. 'I don't believe in an old man with a white beard. But there's something watching what we do, and if you live your life right, in your hour of need it'll stand at your side and lend you its strength. That's what I believe. Well, come on, lad. We've dawdled here long enough and had best be on our way.'"

This paragraph really stood out for me because it is such a beautiful way of describing personal and non-organised faith. As the reader I felt that this was not only the Spook's belief but also the authors - would this be accurate?

Joseph Delaney: Yes you are perfectly correct. The Spook embodies my own beliefs regarding religion. I believe in respecting all religions and being tolerant. But I also think non-organised faith is a valid option for anyone to pursue.

Are you the seventh son of a seventh son?

Joseph Delaney: No! I was the first of four children but I do now have seven grandchildren.

Is there any up to date news on the proposed film adaptation of The Spook's Apprentice?

Joseph Delaney: The latest news: the film is still on schedule for production in 2009; Kevin Lima is working on the script and it is progressing well; they are likely to use unknown or relatively unknown child actors for Tom and Alice; they are searching for a big star to play the Spook. Although they won't say who they are approaching for the role, my own personal favourites are either Sean Bean or Gary Oldman. Wish I knew more!

Joseph Delaney books reviewed