May Artist of the Month – Matt Whyman
We caught up with author Matt Whyman for our May 2019 interview.
About Matt Whyman
Matt Whyman is a bestselling novelist also known for his collaborative work on books with film, television, sporting and YouTube stars.
An established author of teen fiction, Matt’s most notable books include Boy Kills Man (shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Book Prize), The Savages (nominated for the Carnegie Medal) and Bad Apple, praised by the Daily Mail as ‘topical, thought-provoking and tremendous fun’.
Matt has also worked on a range of number one selling books alongside famous figures from Joe Sugg to Billy Connolly, Fred ‘First Dates’ Sirieix and even Pudsey the dancing dog from Britain’s Got Talent. He is the author of the companion guide to the 2019 TV adaptation of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, featuring interviews with David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Jack Whitehall and many others.
Matt is also a popular agony uncle and author of several advice books for boys. He has written a long-standing monthly column for Bliss Magazine and served as resident agony uncle on BBC Radio 1’s live Sunday evening show, The Surgery.
What a visit from Matt entails
Matt Whyman has extensive experience in visiting secondary schools in the UK and across the world. He is flexible in his approach to both subject and pupil numbers and will happily tailor sessions to fulfil a wider curriculum brief. He can offer assembly presentations, sessions with groups or individual classes, as well as creative writing workshops.
Matt is both frank and very funny about his struggles at school, his drift into casual work and passionate in his belief that a love of reading and writing saved him. He addresses everyone as writers, whatever they want to do in life and is a firm believer in the power of the written word to make things happen.
To encourage young writers to spread their wings, Matt also talks about setting stories in places the author has never visited, from a foreign country to another time or planet and discusses the associated problems and possibilities. He uses examples from his own work, often set in conflict zones that his wife refused to let him research first hand. He then explains how this led to invitations to talk about his books in regions of the world that required an armed guard…
A popular and acclaimed creative writing tutor, Matt’s aim is to inspire and enthuse participants of all abilities. In particular, he focuses on the skills required to turn an idea into a story that doesn’t run out of steam.
Working as a group, Matt will present an idea and encourage participants to strip it into basic story components. He’ll then lead everyone through the creative process to the moment they put pen to paper having first considered every aspect of the narrative ahead.
Half day workshops and longer will involve writing time and a constructive collective review, in which participants are encouraged to learn from each other’s experience. To guarantee that everyone gets the most from Matt, shorter sessions take the form of a fun, energetic conversation about strategies for developing ideas – with plenty of opportunity for questions.
Matt can offer workshops ranging from one hour, to a half or full day. He can work with groups of all sizes from year 7 upwards.
Feedback from Matt’s previous visits
‘Matt made the experience all about the pupils and got them excited about creative writing; they are very much looking forward to continuing the work in class.’ Librarian, Webster’s High School
‘Our class really enjoyed Matt’s visit. After discussion, we think we were most impressed by his lack of self-importance.The pupils felt he was genuinely interested in developing their skills and helping them overcome their difficulties. We are now all fans.’ Class Teacher, Webster’s High School
‘Matt related well to the pupils and kept them interested. He made them think and work without them really realising it, as shown by the readiness with which they did as he asked.’ Class Teacher, Forfar Academy
“Thank you for the workshop – the children loved it! A Year 6 student said it was the best day she had ever had at school to date! The children have taken home their writing to publish and then we’ll upload them onto our school website.” – Chloe Alder, Betty Layward Primary School
“WBD was a roaring success yesterday. The students were buzzing after your visit. There was plenty of talk yesterday about the 12 steps and the Year 9s will get a chance to put this to practice with 1984! We have raised over two hundred pounds for library books and have had many requests for The Savages and Bad Apple; we will certainly be buying some copies. Staff and students alike have said that you were the best author to have visited.” – Lee Fisher, Havant Academy
Interview with Matt Whyman
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
On dropping out of school, I never thought I’d see a classroom again. Then I wrote a YA novel some time in the early Nineties, and found myself back there as an author. This time it was different. I wasn’t bored at the back, thinking reading and writing wasn’t for me. I was aiming to reach out to that kind of pupil and encourage them to see that writing is a way to get out of trouble and go places – no matter what you choose to do in life. I joined the Authors Abroad family in 2014 to extend my reach across schools in the UK and overseas as a visiting author and creative writing teacher.
How did you initially get into writing?
I sat down to write the Great English Novel a year after graduating with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. That ended in two rejected manuscripts taking up space in my cramped bedsit in Bristol, and my youthful ambition in tatters. Then, trudging to work in a call centre on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, I bumped into Muhammad Ali. It’s not every day you get to meet a living legend, but it proved to be a turning point. Ali never gave up, and I can honestly say that a world champion heavyweight boxer was responsible for getting me back in the writing ring.
Which genre do you prefer writing?
You’re asking an author of a hard-hitting novel about Colombian child assassins and a memoir about life with a sausage dog…
Is it difficult watching people take credit for books you have ghost-written? How hard is it when you have done a good job with something not to be able to take credit?
I love telling stories to the best of my abilities – and that includes stories by other people who don’t necessarily have the time, experience or confidence to tell it themselves. If I can write a story for someone that leaves them feeling as if they wrote it themselves then my job is done. In general it’s a collaborative process, and it’s down to me to establish a relationship that allows the story to be told. Sometimes my name appears on a cover, but to be honest I’m into the creative process more than the credit. Ultimately, I get to work with some fascinating people, and learn loads about subjects I previously knew nothing about.
How do you manage to write such a wide variety of books? It must be more complex than those who concentrate on one series and their preferred genre!
Whatever I’m writing – whether it’s fiction for adults, teenagers or children, non-fiction of every flavour, a graphic novel, a memoir, a ghost-written book or a companion guide to a television series or a film, I always have the reader in mind. I want those pages to practically turn themselves.
What has been your favourite moment of visiting a school so far?
One school adapted a Matt Whyman novel into an interpretative dance. They performed it at the assembly. It was better than the book!
You have visited schools in a few different countries for Author’s Abroad – how do you find doing school visits overseas?
I really enjoy visiting new places and working within new cultural environments. I’m also aware that international school have invested a lot in inviting an author all the way from the UK, and so I always aim to deliver to the best of my abilities. I am really flexible in terms of what I can offer – from talks of every stripe (and to all abilities) to workshops in fiction/non-fiction/journalism/memoir and writing comics.
Has anyone ever been worried you were going to be a bit scary considering the content of some of your books? (Although we must point out the Savages is purely fictional).
Yes! At a glance, some of my novels sound close to the bone – but I aim to subvert that expectation. The Savages might be about a family of cannibals, but it’s not a horror novel. All the nastiness takes place behind the kitchen door. It’s a book about food choices, and the difficulty the father of the family has when he discovers his daughter is dating a vegetarian. This reputation rather started with Boy Kills Man. At face value, it looks like a violent book, but it’s a story about the consequences of firing a gun, not the act. This didn’t stop Sweden from getting into a froth when I was invited across to talk about the book. I woke up the morning before a TV interview to find I had made the papers – Skrammerbarn! Screamed the headline under a picture of me that didn’t look like me. This translated to CHILD SCARER! Which made my kids roll their eyes when I returned home.
What can parents do to encourage their children to read for pleasure, and why is reading for pleasure so important?
I really do believe that children will find their own pathways into reading and writing. Some kids dive straight into books, others take their time. Plenty opt for video games instead, but they’re still immersed in a story – with a beginning, a middle and an end. And if you like this video game, for example, you might like this book…. In one of my sessions, I invite the class to nominate a classic novel, a film and a video game. I then aim to demonstrate that all three can be boiled down to the same story. It’s good fun, and a challenge when faced with Hamlet, Toy Story and Grand Theft Auto, but they all share the same narrative bones.
What advice would you give to a young person who would like to become a writer when they are older?
There’s no such thing as a natural born writer. It’s a craft. You have to work at it, make mistakes and be prepared to keep learning. I have no problem in admitting that I have published over thirty novels and still don’t know how to spell ryht… ryhthe… rhythm.
Do you get much time for reading? If so what genres do you like and are a book buyer or borrower?
I tend to borrow books. Not from the library but my wife’s bedside table. I am very much a ‘this is my book now’ kind of husband. It’s a wonder we’re still together.
What do you do to relax?
I write and I run ultra marathons. One is for work and the other is for pleasure, but I find both relaxing in an odd way. I actually think both pursuits share similarities – they seem like impossible tasks, but just a question of applying yourself, reviewing how things are going along the way and then focusing on the finish. One step at a time and you can write a novel or run 100 miles.
Do you think books can make a life changing impact on someone?
Absolutely! My daughter is about to graduate in medicine because she read an adult non fiction title I had pressed into her hands when she was ten about the threat of super viruses. Worst dad ever!
Tell us about your new addition to the family, how is Sprint settling in?
Sprint was a surprise birthday present to me – a springer spaniel puppy and in due course a dog who will run alongside me. That’s at least a year away. Right now, as I write, he’s under my desk destroying a beloved slipper. But at least it’s keeping him busy.
Paperback or Kindle?
Paperback. I finish a page on a Kindle and can’t remember a word.
Triathlon or tough mudder?
Neither! Just give me a pair of running shoes and a destination.
Christmas or birthday?
I change my mind about this twice a year.
I’m on Season 8 of Suits
What’s scariest, zombies or vampires?
I am Team Dracula
If you were Prime Minister for the day what new law would you introduce?
I would outlaw semi-colons.
Arrange for Matt Whyman to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Matt, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org