Authors take boy archaeologist overseas

NEW YORK (Reuters) - First came Harry Potter. Now comes teenager Will Burrows, a boy archaeologist.

Publisher Barry Cunningham of Chicken House, whose previous finds included J.K. Rowling, is on an international drive to promote two new authors, Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, as the next hot item in children’s literature.

The pair co-authored “Tunnels”, a fantasy novel about a teenager who finds a lost world deep under London, which became a best-seller in Britain last year with its film rights snapped up and the book now licensed for 34 foreign editions.

Gordon, a former investment banker, and his university friend Williams, an artist, spoke to Reuters about “Tunnels”, which was self-published before being picked up by Chicken House. It was released in the United States this month:

Q: Has the success of “Tunnels” surprised you?

Gordon: “When we started out late 2003 on that dark and stormy house the book almost chose us. It wasn’t a rationale thing for either of us to do. We didn’t start out with any expectations at all. We wanted to self-publish because it gave us control over the process but there wasn’t really any expectations of money or reward or anything like that.”

Q: Had you written before?

Williams: “We met at university in 1980 and I always used writing in my art work -- making films and installations that was part of it -- but not creative writing as such. I also ran a poetry magazine in my teenage years.”

Gordon:: “I had written a few odd things over time. I wrote a thriller in 1990 but knowing I’d probably never do anything with it. I spent 20 years in the city doing corporate finance so my writing was business plans and some of those were complete works of fiction.”

Q: Where did the idea of Will Burrows come from?

Gordon: “My wife found a tumbledown old house in Northamptonshire and I was working on that house. It had huge stone walls and I was lowering the ground level outside and came across this compacted stone. A neighbour poked his head over the fence and said there could be a tunnel down there and that got me thinking about a character, aged 13 or 14, who was fascinated about what lay in the ground and loved to dig.

Williams: “I had heard a story about two council workers in Liverpool who accidentally unearthed a section of tunnelling from the 1800s ... that gave me an idea of a secret street but it was not gelling into anything. It was only when Rod talked about his character that it clicked.”

Q: What is it about archaeology that appeals to children?

Williams: “It is the sort of magic of the imagination of what lies beneath your feet, the idea that you could dig down and discover something. Most kids will go into the garden and dig. I think that’s part of it and also the thing of discovery.

Q: You’ve finished the second in the series, “Deeper”?

Gordon: “Yes, a bit of final editing and it comes out in the UK end of May. We are starting to flesh out the third.”

Q: How does it work, writing as a pair?

Williams: “We sit around a table and start to throw ideas out and end up with piles of notes, diagrams and drawings and we will get a chapter into shape. When we are happy with that Rod will go away and do the first draft on the computer then he passes it over and I work longhand with pen and paper and scribble all over that and it goes back to Rod. We do that until we are happy with it.”

Q: What advice would you give to other new writers?

Williams: “One of the things is to get obsessed and stay obsessed. You can’t stop. Even if it is not working it is the discipline of doing it every day.”

Gordon: “Don’t expect it to happen quickly. You have to live it and go though it again and again. Once you have got the first draft you are still only 20 percent in.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney