Christopher William Hill Interview

Christopher William HillChristopher William Hill will be coming to join the 40th anniversary celebrations at Ilkley Literature Festival this autumn. He’ll be introducing Osbert the Avenger, the first book in the Tales from Schwartzgarten series. This darkly funny tale follows Osbert’s exploits in the forbidding, sinister city of Schwartzgarten, where he wreaks a murderous revenge upon those who cross his path.

We spoke to Christopher William Hill to learn more about how he would wreak revenge on a terrifying teacher and why he loves a truly despicable baddie!

You’re heading to Ilkley literature Festival this autumn to take part in its 40th anniversary celebrations. Are you looking forward to indulging in any special Yorkshire traditions? A fat rascal or a walk on Ilkley Moor, perhaps?
This will be my first visit to Ilkley. Although a fat rascal does sound delicious, I’d be more tempted by a curd tart and if I was feeling flush, I’d indulge in some rose and violet creams. I may need to limit myself to sampling one delight a day!

Book CoverThe world of Osbert the Avenger is fantastically dark. What inspired you to create the Schwartzgarten school. Are there any echoes from your own schooldays there?
The Institute in the book wasn’t really influenced by my own childhood experiences but I wanted to create a school that was so sinister its evil influence extended to affect the entire city of Schwartzgarten. And I wanted a decent, kind, hardworking family at the heart of the story – the Brinkhoffs – who suffer as a result of the school’s stranglehold over the city. I was bullied a bit as a child and I sometimes used to daydream about the delicious ways I could get my own back – but I never really tried. Osbert Brinkhoff is my dark twin – the boy who will stop at nothing to exact his revenge!

What would be your own personal favourite way of despatching a truly terrible teacher?
At a recent event, a child suggested suffocation by cake, which I thought was a fantastic idea. Personally, I’d choose ‘defenestration'; a sophisticated word for the very unsophisticated act of throwing someone out of a window. It makes me think of one teacher in particular who never said thank you when I opened a door for her – it would have been a fitting end if she had then been defenestrated!  As one door closes another window opens…

Why do you think children relate to Osbert so much? 
Ultimately I think there’s an element of catharsis in following Osbert’s plan for revenge. I really believe that children have strong moral compasses and realise that Osbert’s actions are wrong, but they can understand why he’s driven to behave the way he does. Going as far back as the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm, children’s literature has contained dark, sinister and troubling elements. But it often seems that the attitudes of adults and children to darker stories are poles apart; what children love to read isn’t necessarily what adults think they should be reading. Osbert The Avenger will not turn children into monsters – in the same way that Black Beauty did not turn me into a horse.

When reading reviews of your work, you are often compared to Roald Dahl. Did his writing have a big impact on you in your younger days?
I’m very flattered by the comparison and agree there are dark, gruesome aspects which we both explore in our writing. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that his work had an enormous impact on me when I was a child. I particularly loved the stories of Lewis Carroll – that strange, creeping sense of weirdness. The Alice books got under my skin and made me feel on-edge and uncomfortable; the sign of a very skilful writer.

When visiting schools and literary festivals, are there any moments which have stayed with you, in terms of amusing encounters or unintentional put-downs?
There have been numerous occasions when I’ve been corrected or put in my place by children, whether intentional or not. I remember one child asking if I was aware how important adjectives are to a story and also being berated by a young girl for spelling her name incorrectly at a book-signing. Perhaps the most lingering memory was at an event when a child asked “Can’t you just go?!”

As well as being a children’s author, you’re also a well-renowned playwright. Looking ahead, would you ever consider bringing a version of Osbert to the stage?
I wrote a play, Mister Holgado, which was also set in Schwartzgarten and this was performed at Unicorn Theatre earlier this year.  I would definitely love to see ‘death by strudel machine’  re-enacted on the stage! Children have to be challenged and thrilled by the theatre, so we can make sure they return as adults.

If you could have created any character in children’s literature (past or present), which character would you choose?
It would have to be Abner Brown, the villain from John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. He’s a wonderfully sophisticated villain with no redeeming features.

What can young visitors to Ilkley lit Fest expect to see as part of your event?
Smells! Smell is such an important sense and is closely associated with memory. I come from a baking family; my granddad was a baker which meant I enjoyed vast amounts of cake as a child and I really associate the smell of baking with my childhood. At my event I can promise lots of smells, some pleasant, some less appealing! I’ll also be showing children how they can create fun, exciting characters themselves.

To find out more about Christopher William Hill’s event at Ilkley Literature Festival, please click here.
You may also like to follow Christopher on Twitter (@cwhillauthor) .
For all the behind-the-scenes info about Ilkley Literature Festival, visit The Pickled Egg, the official blogger of Ilkley Literature Festival.

Christopher is represented by Sophie Gorell-Barnes at MBA Literary and Script Agents.

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