Many thanks to Michael and The Teenage Book Forum, who sent me the following questions:

Why did you choose to write about going to Hell in The Black Tattoo? Some authors say books are based on things they want to do, so do you want to go there?

When I was putting the ideas together for what became The Black Tattoo I was thinking a lot about fantasy places in books, particularly ones that can supposedly be reached from our own world: Narnia, Hogwarts, etc. I decided that instead of making one up from scratch, it might be more fun to take a world that people supposedly ‘know’ already – then play with readers’ expectations.

I don’t want to go there. I don’t think most writers actually want to go to the worlds they write about, not really. With effort and concentration, imagining can be just as good – or better.

Do your stories have bits of yourself in? If so, what?

Do you mean do my stories include real things from my life? Yes: definitely. Every story does. And I think every writer does it – or if they don’t, they should. Putting real experiences (your own or other people’s) into stories gives them solidity, makes them believable. I think that’s especially important in fantasy stories, as it helps give the reader something real to hang onto when the going gets weird. But you don’t just drop them in wholesale: you stretch them, twist them, fit them to the tale you want to tell. One example from The Black Tattoo would be the break-up of Charlie’s family. At the time my own parents split up I felt some of the same kind of rage that drives Charlie and makes it so easy for the Scourge to manipulate him. Years later (and I get on fine with both my parents these days, by the way) I took those real experiences and added them to the mix that became the book.

What do you do in your spare time?

I play guitar in a band. I listen to music, play games, watch films – and I read. I read first thing in the morning while I’m cleaning my teeth; I read last thing at night before I sleep. I also read any other chance I get.

Why is the Scourge known as Khentimentu? Does it have some meaning?

There’s an Egyptian god called Khentimentiu (with an ‘i’ in it) – but the Scourge isn’t him. Khentimentu is the Scourge’s demon name. Whatever meaning you attach to that is up to you.

What gave you the idea of a living tattoo?

Ideas can come from anywhere. That one came (believe it or not) from the New Zealand Tourist Board.

When I was at university I had a bad habit of falling asleep in front of the tv. One night I woke up and thought I was still dreaming: what I saw on the screen was a lady model in a bikini – but she had thick black Maori tattoos appearing from nowhere all over her skin, like a darkness from inside of her was eating her alive.

I think the advertisement was trying to show that visiting New Zealand leaves an impression on a person. The image they’d chosen to do that certainly left an impression on me: I thought it was one of the most sinister things I’d ever seen!

About ten years later, when I was planning the book, I realised I needed a way to show the Scourge taking over Charlie – a visual way, one that readers and I could picture clearly. That’s when I remembered the ad. I should probably write to the Tourist Board and thank them, but I’m not sure how pleased they’d be. ;D

Do you have a tattoo?

Three, smallish, on my right arm: a pair of dolphins, my favourite coffee mug, and a six-legged cat alien reading a book on the moon. I asked my illustrator friend Barnaby Richards to design that last one for me when I got my first book deal.

What inspired you to start writing?

The same thing that keeps me going: I remember the first books I read that opened my mind to what books can do, how deeply thrilling they can be – the books that turned reading from what I’d thought was a chore into one of the central passions and pleasures of my life. If one of my stories could have that effect on someone else…. wow. That’s an inspiring goal to work towards, it seems to me.

What is your daily schedule?

When I’m not out performing at schools, libraries, bookshops etc (which I love, by the way), my day is pretty regular. I get up about 9.30. I exercise (t’ai chi, rowing machine) for about an hour, and after breakfast and whatnot I’m at the desk around noon. I write first, until I’ve done what I set out to do that day, or for as long as I can. Then I do admin: arranging events, running my websites and blogs, answering correspondence. There’s a break in there for lunch around four or five pm. I usually stop work around nine. So that’s about eight hours a day, five days a week. Writing is a job and should be treated as such.

From how you write The Black Tattoo, it seems you’re not a very religious person; not believing God is always watching over us?

I’m interested in religions, and the effects they have on people and the world. But I’m yet to come across one I agree with.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The Q&A sections of the websites of my books have some tips in there from me: be my guest. My two favourite pieces of advice come from other authors.

From Lee Child: “Write the exact book that you yourself would be thrilled to read.” The tough bits of writing are much easier to get through if you love and believe in your story.

From Harry Crews: “The secret of writing? Put your &ss on the chair.” If you want to be an author you need to sit down, stay there and do it.

What is the process of planning involved in your work?

I plan as much as I can. It’s the best way to fill your story with things you care about. It’s also important to know that one day a project will end! But planning only takes you so far: there’s always a point where you realise that the remaining pieces will only come from getting started – seeing how your characters react with each other, how a situation develops. That point arrives at different times with different projects. But when it does, there’s nothing else to do but jump in and hope for the best.

Did you always want to be a writer as a child or did you have dreams of other professions?

When my teachers marked my creative writing exercises at school I used to get some unusual comments. ‘Your grammar’s quite good,’ they’d say, ‘and you’ve used some interesting vocabulary. But Sam, you’ve written about monsters.’

‘Yes,’ I would reply.

‘But Sam,’ (they would continue) ‘we asked you to write about going fishing with your father, or what you saw out of the window of the bus this morning. Instead, you’ve written about monsters. Again. Haven’t you?’

‘But… I like monsters,’ I would say.

In short, my teachers were fine with my technique, but they didn’t approve of my content. As a result, I didn’t see writing as something I would pursue seriously until I was quite a bit older – 21 or 22.

Before that, I wanted to be an internationally famous rock guitarist. But that didn’t work out so well. ;D

Where did you get the idea to write a book about demons from?

When I start a book I’ve learned to ask myself a question. You can try it yourself if you like, it goes like this:

If you, personally, were to come across a book that had everything you want in a story – one that once you started reading it you wouldn’t want to stop, even to eat or sleep – what sort of a book would it be? What would the elements be?

The great thing about asking this question is that the answer is different for every person, and it’s also different for every book. Black Tat started out as a wish-list: swordfights; demonic possession, flying kung fu, machine guns, nuclear weapons, vomiting bats, a seven-way gladiatorial monster fight to the death set in Hell… and stuff like that! Once I had my list of elements I started thinking about how to put it all together. The Black Tattoo took me five years to write. I hope you get (or got) a kick out of it. If you’d like to find out more about me and my work check my homepage:

Thanks, best wishes, and cheers from London,