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Tom Palmer - Q & A on The Squad: Black Op

Tom Palmer hated reading and had not read a book by himself until he was 17.  Reading about football changed his life and now, Tom writes his own novels about football.  His latest book is 'The Squad: Black Op' (Literature for Lads review here) which features a team of spies tasked with saving the England team from an imminent terror attack.  We caught up with Tom and asked him some questions about 'Black Op' and also how he thinks England will do at Euro 2012...

Your new book ‘The Squad: Black Op’ is the first in a new series of books. Who are the Squad?

They are six (well, five now) thirteen year old spies. All the UK's adult spies have been exposed, so they are being used to deal with threats to UK interests. Their cover story is that they are international youth footballers. Two girls. Three boys.

The book is set in Poland just before the start of the Euro 2012 championships. Did you visit Poland before writing the book as part of your research?

I did. I like to visit places to give me ideas for stories. I visited Krakow and the countryside south of the city. I needed sites for helicopter landings, white water rafting and a tall church tower. I found them all, but much more. Krakow is a great city to set a thriller.

The book features boys and girls playing football together. Do you think that football is currently as popular with girls, as it is with boys?

Football is the biggest growing sport for girls and women in the UK. I am finding more and more girls that I talk to at schools are into the game - both as players and fans. But it is still more popular with boys: for now.

The Squad: Black Op’ is full of gadgets! What is your own favourite gadget?

My GPS watch. I use it when I go running on the hills where I live. If I run certain routes on the moors, I can spell out words that I can then see on my computer when I get back. (I'm easily amused.)

You openly admit to being a reluctant reader when younger but that ‘reading about football changed your life.’ Is there a specific book about football that you read which had a major impact on you?

It was more reading newspapers and magazines that gave me the confidence and stamina to take on books. Once I realised that newspapers and magazines counted as reading and that I was a reader, it was a revelation to me.

How do you rate England’s chances at Euro 2012? Do you think Roy Hodgson is the right choice as England manager?

Yes, I think Roy Hodgson is the right choice. I like him. But I don't think we will do so well. We have some good players, but if you look at Holland, France, Germany and Spain, they have more world class players and are far more settled as sides too. If we get out of the groups stages I think that would be a worthwhile performance. But I'd like to see us win it, of course.

Your support for Leeds United is well documented. Do you feel they are one of English footballs sleeping giants?

No. I know that some fans of some football clubs think their team deserve to be in the Premier League. But Leeds are in the Championship because of results, management and finances. I would like us to be in the Premier League and I think we have the fan base to excel there, but I never think we deserve it because we are a so-called big club.

And finally some questions from Rory Fletcher (aged 7) and a massive fan of your books!

Are you going to write anymore Football Academy books?

There are no plans, yet. I would like it. I am making some suggestions to Puffin at the moment, so we will see how that goes. You can read a couple of free stories about the characters from the series if you go to the FREE READS bit on my website.
If you liked them try the Angels FC books by Michael Coleman, the Girls FC books by Helena Pielichaty and the Bali Rai young football series.

Who is your favourite character in the Football Academy books?

Ryan. He grows through the series from a boy who makes a lot of stupid mistakes into a mature captain. I like the way he changes in the series.

Who is your favourite player of all time? 

Ian Baird. He played for Leeds in the 80s. He was a no-nonsense striker. After him Lucas Radebe. Of the current players in the Premier League, I like Norwich City's Johnny Howson.

Many thanks to Tom for this great interview.  If you would like more information about Tom visit his website here. 

The Squad: Black Op - Tom Palmer

The Squad: Black Op; Tom Palmer; Puffin; May 2012

Book summary (taken from Amazon UK): The Squad - kickass teenage spies with the perfect cover. They are also part of an England youth football team. Wherever trouble is kicking off, the Squad are sent in. They're more than a match for any kind of enemy. In the first book in this exciting new series from Foul Play author Tom Palmer, the Squad are sent to Krakow, Poland just before the Euro 2012 tournament there.

In addition to our review of Tom's new book, Tom also took the time to answer some questions that we posed to him about 'Black Op'.  It's a great interview where he also gives his opinion on the appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager. Read it here.

Literature for Lads Review:
It would be easy to pigeonhole this book as another teenage spy novel that treads a path similar to Robert Muchamore's Cherub series or Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider.  However it's the Squad's back story as members of an England youth football team that makes this book different. This added dimension makes the book as much about football as espionage.

Palmer has written a cracking opening to this novel. The 1st chapter is an adrenalin filled 10 pages that leaves you breathless and left in no doubt the risks the members of the Squad will have to take as they serve their country.  By the end of chapter two the Squad's forthcoming mission is clear.  They must journey to Poland where the 2012 European Championships are about to begin and the safety of the England team is under threat.

As the book progresses Palmer continues to feed us information quickly in short, sharp chapters, each one filled full of action and enough suspense that when reaching the end of the chapter we already know that we are going to read 'just one more'. As the book progresses the football element of the book is introduced.  It would have been easy for Palmer to let the pace of the book slow at these points but he cleverly maintains the tension and action both on and off the field.

The squad themselves are an interesting cast of characters. Three boys and two girls each of them has own their strengths and weaknesses. Kids will relate to them and will most likely identify themselves as being not to dissimilar to one of the characters. It would have been nice to have some more back story on the Squad and how they have ended up in the position of Government spies however it does appear this will be developed in future books.

Tom Palmer has cleverly combined espionage and football to create a high octane story that is full of action, adventure and mystery, not to mention a clever twist in the tale at the end of the book. With Euro 2012 in full swing what better way to fill the gap between matches then delving into the murky waters of eastern European terrorism!

Marks out of 10: 7

Here is the trailer for 'The Squad: Black Op'...

Tom Palmer has an excellent website which can be accessed here. There is lots for readers, parents, librarians and teachers.