Joe Craig Interview

Joe Craig is an award winning author whose first book ‘Jimmy Coates: Killer’ was published by HarperCollins in 2005.  Since then Joe has written a further six books in the ‘Jimmy Coates’ series.  The books are immensley popular and Joe has been  bracketed alongside Anthony Horowitz, Charlie Higson and Robert Muchamore as “one of the best spy kids authors… outstanding at both writing and plotting.” (The Times)

Before embarking on his writing career Joe studied Philosophy at Cambridge University after which he became a songwriter, winning numerous awards for his compositions. He’s now a full time author and Literature for Lads was lucky enough to catch up with him recentley and gain an insight into where he got the idea for the ‘Jimmy Coates’ series, what he’s reading and listening to currently and why you should never attempt to make him a sandwich!

How would you describe the Jimmy Coates series?

“The Bourne Identity for kids,” is how it’s been described in several reviews, and I think that’s a very flattering comparison, so I’ll take it. It’s also an apt description of the series, even though the stories are different, of course.

When I first read that in a review I hadn’t read anything by Robert Ludlum (who wrote The Bourne Identity) so I thought I ought to. Since then I’ve become a huge fan of Ludlum, whom I now consider to be the master of the thriller novel. I’ve learned a lot by reading his work – and enjoyed every minute of it.

Where an earth did you get the idea to write about a child assassin?!

That’s not the idea I had! My ‘idea’ was actually a thousand little ideas pieced together to form a plot. It started with the image of men turning up at a suburban family home and announcing, “We’ve come for the boy.” It carried on with the idea that the parents knew these men. Things got kicked into the next gear when the next thought was that the boy would be able to get away because his body responded to the perceived danger by boosting itself to previously hidden extremes of ability. Powers.

Suddenly, these little ideas had coagulated into a situation where a boy with strange abilities he never knew about before was on the run from some kind of organisation and his parents had known that these people would be coming for him.

From there, I unknotted the rest of the story. It happened piece by piece, little by little, each image building on the last in my head, until the whole story was mapped out. Then I started writing.

At no point did I ever think, “I’ll write about a young assassin.” First of all, Jimmy isn’t really an assassin – or is he? That question is one of the fundamental thoughts behind the whole book: whether his identity is determined by his actions or his genetics.

I presume you needed to do research for the series so what did this entail?  At any point did you embark on training to be an assassin?!

‘Believable’ is much more important than ‘realistic’. Most of my research was into the particular workings of cutting-edge military hardware, which I then discarded to create something of my own that people could actually believe in. Most of the real stuff is incredible, but too distracting to put in a book. You’d need to spend too long explaining the physics of it and putting in footnotes saying things like, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but they can really do this – trust me.

It’s obvious from the 1st Jimmy Coates book that you enjoy living in London. What’s the best thing about living in the capital?

I’ve always lived in London. I love it. Wouldn’t live anywhere else.

The first thing that comes to mind is the food. Amazing restaurants of a thousand different kinds on your doorstep. I could fall out of bed straight into a bowl of Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Russian, Ethiopian, Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Hungarian, Scandinavian, Mexican, Thai or Indian food. And I often do. I should get a bigger bed.

The parks, the skyline, the markets, the shops, the cafés, the people, the transport, the cutting edge of everything, the cosmopolitan attitude, the liberal ethos, the all-welcoming attitude, the theatre, the music, the random events that spring into life unexpectedly… London rocks.

Is there anyone who you feel has been particularly influential on your writing?

I learned to write by writing and being edited by some very astute people. My wife, Mary-Ann and my agent, Sarah Manson, have played a huge hand in that. Without them I wouldn’t write the way that I do. Maybe I’d be better. Yeah, let’s blame them.

Music is obviously a big part of your life as well.  What do you find easier – writing music or writing books?

There is no ‘easier’ or ‘harder’ when it comes to comparing writing music or books. That’s sounds odd, but in some ways they feel too different to compare and in other ways they are exactly the same. In any case, they’re both easier than doing real work, so I’m very lucky I’ve managed to get away with doing both before having to do anything else.

Writing a song is quicker than writing a novel. But when I’m writing a novel I don’t envisage the whole thing as one task, so it’s broken down into chunks of activity that aren’t that much different to writing a song. You can only produce anything in the moment you currently occupy.

Writing books is less collaborative than writing songs. I like that. With books, there’s also a more direct connection between my original vision and the final outcome. One of the biggest frustrations for me when writing music has always been that no recorded version of anything I’ve written has ever recreated what I wanted it to sound like when I wrote it.

I’m not a good producer. I can write a song, I can perform it, but recording it is a different skill and it’s one where I’m lacking.  The closest I’ve come to satisfying recordings of my songs has been thanks to a talented producer who didn’t mind helping me out. (Joe’s 1st album, The Songman and Me Vol. 1 is available here)

If you could have any artist or band produce a soundtrack for Jimmy Coates who would it be?

I’d do it myself! In fact I’ve already written and recorded the ‘Jimmy Coates Theme’. It’s ready to go. (Ed – Where can we listen to this?!)

If I didn’t have time to do the soundtrack to the whole story I’d ask my very talented friends Mocean Worker and Oli Rockberger

What are you currently reading and listening to?

Right at this moment I have my computer playing my entire music collection on shuffle. I love shuffle, especially while I’m working. Shuffle works particularly well for me because I have 20,000 tracks, which span almost every genre. The only 3 types of music I can’t stand are house, reggae and Terry Callier.

My favourite musical artists at the moment are, off the top of my head: Oscar Peterson, Billy Joel, Toby Keith, Craig Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Aretha Franklin, Lamont Dozier, Paul Simon, Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti, Astor Piazzolla, Hobo Jim, Gabe Dixon, Jason Mraz, Maroon 5, Chromeo, Ari Hest, Mr Barrington… I won’t go on, but that should do for now.

As for reading… I tend to have several books going at once. It helps if I leave one in each room. My bedroom book at the moment is ‘Quantum’ by Manjit Kumar; in the bathroom I’ve got ‘Half Brother’ by Kenneth Oppel; in my study I seem to have 2 books going: ‘Cognitive Surplus’ by Clay Shirky and ‘Second Nature’ by Gerald Edelman. The only reason I have two books ‘mid-read’ in my study at the moment is because I bought the first one as a present for somebody then changed my mind, and the second one I found in the street.

Yes, I found a book in the street. It was in a box on the wall outside someone’s house with a sign that said ‘help yourself’. There was a DVD box set of ‘Dexter’ as well, so I ‘helped myself’ to that too, though I haven’t watched any of it yet.

It’s clear from your blog you love a good sandwich – what’s your dream sandwich filling?

Never try giving me a sandwich. Not unless you’re really sure it’s something special. I’m spoiled. A year or two ago I discovered that I live a couple of minutes from a deli run by a sandwich genius. His name is Lee. Lee’s sandwiches are events, each one unique. Two or three times a week, he makes me my dream sandwich. Like all good dreams, these sandwiches are constantly shifting worlds of emotion and passion, an artful balance between the sweet and the sour, the salt and the spice.

The base is great bread, usually a Kentish flute or a ciabatta. The filling is always different, but it’s a combination of a salami and a cheese. Within that simple equation there are almost infinite possibilities, but the quality of each ingredient is always second-to-none. Then there are extras, which round out the experience and bring the flavours to their best – embellishments that might at first sound like too much, but like the timpani in a symphony, it becomes impossible to imagine the finished product without them. The possibilities include grilled artichoke and aubergine, sun-dried or semi-dried tomatoes, and several different flavours of fresh pesto.

Lee has taken the concept of the sandwich to a higher level. You won’t find anything like his creations trapped in plastic in a supermarket or laid out on a catering tray.

Outside the special world of sandwich mastery that Lee has pioneered, the only decent sandwiches are made at home, by me. The best of these is a roast chicken sandwich, honed over many years of exploration and experimentation.

The Quick 5…

  • Amazon No1 Bestseller or Number 1 Album?

 Amazon No 1 bestseller, please.

  • Reading books or writing books?


  • Twitter or Facebook?

At the moment, twitter (@joecraiguk), but I like Facebookfor certain things

  • Print book or e-book?

Print, until I’ve finished every book on my shelves, which will probably take 4 to 5 years.

  • Scrooge or Santa?

Scrooge. Definitely Scrooge. I buy decent gifts, but not at Christmas.

More information on Joe can be found on his website

Joe Craig