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Last Updated: Monday November 14 2005 11:11 GMT

Q & A with Varjak Paw author SF Said

SF Said
SF Said is the author of the Varjak Paw books about a cat with mystical fighting skills.

He won the Smarties Gold Book Prize for his first Varjak Paw story in 2003 and his second book in the series, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, came out in October 2005.

When he's not penning stories about martial arts cats with mystical powers he writes reviews on other children's books and films. Read on to find out more about him and his books.

Tell us about the Outlaw VJP?

It's about a cat who does martial arts. His name is Varjak Paw and he lives in a city where dark and dangerous things are happening.

He's got good friends to help him - a pair of street cats called Holly and Tam and a huge black dog called Cludge - but he also has deadly enemies.

Worst of all, Sally Bones, the thin white cat who wants Varjak captured - dead or alive!

It's the second Varjak Paw book - was it harder to write than the first?

Definitely! I wanted The Outlaw Varjak Paw to be even better than the first book, so I worked harder than I've ever worked in my whole life to make it the most exciting and page-turning book I could imagine.

I hope that if you've read Varjak Paw it will deepen the story, the characters and the world - but you don't have to know the first book. You can start with Outlaw and it'll all make sense.

How did you get the idea to write about mystical city cats?

I always like watching cats on the street - I think they have all sorts of adventures we can't begin to imagine.

Do you really know what your cat gets up to when you're not looking?

Will there be a third?

I think so - especially if readers write in and tell me they want more!

Right now though there's another story I want to work on. It's a sort of science-fiction samurai story, so there'll still be martial arts - but there might also be spaceships...

Who's your favourite character and what's your favourite scene?

I really like Varjak, of course, and Sally Bones is really scary - but there's something about Cludge the dog that I just love.

A lot of readers have told me that Cludge is their favourite character. It's strange that in a book about cats, the dog ends up stealing the show!

Favourite scene is hard... maybe the scene where we learn the secret of Cludge's past?

Some of the fight scenes are really scary - were you worried it was a bit violent?

I guess it is a bit darker and more grown-up than the first book.

Varjak's older now: he was a kitten in Varjak Paw; now he's a cat. So the challenges he faces are different.

Most of all, he has to learn what it means to have power. He's a warrior cat, so of course, that means fights.

And just like I didn't want to make the cats in my books all cute and fluffy, I wanted the fight scenes to feel real, and the city to be a dangerous place - just like real cities, where real cats live.

Which city is the book set in?

I deliberately didn't specify a city in the book, because I'd like it to be whatever city the reader wants it to be.

In both VJP books there are mystic dreams from which Varjak learns important lessons. Where did the idea for these come from?

It's true - in every book I've written, the main character has strange mystical dreams! I don't know where the idea comes from. Except I sometimes have strange dreams myself!

An illustration from The Outlaw Varjak Paw
An illustration from The Outlaw Varjak Paw

The Outlaw VJP isn't a comic but it has graphic novel style pictures. Why did you decide to have pictures in the book?

The illustrator, Dave McKean, is one my heroes - he's done a lot of great comics.

It was amazing when he agreed to illustrate Varjak Paw. I think his style has become more cinematic in The Outlaw - maybe because he's just directed his first feature film, MirrorMask (which is fab, by the way!)

Which authors do you admire and why?

Lots and lots! Just to name a few - Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Books), Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea books), Richard Adams (Watership Down), Jacqueline Wilson (everything she's done!)

All these writers have different strengths - Kipling's amazing language, Le Guin's limitless imagination, Adams's sense of story and myth, Wilson's emotional depth.

But I also admire film-makers, comics creators, poets & rappers - I respect anyone who can tell a great story.

How did you become an author?

It wasn't easy. The first book I wrote was rejected by 40 publishers - so was the second.

But I didn't give up, I kept working at it, and eventually someone said yes.

What tips do you have for kids who want to write?

Try to imagine the story that you would most love to read, if you could have any story at all. Then sit down and write it yourself.

Make it as good as it can possibly be, even if that means working and working and working.

Don't ever give up, and never let anyone tell you that you can't do it - because if I can get there, anyone can!

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