Q&A interview with Branford Boase Award shortlisted author and editor of
Can you tell us about the inspiration for Fish Boy?
I think it started with a love of swimming and the water and an image of a boy in the sea with light glowing out of him. Plus reading wonderful books. I remember reading Skellig and Millions and thinking wow! I didn't know stories could be like that. They put a real zap in my heart and got me going.
As a debut author, what was the thing you found most hard to get right?
I think us writers generally have things we’re better at than other things and I think the tricky things for me were (and are!) plot and structure. I know I have a weakness for that so I tried to make myself jetties to get to and have fun winding my own way there!
What did you enjoy most about the editorial process and what do you think was the most important suggestion or piece of advice that Leah gave you?
A lot of the editing for me was extra writing and adding in. It was a funny thing to do but I remember Leah saying (about the underwater sections) - ‘be as wild as you like and make it last for as long as you can bear’ - that was an inspiring challenge! I really loved inventing the Fish speak and extending Billy’s swims.
What most excited you about Chloe’s manuscript when you first read it?
What thrilled me most on first reading Fish Boy was Chloe’s utterly distinctive voice - warm, quirky, so crisp and spare, immediately familiar. It fired me up in the way of a Frank Cottrell Boyce novel - I was immediately hooked.
The hero Billy’s loneliness and feelings of otherness are beautifully worked into a magical adventure story - featuring a talking fish, a code to crack and a growing friendship with a curious new boy at school. It’s the combination of hard and softer themes that makes this book really stand out for me too.
What were the aspects that you worked on most when editing it with her?
Chloe’s protagonist is going through a tough time, but it felt important that the reader not wallow in that: Billy chooses life with his family over underwater escapism with the fish - judging the level of peril that was appropriate for the age group was something we wanted to get right. This is a book that really stays with you, pitched perfectly for its readership.
What’s your favourite scene in the book and why?
There is something extraordinary about the moment in which a mackerel swims up to Billy’s mask and speaks to him! But in fact it’s the domestic scenes at home that I probably love the most - the easy, jokey banter between Dad and Billy that so cleverly conveys the closeness of their relationship, and the tender familiarity between Billy and his Mum. It felt like a very real family to me.
Thanks to Chloe and Leah for answering our questions.
Chloe Daykin - Photo by Peter Brooks