authors · Bookbybook

bookbybook 16: William Sutcliffe

William Sutcliffe is enjoying great critical success as a writer for young adults – The Wall was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and Concentr8 made the YA Book Prize shortlist. Before that, he had huge success with books for a run of exceptionally funny books for adults. (Although teens could and did read them, and I recommended them in The Ultimate Teen Book Guide – I love both books.) I think it’s safe to say his first novels, New Boy and Are You Experienced? helped define a generation of 20-somethings in the late ’90s – people full of talk but not necessarily the empathy to back it up. (The books came out around the time of Alex Garland’s The Beach and I remember reading both, gleefully thinking William’s characters would feel mortified amongst Garland’s cool, hedonistic set.)


After that, Willliam’s writing grew a little darker – or perhaps sadder – as the people who wrote about grew up, such as in Whatever Makes You Happy, where he wrote about people in their 30s. His next book was Bad Influence, which was a dark and potent story about childhood. And then he started writing for children themselves – short, funny adventures to begin with then YA novels.

In an interview for Scottish Book Trust, he said, I try to keep my work fresh by writing in as many different styles as I can. I have written for adults, teenagers and children, and also do some journalism and screenwriting, though unfortunately none of my screenplays ever seem to get made. All these different kinds of writing feed into one another in interesting and surprising ways.’

sutcliffee are you experienced.jpg

So I wonder what he’ll write next? For now, enjoy taking a look across William Sutcliffe’s career so far – in his own words.

  1. What was the first book you wrote?

New Boy, published by Penguin in 1996.

  1. For which book would you like to be remembered?

It’s very hard to choose, but I think either The Wall or Are You Experienced?

  1. Is there a book you abandoned partway through?

Yes. Several. And the only good thing about writing a book you don’t finish or publish is that you never have to tell anyone what it was about.

  1. Is there a book you know you’ll never write?

I don’t have the right kind of brain for anything epic. I doubt if I’ll ever write anything much over 300 pages.

  1. Which book do you believe should have fared better?

I’ve written a series of funny books for 8-12-year-olds called Circus of Thieves, which children I know seem to really like, but which haven’t made much impact out in the world. It’s very hard to get a book noticed these days. As for other people’s books, I loved Where D’You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, which somehow didn’t have the huge success that it deserved.

  1. Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?

Concentr8 has had the strangest reaction of all the books I’ve written. It seems to have really polarised people. If you write about young people who are disadvantaged and angry about it, some people don’t seem to want to hear that.

  1. What book do you wish you’d written?

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

  1. What are you writing now?

I am currently doing a final polish on another YA/adult crossover novel called We See Everything, which will be out next summer. It is an attempt to imagine what would happen to London and Londoners if a 21st century war was inflicted on the city. Modern warfare only seems to be written about from the point of view of soldiers. I’m looking at it from the perspective of civilians.

Bloomsbury publish William’s YA novels, as well as Bad Influence and Whatever Makes You Happy. His Circus of Thieves books are out with Simon and Schuster – you’ll love them if you like Mr Gum.


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