Interview with M.G. Harris

     I'm sure we've all heard the rumor of the End of the World, right? Depending on where you look it will say different dates for The End of the World. The one I'm sure everyone knows is the end Mayan calendar version. The 21st of December, 2012. Wait, isn't that today? Yes, yes it is.
     Now instead of freaking out and going to the grocery store for bread and milk, why don't we talk about some really cool books that center around this particular date? Ah, now I have your attention. I said (wrote?) the magic word. Books.
     Believe it or not, there is a whole children's-young adult series about the Mayan prophecy. And I have an interview with the author of that series. The Joshua Files is a five-book series that centers around the Mayan prophecy. Cool, right? Here's the synopsis and cover for the first book, Invisible City.

One Boy.
One Deadly Prophecy.
One Heart-Stopping Adventure.

Joshua's life was pretty cool - until his father was reported dead in an air crash in Mexico.

Was it simply a tragic accident? Why was the plane miles off course? Were there really UFOs in the sky at the time of the crash?

In the depths of the Mexican jungle, with a deadly international hit man on his trail, Josh must find the truth about an incredible, dangerous secret - and try to stay alive.

Invisible City (The Joshua Files, #1)

     Click here to see my review of Invisible City. The last book in The Joshua Files came out on April 5th this year. And I gotta say, it was the perfect ending to the series. I'd tell you more but I don't want to ruin the surprise. Click here to view my review of Apocalypse Moon (the last book in the Joshua Files).
     The ordering of the books in the series is as follows: Invisible City, Ice Shock, Zero Moment, Dark ParallelApocalypse Moon.
     If that doesn't entice you to read these great adventure books, then let the author do it. Below is M.G. Harris's avatar from Goodreads, author bio, and finally the interview! Yay!

M.G. Harris picture from Goodreads

Author bio (taken from Goodreads): M.G. Harris was born in Mexico City and raised in Manchester, England. She studied Biochemistry at St Catherine's College Oxford and stuck around for even more at St Cross College.

To this day she lives in Oxford. It's not an easy place to leave.

The first job M.G. Harris was ever aware of wanting to do, aged six, was to write children’s books. Then, aged eight and inspired by Doctor Who, she tried to make Wirrn slime with a friend’s Chemistry Set 4, discovered chemistry, and writing went out of the window.

But in 2004, a skiing accident changed everything...

You can find out more about how MG became an author at her website

Reader bio:
MG has recently become a semi-convert to Kindle, with frequent lapses into her collection of printed books for some much-appreciated re-reading.

Favourite living authors are Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Junot Diaz.

1. What inspired you to write the Joshua files?
After seeing how many people were reading 'The Da Vinci Code' around a pool at the Acapulco Princess hotel in 2004, I really fancied trying my hand a puzzle-driven thriller. "How hard could it be?" I thought.
 The first attempt was a techno thriller for adults (now published as THE DESCENDANT). I went back to an idea I'd been interested in since I was a teenager; the idea that our ancient civilizations could have arcane, lost knowledge, perhaps from an alien source. As I was finished the first draft of that book, I realized that there could be a teenage main character in a linked story. There's a guy called David Stuart (now a Professor at University of Austin , Texas) who was a teenager when he first started deciphering Mayan glyphs with his archaeologist parents and their colleagues. He kind of reminded me of a young Indiana Jones, which is the vibe I was going for with Josh Garcia.

2. Are the characters based on real people in your life?
Consciously and unconsciously, I think they are. Benicio is consciously based on my very cool, sexy younger cousin Oscar who is also a genius physics grad student. Carlos Montoyo is unconsciously based on my own father, also called Carlos (you'd think I'd have realized earlier, wouldn't you?!) I don't think Josh is based on anyone, except perhaps my fantasy of what a Real Boy should be. Now that we've had Jamie play him in a couple of videos, however, I do think of Josh as looking like Jamie (he's been stopped by kids in Oxford who've asked him 'Are you Josh?'). I've stopped short at asking Jamie to learn capoeira though!

3. Which character do you feel most strongly to?
I have to feel everything from Josh's point of view, because the story is written from that. I try not to identify too much with other characters because Josh isn't particularly empathetic. If I were to write pages and pages of Josh wondering how other people feel and why they feel it, it would slow the pace down too much, as well as making Josh into a different character. It's not that he doesn't care, but that he doesn't really have the mindset to analyze other people. He'd never be a detective!

4. Which book in the Joshua Files was most challenging?
The first and the last. Both had to be substantially rewritten after the first draft. In the first, I was still finding the style of the series. In the last, I had to make Josh grow up a bit more, something that I'd been holding off doing. In previous books, I needed to keep him young, fairly immature and making the kind of mistakes normal for that age. In the last book he's no longer a reluctant hero - he fully embraces his role in the 2012 plan, to the extent that he overrides other people's attempts to keep him safely distant.

5. How did you come up with the idea of a young teenage boy going on all of these crazy adventures?
There's nothing original about that idea - it is a staple of the adventure genre. I was trying, much like Anthony Horowitz and Philip Pullman have also admitted, to write an adult novel that children could read. When I was twelve I desperately wanted to read exciting stories with complex plots, but featuring teenage heroes. Adventure stories written for my age group seemed too simplistic. Robert Heinlein was writing sci-fi books like that, but there wasn't much else in that vein. When I first read "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in a hotel room in France in 1996, my first thought was "So other kids want to read complex thrillers featuring kids, too!"

6. Do you wish your life was more like Josh's?
Never. He's always in danger! Although I wish I was as fit and strong as him, but that's just age.

7. Is there any music that helped you develop your characters?
I hit upon the Green Day/Arctic Monkeys theme very early on. In an earlier draft, Josh was in a band with Tyler, not a capoeirista. I found that listening to songs like "Longview" "Poprocks and Coke", to "Mardy Bum" and "From the Ritz to the Rubble" actually reawakened feelings I hadn't had since I was a teenager. So I used that to channel my inner teen. The jazz music theme represents the older generation - the characters who are my age - Josh's parents and Montoyo. I chose jazz because classical music would be less accessible to Josh. It had to be something that slowly awakened Josh's adult nature. At first, he doesn't like jazz much. Then he gets his Dad's iPod and listens to Andres Garcia's music as a way to connect emotionally with his missing father. I'll admit that in using jazz references, especially Miles Davis (Blue in Green) and Tom Jobim (Wave) I'm very consciously emulating one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, whose novels and stories are famously drenched in jazz and classical music references. If you know the music, it's extremely evocative. I asked Joshua fans on facebook to pick the last song that Josh listens to in the Muwan, when he's thinking about losing Tyler. I think they picked a very apt track - "Wake Me Up When September Ends". In the first draft of Invisible City there was a blog entry with that title, in which Josh thought about his own dad.

8. Why did you choose to write the books from Josh's point of view? Why no Carlos, Tyler, or Ixchel?
Are you asking why Josh is the main character? Or why I only write from his POV? If it's the former: because I'm writing for teenagers. The first book was written for my 13-year old daughter. Josh is the easiest one for us to identify with. Carlos is an adult, so right there you've got an adult book. Kids don't want to know about the grand romance he's having with Josh's Mum - that would creep most readers out! Tyler isn't in the story enough - he's central to Josh's life, but it's not about him. Ixchel could have been the central character, but she's from such a different background to most of the readers that she'd be harder to identify with than Josh. Mind you, I'd love it if someone wrote fan fiction from Ixchel's point of view.
If you're asking why it's all from ONE point of view - that's a stylistic decision I made early on, as well as the present tense (or present historic, as it technically is). There are decisions you make at the beginning, for whatever reason and you stick with them. I think I was again, trying to consciously emulate a Haruki Murakami style of narration. Reflective and emotional, but also rather detached. I thought that would work for an intelligent, sensitive but often self-centered teenager like Josh.

9. Is there anything that you'd change now that you've completed the series?
No - I'm pretty happy with all five books! I had great editorial guidance from three different editors - Elv Moody, Polly Nolan and Clare Argar. The only thing I would have changed would have been outside the books - I wanted them to be targeted at 11+. Yes, there's nothing that a 9-year old shouldn't read in The Joshua Files, but the plots were written to engage slightly older readers, say year 6 (5th grade) onwards. I suspect the 9+ label may have put some older readers off, when booksellers don't shelve the books in the teen section.

10. Why did you base the stories around the Maya civilization?
If you want your first book deal, you need to write something that can easily be identified with the author. As Philip Pullman once put it - "Write what only you can write". I knew there probably weren't many kids authors in the UK - maybe anywhere - who could pull off an authentic-feeling Mexican vibe as well as all the Mayan stuff, which I've been reading about since I was your age. And then there was the 2012 deadline looming - it felt like an obvious choice of subject matter for a thriller that I'd write.

11. Do you believe that the 21st of December is going to be the End of the World?
Not even a tiny bit.

12. Who inspired you to write?
Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez made me feel that I shouldn't bother, because I'd never be as good as him. Reading Dan Brown made he realize that I could have fun even if I couldn't get anywhere near to GGM. Reading Haruki Murakami made me realize that I could bring an interesting narrative style to a very traditional adventure story. Watching Indiana Jones made me realize that I wanted more stories like that.

13. When did you first decide you were going to be a writer?
First time, when I was six and first learned to read. But I knew I wasn't ready - too many other things to be into - science, making movies. Reading "The Da Vinci Code" in 2004 made me believe that I finally was ready. Breaking my leg at the end of that same year forced me to face up to it!

14. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. Read. Read.
15. Are there any books you have planned for the future?
I have an adventure-travel novel about telepathic teenagers and the rights and wrong of using extraordinary power. That might be a series, or maybe a standalone. I'm working on a longer novel, probably for adults but with youngish characters. It's an occult thriller, but also basically about the corruption of a soul, and the struggle between good and evil. I enjoy stories about the descent into corruption, like "The Godfather". I guess I'm fascinated about what makes people turn 'to the dark side' and what makes similar people choose to be good.

This lovely picture was taken when M.G. Harris visited my old school years ago. I'm the moody one who can't seem to smile in the top right-hand corner. She came to my old school for the release of Ice Shock, the second book in the Joshua Files.

The book trailer for Invisible City

     You can buy any of her books at Amazon (books listed at the bottom of the page), Barnes and Noble, and other stores.

     I guess we will see what happens! Happy end-of-the-world to you! And thank you M.G. Harris for allowing me to interview!



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