Authorgraph No.225

such as Mister Creecher, which took its lead from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; and a Kafka-esque novel for teens, Anything that Isn’t This, about an adolescent boy in a nightmarishly bureaucratic world. His new book, Superpowerless, covers similar territory, in that it focuses on a teenage boy’s quest for identity and self- knowledge. It also refers to superhero comics and Hamlet. I caught up with Priestley over the phone - we had intended to Facetime, as I was in Spain, and he was in Cambridge, where he lives, but neither of us were able to work out how to use it.


Priestley’s mind has a natural questioning bent, and that comes through very clearly in the way that his teenage protagonists develop. David, the protagonist of Superpowerless, is bequeathed a collection of comic books by his father, who died in an accident, and he obsesses over them, half-believing that he himself has powers, always trying, obliquely, to get to the truth of what happened. How big were comics as an influence on Priestley as a writer? He ‘always loved comics as a child,’ and when he moved to Newcastle and ‘a really horrible estate,’ it was ‘an escape thing to go the newsagents and buy Marvell comics.’ He still gets ‘wistful’ thinking about them, and especially as he can remember himself in his bedroom reading them: a ‘very teenage boy kind of way of ignoring everyone,’ much as David himself does.

There’s a lot of imagery in the novel to do with light, knowledge and perception: a bird-watching scope that David uses to observe his beautiful teenage neighbour, and a super-villain apparently made of light. I asked Priestley whether this was a conscious move. In fact these images stemmed from Priestley’s desire to explore the stereotype of ‘the mumbling teenage boy’, as well as from the kind of superhero trope emblematised by Spiderman: ‘teenage boys feel – that they’re a lot more interesting, a lot cooler than people are realising, if only people could see this other side of them.’

Being a teenage boy is hard, says Priestley: ‘Peter Parker is that teenage boy who’s got this amazing side to him – I played around with that in Anything That Isn’t This – and then I wanted to say something about sex and desire and those things that are also

hris Priestley is the author of numerous varied works for children and young adults: the superb Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, which exhibit a flawless control of suspense, tone and horror, and most recently, a sequence of intelligent,

elegant, dark reinventions of classics,

Chris Priestley Interviewed by Philip Womack

going on in teenage boys’ lives – what’s love, and what’s desire, and are they the same thing – can they be the same thing, and that relationship with girls, not really understanding how to talk to girls, and not really seeing them as people, just seeing them as objects of desire.’ In the novel, the scope leads to David talking to the object of his desire, and learning to see her as a human being.

‘I think if you’re going to try to do books about teenage

boys at least accept that there isn’t a template’ Priestley also feels that ‘people seem to think that boys don’t like books, so they [books] have to be like games, or about war or hoodies with knives, and all I can say is that when I was a teenage boy I wouldn’t have wanted books about people living on horrible housing estates. So I wanted to escape – I read sci fi to get away from all that. I think if you’re going to try to do books about teenage boys at least accept that there isn’t a template – I meet teenage boys all the time and they’re funny – where are all the funny books?’

Returning to superheroes, and their linkage of strength and

vulnerability, I mention the Norse gods, and how they get more power when they are maimed: ‘I loved Norse mythology because it’s strange. Sometimes you read the stories and think - what? They don’t make sense, they don’t have story arcs in the way that we think

8 Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017

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