Author Interview: Ken Howard


It is the story of a black American teenager, who on the death of his father has to travel to a remote Scottish island to bury him. There, he finds himself in the midst of ancient feuds that put his very life at risk. It is an adventure story, but also concerns loss and maturity - what we are and who we can become.

This pacey story starts in Los Angeles, where Jamie MacDoran lives with his African-American mother Marcia and Scottish father James. When his father dies suddenly, Jamie discovers the ancient lineage that his father - and now Jamie - are part of. He travels to the Scottish island of Doran to bury his father. In the family's dilapidated castle, under the watchful eye of his cold, estranged grandmother, Jamie must decide whether to turn away from his heritage or delve in deeper.

Author Info:

Ken Howard was educated at University College School, London and Edinburgh University. He trained with Granada TV and for several years in the Drama department of BBC TV. His directing career has spanned drama, documentary and the arts with a particular emphasis on childrens programming. Braveheart and Today I Am a Man both won the Royal Television Society Award for Best Childrens Programme and were followed by Youve Got A Friend on childrens imaginary friends, Listen to Me,about deaf children, and Open Mind dealing with child psychotherapy. Ken wrote and directed the award-winning BBC dramas A Penny For Your Dreams, John Lennon: A Journey in the Life and Sunny Stories on Enid Blyton. He has won and been nominated for many of the most prestigious broadcasting awards, including Emmy and BAFTA.

Ken is also a celebrated composer with over 40 international hits and many million-selling discs to his credit and was the first British writer to write hits for Elvis Presley. West End musicals include The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Mardi Gras and Matilda. Numerous TV scores include Miss Marple, The Flame Trees of Thika, Shadowlands and By The Sword Divided.

He co-devised the board game, Sophie's World, for his company, Sophisticated Games, which also publishes the million-selling Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Beowulf, Ingenious, Callisto and Golden Compass games. He is a director of Landseer Productions in London.

Ken lives in London and California, and enjoys hiking in the desert, swimming in the ocean, and playing tennis.


1. When did you decide to start writing?

I have always written since I was small, running school newspapers and later a national magazine, AXLE, and a good many articles in UK newspapers. When I became a TV director I also wrote my scripts for my own BBC TV dramas such as A PENNY FOR YOUR DREAMS, JOHN LENNON: A JOURNEY IN THE LIFE and SUNNY STORIES about Enid Blyton. In fact THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN started life as an idea for a TV drama that was developed by Granada TV and Disney. At the last moment Disney balked at the idea of the death of the father - strangely in view of THE LION KING! - and I resolved to turn it into a novel.

2. Why young adult?

I have made many TV films for youngsters, many with controversial social themes and THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN touches on several areas that really interest me - bereavement, mixed-heritage, leadership etc.

3. Were you worried about the word count of your work?

Not really. I have always felt that works have a natural length at which they work best. THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN is almost 300 pages, but I think it moves pretty fast, and I hope will keep the reader engaged until the end.

4. Do you have any writing quirks and what are they?

I love words and am fascinated by the job of trying to find the exactly the right ones to express and idea or an emotion. I think that's why I enjoy songwriting so much (my other career that has led to number one hits and musicals etc) because you are forced to compress a great deal into a very small space. You know when you have got it right.

5. If you can describe your novel in one word, what would it be and why?

Wow! that's a hard one. Perhaps "life-changing"? - certainly for Jamie, the hero, and who knows, maybe for some readers too. It is certainly about what we are and who we can become.

6. Why did you decide to make your main character a black American teen?

I knew of a real-life situation where a young English boy became the Chieftain of a Scottish clan - and it struck me that it would be really interesting if the boy was the American son of a black mother and a Scottish father - the Chieftain of a clan but estranged from his family. When his father is killed, Jamie has to travel to bury him on a remote Scottish island. His unexpected appearance ignites many issues, of identity, race and courage and fuels the adventures in the book. In creating Jamie, I was obviously influenced by Obama's extraordinary rise to the American presidency and the message that sent to the world. I am very aware that there is a huge readership, in this country and elsewhere, of mixed race kids and adults, who have almost no role-models in the fiction they read. Maybe when they see a kid like Jamie, like themselves, become someone he never knew he could be - they too might think, "yes, I can."

7. What do you hope your readers will get out of reading your novel?

I hope it can be enjoyed as a page-turning adventure story, but also stimulate some thought about the larger issues it raises.

8. Tell us a little about your road to publication.

Book publishing was a very new field for me and I had absolutely no idea where to start. Luckily I met Sheila Ableman, my excellent agent, at a party. She said she didn't deal with teen fiction but asked to read the book. She was really excited by it and asked if she could show it around, and Tamarind Books, a division of Random House Children's Books, luckily shared her enthusiasm. They have long specialised in books for a multi-cultural society and we are having great fun in working together on promoting THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN. It's a real learning curve for me.

9. What advice can you give other aspiring authors out there?

Hang on in there!

Blogger's Remarks:

Ken, thank you so much for giving us your time. Best wishes in the launch of your novel. THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN will be published September 2nd. There will be a book launch at Waterstone's in Hampstead High Street on the 15th September at 7pm. For those who want to know more about Ken, you can visit his blog.

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