Introducing Sam Swann, Tanya Landman's latest series


'I've been slashed open from my ribcage to just below my belly button. It's not a pretty sight. And I'm hoping that Dad will be finished before Gran comes home and has a heart attack.'

Tanya Landman's new series - Sam Swann's Movie Mysteries - was launched in the summer of 2013 and she's been out and about promoting it ever since. It's a highly illustrated novel for 8 to 12s, full of strip cartoons and added extras - including fascinating facts about the movie industry and tips about how to create gory special effects... 

The publisher, Walker Books, has designed this book brilliantly. Anybody who loves The Wimpy Kid books, or the World of Norm series, or the Barry Loser stories will feel immediately at home.

But Sam Swann is, of course, in a movie of his own...

So, Tanya - Sam Swann's Movie Mysteries... The first book in the series is now out - Zombie Dawn!!!Where on earth did this idea come from?

Well, Lindsey, I grew up loving the movies (it's kind of hard not to when you have an actor uncle who got eaten by a mechanical shark - see answer below for details) but I've always been as interested in the backstage stuff as what happens up on screen.  There is always so much intrigue and rivalry and gossip on a film set - they are wonderful, magical, surreal places, full of talented, temperamental people and expensive equipment - a perfect backdrop for a novel.  

I've now got two children (both boys) who are very into pushing buttons, flicking switches and generally interfering with items and equipment that they're not supposed to which results in incidents like them accidentally setting off alarms and bringing whole shopping malls to a standstill.  In addition I have two Labradors, who also cause chaos wherever they go.  The characters of Sam Swann and his trusty sidekick Watson are totally based on what my children and my dogs might do if they were ever let loose on a film set.

At your event at the Edinburgh Book Festival you revealed the fact that you're related to one of the actors in JAWS. Is that true?

Yes - 100% true.  I don't make this stuff up, you know.  (Well... Not all of it.)  Robert Shaw (who played Quint in Jaws) was my mother's oldest brother, so he's my uncle. He was a great stage actor (who worked with companies like the RSC) as well as being a film star.  He was Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons, a stunningly cool Bond villain in From Russia with Love, bad guy Lonnegan in The Sting and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin and Marian.  He was really good at playing baddies.

You seem to like writing crime fiction - indeed, you have quite a high death rate in your books. Are you keen on reading crime novels? And why?

Yes, the Poppy Fields books do have a high body count (killing people for a living is fantastically therapeutic!) but I always obey the no.1 rule of writing Agatha-Christie-style crime:  Never kill anyone the reader actually cares about.  

I've always  loved reading crime novels.  I started out with Agatha Christie and then moved on to grittier stuff, but the principle remained the same: there's something very satisfying about following clues, batting away red herrings, trying to guess the killer's identity before the investigator does. I like doing crosswords and jigsaw puzzles for the same reason.  Crime fiction is strangely soothing - there's something very comforting in knowing that the crime will be solved, justice will be done, and order will be restored.

There are some brilliant writers around right now, whose work I hugely admire.  When I was in the Authors' Yurt at the Edinburgh Book Festival both Ian Rankin and Val McDermid were there AT THE SAME TIME and I had palpitations.  It's just as well Christopher Brookmyre wasn't there that particular weekend too, or I would have needed medical assistance.

Your books - well, those for younger readers, are often very witty. Is that something that comes naturally? Or do you think it's something young readers need in their books?

I have a lot of fun writing for younger readers, so I guess it's something that comes naturally.  

Zombie Dawn!!! is full of film trivia - did you have all that in your head, or did you have to research the subject? What's the most fascinating fact you uncovered? Why do you think this readership will be interested?

My mind is jam-packed full of trivia. (It's wonderful to finally have somewhere to offload it all - my brain was in danger of exploding).  I don't think I'm alone in this - lots of readers seem to  like gathering interesting little nuggets of information.

Really, this series should be titled Sam Swann and Watson's Movie Mysteries because that dog definitely gets equal billing within the story. Did you always intend to make Watson such a Big Character in the book?

He wasn't meant to be such a big character - he just kept pushing his way in with his big wet nose and thumping waggy tail.  He's very badly trained.  Really, there was no stopping him.

How does it feel to see your words represented in Daniel Hunt's illustrations? Zombie Dawn!!! is practically a graphic novel in some places - was that a surprise to you, or did you always envisage the book as being illustrated?

It's FANTASTIC.   I always imagined the book as a mix of words and pictures, with plenty of cartoon and graphic novel type sequences to help the action along.  I am completely useless at drawing, so it's truly magical to see what Daniel has done.

Which comes first - character or plot or setting or premise?

Character definitely.  Sam and Watson came into my head and then I just let them loose to see what would happen...

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