Teen author Robert Muchamore on causing controversy and finishing popular CHERUB series

PUBLISHED: 08:00 17 June 2016

Robert Muchamore. Picture: Debra Hurford Brown

Robert Muchamore. Picture: Debra Hurford Brown

© Debra Hurford Brown

Bestselling Crouch End author Robert Muchamore, 43, has just released the 17th and last novel in his acclaimed CHERUB spy series for young adults. The former Acland Burghley School pupil, who is also about to finish his Rock War series, reflects on getting his books banned from Highgate School, causing controversy, gender segregated books and what’s next.

The cover of New Guard, the last CHERUB novelThe cover of New Guard, the last CHERUB novel

Why end the CHERUB spy series now, with New Guard?

Because it’s now 12 years and 17 books. I did enjoy writing the last book but it also felt really good to end it. I do feel quite emotional about it being the end because it was my first book published and it’s been so successful all over the world, out in lots of different languages.

New Guard is about an Islamic State-style outfit, very topical...

I’ve always done that with CHERUB, I thought it was important that the stories felt very contemporary and of their time.

The series has been so popular with young people, what do you put that down to?

I just made some quite smart decisions early on. I keep the characters very grounded, like a character will come in hot and sweaty, and have a shower, in the morning they go to the loo, they eat breakfast. It makes them feel real. With James Bond, it opens with an action sequence, then you see him in a casino - it’s entertaining and I’m not criticising that, but ultimately you don’t feel he is ever a real person.

Last year you got into hot water after describing lesbians as ‘ugly women with short hair’, and you’re no stranger to controversy…

That was a bit of a disaster. It was a throwaway line and when I read it back, I thought, oh s*** I shouldn’t have written that. It was completely inappropriate. But sometimes I think it’s a shame in a way, because you can end up with a culture where it becomes a ‘Lewis Hamilton’ effect – he never says anything out of turn, he’s so incredibly careful about what he says that he doesn’t seem at all genuine. I’m slightly more careful about editing my Facebook page than I was before but I don’t want to be a robot. If something annoys me I want to go online and say, god that was annoying!

Your books were famously banned from Highgate School over ‘unsuitability’ after you were due to give a talk there back in 2011. How you do feel about it now?

I really have no grudge against them at all, it was a bit of a storm in a teacup and I think my publicist actually quite liked the idea because it got quite a bit of publicity about it and made quite a good headline... What I don’t like is the kneejerk reaction where one parent will complain about one thing that happens in one book. It’s lowest common denominator stuff, and you’ll just end up with the blandest books.

You’ve voiced strong opinions blasting gender segregated books, but your CHERUB series is distinctively marketed towards adolescent boys...

The irony is that boys are incredibly sexist. They’re turned off if there’s something even slightly feminine. JK Rowling is the ultimate example - they didn’t want to put that it was by someone called Joanne on the cover. But if we go for a masculine look on the covers of my books, boys will read it and the kind of girls that read my books will read it too. Society is much more tolerant than it used to be when I was at school 30 years ago but there’s still social stigma about boys doing certain things and it is a real shame.

What inspired you to write the CHERUB series? Surely James Bond must have been an influence?

James Bond, yes, but more than that, around the time I was writing Cherub there was the Spy Kids movie and they were very much in the conventional James Bond mould; quite kiddy, quite cartoony, with over the top gadgets. You can kind of think of CHERUB as the anti-Spy Kids. In Spy Kids, they get in this special submarine; and in CHERUB, they have a Windows laptop that doesn’t work properly and they wander in a muddy field.

What’s next, now CHERUB’s over and you’ve only got two more books left in your other series, Rock War?

I definitely want to carry on writing for the same audience. There’s lots of authors for the audience I write for but I don’t think they do it in the same way. My voice is unique and kids appreciate it. There’s always a challenge, when you’ve got 30 books in the market, to make your next book sparkle, to make it stand out; it has to be really special.

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