Robert Muchamore brings the real world to teenagers

The Cherub creator explains why he chooses tough topics

�Robert Muchamore speaks quickly. As the author talks to me in his home, a sleek five-bedroomed pad in Crouch End, which he moved into less than a year ago, the words seem to tumble out of his mouth at an unbelievable rate.

We’re talking about Muchamore’s books. He writes, prolifically, for young teenagers about a fictional group of spy kids who all live in a camp together and go on missions around the world.

It’s called the Cherub series and, since 2004, Muchamore has written 18 books and sold more than three million copies, meaning he is up there with some very well known authors, as his publicist has written, almost in disbelief, on the cover note for his most recent book People’s Republic.

The new book is partially set in China.

“China just really interested me because it’s this booming place. I was really interested because there is still a big divide between rich and poor. There is this underlying theme in the book of people trafficking and its was just this idea that wealthier Chinese people would exploit the poorer Chinese people.”

Muchamore is sat at the other end of a bright white sofa that, sat at the other end, I’m very worried I’m about to spill my very black coffee on.

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The house, where the 38- year-old lives by himself, is uncomfortably minimalist –void of any personal effects – like a show home. In jeans and a well-worn T-shirt, Muchamore himself seems awkward.

“I moved in less than a year ago, which is why this place looks so bare,” he insists. “Up there is a real bachelor pad,” he says, pointing to the mezzanine floor above us. “It’s just a room with four huge speakers in it.”

Muchamore moved here following the success of his books. He left school with little more than a few poor A-level grades and started writing after giving up his job as a private detective, which, he says, is not as exciting as it sounds and was mostly office work.

Inspired by nephew

After failed attempts at literary fiction, Muchamore started writing for teenagers, inspired by his nephew who couldn’t find anything to read. Eighteen titles later and he has written on a lot of topics that some consider inappropriate – mild sexual reference, violence and drugs among other things.

“I don’t apologise for the content of my books. I think it is what makes kids of that age read. One thing I don’t like is that kids’ books are held to some higher standard. They’ll let kids play video games or watch the Transformers movie but, for some reason, people think that children’s books have got to be this nice, cosy, little world of fluffy bears. When you get to kids of a certain age, they need something a bit meatier.”

I’m surprised that Muchamore has got away with it, considering his target age group is considered very impressionable. Does he worry he might make a lasting impression on his young readers?

“In some ways I hope that I do. When I was first working on the plot for People’s Republic and thinking about the whole idea of people trafficking, the story of Wayne Rooney and the prostitute came out.

“I was surprised as a lot of my fans sounded quite cavalier about the story and the use of prostitutes – almost viewing it as an adventure, as a naughty boys’ outing.

“Actually, the truth about it is basically the majority of prostitutes are trafficked and are being forcibly captured and raped. If kids come away from that book thinking maybe it’s not such a good idea to go off get drunk and use prostitutes, that’s not a bad thing.”

The links between trafficking and prostitution are still under debate, but I don’t want to say anything to Muchamore, as I think that putting young boys off using women as sex objects is a good idea.

Muchamore’s knowledge of his fans’ thinking and reading habits comes from his daily interaction with them.

He set up a website at the start of his writing career, partly as a bonus to the fans and partly to provide some extra publicity for himself as he was “a misnomer in the catalogue.”

Now, the site is the linchpin of his fan-base, with detailed information about Muchamore and tips from him on how to write. Its sister site, a discussion board set up by the fans, is equally popular.

“The first generation of Cherub fans grew up with the protagonist with each book,” says Muchamore. “When he turned 18, a lot of them did too. Against our will they decided to meet up. I’ve had letters about house parties for Cherub fans. One girl told me someone was sick in her kettle.”

Muchmore still answers most of his fan mail. He tries to show me an e-mail on his phone from a youngster who has sent in pictures of himself. “He’s holding up a Cherub book and looking really happy.” In the end, he can’t find the picture but I’m sure, as he says, it’s very cute.

He gets daily messages and scores of kids turn up to his signings. “Kids are usually excited to meet me. But when they meet me, they are usually not that impressed because I’m just an ordinary bloke and I look just like their dad,” he says.

It’s strange that, even though the books have been successful, an attempt to turn the Cherub story into a film keeps falling flat. Muchamore seems more relaxed about this topic. “The standard joke about the movie is that it has been a year away for the last four years.

“I keep getting invited to lunch and they say, ‘Oh it’s very positive, we have got such and such on board’, and its very hard for me to get the context as I have no idea whether they are getting the biggest distribution company in the world involved or a bunch of hopeless nobodys.

“We’ve had about six drafts of the script, which actually shows they’re putting money into it. The last draft of the script was really, really strong and I really liked it and they were promoting it actively at Cannes. I’m really overdue an update, though, perhaps I should get onto it.”

If the movie is ever made, perhaps Muchamore could be the next JK Rowling. “You never know. I’ve kind of reached the stage where almost it doesn’t matter. I sell enough books and make enough money that I’m financially set for life. I live in a nice house, I can do more or less what I want, I can write what I want, when I want to.

“Would selling 50 times more books make much difference to my day-to-day life? No it wouldn’t. I might live in a mansion in Regent’s Park rather than a house in Crouch End but I wouldn’t be any happier.”

n People’s Republic by Robert Muchamore is published by Hodder at �12.99.