Author Stephen Henning stops by TeamNerd to chat about his awesome series, Class Heroes! He discusses how he came up with the concept, how it was like writing in the voice of a teenager, what the most rewarding aspect is to being self-published and what message he hopes readers take away from the series.
TeamNerd Reviews: Hello Steve! Please tell a little about yourself.
Stephen Henning: I’m the writer of a book series called Class Heroes, which is primarily aimed at young adults, but also older adults. I don’t discriminate! I’ve released two books so far, A Class Apart and What Happened in Witches Wood.
I live in the UK with my wife, Rebecca, and two cats called Sookie and Rogue. Rebecca is a proof reader and editor, and very kindly copyedits my books. Sookie and Rogue are prolific eaters and edit my work by clambering over the keyboard.
I’m a sucker for thrilling, action-packed movies and novels. I’ve always loved making up stories, and I’m also an enthusiastic movie-maker. With my Class Heroes books, I’ve managed to incorporate my love of writing and film making. Oh yes. More of that later.
TeamNerd Reviews: How did the idea come together for A Class Apart?
Stephen Henning: I really wanted to write some exciting thriller books for teenagers. I chose a brother and sister (twins James and Samantha Blake) as the main characters for two reasons. First, families always create the most dramas, and with a brother and sister there was a lot of scope for teamwork, arguments, and comedy. Second, by having a boy and girl who have quite different personalities, I as a writer and hopefully the reader, get to explore two different perspectives on the events that unfold in the novels.
I gave the characters superpowers because I’ve always loved superheroes and the twins needed to be able to take on the adult world on even terms. Even when I was a teenager, I didn’t like stories about kids who foil the plans of nasty, hardened criminals. It never convinced me. The only way that I could think of to get the characters in interesting and dangerous situations, and give them a chance of getting out alive, was to give them some unusual abilities.
I also wanted the characters to be as real as possible. Yes, the situations they find themselves in are fantastical, but I wanted James and Sam themselves to be believable.
I like claustrophobic books. Most of A Class Apart takes place in the upper floors of a sky-scraping hospital in London. Tall buildings and hospitals in particular are very isolating and I thought it would make a great setting for a story that was a bit scary and a bit weird, where the reader doesn’t know what to expect next.
TeamNerd Reviews: Was it hard for you to get into the head of a teenager in order to write A Class Apart?
Stephen Henning: Oddly no. I can still remember how I felt about a lot of things when I was that age. The hardest bit is to get the dialogue right. Teenagers have lots of slang expressions and new words, but what is cool changes so quickly. I picked up a few expressions from my friends’ children, but I didn’t want to overdo it. Slang varies a lot from country to country too, so I just wrote what sounded natural.
TeamNerd Reviews: If you could have any super powers, what would they be?
Stephen Henning: I’ve always wanted to fly. I’m not sure why, because without other powers it would probably be quite useless. It’s bad enough when you’re running or cycling and you get smacked in the eye by a fly or a bee. Imagine how more frequently that would happen if you were flying. You’d need super strength too. Or goggles.
TeamNerd Reviews: What is the hardest and most rewarding part about being a Self-Published author? Had you always intended on being Self- Published?
Stephen Henning: The hardest part is marketing and reaching your audience. As an author, all you want to do is get your book in front of people. Being a salesperson does not come easy to most people. There’s an emotional hurdle you have to get over to constantly promote your work.
Having said that, the reward is that because you are doing all the work yourself, you get to connect with readers all the time, and do fun things like this interview. And when the books do start selling, there’s a quiet satisfaction in looking back at what you’ve achieved and what you’ve learned.
It was a friend of mine, who had been following the ePublishing revolution, who suggested to me that I should write ebooks and publish them online. When I looked into it, it really galvanized me into action. If you write a book with the intention of pitching it to an agent and publisher, there is always the fear that nobody will ever read it. I have found that demoralizing in the past. But knowing that I could get the book into people’s hands and find out from an audience whether my writing was any good or not, that really spurred me on to write the best book that I could.
TeamNerd Reviews: What is the best part about writing Young Adult Fiction?
Stephen Henning: There is just so much scope for drama. Everyone can remember what it was like being a teenager, and if you are in your teens, you’ll know how intense things can feel sometimes. You are at an age where you can make your own decisions, you feel like an adult, and yet at the same time you’re living at home and obeying somebody else’s rules.
Now imagine if you had abilities that made you more powerful than your parents, teachers and your friends. It would be like being a star, you’d feel like “Why should I do what you tell me?” So in fact having powers is like being Justin Bieber J. How would you handle the pressure? Would you go off the rails, or would you hang on to your sanity and come to terms with who you are now. It’s the time in your life when you’re about to face the realities of the adult world, and the decisions you make now will affect the rest of your life.
With that setup, there are just so many stories to tell.
TeamNerd Reviews: What are you currently working on?
Stephen Henning: Book 3 in the Class Heroes series. I’m about half way through a first draft and I’m really excited about it. I’m really pleased I decided to write a series as I love developing the main characters, building up a story arc, and yet still making each book self-contained. I’m toying with titles at the moment. The working title is “Generation 3.0”. I like the sound of it, but it may well change before release.
At the same time, I’m also trying to work out how to film some more ‘extras’ for my books. I mentioned earlier that I love film-making. Well, the Class Heroes books feature a fictional news station called 24/7 Interactive News. I’ve created a website for the channel, and on it you’ll find news stories and video reports relating to the very newsworthy events that happen in the novels. I liken the videos to the kind of bonus extras that you get on DVD releases. Why shouldn’t eBooks have bonus features too?
Have a look for yourself and you’ll get the flavor of the novels: 24/7 Interactive News
TeamNerd Reviews: Who are some of your writing inspirations?
Stephen Henning: An author called Terrance Dicks, who I used to read all the time when I was a child (he wrote a lot of books for the BBC TV series Doctor Who), first got me into writing. Then in my teens, Ian Fleming, and since then several authors like Michael Crichton, Lee Child and, perhaps surprisingly, Jilly Cooper!
TeamNerd Reviews: What are some of your MUST haves for writing?
Stephen Henning: Knowing that I won’t be interrupted. I like to know that if I’m going to start, I’m not going to have to stop in half an hour or so. I hate it when I’m really enjoying my writing and then bang! Something comes up.
I also like having music to listen to, especially classical music. It really pushes me along.
TeamNerd Reviews: Is there a message to be taken away from A Class Apart?
Stephen Henning: I hope so. Strip away the action and the superpowers, and there’s a message about making the most of what you have. Enjoy being you, appreciate your family and friends, and don’t take things for granted. The Class Heroes books are, at heart, a drama about family and friends.
And on that note, I just want to say thank you for interviewing me and featuring me on your excellent website.
TeamNerd Reviews: BIG THANK YOU to Steve Henning for the great interview and giving us the inside scope to Class Heroes!
About the Author: I began writing the first Class Heroes book on my laptop in February 2011, but these stories have probably been continually playing in my head since I was aged five or six, when I would act them out with toys and with my friends. I then branched out into using pencils, colouring pens and paper, moving on to writing pads and then my first computer.
So, as you’ve probably gathered, I have always enjoyed making up stories and the super-hero genre has been one of my favourites.
The CV-type stuff is that I went to Sheffield Hallam University to study English. I then trained and briefly worked as a journalist in Salford. After that, I moved into publishing – which was great. An interesting and fun industry to be in and fascinating to see how books are put together and sold.
After that I started doing technical writing, which led me to start my own business with my friend and colleague Andrew Butters. My love of writing, generally, led me back to writing fiction. Our company, Elucidox Ltd, publishes the Class Heroes books.