Interview With Author Phil Hickes

Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m joined by author Phil Hickes, of the middle grade mystery series Aveline Jones. Below you can find my reviews of each of the three fabulous books to prepare you for our spooktactuclar chat!

Hi Phil, and thanks for joining me to talk about your book series, Aveline Jones. What drove you to write these books?
Hello and thanks so much for inviting me! There were a few factors. To write a book has long
been an ambition. In one sense, it’s a bit of cliché, isn’t it? But I knew I would hate myself if I
never actually got around to doing it. And when you’re approaching middle age, you get the
first uneasy sense that time is no longer on your side. Also, I’ve always been into spooky stuff
and really wanted to make my own creative contribution to the horror genre. I wondered if I
could actually do it. So it was a combination of ambition, fear and curiosity I think.

What do you most enjoy about writing middle grade, and writing middle grade spooky books?
I like the word count! But joking aside, for me it’s the best audience to write for. Open minds
and fertile imaginations, without any of the cynicism and impatience that we adults have. And
as far as the spookiness goes, I think a world with ghosts and goblins in it is much more
interesting one to live in. Plus, it feels good to help foster that wonderful scared/safe reading
buzz.

Who has been your favourite character to write about across the books?
I love the dynamic duo of Aveline and Harold and like to think their relationship has developed
in an interesting way, from that initial awkwardness and unease to being so comfortable with
each other and very protective. The contradictory aspects of Hazel in Book 2 were interesting to
grapple with. It’s easy for MG characters to fall into the goodie/baddie camp so to have
someone straddling both was enjoyable. Finally, I’ve always liked Aunt Lilian. She feels very real to me.

What kind of balance do you strike between research and your own imagination when it comes to writing the myth bases for your books?
I think if I analyze it, then I’m taking familiar tropes from the horror genre before hopefully
adding an original twist from my own imagination. So I’ll research hauntings, witches, faerie
lore and so on, but from that familiar clay I try my best to mold it into something fresh. Maybe
a 50/50 mix?

You love to write spooky things. Do you love to read them too, and what book has stuck with you the most over the years?
Most of my reading tends towards the darker side. I try and vary it, but always return there
eventually. Some adult standouts include The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and recently
The Apparition Phase by Will McClean. In Children’s, I’m one of that demographic that grew up
with spooky 70s and 80s kids TV and books, so I often return to Alan Garner and Susan Cooper. I also loved Long Lankin by Lyndsey Barraclough.

How do you approach writing a new novel? Do you have a set routine or do you let the words come to you?
I’m still working out how to do it. I’m hugely disappointed that I can’t seem to find a consistent
methodology after quite a few books. The Aveline books were “pantsed”, in that I started with
a rough idea and worked it out along the way. It’s fun but I find myself constantly arriving in cul-de-sacs and dead ends, so there’s a lot of wasted time and words. My most recent book was
planned. I knew the start, middle and end before I started and while it was certainly more
efficient, I’m not sure if it’s for me. I write 4-5 days a week usually, for 2-3 hours, usually in the
evening. I should probably write more often but don’t want it to become a grind. Plus, the day
job takes it out of you.

If you had to take on any of the spooky challenges Aveline finds herself mixed up in, which of the three would you rather face?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I think maybe the first one. I’d love to experience a haunting of my
own, though I would definitely want my own versions of Harold, Mr Lieberman and Aunt Lilian
beside me.

Finally, how would sum up the Aveline Jones series in three words?
Eerie, intriguing and fun!

A huge thanks to Phil for joining me for this first author interview of 2023. Always a pleasure to talk to people who have brought books I’ve loved into the world!

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