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Interview: Ben Spies talks about The Magic Pencil

Ben Spies is a young author living on the beautiful Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Ben’s passion for writing led him to become a published author at the young age of nine with his first book, Weirdo. The Magic Pencil followed soon after at age ten, and The World of Greek Mythology at age eleven. Ben is fourteen years old now and is not showing any signs of slowing down. He has just published his fourth book and first sci-fi - 2020 - an action packed novel for older children and young teenagers. Ben talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about your novel.

The Magic Pencil tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy, Bob, who finds an innocent-looking pencil which turns out to be magic – anything it draws becomes real. A gang of bad people - the Fakeys - want the magic pencil for their own dastardly plans to take over the world. Bob is soon on the run to keep the pencil safe, aided by his friends and a strange but helpful Old Man.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was ten years old when I wrote The Magic Pencil. By then, I used to love all the action and adventure books written by the likes of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and the more contemporary children’s author David Walliams. I guess their funny stories inspired me to write my own. I always wondered what it would be like to have my own magic pencil and experience an adventure involving magic and time travel with my friends.

What research was involved?

The story is set in London, my second home. The car chase scene required lots of research as I wanted to take the reader along with Bob through the streets of Central London and London Bridge. As Bob and his friends embark on a time-travel journey and meet some famous characters throughout the book, I had to do some research on Ancient Egypt and Albert Einstein, which I enjoyed very much. But what I prefer is to research about facts and locations related to my culture as my dad is British and my mum is from Brazil. My first book – Weirdo – includes a scene at the Brazilian waterfall - Iguacu Falls - which I also enjoyed doing the research about it.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I was only ten, so I would come back from school everyday and go to my bedroom to write. Sometimes I had to run to my computer as I had fresh ideas in my mind that I wanted to put down as soon as I arrived home. Funny things that happened at school or anything my friends would say that would make me laugh I used as material for the story. My dad came up with the illustrations and we would laugh together while creating them with some specific traits. It probably took me about ten months to finish it as I would read it again and again until I was happy with the manuscript. My mum sent it to an editor in England and then to a proofreader here in New Zealand. As we had already published one book before, the process for completing The Magic Pencil was a little easier.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

One book that made me really think about the world and the impact young people can have on it was It’s Your World by Chelsea Clinton, especially during these difficult times the whole world is going through. The book tackles those big issues we face today such as climate change, poverty, health, gender equality, not only talking about it but giving suggestions and ideas for taking action. It’s great to inspire kids of all ages to do their part to make our world a better place. We are so lucky here in New Zealand, but the reality in other countries is far from ours. It really made me want to get out there, explore and help a little bit to make a difference.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I am in the second year of college, so time is becoming less and less available with exams and school projects piling in. I’m also an actor and have been involved in two plays for our local performing arts school, and have just started rehearsing for another play for next year. I’ve also recently started working on script-writing and hope to have my own play ready soon. I have just published my first science-fiction book called 2020 and I’m working on a second sci-fi novel, a genre that I discovered I very much enjoy writing. I’m also working on a fantasy series that I first wrote in primary school and now my mum is helping me to publish it for next year. Apart from that, I just really want to do well in my exams at college!


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