Maz Evans’ writing career began in journalism as a TV critic and feature writer. She has written for many national titles and is a regular pundit on The Jeremy Vine Show. After working as a creative writing lecturer, she founded Story Stew, an anarchic creative writing programme that has visited primary schools and literary festivals around the UK, including Hay and Imagine. Maz lives in Dorset with her husband and four children.
So Maz, how would you best describe ‘Who Let the Gods Out’ in your own words?
A lot of work! Just kidding – I hope it is a fun-filled fantasy adventure about a young carer, Elliot Hooper, who is trying to save the world, while trying to save his world. He is joined by Virgo, a haughty young constellation from the Zodiac Council, who introduces him to the world of the modern immortal – because, being immortal, the figures of classical mythology are still wandering amongst us…
What made you want to write this book and tell this particular story?
It was actually two ideas that came together by accident. I’d wanted to write a funny book about what the Greek Gods would be doing in the modern world, and Elliot’s story grew up around that. There are hundreds of thousands of young carers in the UK, many of whom, like Elliot, are too scared to come forward for help lest they are taken from their parent(s). Statistically, there is at least one young carer in every primary school in the UK – it’s high time we shed some light on their stories.
Where did you passion for Greek Mythology originate?
When I was eight, I won an award at school – the prize was the Usborne Book of Greek and Norse Legends. I was instantly hooked. The stories were so epic, yet so timeless – and I love the folly of the Gods. As I progressed through education, I studied Latin, Classics and English Literature, all of which are infused with these wonderful tales.
Your book deals with some prevalent issues in today’s society, such as pay-day-loans, young carers and mental illness. What were your reasons for using themes in your book?
I wanted a story that, for all its daft fantasy, was very rooted in reality. Kids are incredibly sophisticated and can deal with multiple layers very well – better than adults, perhaps. I think that today’s children are particularly connected with the world around them, for good and for bad. So as a children’s author, I do feel a happy responsibility to present issues that some may not be aware of and others would like brought to the fore. Many children experience financial hardship and mental illness themselves or through their families.
I think it’s important to represent a realistic picture of the world, while always remaining hopeful.
How do you feel about the positive reaction your book has had and especially within the school environment?
It sounds so clichéd, but I have been totally blown away by the response to Gods. My highest hope was for people not to throw rotten fruit at me in the streets, so everything else has been a real bonus. When it was chosen for Waterstone’s Book of the Month, I cried. When it hit the bestseller lists, I couldn’t speak for about an hour. When it recently sold to its 16th territory, I just laughed. The reaction from schools has been totally unexpected and certainly not something I’d intended – I thought it would be too silly for the classroom! But the teaching community has been overwhelmingly supportive and I’m so grateful. I receive personal messages every day and each one means the world – just last night I had a tweet from a teacher saying that Gods is the first book her most reluctant reader has ever read. That – THAT is truly humbling.
When writing ‘Who Let the Gods Out’ how early on did you realise this was going to be a series of books and how many do you conceive will make up the collection?
I always envisaged it at as a series. I originally thought of it as five books – my publisher persuaded me, probably correctly, that it should be four! I am currently working on Book 4.
How do you juggle which Gods to include within your story? Have you had to save some for the following books?
The Gods seem to pop up quite organically depending on the plot. For Book 3, for instance, the quest is for the Water Stone, so naturally Poseidon puts in an appearance. I do juggle them around a bit and there are many on the cutting room floor – there’s one character in Book 3 who has been four different characters in Books 1 & 2 already, but I’ve had to cut them out each time!
Could you describe your earliest engagement in literature?
My mother was very passionate about teaching me to read at a young age and it made me a voracious reader. I was a bit like Matilda – I had read all the books in my small town library by the time I was a teenager! I loved English throughout my education and studied it for my first degree.
I see stories everywhere, so it’s a privilege that people want me to write them.
What are your favourite books?
I really will read anything – I have very eclectic tastes. I try to read lots of kidlit because of course I now know lots of wonderful people who write it. But I also love historical fiction, chick lit, the classics, non-fiction – if it’s well-written, I’m in. My frustration is the lack of time I have to read – I find it very hard when I’m writing and with four books to write in under three years, I seem to be doing that a lot!
Who is your favourite character in ‘Who Let the Gods Out’ and why?
I’m asked this a lot and it changes all the time. Of course, I love Elliot – you have to love your hero. It’s very weird – I wrote the prototype of Gods when my son was just a baby – he’s now 10 and he’s grown up to become just like Elliot! I wrote my own child! The villains are such fun to write – Thanatos gets some good lines and I’m terrified how easily I inhabit Patricia Porshley-Plum’s sociopathic mind-set! But overall, Virgo is probably my girl. She’s stubborn, self-righteous, insufferably perfectionist – just like me.
If you could be a Greek God or Goddess who would you choose and why?
Again, this changes all the time. I think at the moment the world could use a lot of love, so I’d like to be Aphrodite. That said, I’m never one to shy away form a party, so I have a lot of Dionysus within me…
Interviewed by Ross Jeffery
If you would like to read our review of Who Let The Gods Out? you can do so here.
The Who Let the Gods Out? books are published by Chicken House Books and are available here.
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