Spooked at the cinema

TUE 'Author Joe Delaney with two young fans
TUE 'Author Joe Delaney with two young fans
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Hollywood A-listers Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore are to star in a big film adaptation of an Over Wyre author’s debut children’s fantasy novel – in a move which could propel writer Joe Delaney into the JK Rowling league if the movie’s a box office hit.

Not that Joe’s picking a suit to wear for any premiere.

“Authors are the least significant characters at such gatherings, unless they’re as well known as JK Rowling, they are tucked away in a dark corner somewhere, cringing at the changes.”

While he refuses to confirm, or deny, specialist cinema website claims the film is about to start production, under director Sergei Bodrov (Tim Burton and Kevin Lima were also interested), he concedes that “for the first time since I signed, I actually will soon have something really significant to report – and the news is good.”

He admits he’s “waiting on a call” from Bridges, star of cult Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, in which Moore, who’s also a children’s author, also starred.

And he admits the book’s title, The Spook’s Apprentice – which has much of the action set in Lancashire, including Over Wyre – has been changed to The Seventh Son “for the film”. Film? Ah ha, tricked into confession!

Warners actually bought the film rights for all the books in Joe’s Wardstone Chronicles back in 2004, having been quick to spot a winner with the first. His eighth book is out this week, he’s on with the ninth, and reckons there will be 10 in the series.

Will young hero Tom perish in the last?

“I like to keep the kids guessing,” Joe smiles. “There’s always a death. Not necessarily his...”

His latest book, The Spook’s Destiny, is published by Random House, and he’s just back from a rather nasty sounding Bestiary tour, featuring a spin-off “notebook of dark and dangerous” deeds involving the Spook, or sorcerer, to whom teenage Tom, seventh son of a seventh son, is apprenticed, in a county loosely based on Lancashire.

Joe, an avid fantasy reader and film buff, was quick to hit the mark with readers of all ages. References resonate with residents who recognise familiar Fylde coast spots, names slightly altered, the author drawing on local folklore, boggart, ghost and witchy tales.

A man of faith himself, he’s had his share of killjoy cranks calling on him to scale down the witchery in case it leads the kiddies astray.

The children, naturally, love it, the darker the better.

“They’re growing up with Tom,” Joe, a grandad of eight, admits.

Joe’s adventures are set in a mythical land and century, but film makers have predictably nailed it to the 17th century, with his permission, which ties in with the heyday of Lancashire’s Pendle witches and their trials.

Two relative unknowns have been cast as the teenage hero and heroine (Alice), although Joe hopes the film makers don’t “do a Twilight on me ... I think the actor cast as Tom is a little too old, but that’s probably how the audiences will prefer it. Just so long as they don’t make Tom female and American, I’m happy. In fact, I’m excited about it.”

Not that he’s officially commenting, of course.

It’s telling that the former Blackpool Sixth Form College lecturer has already been dubbed Lancashire’s answer to Rowling.

Indeed, the agent who “discovered” JKR calls Joe “the one that got away”, having delayed in publishing for so long, he lost the debut novel to another publisher.

Will the film work the magic that the Harry Potter epics have? Joe’s more a Lord of the Rings fan, and a firm believer in reading books first, seeing films, second, but hopes the movie preserves his integrity ... and helps with the royalties.

While he grew up glutted on Lancashire folklore, he appreciates the insatiable demand for other worldly creations today and, while gothic’s no longer got it, teenagers love anti- heroes who smoulder a la Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood.

Joe’s added a vampire, drawn from his Romanian travels, to his ninth book, provisionally titled The Spook’s Blood, but adds “I’ve not sold out!”

The final draft is with the artist.

“I wish they could wait while I rework it,” he admits.

He divides his time, when not touring nationally or internationally, between home at Stalmine and his flat at Southport, maintaining a punishing schedule of signings, ghost walks, workshops, blogs and webchats, along with two books a year.

Writing became therapy with his wife’s death, at 58, four years ago, on the day she was due to leave hospital.

“She would tell me to slow down, I think,” he concedes. He’s come a long way, two million books sold in 24 lands, Americans change the titles, Japanese the artwork, and he loves the French take on his extraordinary slice of Lancashire life.

But the “biggest buzz” still comes with meeting young readers.

And with that he’s off – to catch a train to sign books for 450 more readers.

“I still prefer trains to broomsticks...”

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk