Earlier this year, A Level English students at Nonsuch were treated to an exclusive visit by author Michael Frayne, to discuss his novel ‘Spies’ with the students who are studying it as part of their syllabus.

The novel, winner of the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, narrates the story of the childhood wartime antics of young boys Keith and Stephen. However, the novel is complexly layered, and the darker themes of parental figures, childhood, and death are also explored.

Admitting “I don’t know the kind of things about my book that you’re supposed to know”, Frayne explained why he normally shies away from doing such school visits. However, the reason he chose to accept an invitation to Nonsuch, was because he “was brought up in this district” and “used the district…as the setting for the story”.

In response to a question about his inspiration for the novel, Frayne answered “it’s difficult to know how ideas are formed in your head”. Acknowledging that “you never quite end up with the book you thought you would end up with” and “some writers claim that they do no planning at all”, he confessed “I like to feel that I know where a story’s going when I begin … but the characters start to say things for themselves, start to do things for themselves”.

Citing L. P. Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’ as a “possible inspiration”, Frayne also revealed that “writers really don’t know much about what they’re writing they just sit down to write it”.

We were also very lucky to hear recounts of his own experiences of the war, and Frayne surprised us by revealing that “for children in this area, the impact was mostly nice … there was just enough activity to make it seem exciting”.

On being asked for writing tips, Frayne concluded his talk with a very inspirational piece of advice:

“I would give you a writing course for free in 3 words: just do it”

Tahreem Khan, Nonsuch High School for Girls