Stephen Henning is the author of the Class Heroes book series. He lives in the UK with his wife, Rebecca, who – rather handily – is an editor and proofreader. Equally fortuitously, whether it be out of love, duty or genuine enjoyment, she also reads his books.
Stephen studied English Literature in Sheffield and went on to become a journalist for a regional newspaper in Manchester. He then moved into publishing and set up his own technical-communication consultancy, Elucidox Ltd, with his friend and colleague Andrew Butters. Elucidox publishes the Class Heroes books, which are aimed at teenagers and adults.
Stephen has always enjoyed writing stories, making films and having fun. The Class Heroes books encompass all three of these hobbies, in no particular order.
What inspires you to write?
I have always loved writing. Before I could actually write stories, I used to draw them. I started out by scribbling Star Wars and Doctor Who stories in the pages of a diary.
I don’t know if any writer can actually articulate what compels them to create stories (which is ironic, I suppose), it’s just something welling up inside of us. I get a lot of satisfaction in working out the bones of a story, coming up with characters, making plots dovetail, adding layers into the story, and polishing dialogue.
Reading books and watching good drama also inspires me to write. If there’s a book or film that I’ve loved, I just want to get my computer out and come up with something as good or better.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’ll begin a story by jotting down some key questions into a notebook. I’m writing a series of books, featuring recurring characters. The series is called Class Heroes and the characters are 14-year-old twins James and Samantha Blake. So I asked myself where they would live, what type of kids they are, what their sibling relationship was like, and what kind of scenes would it be fun/interesting to drop them into.
I also spent a lot of time thinking about the tone of the books. I wanted them to be mature stories, dealing with some adult themes, so that young readers wouldn’t feel like they were being talked down to, and adults would still find interesting. At the same time, I didn’t want there to be any content that was inappropriate for 13 or 14 year olds.
Despite the fact that the books would contain fantastical elements (like superpowers and some horror), I wanted them to feel as real as possible. To that end, I wanted all the characters, and especially James and Sam, to be ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing). The reader should feel like they do know people just like these fictional characters.
For all the books, I think about some settings and themes that interest me. For book 1, I’d read an excellent novel by JG Ballard called High Rise. It’s all about a massive block of luxury apartments, and the residents are all wealthy, youngish professionals. The high rise is so large, and so self contained (it has shops, swimming pools etc) that the residents decide they never need to leave the building. Carnage ensues. I was fascinated by that, so I wanted to set book 1 in a huge, self-contained environment. I chose a large hospital in London. People who have been in hospital for any length of time have said how isolating it is. They are cut off from the outside world and can feel very institutionalized and powerless. So that was my starting point.
After coming up with the themes, I map out the key scenes of the book. I create a flow chart in Microsoft Visio so I can get a visual perspective on the big scenes, the minor scenes, how I can space out the heavy exposition, and get a feel for the overall length of the story.
Then I just start writing. I get as far as I can, referring back to my flow chart, until I think that something is going wrong. You get a feel for what is working and what isn’t. I have found that I get about halfway into the story and then I have to take stock of what I have got, and spend a bit of time working out what the story needs to take it through to the end.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Yep, certainly do. Most often when I go out for a walk and sometimes when I run. I find myself getting lost in their situations, how they are thinking, what their aspirations are, how they’ll react to certain things. I often think in real-life situations, what would James or Sam do here?
It’s quite funny, but it really does help. I like the idea of knowing my characters as well as I know my friends. It aids in conjuring up interesting situations for them.
What advice would you give other writers?
Always a tricky question, because I wouldn’t presume to give anybody advice. Also, everybody is different in how they write and the kind of things they like to write about.
The only advice any writer can give somebody who is aspiring to write is: just start. Don’t sit there with a blank piece of paper or an empty screen. Just give it a go, don’t be afraid. Once you’ve got something down, then you can start improving it. The more you write, the better you will get. Just don’t think it will be a quick process. I hesitate to call it hard work, because I find it enjoyable, but it does take a lot of time and effort. You have to be prepared to see it through.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
A friend and colleague had been telling me about the self-publishing trend over the last few years. I didn’t take it on board at first, but he was bang on. He’s very good at keeping up with developments in technology, and he’d been following various peoples’ successes in publishing their own material on the web.
Eventually, I came to realize how exciting an opportunity it was. It galvanized me to come up with the Class Heroes series, write the books, think about marketing, how I would physically produce the final books, and create the supporting websites.
I wanted to do something that would embrace the opportunities and possibilities of eBooks. In other words, I didn’t want to just produce printed books in electronic format, I wanted to make them more interactive. If books are on the web, then they should take advantage of the features of that technology.
Class Heroes book 1, A Class Apart, features a fictional news channel called 24/7 Interactive News. I thought it would be interesting to create the website for that news station. And here is it:
So then I started putting up news stories and videos that relate to the events in the book. So when, in A Class Apart, Sam reads about the explosion that has left her hospitalized, the reader can go to the same website that Sam is browsing, and read that story too. It’s fun, adds an extra dimension to the storytelling, and helps to ground it in reality. We all believe what we see in the news don’t we? 🙂
I often liken it to having ‘extras’ on DVDs. When I reach the end of a book, I often think that I would like to know more about the characters, or find out what happens in their lives in between stories. So I’ve thrown some bonus material in to my novels, including an ‘Easter egg’ video hidden at the end of book 2. Enjoy.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think it will get harder for the established book chains. Amazon is a powerhouse at the moment. A lot of people still like going into book shops to find a book, but then they’ll go home and order that book from Amazon. In a way, Amazon have a reliance on traditional book chains to promote the books that they sell.
Amazon want to square that circle in their purchase of Goodreads. They want to own that ‘discovery’ process, and I think they’ll get what they want.
I think eBooks will continue to grow in popularity, but it is highly unlikely they’ll ever totally replace physical books, because so many people love them.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
young adult, thriller, mystery, superheroes, action, ghosts, horror, adventure, fantasy
What formats are your books in?