CORNWALL PEOPLE: SHOUTYKID WRITER SIMON MAYLE
PUBLISHED: 13:48 26 January 2016 | UPDATED: 12:42 30 August 2017
Boascastle-based Simon Mayle is a successful children's author with three books in his popular Shoutykid series and a hit movie under his belt
Writer of an award-winning movie and author of two books about his youthful adventures in America and beyond, Simon Mayle settled in Boscastle almost 20 years ago. Now a successful children’s author, he spoke to Gareth Rees about his colourful career as third book in his popular Shoutykid series hits the shelves...
In 1993, Simon Mayle, then in his early thirties, drove out of New York City – the metropolis the native Londoner had called home since 1986 – in a Cadillac hearse headed for South America. Mayle chronicled the perilous, alcohol-fuelled 15,000-mile journey that followed, which he shared with two oddballs named Lenny and Tarris, in his 1998 book The Burial Brothers. It was the climax of a decade of adventures that had also seen the writer cross the Atlantic as a deck hand on a sailboat without any prior sailing experience and hop from job to job in New York City, a period of his life he shared with the reading public in 1994’s Bum Jobs.
I came back from South America in 1993 and met my wife, Gemma, in London,’ says Mayle, speaking over a crackly phone line from his home in Boscastle. We went to live in Sri Lanka for five months while I wrote Burial Brothers, then we tried living in New York again. It wasn’t working for us, so we moved to Cornwall in 1996. We’ve been here ever since.’
But it was quite a journey from Chiswick, where Mayle was born in 1961, to the north coast of Cornwall. The writer’s parents divorced when he was seven and his mother remarried and moved to America in 1975, when he was 13. When he was 16, Mayle, who now also has two brothers, two half-sisters, a stepbrother and three stepsisters living in America, moved to Los Angeles with the dream of making it in the movies.
I had a friend whose mother was in the film business. She was a film producer, and she said, “Well, if you come over here to LA, I’ll give you a job”, So I went over there, but she went bankrupt the day before I got there, so that didn’t work out.’
The aspiring screenwriter stayed in LA for three months, burned through his life savings and then moved to New York, becoming a photographer’s assistant, before moving back to London in the early 1980s, where he remained until his return to the US six years later. It was during his time back in the UK that he fell in love with Cornwall.
I met a fellow in the pub – who subsequently became my best friend – and within 15 minutes of meeting him, he had given me the keys to his house, the keys to his car and permission to make full use of both. Subsequently I came down and spent weekends in a place where people didn’t lock their front doors and left their keys around. Coming out of an urban environment in New York City and London, it was quite extraordinary and, I thought, extremely civilised.’
Today, Mayle and his family – he and Gemma have two children, 15-year-old Ayrton (after the racing driver’) and 13-year-old Pelé (after the footballer’) – live just two fields away from the house he stayed in more than 30 years ago. It was there that he experienced his biggest successes as a screenwriter: he wrote the screenplay for the film There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, which featured British stars Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone and won a Brown Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001; and he also penned the original Doc Martin films, starring Martine Clunes, for Sky Pictures.
But, now firmly settled in Cornwall, Mayle is no longer best known as the globetrotting tearaway liable to set off on a madcap adventure at a moment’s notice, nor as a screenwriter, but as the children’s author responsible for the popular Shoutykid series.
Narrated by Harry Riddles, a precocious 10-year-old living in Cornwall with his family – his father, a struggling screenwriter, his mother, his evil’ sister Charlotte and, by the end of the second book in the series, twin brothers – who reports his escapades in a string of letters, e-mails and text messages, there are currently two Shoutykids books: How Harry Riddles Made a Mega-amazing Zombie Movie (2014) and How Harry Riddles MEGA-MASSIVELY Broke the School (2015). A third book, How Harry Riddles got nearly ALMOST FAMOUS was published by HarperCollins at the end of 2015.
How did the erstwhile wild adventurer find himself writing children’s books?
I had kids is the short answer,’ he says. I was trying to find something that I could write and they would like. I wanted to use all the stuff I was learning about being a parent. I was heavily involved in their lives and it was all fascinating to me, but I didn’t know quite how to package it. I was wondering for many years, “What am I going to write about?”’
The idea for Shoutykid came to me when we were having a difficult time financially with the film business. I thought I was going to have to get rid of our house,’ he continues. So one night I was thinking about how I would break the news to my kids. I said, “well, what would my kids think if I told them they might have to move school and I might have to sell the house?” “What would a 10-year-old do?” I thought I might start writing letters for help. As soon as I had that thought I had the whole book in 10 minutes, at four in the morning. That was it.’
Mayle says he is an avid reader of American crime novels, especially the pulp fiction of Elmore Leonard, but he doesn’t read children’s books. The structure of the Shoutykid books was inspired by The Henry Root Letters, a series of satirical novels written in the 1980s by the comic author William Donaldson, but everything else comes from his children.
I know the language because I hear it in the car,’ he says. Everything’s “basically” and “like”. I was tuning my ear into the way my kids talk. I was just trying to recreate the language I heard when I drove the kids home from school.’
Ayrton and Pelé also offered constructive criticism of the first book, but now they are no longer the same age as his readership (the Shoutykids books are aimed at eight to 12-year-olds), Mayle explains he has to go and do my research’.
For the last book I had this problem: I didn’t know how a 10-year-old would ask another 10 year old out on a date,” he says. “I didn’t have a clue about the dating etiquette. So I spoke to friends of mine who had younger kids and they told me exactly how things go down in the playground.’
When he’s not chatting to the parents of 10-year-olds about their childrens’ dating habits, Mayle can usually be found working in a chair by the agar in what used to be the kitchen of his house. He writes every day of the week, for up to 10 hours a day Monday to Friday and for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday – a regimen he is able to maintain thanks to the slower pace of life in Cornwall.
Cornwall is beautiful,’ he says. You have no distractions. I’ve got lots of good friends, mostly builders or farmers, people I know from the pub.’ If he is struggling with his writing, he takes his rescue Jack Russels, Hedge and Bluebell, for a walk along the cliffs to Crackington Haven, Trebarwith Strand or sometimes Port Isaac. Once a month, he and a company of fellow dog owners enjoy a five-mile walk and a pub lunch; this weekend it is St Ives to Pendeen, followed by lunch at The Gurnard’s Head.
In May, Mayle signed on to write books four and five in the Shoutykid series, and he is in talks about a television series. There are a couple of film scripts floating around in the background’, he says, but the man who once drove across two continents in search of youthful kicks is now content doing what he’s doing in Cornwall.
I always want to do this now,’ he says. I want this to be my day job.’
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life's January 2016 issue.