Tom Mitchell

That Time I Got Kidnapped
Tom Mitchell

About Author

Tom Mitchell is mostly father, partly writer. Growing up in the West Country, he settled in London after a brief interlude in the East Midlands. HOW TO ROB A BANK is his first novel, written during the school holidays of his teaching job. He lives in Orpington with his wife and two sons. He can be found tweeting at @cakesthebrain.




APRIL 2020

THAT TIME I GOT KIDNAPPED, the new novel from author TOM MITCHELL, follows British superhero-obsessed teenager Jacob, who ends up cashless and on the run with an American girl. The story is packed with tension, adventure, teen awkwardness, and humour; readers aged 10+ will love it.

We asked TOM MITCHELL to tell us more:

Q: Can you tell us what That Time I Got Kidnapped is about?

A: It's about three hundred pages. No. Jacob has won a competition to appear as an extra in a new superhero film. He's flown over, on his own, to America but misses the connecting flight in Chicago. What follows is his desperate attempt to get to LA by whatever means necessary. And getting kidnapped by the mysterious teen Jennifer, who carries an even more mysterious box wherever she goes and who's being chased by a man known only as 'the Cowboy', doesn't help.

Q: How did writing That Time I Got Kidnapped compare with your first book, How to Rob a Bank?

A: I had less time to write That Time I Got Kidnapped, which, in a strange way, was good. It forced me to focus and get words on the page. As a slightly different genre of book too, but still comic, I had fun sketching out larger, more action-packed scenes. Dylan, in How to Rob a Bank, is, to some degree, a loner. I'd like to think that That Time I Got Kidnapped has two main characters - Jennifer and Jacob - and it was fun to have them play off each other.

Q: Why did you decide to set it in the US, and to have a road trip?

A: I'd always thought that if the first book were a heist story, it'd be funny if the second were a chase - even if it's completely new characters and situation. That was the starting point. And, really, there's only one country in which you can set a road trip: America. I was toying with setting it in England but rushing from Taunton to get to Orpington didn't have quite the same ring as Chicago to Los Angeles.

America is big. That's easy to say. But, once, in California, we asked the family with whom we were staying for suggestions as to day trips. Their suggestion, the Sequoia National Forest, was two-hundred miles away! The trees were big, too.

Q: Did you attempt Jacob and Jennifer's journey yourself? Could you have written it without travelling to the US?

A: Amazingly, the Society of Authors gave me a grant (thanks!) to do this very thing. I cheated a little bit, though, and took a train from LA to Chicago. American friends had warned me off Greyhound. The journey took three days. I had a tiny little sleeper room and was summoned to breakfast, lunch, and dinner promptly by the guard.

You weren't allowed to sit on your own, so those not travelling in groups of four, were allocated placed with strangers. I'm not necessarily the most sociable of people, so the first meal was slightly anxiety-riven, but I soon learnt to enjoy it. I ate lots of steak and burgers and laughed a lot.

One breakfast, a man refused to pay. They stopped the train and threw him off. We were in the middle of a desert. (There was a police car waiting, but still ...)

Could I have written the book without doing this? I mean, you combine Google with an imagination and, probably, yes. But it was really useful for noticing little details, both in terms of the way people live, but the way they speak - which is different from what Hollywood screenwriters would have you believe.

Q: Where would your dream road trip take you?

A: Recently, I visited Toronto and I'd love to drive around Canada more widely. I think you'd have to do it in the summer. I was warned that summers in Toronto get so hot you can fry eggs on the sidewalk and in the winter everything freezes. Alaska looks wicked too but, as with all these things, the reality might be more terrifying than you imagine. I don't want to be stuck in a cabin with nowhere to go. That's too similar to what I'm doing now. Whizzing down South America would be fun too, wouldn't it?

Q: Why did you decide to make Jacob a fan of superheroes - and especially Spiderman? Are you drawing on your own teenage years?

A: Superheroes were a little different when I was younger. I remember being taken to see Batman and Robin, widely seen as one of the worst movie adaptations, where Clooney looks embarrassed and Mr Freeze was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (or was Mr Freeze playing Arnold Schwarzenegger?).

That said, I've always had a soft spot for Spider-Man. I like his fragility and self-doubt. He's just a kid from Queens, trying to work out how best to become an adult. I find all that more relatable than the others. (The recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is just awesome and well worth a watch if you haven't already.) Ant-Man is funny too. I like Ant-Man. Imagine being able to control ants. Imagine how annoying you could be.

Q; What's Jacob's 'superpower' and what did you love about writing him?

A: His superpower is the ability to say 'sorry' whatever the situation. Or the power to always make the wrong decision. I love his conflict: he really wants to get to Hollywood but, at the same time, feels an obligation to Jennifer, and her problems, drawing him away. I enjoyed trying to work through that problem.

He's an ordinary kid in extraordinary circumstances, constantly worried about what his parents are going to say. A lot of what he does is motivated by trying to avoid getting told off.

Q: You've got some fabulous supporting characters including Jennifer's 'Lex Luthor' gran (although we don't get to meet her) and 'the Cowboy' who is chasing them, and not to forget a bus-full of musical-singing zombies. Who was most fun to write?

A: Easy - the Princess. I'm tempted to leave it there. I'd be interested if readers warm to this character as much as I did. I'd love to write a sequel - The Continuing Adventures Of The Princess.

(The Princess is Jacob's suitcase - it's the only one his mum could find and it's bright pink and it says 'Princess' on the side in big letters and, in many ways, is crucial to the story's development.)

Q: Where and when do you do most of your writing?

A: 'Where and when I can' is the honest answer. I often plan to get up really early in the morning to do some then but, like jogging, this never seems to happen. As a teacher, I'm fortunate to have school holidays, so I tend to get a lot done then, while doing my best to ignore my own children.

I'd love to have a shepherd's hut overlooking some sweeping landscape or a Malibu beach hut with a view of the Pacific but, until I win the lottery, I'll have to make do with my bed. It's not too bad. It's very comfortable. The only view is of the wardrobe, so, social media notwithstanding, at least I don't get distracted.

Q: What can we expect from your next book?

A: Well ... it's in early stages at the moment but ... the first was a heist, and the second a chase, so I thought it appropriate to make the third an escape story. It also features a teenager's worst nightmare - confiscation of a phone. In that sense, it's a horror story - although only in that sense.

Q: What's your favourite thing to do when you're not writing?

A: Sleeping? I'm at the age where naps are both increasingly difficult to take and increasingly attractive. Truly, you don't know what you've got until you've lost it. My advice to the readers: take more naps.

And, obviously, reading. As a writer and an English teacher, it'd be weird if I didn't enjoy books. I like to have a novel and some non-fiction on at the same time. Watching football would be a lie because I'm a Sheffield Wednesday fan. I've got two young boys, so, without being cheesy, spending time with them is fun. (But not too much time, especially when trapped indoors with nowhere to go.)

Q: Are there any books or young people's authors you're looking forward to reading over the coming weeks while we're all stuck at home? Or films you want to catch up with?

A: Two writers published by my publisher both have new books coming out at the same time as me - Nicola Skinner and Dominique Valente. That they're lovely people is neither here nor there (but they are!) - their first novels were ace, so I'm looking forward to their second.

For adult readers, Sebastian Barry and Aravind Adiga both have new books out and they're two of my favourites. I don't know whether these two are lovely people or not. There's always some film I'll want to watch. I've been meaning to catch Booksmart for ages, so when the kids are in bed, I'll probably pop that on.

Q: What will be the first thing you want to do when we're all 'allowed out' again?

A: A Frenchman said that hell is other people. But he'd never been stuck in an Orpington house for twelve weeks. I think just meeting family and friends again. Going to the pub, restaurants, cinema. You know? Normal things. Doing stuff that feels normal. I think that's what we'll all be craving. A return to normality.




MARCH 2019

HOW TO ROB A BANK follows Dylan when he decides that the best way to make amends for burning down the house of a girl he was trying to impress, is to rob a bank.

Dylan's inept attempts to rob the bank, and to stay friends with the girl, are awkward, funny and horribly true to life - perfect for 11+ and reluctant readers.

We asked TOM MITCHELL, a teacher, to tell us what inspired him to write for teenagers and what inspired his debut, HOW TO ROB A BANK.

Q: What is your day job and what brought you into writing a novel? How did you find the time to write?

A: I'm an English teacher in a secondary school. I've always wanted to write, so teaching seemed like the next best thing - at least it meant I still got to talk about stories. And then I had kids myself and I thought I'd have a go at writing for children. It seemed to make sense.

Q: Did the bank heist films you mention in How to Rob a Bank help inspire the book, or was there something else that sparked the idea of a 15 year old planning to rob a bank?

A: I didn't want to write a book that taught kids an important lesson. That was the starting point. Because I do that (hopefully) in my day job. And I remembered a story of my dad getting locked in a bank toilet - they closed up and left him there. AND I think some of my favourite films are bank heists. So mix all those elements up and you've got the inspiration for HOW TO ROB A BANK.

Q: You seem to know a lot about ATM's, so how much research did you do into robbing banks?? Did watching the films help?

A: Ha! I'm constantly worried about my Google search history. I must be on a few police watch lists. My editor at HC also tells of a time she was on the train and someone noticed the manuscript popping out of her bag and all they could see was the title. She had to explain she wasn't a bank robber.

I researched some real life robberies - criminals have been very innovative and creative. There was a bank robbery in Brazil where a group set up a fully functional landscaping company next door to the bank to disguise their tunnelling efforts. Supposedly they were as great as cutting lawns as they were digging tunnels. And, of course, the films helped - especially Office Space - which is both really funny and also includes sneaking a virus onto a bank's server.

Q: Having done the research, where you at all tempted to have a go yourself?

A: I mean, as my gran used to say, breaking the law isn't cool. But, beyond that, I don't think I'm brave enough. I once took a can of Coke from a box of 12 that had been hanging around near the work fridge and felt guilty about it for months. I'm not particularly light on my feet. I couldn't jump over lasers or any of that.

Q: Robbing banks is quite a serious business, so how did you make your story funny?

A: Robbing a bank is a silly decision. Robbing a bank when you're a teenager is even sillier. I guess it's as simple as that. I tried putting an ordinary individual, Dylan, into extraordinary situations with extraordinary characters. That's how I tried to make it funny. That and a couple of instances of people losing their trousers.

Q: Dylan tries to do the right thing but goes about it the wrong way. How did his character develop, and did you draw on your own teen years / family in doing so?

A: I think your identity is at its most fluid when you're a teenager. And that makes those years both thrilling and tragic. My dad loved films too and I look back fondly to the movies he introduced me to.

Q: What was the most daring thing you did as a teenager?

A: Daring? I once did underwater helicopter escape training, through this thing at school. It was terrifying. They drop a body of a helicopter into a darkened swimming pool and it turns around and you're meant to count to ten and then swim out. But you're disorientated and underwater. But that was nothing compared to asking girls out. That was the proper scary stuff. Not underwater, but still ...

Q: There's a romantic element to the story, although Dylan finds it hard to communicate with Beth, the girl of his dreams. So how did you go about developing their friendship?

A: I guess from personal experience. From remembering those feelings where you're good friends with someone and then you realise that you fancy them and this realisation makes you go loopy and you act strangely but you never actually admit these feelings because that would be the end of the world.

So ... instead ... maybe you plan to rob a bank? I guess many of the worst decisions we've all made have been, at their origin, designed to impress someone we fancy.

Q: The novel is set just outside London, why did you choose that setting?

A: Non-pretentious answer - it's near where I live. And Orpington doesn't really feature that much in literature.

Pretentious answer - the suburbs are like adolescent - they're neither one thing nor the other. A liminal space where strange things happen. There are two Greggs on Orpington High Street, by the way.

Q: Where do you like to go and what do you do to escape day-to-day life?

A: I have two boys - a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. There is no escaping parenthood and they determine where we 'like' to go. I have to say, though, that I love the Kent coast, especially Folkestone. Does that make me sound old?

My second book is set in America and the Society of Authors helped fund a research trip to California last year. That was awesome. Those beaches! You don't get apocalyptic forest fires near Orpington, though. That's one thing in its favour.

Q: Where and when are your favourite place / time to write?

A: It has to be the holidays. I don't necessarily have a favourite place. Sometimes, I take trips away to find a lonely place to write. But I always end up putting on Netflix and ordering pizza. My bed is very comfortable for writing. I just have to ensure that my boys understand not to creep up on me and jump on the laptop/sensitive places. I'd love to be able to write in a coffee shop. Other people are annoying, though.

Q: What has for you been the most surprising thing about becoming an author?

A: That people want to read my book! How nice everyone in publishing is! The views from HarperCollins offices! And, don't tell my classes, but the amount of spelling/grammar/punctuation errors in the first draft of the novel.

Q: What other books / films would you recommend to 11+ readers?

A: Two authors that I like and have met through HarperCollins have amazing books coming out this year. Dominique Valente's Starfell and Nicola Skinner's Bloom. I very much like Ian McEwan's The Daydreamer - a selection of short stories about a boy who daydreams. When I was 11, I adored John Masefield's The Box of Delights. It's magical and strange and reminds me of Christmas (Like tinsel?).

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