Culture Interview: Radio 1's Greg James and Chris Smith on their new book release, Kid Normal and the Shadow Machine.

Despite having no powers, Murph Cooper is part of the best team in the Heroes' Alliance. So when supervillain Magpie declares all-out war, Kid Normal and the Super Zeroes lead the charge. 

But Magpie believes that a powerless hero is no hero at all. And he's building a dastardly device to prove it. When Kid Normal enters the Shadow Machine, THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME ...

Kid Normal and the Shadow Machine is the third book in the hugely successful (and brilliant) series from Radio 1’s Greg James and former Radio 1 newsreader Chris Smith.

Greg ‘n’ Chris

Greg ‘n’ Chris

We were lucky enough to get them on speaker phone whilst they dashed for a train to somewhere in a car, and this is what was said….

We know Kid Normal is based on some of your own experiences, can you tell us what you were both like as school kids?

Greg: Very Similar to Murph really.  I grew in confidence eh older I got.  I didn’t love school until I was fifteen or sixteen and it wasn’t until I started enjoying doing drama, plays and comedy sketches.  It took me a while to grow up.  I had my own group of mates to muck around with and we would just be silly and have a laugh but we were never bad enough to get caught doing it. 

Chris:  I was always shy, anxious and liked reading.  Everyone seemed more confident than me.  I’m the same I grew in confidence as I got older and learned to be funny.


It takes confidence to be on the radio, so when did that come about?

 C: I had friends who did hospital radio and I got involved and loved it. There’s an agricultural show and I did this showground radio which was brilliant and after uni, I wanted to do more of it.


G:  I was quietly confident, I knew I wanted to do radio at forteen or fifteen and I started doing hospital radio where I watched and learned.  The lack of confidence came from not telling my mates that I was doing it.  There’s a bit of that in Murph.


This showground radio sounds amazing Chris!

C: Yes, I had to record as many different animal noises as I could.   We’ll leave that there!


At the end of the second book, all the baddies escaped. Where does Kid Normal 3 pick things up?

C: We pick things up right there, straight after this prison break.  At the beginning, the baddies organise themselves into the Alliance of Evil.  There’s an undercover war.   The Chief of all baddies plots a dastardly revenge!

 G: It has been the most fun book we’ve written, we explore the friendships of all 5 of them and what happens when that gets threatened.  There’s a big dramatic moment!   The Alliance of Evil is very sinister, it’s the organisation made up of all the bad guys.

C: The bad guys take inspiration from lots of different places.  One is definitely based on a boss I used to work for but I can’t discuss that for legal reasons!   

G: Me and Chris both share of hatred for anyone with too much power and money, I think people become warped by greed and wanting more and more   It’s a lesson in that if you’re never satisfied, it’s easy to become an arsehole!


Wait, this Alliance of Evil isn’t based on the BBC is it?!

G: *laughs*  Oh great question! Umm no organisation is perfect is it?!


It’s brilliant that you get around the country meeting families in book stores and schools.  What feedback do they give you? 

C: It really helps to understand what kids like, we love it when kids give us their ideas, which are mainly fart based!

G: We don’t get many people coming up saying it’s shit! One of our favourite things is touring the book definitely.  People say they’d love to have Hilda’s capabilities! The feedback we get is great, it’s important as a writer to know what works or people.  The books are enjoyed by the whole family, I love the ideas of daddy’s reading it out to their kids with silly voices!


Yes you should hear me reading to my boy, he loves it!  The illustrations are brilliant too, can you see Kid Normal becoming a series or film?

G: We have always been clear this is about us writing books and being a thing that exists on a shelf.  Well, not just a shelf hopefully it ends up in the hands of children of course!  We do write everything ourselves, we create the ideas visually and yes it is on a big scale so of course we would be open to doing something like that, but that’s not why we do it.

C: Yes we really love the writing, both of us are big readers.  We love that we do half the work and then there’s something nice about children using their imaginations to fill in the other half.

G: Which we’re used to, because that’s how great radio works.  You have to sort of overplay things t paint a picture and the listener then brings the rest to it.


Is there going to be more Kid Normal after this or do you have other ideas?

G: There is one more book in this set of stories and then we’re going to clear our brains after that.   We sort of have to do that now, we’re promoting this one and we need to do that before we start thinking about the next one.

C: Yes after the fourth one, we don’t know.  We do have lots of ideas.


So many famousses are getting in on this market, do you have anything to prove as authors?

C: Authors only have something to prove in that if they write a rubbish book, people aren’t going to read it, so we only have something to prove to the kids.  You could be the most famous person in the world but if you write a terrible book then nobody is going to enjoy it or buy any more of them.

G: We’ve always written stuff on the side anyway, we’ve written sketches, radio material, a tv comedy, so I think we are writers so there’s nothing to prove in that sense.  I can never get my head around people who use ghost writers, that really bothers me.

We are lucky in that some people will have heard of us but the books live or die on how good they are.  Some people don’t even know us from the radio!

C: Yes no offence Greg but the books are sold in lots of countries overseas where nobody has a clue who we are!

 Well we love the book and can’t wait to finish it, so thank you for telling us more.  Lastly, we’re hoping to get up to Radio 1’s Big Weekend – apart from the amazing lineup, what are you most excited about?

G: I’m most excited about trying a chicken parmo! I started radio in the North East and it’s a very special part of the UK to me so I can’t wait to take all these amazing artists there.  The fact that we take Miley Cyrus, Sean Paul and all these people to Middlesborough is amazing… these massive artists who will never have been north of London are coming and it’s going to be brilliant!


Click here to Pre-order your copy of Kid Normal and the Shadow Machine from Waterstones. To WIN a signed copy, follow @nothingbuthq on Twitter and look out for more details.