Ghostcloud is a riveting, magical adventure set deep underneath a richly reimagined London. It follows the story of Luke and his friends- children who are kidnapped and forced to shovel coal under Battersea Power Station, overseen by the terrifying Tabitha Margate. Whilst serving a punishment in the haunted East Wing, Luke realises that he can see things that other people can’t- ghostly things. He befriends a ghost-girl called Alma, who can ride clouds through the night sky and bend their shape to her will. Alma agrees to help Luke and his friends escape – and Luke has to learn to find his voice, while also finding his way home.
As a mixed-race, gay parent and teacher, Michael Mann is passionate about representation. Luke, the hero of Ghostcloud, is mixed-race like Michael (British-Indian) and like so many of the children that Michael teaches, Luke feels caught between two worlds, unsure where he fits in.
Here’s his exclusive interview with Asian Voice:
What is the importance of fiction writing in contemporary times?
Good writing makes you connect and empathise with characters in very different situations from your own. At the moment, it feels like we're in quite a divided world at times and so empathy and connection are more important than ever. Everyone - even people we disagree with - have a story and perspective, and understanding these different perspectives can often help us find some common ground.
How can we nurture it, especially to encourage more kids to play with their imagination?
As adults, we're often role models for kids, so I think if we want them to read, imagine and play we should be doing it too. As a teacher, one of the most powerful things I found was bringing in a book that I loved from home - a favourite from my childhood - and then I would read this out to the kids at home time. At the end of the reading, I'd ask if anyone wanted to borrow my copy and all the hands would go up. I think a passion for reading can be contagious and as adults, we should make sure we show that. I also think giving kids a choice of books - so they can find what they love - is vital
Why do you think we need more mixed race protagonists in global stories?
I read a study that said mixed race was the 'fastest-growing minority’ in the UK, and I'm sure it's similar in many countries. Though there has been some progress in representation, a recent report by the CLPE showed we're still under-represented. Every child should be able to see themselves as a hero, and the lead in their life, and I think seeing themselves saving the world in a book is a great first step.
How does your mixed heritage influence how you raise your child?
I'm really keen for my daughter and son to be connected to both their Indian and English/Irish sides of the family. We obviously spend time with my parents, their grandparents, as well as aunties and uncles, so they see the mixed heritage there. As they get older, I'd love to take them to Kerala, where my dad is from, and see all my cousins there. It is interesting though, as they will only be a quarter Indian, and both are quite pale with blue eyes, so I think their experience of it might be different from mine - but hopefully, something still to be cherished.
What is the importance of reading these days, considering people’s attention spans are now limited to Instagram reels?
It's all the more important! Luckily, most children in primary don't have iphones yet, so this is a great window to get them into reading. But with video games and ipads and youtube, I do think you have a similar issue - so for me, it's really important that my books hook from the first page, that every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. One reader said that my book, GHOSTCLOUD, was 'non-putdownable'! This is perfect for me. The saddest thing for me as a teacher i when I see a kid give up on a book because it was too slow!
Which medium of reading according to you is better? Physical copies or digital versions?
I use both, but I do love a real book. There's something comforting about it. With younger readers, I think it's quite important too.
How can parents encourage reading in their kids and writing, in the age of massive digital dependence?
Talking about books and what you love and showing an interest in their books - and maybe reading ones they recommend. And giving them choice - going to the library and bookshop together. And of course, read every night to your kids, or when they get too old for that, sit down on the sofa one night a week and read your separate books together, instead of watching TV. Little habits like these make a difference. Oh, and buying my book, of course!