Fact and fantasy: Ali Sparkes and Unleashed

aliMy stories are a bit like a fairy with bunions. They are fantasy but they have their feet in the real world.

What I really love is making startling, spooky or paranormal things happen in the ‘real’ world that we all know and recognize. When I started out with Dax Jones in the very first Shapeshifter story it was with this thought:

Ordinary boy, one day, out of nowhere, turns into a fox.

What then?

What would happen? Think about it. If it happened to you, today, how would you react? How would your friends react? Your teachers? Your family? Your enemies?

And then I love to do a bit of research in the real world, to work out what might happen for real. For example, for the Shapeshifter series, featuring 100 or so COLAs (Children Of Limitless Ability) who have suddenly developed paranormal powers, I spoke to:

  •  An ex Ministry Of Defence expert
  • A survival/bushlore expert
  • A practising dowser
  • A practising psychic
  • A practising healer
  • A special operative with the police (ex SAS)

And for the follow on series UNLEASHED, I’ve added:

  • Another special operative (ex SAS)
  • A successful stage and up close magician
  • Assorted Irish people

Peter Clifford

…and probably many more. Research is one of my favourite things. I love getting to meet people who are happy to tell me or show me stuff I need to know to make my books make better sense. Bristol illusionist par excellence, Peter Clifford, was a particular treat. In a Bristol café he did proper close up magic just for me! He made coins, clenched in my fist, vanish without trace. He did things with rubber bands that defy all logical explanation. http://www.peterclifford.me.uk/ will tell you a bit more – but not that much more.

To be honest, though, I felt a little guilty. For UNLEASHED: Trick Or Truth – a story featuring Spook Williams, one of my favourite but less pleasant characters – the magician I invented was the opposite of Peter. Brash, cheesy, over the top and contemptuous of his audience.

Really good magicians like Peter, and Derren Brown (who happens to be one of Peter’s best friends) are not at all contemptuous of their audience. They hugely enjoy imparting amazement, delight and that child-like sense of wonder we can still find in ourselves even when we’re properly grown up. They want to involve the audience, not make idiots of them.

I wasn’t really into magic much before going out to research for Trick Or Truth but now I love it. I’ve seen Peter’s show a couple of times and Derren Brown’s live Svengali show too. I don’t really waste too much time trying to pick all the tricks and illusions apart. I enjoy them as if they were ‘real’ magic and revel in the brilliance of the person, or often the team, that has made this astonishing theatre happen.

I would love to be able to do it myself but one of those fake nails through my finger is probably as clever as I’ll ever get.

Spook Williams, of course, needs no help at all. He is the REAL deal. A COLA illusionist who can make you see anything he wants you to see, so convincingly that he could bring you to your knees. And just with the blink of an eye.

Couple that with an arrogant and conceited personality and you have all the makings of a monster. But will Spook turn out to be a monster after his adventure in the Mediterranean? Living a life of luxury aboard a millionaire’s yacht and moving among the champagne swilling beautiful people of St Tropez, will Spook’s ego lead him into pulling off a daring heist?

UNLEASHED: Trick Or Truth is out now…so you can find out for yourself!



Ali Sparkes grew up in Southampton and despite some exciting months in London and even more exciting months in Lowestoft (where she really experienced life on the edge), still lives in Southampton today, with her husband and two sons.

She has worked as a singer, journalist, broadcaster, magazine editor and the spangle-clad assistant to a juggling unicyclist (frighteningly, there is photographic proof).

Ali has many children’s fiction titles published by Oxford University Press including her SWITCH series, her award-winning novel Frozen in Time, and her heart-stopping new adventure series about a group of teenagers with special powers, Unleashed.

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