How to make a go-kart. Check. How to build a tree house. Check. How to set a trip wire. Check. Conn and Hal Iggulden’s just-published compendium of boyhood’s lost arts is already a bestseller in the brothers’ native Britain. Historical novelist Conn, 36, gives PEOPLE the backstory on a book that shows hands-on, fun-loving parents (okay, mostly dads) how to lighten up.
What inspired you to write the book?
I have a 6-year-old son, and I started thinking about all the things I did as a kid that I wanted him to know about. Boys and men famously love knowledge, especially if it makes them experts in certain areas.
Today there’s a safety culture that has gone too far. Boys need to take risks—it’s just part of us. After all, there was a time when every boy had a jackknife, and we don’t look back on it as the time of the great slaughter. If you ask a man about an important memory from when he was a kid, it’s either triumph or disaster, and it’ll probably involve him getting some minor injury.
Did you test everything in the book?
My brother and I spent six months of six-day weeks playing marbles or looking for rabbits with an air rifle. Then we’d write the chapters in the evenings. It was good fun.
Any mishaps along the way?
No major injuries. Originally we had a hangman’s noose in the “Knots” chapter. But when I made one and put it over my neck, I pulled the wrong rope and it tightened. And then my brother accidentally pulled the wrong rope again! So we had a moment of panic in our shed, and thought, ‘Maybe that’s not such a good one.'”