Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Jeremy Strong

Jeremy StrongJeremy Strong has published 77 children's novels. After university he became a junior school teacher and also began his writing career. He left teaching in 1991 and has been writing full time ever since. He visits schools and festivals world wide. His story, There's A Viking In My Bed was made into a BBC Children's TV series. A number of his books have won awards.

Where does your inspiration come from?

 Anywhere and everywhere. Bank statements help. Sounds, words, watching people, conversations, memories, pictures, places, dreams, news items – anywhere and everywhere.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

It could be any of these. A story rarely arrives as a complete idea. Characters might be suggested by a situation, and vice versa. Plot might arise out of a situation. There are always adjustments to original ideas to be made, so there is a lot of planning – or rather a lot of thinking and mulling things over. I doodle a lot while I’m thinking, often just writing down one or two words as prompts. I try to foresee problems and resolve them before the real writing gets underway.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

I’ve not experienced this at a major level, as yet. But I do get stuck for inspiration sometimes and then I turn to others for help, especially my wife, Gillie. Also, I try to talk to children, especially around primary age and I might put my problem to them. At some point someone will either come up with an answer or say something that makes my brain burst into life.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up trying, is probably the most important. Read lots and work out why you like certain things about your favourite stories. Keep a firm eye and ear on your audience. Strong characters that come alive in your head when you write will actually help you write the story. They take it over, if you’re lucky. Keep writing – it’s good practice.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?

I’ve been reading for fifty five years so I have many favourite writers and books! My most recent favourite author is Tove Jansson and my most recent favourite children’s book is David Almond’s My Name is Mina.

What were your favourite books when you were a child?

I loved Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. I liked The Famous Five and Biggles. I loved Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I liked funny poems.

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?

It depends on the story. At one extreme my editor might call for major changes, because she feels dissatisfied with what I’ve written or maybe because of a problem with political correctness or some other issue that affects the whole book. Doctor Bonkers was almost completely re-written because I was not allowed to use the characters of Elvis Presley and Albert Einstein in the first version! At the other extreme my editor might say that there is almost nothing she wishes to alter. Neither of these reactions happens very often!

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?

No. But I sometimes get annoyed because I can’t write things that might be considered non-pc, or that might set what a few people think might be a bad example! e.g. – I can’t show young children cooking without an adult around, in case a real child tries it and gets hurt. That sort of thing. A lot of it is madness!

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

I write the story direct on to my laptop once I have done all my thinking through. All my notes, prior to writing, are done by hand, along with my doodles. Once I am sure the story will work I go to the laptop and begin.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?

A fair amount. Fortunately my publisher and I are nearly always in agreement.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?

I write almost exclusively for junior age children, especially the younger end, where children are becoming independent readers. This means I have to keep a careful eye on language and sentence structure, to keep it reasonably easy to read. I try to introduce the odd ‘big word’ here and there. It also means that the humour displayed is often fairly slapstick and unsubtle.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

I would be very disappointed. I always wanted to be an author and couldn’t consider anything else at this stage in my life!

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?

I was about nine. I recall standing in my local library and thinking: Look at all these books! Maybe one day I’ll write books and they’ll sit on these shelves and people will take them home and read them….

Share this page: