Pete Johnson began work as a film critic for Radio One, then became a teacher. His experiences in the classroom led to his beginning to write and he still keeps contact with a panel of young readers to gain the viewpoint of the actual reader as he writes new titles. He is the author of several titles for the Corgi Yearling list. Avenger! Won the Sheffield Children's Book Award in the Shorter Novels Category in 2005. Trust Me I'm A Troublemaker won the Calderdale Children's Book of the Year 2006 in the Upper Primary Category.
Q: What books did you read when you were a child?
A: From the moment I joined the library at the age of five, I read avidly, at least six books a week – and during the holidays more like twelve. My special favourites included Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ books and the Enid Blyton series, especially ‘The Mystery Books,’ as they were both exciting and very funny. Later I discovered books such as ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden,’ by Philippa Pearce and ‘Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, which I still re-read today.
Q: If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
A: I think I would be Dr Dolittle as he had one talent I would love to possess: he could communicate with animals. In the books by Hugh Lofting, Dr Dolittle learns animal languages from his parrot, Polynesia. So soon he becomes an animal doctor, able to converse directly with the creatures he is helping – as well as setting out on a series of adventures, even being helped once by a giant sea-snail who has sprained its tail. I’d so love to swap places with Dr Dolittle, even it was just for a day.
Q: What is the best thing about reading?
A: As I’m writing this it is pouring with rain. Outside it is grey and drab – but the moment I pick up a book I am instantly transported away to a wonderful hot beach – or if I prefer an exciting adventure. Books have a unique power to do this. That’s why a film or TV series of a book we’ve enjoyed are often disappointing. Nothing can match the pictures we’ve formed in our head while reading the story.
Q: What is your all-time favourite book?
A: ‘I CAPTURE THE CASTLE,’ by Dodie Smith.
‘I write this, sitting in the kitchen sink …’
How can you not warm to a story which begins like that?
It’s the very funny journal of Cassandra, who lives in a cold, ruined castle with her eccentric family, and then their rich, young landlord returns from America and all their lives are completely turned upside down ...
This is a bewitching book which really does become a friend.
Q: Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
A: I would say, by providing opportunities for children to talk about books, film and music which they’ve enjoyed. It’s vital too, if sometimes, parents are an uncritical audience. I had an uncle who was supposed to know about children’s books and he was extremely caustic about some of my favourite books. As a result I clammed up and never spoke to him. Let your children’s enthusiasm take flight. Listen intently to them – and learn from them.
Q: How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
A: A huge part, and most vitally they encouraged me to write for pleasure. So at seven I wrote my first novel, reading out the latest instalment every night. They also listened with such interest and enthusiasm, far more than my efforts justified. But they gave me confidence and I associated writing and reading with fun and creativity. I would also say the worse thing parents can do is make writing too intense and serious. Any writer will tell you, a key part of creativity is play.
Q: How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
A: Whenever my nephews or niece visit my house they take books away with them. Of course books are everywhere, so it’s hard to escape them. But they just browse through them and take away anything which catches their eye. One of my nephews shares my love for the Blyton Mystery books. We often discuss which we think is the best of the series (it changes regularly) And I was delighted when my niece wanted to see the play of ‘Marianne Dreams’ recently. But of course they are free agents, and I always let them decide on their own favourites. You can encourage and stimulate, but arguing about books – is part of the fun too. Most recently my nephews have become interested in spooky tales and used my book ‘The Ghost Dog’ as a starting point for an evening spent telling ghost stories, at which I was lucky enough to be invited.
Read more author interviews here.