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Inside Teaching : June 2011
Inside Teaching | June 2011 20 QUESTIONS 44 4butIwastooshyandwhenI had the opportunity to tell her, I said I didn’t, which upset her and caused tears, but I couldn’t possibly have told her the truth back then. This has become a continuous plot device in the Just books. The real Lisa recognises herself in the books. She’s a casual relief teacher and she enjoys telling her students she’s in them. Your mother was a midwife; do you think there’s a parallel between bringing babies and books into the world? (LAUGHS) I suppose I’ve never drawn that analogy. A book is an entity and you put all the life and vibrancy into it and then watch it go off and have its own life, like your kids. What was more exciting, getting the first copy of your first book, or seeing Jasmine, your first child, for the very first time? That’s a really cruel question. Nothing beats the thrill of seeing a book you’ve had going for 10 years finally sitting on a bookshop shelf. Seeing Jasmine was pretty exciting, but I didn’t have to put as much into her arrival. How many marks out of 10 would your daughters score you? I reckon I’d score pretty high, although they’re impervious to the charms of my fiction. They think I’m pretty good in terms of other parents, because of the freedom they’re given. I think I’d get an 8 or9outof10. Did you read to them? Yes, to both of them extensively. Jasmine who’s 18 now, loved Dr Seuss books. We’d read and chant them, have active participation. Sarah preferred non-fiction, books about animals and kids in different countries. I spent many hours with encyclopaedias and deep sea books at that age too. Your father was an industrial chemist; did you ever consider following the scientific route? I had no great aptitude, but that reminds me of your earlier question about a gift. My parents once gave me a chemistry set with hydrochloric acid and other nasties and I’d combine things and make explosions. I didn’t consciously dislike science; rather creativity called more loudly. Dad, anyway, would have preferred to farm. I’d have loved to have his woodworking abilities. Practicalities utterly mystify me. A story I can fix. I got the skills with words, word-working skills rather than woodworking. It was the same in sport. I could run but was no good with balls. I exercise to this day passionately. I wrote a book Fast Food and No Play Make Jack a Fat Boy. It looks at the importance of diet and exercise, and how they affect the brain and mood positively. Part of my creative routine is to participate. I create, then I spend an hour swimming or riding or running. It keeps creativity alive. I love exercise along with watching movies and reading books that excite me. To keep creatively fresh you have to feed yourself with stuff you love. I still reread the horror comics I loved as a 10-year old, it helps me stay in touch with childhood enthusiasm. My wife would tell you that I’m an enthusiast. I just go for a month or more on a particular musician or writer or whatever. That is what defines childhood, because you’re not jaded, you haven’t seen it all yet. Keep that wonder open and you’ll be well. What’s the best question one of your young readers has asked? I was talking to a group of Preps and during question time one of them asked if I was married. When I said, ‘Yes,’ he asked if I kissed my wife. My answer, ‘Yes,’ brought the house down. I stopped doing Preps after that. Roald Dahl said that he didn’t envy writers for adults because the correspondence he got from children was so heartfelt and joyful. I love hearing from my fans. What drives your impulse to be funny? Our family has always shared an idiotic, silly strain of humour. As a family we loved being silly and I just took it for granted. Laughter gives us the freedom to rise above the limits of everyday logic. Can you relate a gag from your stand-up days? I did nonsense gags. I would perform at poetry readings where people would be gloomy whereas I tried to be life-affirming. I did one about a spire on a particular