Today I’m delighted to part of the YA Shot blog tour, hosting the marvellous Ian Johnstone. The YA Shot is an inaugural event taking place in Uxbridge on Weds 28th October, and it brings together 71 (yes!! SEVENTY-ONE!) published authors who write books for children aged 8 to 18. Ian will be there talking about his books, and you can find out more about the YA Shot event (and how to book tickets) HERE. It’s supported by Hillingdon Libraries, and goodness knows libraries have it hard at the moment. I asked Ian a load of questions about stories, his books – and, of course, libraries!
Where did your love of stories come from?
Hmm… I can’t remember not loving stories! I loved stories before I even read books. I still remember stories my mum and my uncle told me when I was tucked up in bed: stories about enchanted forests, strange cottages in forgotten clearings, ghostly women in white, ships lost at sea. But it was when I started to read that I went on my own story journeys – those first amazing adventures of the mind that seemed to exist only for me. I still remember the earliest of those as the most spine-tingling and wondrous of my life. I was mesmerized by Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series, and Roald Dahl’s many spellbinding stories, and later, by swashbuckling stories like The Hardy Boys, and fantastical stories like The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Hobbit. I think young people have the capacity to lose themselves absolutely and completely in a story, in a way that we find more difficult as we get older. It’s because of the wonder I felt at those early stories that I now choose to write for children.
What was your childhood experience of libraries?
I was lucky enough to have libraries to choose from. I had a little one at school, which was tiny but full to the brim with goodies. And then there was the mobile library – a lorry that came and parked in the school playground, so heaving-full of books that we could never work out how they all stayed on the shelves when it went round corners. And finally there was the Wallingford Town Library, which was light and airy and lovely, and was such a treasure trove of books that I never managed to make a serious dent in it. I do remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by that larger library at times. I think that’s the particular genius of a great librarian: to take a young story-adventurer by the hand, and lead them on an extraordinary journey through the shelves without ever losing sight of the needs and interests of the particular adventurer in their care.
How have stories helped you over the years?
Great question! Well, I suppose stories have helped me both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, stories take you places, broaden your mind and bring the world within your reach. I have learned an incalculable amount from the stories I have read, and more than that, they have inspired me to go out into the world and see it for myself. It’s because of the stories that I went and lived and taught in Africa, and travelled the world as a younger man, and sought out a career that took me to far-flung places. More directly, it was my love of stories that got me my degree in English Literature. When I went for my very intimidating interview for university, I suddenly (and quite despite myself) found that I was raving about The Lord of the Rings instead of talking sagely about poetry and Shakespeare. And to the great credit of the tutors interviewing me, they liked that. They saw that a love of stories and an ability to talk about them was what I would need to do the degree. Finally and most importantly, of course, it’s my love of stories that brought me to writing, which has been, and continues to be, a real joy to me.
Why should people read stories?
Well I suppose I could use many of my other answers! I think stories are a source of wonder, and joy, and adventure, and escape, and inspiration, and insight. I think they help us in our lives in ways we can never predict, and they make us more rounded, more passionate, and more engaged with our world. They connect us with other people – with all those others who have enjoyed the same story, who have lived in it for a while and shared its emotions, its highs and lows. And why we should read them, as opposed to watching them on TV or at the cinema? Well apart from the fact that reading allows immersion in a story for many hours on end, it also allows us to make the story distinctly ours. It creates that sizzling fusion of the author’s imagination and our own: a blend that will never be quite the same for anyone else. How exciting is that? And that’s the other reason why I decided to write.
Tell me about The Mirror Chronicles. What’s it about and how did you come up with the idea?
In fact I had the underlying idea for the Mirror Chronicles when I was a boy, reading some of those first stories that so fired my imagination. I was at that age when you first start to doubt yourself and feel horrendously self-conscious, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to come up with a magical story that explained all that? I wondered, what if the reason we have these doubts is that we’re not quite whole? What if each of us has a second part of ourselves living in another similar but different world, right now? What might they be like, and what might they tell us about ourselves? What world might they have created, and how might it relate to ours? That was where the basic idea came from, but when I sat down to write the story, aged 13, I found that I didn’t quite have the tools. It was only much later, as an adult, that I finally decided on the story for The Bell Between Worlds, and settled down to write.
Thank you so much, Ian! If you want to check out Ian’s books further, look at his mega-cool website ianjohnstone.com – and don’t forget to book your ticket for the YA Shot event – it’s going to be HUGE!!