In the latest in his series of in-depth interviews with published children’s authors, Geoff Barker discusses the difficulties and the joys of the writing process with Jonathan Meres.

How does the seed of a novel emerge?

Jonathan My very first book, published in 1998, was a picture book called Somewhere Out There, and the central character Hamish was based on my nephew, also called Hamish. We had a really brilliant relationship when he was small. So it seemed the most natural thing in the world to make him the central character of that story.

Geoff What about for The World of Norm?

Jonathan I wish I could say there was a lightbulb moment, but there really wasn't. When I came up with the idea for Norm, it was the time of the credit crunch [around 2008], and I was doing loads of voice-overs and all of a sudden a lot of them were pulled. The seeds of the idea of the first Norm book, with Norm's dad losing his job, and downsizing, must've come about then. I wanted to write about a normal family. Whatever that is.

What's so special about writing for you personally?

Jonathan Now if I was at a school event and a 10-year-old pupil had asked me that – or what I most like about my job – I'd have said: 'Making stuff up'. I go down to my office at the bottom of my garden (children's authors are contractually obliged to have an office at the bottom of the garden) and I make stuff up. If I'm having a little struggle with the writing, I'll go for a walk along the canal, or up on the Pentland Hills. Being my own boss ... all that's great. Using your imagination ... not everyone can say that in their job. I mean, if you're a bus driver, you can't make a route up. A story's a journey. I know where it's going to start. And if I'm lucky, I'll know where it's going to end. The question is: How am I going to get there? How far can I deviate?

What are you most proud of as a writer?

Jonathan I get very irked when my stories are just dismissed as 'silly fart gags for boys' books. That really isn't true. There's quite a serious underlying theme in the first book. But you can still use humour to tackle serious subjects. One of these little comedy diversions is that Grandpa's got a bit of a betting habit. So there's a little bit of gentle finger-wagging: don't get into online betting. We eventually get to the bottom of why Norm's dad was made redundant. He got addicted to online gambling at his work. 

Now for the comedy answer. What am I most proud of? I needed the name of a horse that Grandpa had a little flutter on at the 2.30 at Kempton. So I made up a horse called 'Touching Cloth'. And that's what I'm most proud of!

Geoff And you sneaked it in? That must've been a lovely moment...

Jonathan Yes, I sneaked it in! My Mum, bless her, she'd be so proud. My middle son and I do bond over very puerile stuff. But the slightly more serious answer is all the things that have happened to Norm: six years or so since the first one came out, two books a year, World Book Day author, and going off all over the place, published in 15 different countries, festivals, and lots of sales. The fact that a character I created has been in the Beano comic twice, I am so proud of. I was given the artwork and it's hanging in pride of place in my office. If you'd have asked me when I was I kid: What would I aspire to? Being first man on the moon, or having a story in the Beano? [Here Jonathan rambles on for several minutes...] Yes, I think I've kind of answered that question. First time for everything.

This is an extract from the in-depth interview with Jonathan published on Geoff’s website. Find the answers to these question in the full-length article here.

* When does Jonathan get more poignant, whimsical and wistful? 
* After a series of 12 (yes, 12!) successful Middle-Grade books, is Jonathan going to miss Norm? 
* And what's coming next?

Header image: Photo of chimpanzee (ca 1906) from Wikimedia Commons
original by New York Zoological Society at Library of Congress, USA

Jonathan Meres (credit: Chris Close)
Jonathan Meres is a former merchant seaman, ice-cream-van driver and Perrier Award-nominated stand-up comedian. As an actor, he’s appeared on TV and in movies. As a writer, he’s written for TV and radio, but is best known for being the author of over 30 books for children. His best-selling, award-winning series The World Of Norm has so far been translated into 15 languages, and sold almost a million copies in the UK alone.

His page at publisher Barrington Stokes 

Geoff Barker may have written over 50 published non-fiction titles, but what he really loves to do is to create children's stories ... once upon a time written for his long-suffering kids, but now for anyone who thinks quirky animal stories are essential for a long and happy life. He is currently working on Booty and the Beasts, a comic caper for which he received a Mentorship from the Scottish Book Trust in 2017. 

Geoff thanks the generosity of the authors who have given their time to eloquently express their thoughts about their work and to provide fascinating insights into the creative experience of writing for this series.

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