Guest Post; How I Became A Writer by Jonathan Stroud
28 August, 2013
So today I have for you all a guest post from the amazingly talented Jonathan Stroud.
The short answer to this is that I was always one. At least it seems that way when I look back at the boxes of early stories I did when I was very young. My parents never threw anything away, so there are examples of fine creations such as ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ and ‘A Book of Dinosaurs’ from when I was four or five. ‘The Three Wishes’, a stirring tale about a genie from when I was eight or so, proves not only that I was quickly becoming more ambitious and sophisticated (it’s a time-travelling epic of several coherent chapters), but also, unnervingly, that my tastes and sensibilities haven’t altered much since then.
All my earliest creations were written as a direct response to things that I’d enjoyed. Clearly, if something had an impact on me, I wanted to deepen the experience by recreating it myself. With luck, too, perhaps I’d be able to stimulate the same excitement and pleasure in others. I think most writers have this same double impulse at work: you’re writing for yourself and you’re writing for other people. A third impulse is perhaps that it’s only during the act of creation that you feel true freedom (as per William Blake’s dictum – ‘I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s’).
This inner itch to write (and draw – a lot of my early stuff was illustrated as much as written; I did comics, and boardgames and many, many pictures and cartoons) never left me, even as the pressures of schoolwork intensified. I’m always agog at the young writers I meet today who are in the middle of proper novels: all my stuff was short, fragmentary and usually unfinished. I liked experimenting with structure – I invented different types of games, and wrote a lot of choose-your-own-adventure books, whose multiple-choice pathways prefigure (in a way) the optional footnotes of my Bartimaeus books.
At university I experimented with writing plays and also did some god-awful poems, over which I hope time and indifference have drawn a permanent veil. My studies of English Literature had taught me a lot about the possibilities of fiction, but I veered away from academia, without knowing quite which direction I wanted to go.
By chance, however, I got a temporary job at the children’s publisher Walker Books in London, and this became my breakthrough. Walker was riding high with the success of Where’s Wally? at the time, and they were keen to devise new ‘gamebooks’ that might also do well. Suddenly, all my misbegotten years devising games and comics and choose-your-own adventure tales came in seriously useful. I was given a permanent job as an editorial assistant, helping existing projects, and also given the chance to write books of my own. My first book (catchily titled Justin Credible’s Wordplay World – it was a book of world puzzles) came out in 1994, and from then on I maintained a dual existence as editor and, in my spare time, writer too. The editorial career lasted until 2001, and gave me invaluable experience working on the other side of the publishing fence. It was only much later, with a few chapters of a new book about a sarcastic djinni under my belt, that I gave in to my inner impulse and gave up the day job. I’ve been a writer ever since. Although, as I said at the beginning, the truth is – I’ve always been one.
Hauntings are our business . . .
Ghosts crowd the streets and houses of London. Anthony Lockwood, with his slightly grumpy deputy George, and his junior field operative Lucy, make up LOCKWOOD & CO, the small, shabby yet talented ghost-hunting agency.
After a series of calamitous investigations into the supernatural go awry, the team are desperate to prove themselves. Their opportunity comes in the form of a terrifying ghost, the Red Duke. But little do they know what perils lie in store for them at the haunted Bliss Hall . . .
Jonathan Stroud was born in Bedford in 1970. After studying English Literature at York University, he moved to London, where he worked as an editor in a publishing firm. He is the author of the best-selling BARTIMAEUS sequence, which is published in 35 languages and has sold 6 million copies worldwide, and also of four other novels: HEROES OF THE VALLEY, THE LAST SIEGE, THE LEAP and BURIED FIRE. Jonathan lives in Hertfordshire with his family. He has yet to see a ghost, but is keeping his eyes open.