I’m very pleased to welcome author Jo Simmons to the blog today! Jo’s latest book ‘I Swapped My Brother on the Internet!’ is her first book for Bloomsbury. Read my full review here.
Jo began her life as a journalist and her first fiction series for children, Pip Street, was inspired by her own kids’ love of funny fiction.More books followed and in addition to children’s fiction, Jo has co-written several non-fiction books for adults. She lives in Brighton with her family and her dog.
Welcome to the blog Jo! Congratulations on the publication of your latest book! Tell us about the inspiration for the story. Back in about 2014, a friend of mine told me how her daughter was being grumpy one evening and said she wished there was a website where she could swap her mum and get a better one. It was that classic light-bulb moment. What a great idea! I knew I wanted to write that story, but with brothers, partly because I have two sons but also because I wanted to keep the drama between and about children.
How did you decide on who Jonny would receive as a swap? Were there lots of characters in mind – I can imagine the possibilities must have been endless!! (Henry the Eighth’s ghost was particularly funny!) I decided each failed swap had to teach Jonny something about his actual brother, Ted, and about himself, too. Gradually, Jonny would work out that Ted was the only brother he could ever have and the best one, too, for all his flaws. I also love writing daft characters, so I wanted there to be a good mix of oddballs and impossible people, to make the comedy more left field. So there’s a merboy and the boy raised by meerkats. I think I was reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel at the time, and loving it, so Henry VIII plays a big part, too!
It’s a very funny take on sibling rivalry – do you have siblings and if so, would you ever be tempted to swap them?! I have an older brother. He definitely bossed me about and teased me when we were little. The time he squashed a Dairylea Triangle against my forehead in front of our friends has gone down in family legend. I was also very loyal to him, though, and we have a great bond today. I dedicated the book to him and no, I wouldn’t be tempted to swap him. I also have two sons and, when writing the story, I was watching the older one pulling away from his little brother. He had started secondary school and was becoming more grown up and, as a result, more critical of his little sibling. Ted and Jonny mirror, to some extent, what was happening at home with my two boys.
Children often ask for something funny to read when they’re choosing a book. Why do you think humour in books for children is important? For so many reasons! Laughing comes naturally to kids so they’re really up for funny fiction; they get it! It can also tempt reluctant readers in and persuade them that reading isn’t boring or worthy. It works for reluctant parents, too. I always preferred reading funny books to my children at bedtime, after a long day. We’d do the voices and snort at the jokes and it was a lovely bonding experience. Funny fiction tends to have an energy and anarchy to it, too, which I think children relate to. It can still deal with issues important to youngsters, from fear of change to friendship troubles, but does it with a light touch. Finally, funny fiction tends to include a triad of delights – funny characters, funny language and funny situations – that entertain young readers and can put a fire under their own creative writing, too, showing them what’s possible when you’re writing for laughs.
You have written a number of books for children and also nonfiction for adults and worked as a journalist. How does the writing process and experience differ when writing for children? I find writing fiction the hardest. There is a lot that goes into even just a 10,000 word book. Dreaming up the characters, creating a decent plot, making sure it clips along – it’s surprisingly tricky. But I love writing for children above all else, especially funny fiction. There is license to be silly and imaginative, to push the bounds of possibility and create really joyful, daft characters, often based on people you know, but considerably exaggerated. It’s just great, great fun.
It must have been fun seeing your characters brought to life through illustration – tell us about working with an illustrator. I’ve never met Nathan who illustrated I Swapped My Brother On The Internet, but we do chat together over email. My editor and I drew up a shortlist of possible scenes to be illustrated then he got to work, but it was super exciting seeing his first roughs and how he had interpreted the characters. That leap from description to illustration is thrilling, and good illustrators like Nathan always bring more to each character than the writer can alone, adding little quirky details that just make the story fly.
Are you planning on any more adventures for Jonny or working on something different? Not for Jonny, but I do have a new book out with Bloomsbury in August 2018, featuring a boy called Danny and an amazing discovery he makes on a tiny Scottish island. It’s called The Dodo Made Me Do It.
Thank you Jo for participating in bookchat! I can’t wait to read all about Danny and his adventures.
With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for arranging this bookchat!