Justin Christopher! Who are you, boy?
In 2020 I decided to adopt my middle name as my surname for my new books written for children aged 8-12. Actually, that’s not true, I write books for anyone with a sense of wonder, or as the late Maurice Sendak said, ‘I don’t write books for children, I write books and children like them.’
Why did you switch from travel books to children’s books?
My wife and I became the parents of two wonderful daughters and I couldn’t travel as much. I found a great mentor in children’s writing – Joy Cowley. I asked her straight out if she would become my Yoda. She said yes.
Where did you go to school?
Kapiti College in New Zealand.
Were you a good student?
I guess I was, I didn’t throw socks into the ceiling fans or smoke in class (or ever). I enjoyed English, Art and Social Studies, the latter influenced me greatly as you’ll soon see. I especially liked teachers who had the ability to make subjects come alive. Shout out to Mrs Palmer who made Shakespeare interesting. I DID NOT LIKE MATH.
Was there a big moment at school, something which changed you?
In my last year of school I was selected to live in Toronto, Canada on a Rotary Exchange – it changed my life and I am forever indebted to the amazing families who welcomed me into their homes. O Canada!
What were you like when you were growing up?
I played sports and drew and hung our with my friends. I was obsessed with TV shows and my radio controlled car. Dad was a handyman, he built me an aviary and I collected cocktails and budgies. I wanted a cockatoo, but they’re like having another kid!
What were your favorite books?
Asterix beat everything! Or anything by Roald Dahl.
What’s your favorite treat?
Chocolate milk. Pizza.
What was your first job?
As a kid I washed cars and sold plums from our tree at home. I worked in a fruit and vegetable shop, then a bar, then a radio station, then a TV station, and now I’m an author and TV producer. I like to think up crazy ideas and go and do them!
Here are some questions I get a lot.
Please steal whatever you need for your own writing. Good luck!
How do you think of new characters?
Think about the characters in Roald Dahl’s books – they are hilarious, gross, or really super lovely. Feel free to exaggerate your own characters, you are the teller of the story. Readers won’t care about characters unless they are believable. Think about if you were your character, how would you feel? What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
Where do you get your ideas?
Go with those ideas most alive in you. Which ones evoke the most energy and passion?
How do you start a story?
You write. Write when you’re tired and when you don’t want to write. Try to write for an hour a night instead of watching TV. This can become two hours. 100 words becomes 1000, becomes a manuscript.
The first draft will always be rubbish, it always is, but keep going.
My daughter recently wrote a wonderful story called ‘Cinderella’s Bad Day,’ whereby the poor woman dies every day in a myriad of ways. Shot by a creepy hobo. Killed in a rabbit invasion. Picked up by an Enderman and dropped into hot lava and eaten by robotic crocodiles. Every time I thought a particular death might be too graphic for the school children I was reading the story to – they squealed with delight.
Do you have your characters fully planned out in your head before you start, or do you let them develop as you write the story?
My latest manuscript arrived fully formed, including names, setting and title. It was so bizarre. Some writers like to see what happens, others plan meticulously. I’m a little bit of both. The most important thing is that you’ve got to know how your main characters will react in any given situation. It’s creepy when they start doing things by themselves!
Should I write the ending first?
Yes! Make sure you come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. A very famous novelist named Ernest Hemingway suggested to stop writing when a scene is going well. That way you can come back to it and begin with ease.
Any tricks for writing fantasy?
Every magical happening in a fantasy story must have some acceptable explanation. The reader needs to know how it works.
How do you know when your story is finished?
Make it as perfect as you can and as easy to read as possible. Endings can change, so can character, but a lot of these issues and challenges might arise once you rewrite the story with an editor. That’s the best part. Above all, make it sparkly, be proud of it!
When you have completed your story, don’t read it for two weeks. Then you can come back to it with fresh eyes and perfect it!
What about if the story is no good? Have I wasted my time?
Not at all. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
What’s the secret to writing a GREAT story?
I wish I could remember which writer gave these brilliant tips:
1. Think of a weird or unusual idea which the reader can’t resist
2. Use short sentences to hook the reader in and to make the story sound tense and exciting.
3. Short paragraphs are easier for the reader,
4. Introduce dialogue to involve the characters, help reveal their personalities and add new information to the plot.
Click on these links when you’re stuck:
And a lovely quote from American author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury…
‘If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like old faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.’
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