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Curtis Jobling: Keep Reading, Kids!

November, 2017
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British writer and illustrator Curtis Jobling recently paid visits to a number of international schools in Shanghai and Beijing, including Beijing City International School (BCIS), where he gave lectures to the students on storytelling and reading for fun.

Jobling is the designer of worldwide hit children’s television show Bob the Builder, and the author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including the acclaimed series of epic fantasy Wereworld, darkly comic young adult thrillers, Haunt: Dead Scared and Haunt: Dead Wrong and middle-grade novel Max Helsing & The Thirteenth Curse and Max Helsing: The Beast of Bone Creek.

Although renowned for his work in film & TV, Jobling has been in the past few years totally engaged in writing novels for children. On the sidelines of the lectures at BCIS, LittleStar Magazine was happy to talk with Jobling on his career, his books, and his advices for students who want to become a writer.

LittleStar: What makes you start writing novels for children?  

dsc_1112Jobling: I always wanted to write novels for older kids. That was always my desire. Because I’ve loved storytelling, and as a kid growing up, I used to love reading books like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and other epic fantasy novels. So, epic fantasy has been always something that interested me. And I used to play role-playing games when I was a kid. Dungeons and dragons… things like that.

So about ten years ago I started writing a novel, a fantasy book. And my target audience was children aged 9-12.

When you write fantasy, you have to know how to build a world. It’s about world building, and creating a world that’s convincing. For me, that comes as a second nature. I have always known that, because of the books I read. So, I always understood what it takes to write a fantasy book. So, for me I’m kind of used to that. That’s how I write. The best fantasy books are the ones that the world is believable, even it’s fantastic. 

My first novel got picked by Penguin Books, and published. It’s called Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf. Penguin described it as Game of Thrones featuring werewolves. Since then I’ve become a full-time novelist, and now I got 11 novels in 6 years that have been published. I love using my imagination. I am very lucky that I can make a living out of it.

LittleStar: What are the major elements in your books?

Jobling: I write fantasy and horror novels. They are scary stories, but fantastic ones.

One of the things that I feature my novels is there’s s always an element of fear. I like to think that writing stories that have scary moments actually help children to deal with fear in real life.

I am a big advocate of the fact that children should experience fear through the safety of books. Books are brilliant for that. And they can talk about what they are experiencing in the book.

The worst way for a child to experience fear is being chased down the street by a gang of idiots - bullies are terrible – or watching scary films for adults.

But if the children are reading a book that’s scary, they can just shut the book whenever they wish to. If it’s really scary, they can throw it away. So, they are in no danger when they read a scary book. But they can always talk about the emotions they experience with family, with siblings, and with teachers and classmates.

LittleStar: How do you balance your time between writing and life?

Jobling: It’s a bit piecemeal. I work from home with my writing if I am not travelling around the world visiting schools.

I am a dad, and I get up with my children, take them to school, and come back home, and at nine o’clock I can start writing. Then at three o’clock I stop writing, go pick my children from school, and I am dad again until nine o’clock; when the children go to bed, I can start writing again.

I keep this routine, and try to write 1,000 words a day minimum. The trick is trying to write every day and keep up the momentum going with my writing at a steady pace.

I personally think it is better to keep writing every day, rather than writing 9,000 words a day and nothing on the other days. This is because if you stop writing for a period of time, it will be really hard to start again.

It’s like being on a bicycle and going up a hill. It’s hard work at first, but at some point, the hill levels out and then at some point, it starts going downhill. If you write every day, you can free wheel down the other side and you get momentum. And the book just writes itself, you know.

Usually it takes me six months to write a book. 

LittleStar: How do you see the importance of reading for children?

Jobling: Reading teaches small children to be attentive and patient. When they read a picture book or follow a story, it helps them to learn the language and communication skills. They are the building blocks of a life-long love of reading and love of literacy.

And children reading picture books with their parents at home is a huge important element. You get kids turning up into schools and kindergartens who don’t read books at home, and they are way behind. They got to struggle.

I am a big advocator of books at home. Don’t trust TV sets; don’t just let children watch TV. Read books with them and read stories, even if they are just pictures. Just get them used to storytelling. It makes them brighter and more intelligent. 

Yet picture books are just the beginning. Children can’t just read picture books. They need to move on to read chapter books as well, reading fiction, non-fiction, and growing their understanding of language.

Nowadays people are much distracted by phones, iPads, and being online. And their children get distracted at younger and younger age from reading. Of course, you can have the phones, as well, and the social media. But reading is such a key feature.

People who don’t read; their mind is flabby, out of shape. But if you read, you work in your mind and you train your imagination.

My mission is to keep children reading. 

LittleStar: What is your advice to kids who wants to be author too?

Jobling: I always say to children: if you want to be better at writing, I have a three-word piece of advice: read, read, read. Reading will inform you as a writer. The more well read you are, the more you understand the language. Equip yourself by being well read. That’s the first step.

And if you want to write, you need to practice as well. You need to find time to do your own writing. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will become at it.

Writing is just the same as learning a musical instrument or playing a sport. You need to just exercise that part of mind and practice.

Finally, get the habit of writing every day; even it is just one page.

 

By Qin Chuan

 

 

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