Red House Award Interviews

I’ve been doing a lot of British media interviews this week for the Red House Children’s Book Award, and I’ve gotten some very interesting questions! For those of you not in the UK, I thought I would post the interviews here.

Interview with Kraze, a magazine for ages 9-12.

How did you become a writer?

It’s all my English teacher’s fault. When I was thirteen, she read one of my stories and told me I should submit it for publication. The story was rejected, but the editor told me I was a good writer and I should keep trying. Finally, eighteen years later, my first novel was published and I’ve been writing ever since. My mother still has my first rejection note. She keeps it framed in her house, next to a stack of my books.

What inspires you?

Deadlines! When something is due, that definitely inspires me to get it done. Fan mail also inspires me. I love hearing from kids that have read the Percy books. That makes me want to write the next book even more and make it as good as I can.

What’s your favourite phrase?

“Rick Riordan, you’ve won a million dollars!” I don’t hear that too often, unfortunately.

Name five cool things that begin with the letter “K”.

What, are you writing your own dictionary or something, and I randomly got assigned the letter K? I pity the guy who gets the letter X. Okay, here goes:

1. kolaches
2. kindergarten
3. koalas
4. Kilimanjaro
5. kaleidoscopes

(not necessarily in that order)

If you were a Greek God what would you be the God of?

I’d probably be the god of video games. I’ve always had a weakness for computer games, I guess because they didn’t exist when I was a kid, and I wish they had. That’s usually how I relax with my sons when I’m in between writing books.

If you had godlike powers what one feat would you perform?

It would be very cool to turn someone who was annoying me into a tree. Maybe not forever, just for a little while. For instance, the next time I get a call from a telemarketer, I could turn him into a juniper bush.

On Mount Olympus, who throws the biggest tantrums?

Besides me, you mean? Well, the last time Aphrodite lost her makeup kit that was a pretty bad scene. Hera throws a fit whenever she’s jealous, which is mostly always. The twins Artemis and Apollo are always arguing about which one of them is older. It’s just one big happy family, basically.

What’s tastier, ambrosia or triple mint chocolate chip sundae with toffee sauce and extra chocolate?

Oh, ambrosia, no question. The thing about ambrosia, it can taste like anything you want. So you want quadruple mint chocolate chip? No problem! Of course ambrosia will burn you to ashes if you eat too much of it, which is a little more hazardous to your health than your average mortal sundae.

If you met a maniacal minotaur in a dark alley how would you frighten him off?

I would show him pictures of myself when I used to play in a folk rock band in college, back in the 80s. They are frightening enough to scare any monster away.

Interview with Susie Ridley of The Book People:

1. You recently won the Red House Children’s Book Award for Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief – how did it feel to win?

I was stunned to receive the news. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but of course I’m honored and thrilled.

2. What do you think is so special about this award?

The Red House is the best kind of award, because it comes straight from young readers. After all, they are my target audience. Too often, children’s awards leave children out of the loop, when it is their opinion that matters most. To know that young readers liked the Lightning Thief makes me feel like I did my job.

3. What inspired you to write Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief?

My son was having a tough year in school when he was eight. He had just been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia. The only thing he enjoyed in school was Greek mythology. I had taught Greek mythology for many years as a classroom teacher, so I began to tell him myths as bedtime stories. When I ran out of myths, he asked me to make up a new one. I made up Percy Jackson, who discovers that ADHD and dyslexia are signs you might be a modern demigod. It was my way of creating a new myth, a kind of allegory, to help my son make sense of what he was going through, though at the time I wasn’t thinking in those terms. I was just trying to tell him a good story. My son told me to right it down, and the book took off from there.

4. How did it feel when you had your first book published?

I began publishing adult mystery novels in the US ten years ago. There is nothing quite like seeing your book in print for the first time. It’s almost like having a child. After a year or so of work, preparation and anticipation, you bring something new into the world. It’s an elating experience. I still feel that way every time one of my books is published.

5. Can you give us any clues about the plot for the next Percy Jackson adventure?

The Sea of Monsters will be out in the UK on July 1. Thalia’s tree, which protects the magical borders of Camp Half-Blood, is mysteriously poisoned. Percy Jackson and his friends have just days to find the only magic item strong enough to save the tree before the camp is overrun by monsters. Their quest takes them into the Sea of Monsters, which mortals know as the Bermuda Triangle. Along the way, Percy must save his old friend Grover from terrible trouble. He also finds out a stunning secret about his family, which makes his question whether being a son of Poseidon is an honor or a curse.

6. Which is your favourite Greek Myth?

It’s very hard to choose just one, but I’ve always been fond of Orpheus. I like the idea of a hero that uses music rather than swords or spears. The story of Orpheus’s trip to the Underworld is beautiful and heartbreaking.

7. Do you have any further reading that you would recommend to children that enjoy mythology?

There have been many books published recently that are based on mythology. Children might be interested in checking out Paul Shipton’s The Pig Scrolls, Anne Ursu’s The Shadow Thieves or Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls (this last based on Norse mythology). My favorite retelling of the Greek myths is Bernard Evslin’s Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths. This is the book that got me interested in mythology when I was in school.

8. Have you ever been to Greece?

I never have. I’d love to, of course, but I don’t think you need to know Greece to understand its mythology. The stories of the Ancient Greeks really are universal.

9. Which children’s book illustrators do you most admire?

I’ve loved Lane Smith’s work ever since I read The Stinky Cheese Man. I also like Shel Silverstein.

10. Which children’s author do you most admire?

A very difficult question. So many authors inspired me when I was young. It would probably be a tie between E.B. White and Roald Dahl. More recently, I have to say I admire J.K. Rowling greatly for what her books have done to get kids reading. As an English teacher, I had never seen anything like the effect Harry Potter had on my students. This is a good example of letting the children choose what is good children’s literature. Give them a book they actually enjoy reading, and they will read like crazy.

11. Which three books should every child have read by the time they leave school?

Ah, I think this is a problematic question, because kids are so different. My three essential books would not be the same as yours. The three books every boy should read might not be the same three books every girl should read. We try to make a universal canon of children’s literature, but really it should be more of a buffet table. Take and sample what you please. There are so many wonderful things to choose from. Also, some books stand the test of time better than others. I’ve tried reading my children some of the books I loved most as a child, and often my kids just don’t like them very much. They have new favorites of their own. I’m sure many parents have had this experience. It is more important that we work to find three books that every child will *enjoy* by the time they leave school, not that they *should* read.

12. Which author writing for adults do you most admire?

I’d choose David McCullough, because he brings history to life and makes it accessible and interesting to the average reader. I’m a former history teacher, so I really appreciate this. In a strange way, I try to do the same thing when I modernize the Greek myths to introduce them to today’s readers.

13. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My mother still has my first rejection note from when I was thirteen, so I think it’s safe to say I always wanted to be a writer. Both my parents were teachers, and I always want to follow their example as well. I’m very fortunate that I’ve gotten to do both things in my life.

14. What was your favourite subject at school?

Besides reccess and lunch? Usually, I was drawn to English and history, but it depended on the teacher. As any student can tell you, one’s enjoyment of a subject depends greatly on how much one likes the teacher and how much effort the teacher puts into making the subject enjoyable.

15. Do you play a musical instrument?

I play guitar. In fact, I’m teaching my son to play now. When I was younger, I worked my way through university by playing in a folk rock band. I have some quite embarrassing photos of me looking like Tony Orlando.

16. Were you a good student?

Absolutely not. My grades were dismal. I did not read the required books in school, though I wrote well enough to fake my way through many an essay. This made me a sympathetic teacher, and also a savvy one. I knew the tricks for avoiding reading and faking homework, because I’d done them myself. I also knew what it was like to be bored and unmotivated in the classroom, and I determined to make my classroom more interesting than some of the ones I’d had to endure. I approach my writing the same way. I want my books to be the ones kids are staying up late with, reading by flashlight under the covers, not the “required texts” that bore them to death in the classroom.

17. Did you go to university?

Yes, the University of Texas at Austin. I received a B.A. with a double major in English and history, then became certified to teach secondary school in the US.

18. If you could pass a new law, what would it be?

I would abolish standardized testing. I don’t know if this is a problem in the UK as it is in the US, but standardized testing has become the alpha and omega of state education. The entire school year is designed around one goal — teaching to a single test. Everything else is secondary. In my opinion, this is terrible for the teachers and for the students. There is little room for innovation, creativity, or modification to fit the needs of individual students.

19. Where is your favourite place in the world?

San Francisco. My wife and I lived there for eight years. We have since relocated to my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, but San Francisco still has a place in my heart as a second home. It’s a beautiful area. I try to go back and visit every year.

20. What is your favourite punch line?

It’s strange. I love humor, and I’ve been told my books are very funny, but I can’t tell a joke to save my life. If I thought of a punch line, it would probably be unprintable!

21. What makes you laugh?

My two sons, ages 11 and 8. They are a riot. Poor children, they have inherited a wisecracking attitude from someone, I can’t imagine who. This does get them into hot water with their teachers from time to time, but they are quite funny. They sometimes suggest lines for the Percy Jackson series as I’m reading the books to them.

22. What makes you cry?

A good tear-jerker book or movie. The ending of Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud was absolutely brilliant. The movie Million Dollar Baby also got me a little teary-eyed at the end.

23. What is your favourite pudding?

Now remember, American pudding and British pudding are not the same. When I think pudding, I think tapioca. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever had British pudding. I may have to correct that on my next trip at the end of June!

24. Do you have a message for your British fans?

I’m so pleased that young British readers have enjoyed the Percy Jackson series. It’s common knowledge in the United States that the British write the best children’s fantasy in the world. This has been true since at least C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two of my childhood idols. As an American children’s writer, I’m especially honored to know my books are being enjoyed in Britain, where the vast majority of my favorite children’s books come from.

Rick Riordan