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Kids' Q&A

Jonathan Stroud

Describe your latest project.
Ptolemy's Gate is the third and final part of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, featuring the adventures of Bartimaeus the djinni, Nathaniel the young magician-politician, and Kitty, the Resistance fighter. The story is set three years after the events of The Golem's Eye. Nathaniel is now a leading member of London's government, and is struggling to contain a draining war with the American colonies. Over-worked and distracted, he still keeps Bartimaeus enslaved, and Bart's stamina is growing weak and fragile after so many years in this world. Meanwhile Kitty is busily trying to work out a way of changing the age-old rivalries between commoners, magicians, and demons; being slightly more flexible of mind than the other two, she comes up with a radical proposal. But even as she does so, a hidden conspiracy comes to light, which threatens the very survival of London and the world. After that, it all gets a bit messy!

What is your favorite family story?
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Exquisitely written, full of humour, adventure, whimsy and an aching, abiding love for the beauty of the English countryside, it's unlike all other children's "animal" tales. The characters are superb; the illustrations (by E. H. Shepard) likewise.

Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
If you like being (pleasurably) scared, check out the Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James, who wrote lots of really terrifying ones. He's a master of atmosphere, building it up slowly until you get a sudden brief glimpse of something really nasty going bump in the night. A teacher of mine read one of these ("A School Story") to his unruly class of thirteen-year-old boys and transfixed us instantly, like silent fish wriggling on a hook....

Describe your most memorable teacher.
Mr. Bill Bowen, my teacher at age ten, was a dashing Welshman, nearing retirement, but spry, nimble, and animated by a passionate love for literature and music. He performed dances and mimes to hymns and classical pieces before the enraptured school, and sung with a beautiful lilting voice. He encouraged both my reading (Kipling, Lord of the Rings) and my first sustained attempts at writing; he was a crucial staging post on the road to my current career. We're still in touch twenty-five years later and he came to my wedding.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
I met the writer Susanna Clarke at a book festival in Sweden and had a nice chat. She was promoting her book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so I bought one for the flight home. I instantly discovered it to be wonderfully dense, elegant, finely wrought, and with a unique magical atmosphere. It gave me many hours of pleasure.

What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Coco Pops [known in the U.S. as Cocoa Krispies]. Since the age of about nine I must have eaten a small mountain of them. I hate to imagine the colour of my insides.

Why do you write books for kids?
Compared to adults, children are unimpressed by reputation, fashion or pretension. They will not read (or at any rate finish) a book that is dull or slow. To succeed with a children's book requires a commitment to narrative — to providing a good story, well told. When it works, the effects are long-lived: most of the books that changed my life were read when I was a child or a young adult. Perhaps that is why I gravitate towards this kind of fiction. Having said that, I'm not trying to target children only: when I sat down to write the Bartimaeus stories, I wanted to create something that would have entertained me equally at twelve or at thirty-two. Exciting narratives are a universal need, which is probably why children's fiction is now doing so well among adults, too.

What's your favorite holiday and why?
Walking in the English Lake District. My wife and I have visited many times. The mountains aren't very high, but the scenery is superb — rugged fells and gentle valleys, glittering lakes and deep green meadows, all crammed into a tiny area. We scale the peaks and tramp all day, descending to one of the roadside inns to rest and eat on a colossal scale. The best visit ever was our rescheduled honeymoon (during our original one, in Venice, I contracted chickenpox), with a week of uninterrupted sun and long wonderful days. (This would also answer another question posed: What is your idea of bliss?) spacer

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