Jon Mayhew is the multi-award-winning author of numerous children's books. His spine-chilling Mortlock trilogy was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book of 2010 and he is also the author of the Monster Odyssey series, which involves many, many giant sea beasts, pirates and weird inventions set in a real historical world. Deathmire was Jon's first quick read and compliments the spooky Victorian world of Mortlock. Jon has written several quick reads for Badger Learning, including Death Road and its sequel, Death Wheels for their popular Teen Reads series, Have a Go from their YA Reads and most recently, Dark Tide, from their much anticipated second series of Papercuts.
He is also the author of several primary reading scheme books including retellings of adventures from the Odyssey and Macbeth. He lives on the Wirral with his wife, four children, two dogs, five chickens and his mandolin, which he plays quite badly.
Describing himself as a 'recovering English teacher', Jon worked in education for 25 years before becoming a full time author. He is passionate about literacy education, inclusion and spends a lot of time in schools across the land, delivering writing workshops and talks.
Q&A with Jon Mayhew
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I was one myself. The only difference between now and then was that when I was a teenager, there were no Hi-Lo books. If there had been, I would have been all over those particular book shelves. Comics got me into reading. I also worked for many years with pupils with additional needs and know how much easier it is as a professional to light that reading spark when you have great texts to work with.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
For me, it was before I even opened the book. I would worry about the thickness of a book and if I would be able to finish it. Then the whole thing seemed like a chore and so, by the time I opened the book, I was already convinced the book wasn't for me.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
I love villains. I love characters who appear to be one thing but turn out to be rotten to the core! I love characters who are ruthless.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engages young readers?
Short chapters with a razor sharp, barbed hook at the end of them so the reader has to go on. I apply this to my lengthier works too! I try to be very visual in my story-telling too. I also try to have a complete character and story arc in the book. I've worked with many Hi-Lo titles that seem incomplete and have dissatisfying endings.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
I can still remember the feeling of wonder and achievement when I read my first 'full book.' It's the realisation that you can finish something and have that pleasure of savouring a whole story. That has a big knock-on for self-esteem and building what I call 'reading stamina'.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in your upcoming Teen Reads title?
I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of the book but let's just say, I love the villain and the working title of the book was 'Cars and Zombies.'
What are the major themes of your work?
Much of my work seems to centre around young people questioning who they can trust. I think there's a point in every young person's life when they realise that adults aren't superhuman and they do make mistakes. I also like to hint at a little romance too. Relationships are important to boys and girls alike!
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
I try to keep the vocabulary simple but I do like the idea of introducing a new word every now and then! I'm also conscious that often, it isn't so much vocab as sentence structure that can confuse the reader. So, again, I keep the sentence structure as simple as possible without sacrificing variety.
What is your favourite children's book?
As a child, I enjoyed the Moomintroll books, even when I was older. In my talks I try to impress on pupils that it's okay to revisit favourite books from their early childhood. But my favourite children's book is Holes by Louis Sachar. It seems such a simple book on the surface but it is so clever and well-written.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Don't expect your work to be perfect first time. Nobody does that. Nobody. Everyone does a rough first draft, then a rough second. As someone once said, "If you've never made a mistake, then you've never made anything."
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