Junior Elthamread


Wendy Moore talks to…

Tom Mitchell

Tom Mitchell, author of this year’s Junior Elthamread, Escape from Camp Boring, describes himself as ‘mostly a dad, partly a teacher and sometimes a writer’. He grew up in the West Country before moving to London. He now lives in Kent with his wife and two sons.and is Head of Creative Writing at Eltham College. Escape from Camp Boring is his third children’s book; his fourth, Went Things Went Wild, is out in July 2022. He talks about his writing career with Wendy Moore
WendyWhat inspired you to start writing for children?

Tom: My first son inspired me. I’d attempted a few manuscripts for adults but none landed. Having become a dad and as a teacher, I thought it might be fun to write for kids. I was also inspired, if that’s the right word, to write something that was purely fun. I didn’t want to teach kids anything, I only wanted to write something they might find entertaining.

WendyHow do you find time to write between your work as a teacher and life as a parent?

Tom: ‘With difficulty’ is the short answer. Eltham College is an incredibly supportive place to work, which helps. ‘The summer holidays’ is the long answer. Where other people might force themselves to go for a run or to the pub, I spend that time locked away for half an hour every day, desperately trying to get words out. 

WendyWhere do your ideas come from? How to Rob a Bank suggests a classic heist film and That Time I Got Kidnapped evokes a typical road movie. Have films been a big influence?

Tom: Very much so. Also, I keep a notebook to record stuff I find interesting or amusing – a Guardian report about a missing golden eagle is what directly inspired the new book [When Things Went Wild]. I guess I almost visualise the stories as films. With the same kind of rhythm. Maybe if I were to return to writing for an older audience it wouldn’t quite be the same, but I think it’s fun playing around with generic conventions if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. 

WendyYour latest book imagines a world with no mobile phones and other devices. Does this stem from a secret longing and/or a serious concern?

Tom: The message, if such a thing exists, that I’d like readers to take away from the book is ALL THINGS IN MODERATION. I remember my parents telling me off for playing too much Championship Manager when I was a kid and, although who’s to say how immensely successful I may have become if I’d heeded their warnings, it helped declutter my mind and distract me from the stresses of being a teenager. Now I find myself as a parent and my inclination is to suggest to my sons that THEY COULD BE LEARNING THE PIANO rather than watching mindless YouTube videos. But I try to remember that wasting time can sometimes be healthy. Not everything you do has to be productive. 

WendyDo you feel your work as a teacher and being a Dad have a big influence on how you see life through a young person’s eyes? Or does that have more to do with never having quite grown up?

Tom: Ha! It’d be interesting to see what my parents say to this. I think it’s important to remember the person you were when you were a child, what was meaningful to you then. I’ve tried to do that. (And not just through my Britpop playlists.) And, clearly, working with kids and being a dad is extremely helpful, if only to keep up with the newest social media app etc.

WendyWhy is comedy such a big factor in your books?

Tom: It goes back to what I what I want from my children’s literature. I want to encourage reading through producing entertaining books. I don’t want to hector kids to believe in the IMPORTANT THINGS I believe in…

WendyWhat were your favourite books as a child?

Tom: All the obvious ones – Roald Dahl etc. But I really enjoyed reading John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. It’s nothing like the stuff I write – it’s far better, for one thing. I read it to my son not long ago and it’s a very strange novel. I think that’s why I liked it, it confirmed my suspicions that adults didn’t really know everything, that there’s a bit of magic in the everyday world, if only you look closely enough.

WendyHave libraries played an important role in your reading and writing life?

Tom: I wouldn’t have studied English at university without libraries. I wouldn’t have become a teacher. I wouldn’t have become a writer. They have played a vital role. My mum used to take me to Taunton Library every Saturday. I’d get books. I’d even borrow CDs. And I’d have a jam doughnut at home. I very much miss those weekends.

WendyAs Head of Creative Writing at Eltham College, what advice would you give to aspiring young writers?

Tom: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. And don’t worry. I think it’s that straightforward. Oh, and buy all of my books and leave plenty of 5 star reviews on Amazon.

WendyWhat’s your next book about?

Tom: It’s a murder mystery set in the Scottish Highlands. But … it’s not a dead person, it’s a missing golden eagle. It’s better than I’m making it sound. And funnier.

Tom Mitchell will be speaking about Escape from Camp Boring in October.

Full details of how to take part will be announced shortly.

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