Interview with Jon Mayhew

Oct 19, 2012 by

Jon Mayhew is a talented chap. Teacher, author, storyteller, musician – he also plays a mean Shruti box and is passionate about literacy in young people.

Earlier this month Jon spoke with Start the Story’s very own Tommy Donbavand about his writing career and where his inspiration comes from.

We like to hear how writers start their own stories.  How do you begin?

I always begin with a prologue, like the opening scene from Jurassic Park when the guy gets dragged into the dinosaur crate. It doesn’t always help the story but it sets the scene and the tone. Often I cut the prologue. I think only the one in Mortlock survived. I like a bit of action, something gruesome or a fist fight.

Your books often use themes found in folk tales and mythology.  Is that something you’ve always been interested in?

I grew up with traditional tales but I didn’t know what they were. Robin Hood, folk songs that were played in the house all influenced me but I became more interested when I was studying for my degree. I did a dissertation on Superstition in the Traditional Ballad, dontchaknow? I also grew to love playing and singing traditional music, so it’s all had a strong influence. A warning, though, this was all filtered through the Hammer horror films I watched as a boy and the Motorhead fixation I had when I was a teenager. I’m all grown up and sensible now, of course…

What was the inspiration behind ‘The Demon Collector’?

Partly ‘Demon Thief’ by Darren Shan (love the twist in that book) but also a touch of Paradise Lost by John Milton. I studied this for my degree and loved the rhythm and the language. But most of all my demons were a reflection of the folk devils in Ruth Manning Sanders’ collection of folk tales called “Of Devils and Demons.” I loved the stories in this book as a boy and do tell them from time to time. The demons are powerful and tricky but essentially stupid and too eaten up with their own sin to ever truly succeed.

What can you tell us about ‘Deathmire’?

It’s a thin book! Deathmire is about a boy called Tom who lives in Victorian London. He and his friends are mudlarks, they risk their lives searching through the foul mud of the Thames for anything they can sell. Their lives are changed forever when they meet an evil water sprite hellbent on dragging every last soul into the murky depths. It’s spooky and action-packed and would make a great introduction into the world of Mortlock.

You’re also a musician!  Does music affect your writing in any way?

Music sets the mood for what I write but I often write in silence. Sometimes it gives me ideas, especially folk music. The stories told in those songs trip my imagination. I often compile a playlist of modd songs to listen to before I start. When I’m editing it’s LOUD music all the way.

We know you regularly visit schools to promote literacy.  What do you think pupils get out of meeting an author?

I’ve taught for over twenty years now and have seen a few author visits, some good, some bad. I am passionate about learning and the value of education, especially creative and imaginative skills. I like to think that when the children meet an author, they meet someone who is ordinary and yet special. That may sound like a contradiction but I wasn’t ‘runaway clever’ at school (I’m still not I guess). My grades were pretty average but I loved writing and lived in something of a dream world. I think pupils can be inspired when they see how ordinary people can create special things.

In your opinion, how can schools capitalise on author visits?

Preparation, first and foremost. The best visits are the ones where the pupils have found out about the author, maybe read some of the author’s work. Most authors will have a website and research helps the children to formulate questions. I have free short stories that teachers can download and read before or after my visit. After the visit, I like to post children’s work on my Gory Stories blog site, it gives the pupils an audience and sometimes I can persuade other authors to leave a comment.

What’s coming next from the pen of Jon Mayhew?

A departure from the world of horror! I’ve always loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and one of my favourite literary characters is Captain Nemo. You say ‘Nemo’ to most children today and they think of Pixar’s fishy story but the good captain is a complex, flawed genius who builds and pilots the Nautilus. So I wondered what made him that way and started writing about his childhood. Throw a few pirates and giant sea monsters in for good measure and you get Monster Odyssey! The Eye of Neptune. Intrigue, adventure, swashbuckling, spies… and sharks.

Finally, can you give our readers a one-sentence story starter?

“The bottle lay on Alex’s bed, stoppered, crusted in dirt, begging to be opened.”

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