Interview with Paul Plunkett

Paul Plunkett

Interview Date: 9/18/2012


I'm living proof that it's never too late to write your first book. At the age of nine, way back in 1975, I wrote my first short story called The Nine Lives of Timmy the Cat. It was about a cat that travelled the country, helping people along the way, and often sacrificing one of his nine lives to save somebody. I never sent it to a publisher, but vowed from that day to write a series that would be published. So, 36 years on, the Jenny Johnson mystery series was born. I used to read two to three books a week between the ages of 7 and 13 - it was a time that sparked the imagination and inspired me to become a journalist. The aim of the Jenny Johnson series is to encourage children between the ages of 7 and 12 to discover a love for reading, to paint their own imaginary pictures instead of allowing TV to paint them. In an age where social media, mobile phones and wall-to-wall TV dominates, there's still nothing like a reading a story, going on a journey with the author,solving clues along the way, becoming friends with the characters. I want children to feel inspired the way I was inspired by the likes of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven series. So, who am I? I was born and educated in Liverpool, and all I ever wanted to do from the age of eight was to become a sports journalist. After university, I joined my first newspaper in 1989 - the Accrington Observer in Lancashire - and went on to work for several newspapers before returning to Liverpool as assistant sports editor on the Liverpool Echo. In 2002, I was appointed sports editor for the Lancashire Telegraph, and I'm now assistant editor at BBC Sport. I'm married to Sharon and we have three children: Laura, Callum and Jenny.

When did you start writing, and was there a significant event that prompted you to do so?

I started writing at a very early age, I'd say about five or six. In school, I used to be the quickest at handwriting in the class and would often finish writing stories 10-15 minutes ahead of everyone else. It must be in the wrist - I passed 120 words per minute shorthand when I trained to become a journalist! I wrote my first 'book' at the age of nine called The Nine Lives of Timmy the Cat. It was about a cat who travelled the country helping humans, often sacrificing one of his nine lives to save someone. I didn't send it in to be published though - it just remained in a pad in my bedroom.

If you could have one superpower, what would it? (Assuming said power would be reasonably powerful.)

It would have to be invisibility. I worked as a newspaper journalist for 22 years before joining the BBC in England, and there's been plenty of times I wish I could have sneaked into 'behind closed doors' meetings. How great would it be to see a huge story unfold and the protaganists had no clue you were stood in the corner!

Kev's response: Interesting - most people tend to think of more "everyday" uses for invisibility. A journalist with it would be downright dangerous! (And a paparazzi...)

Do you have a favorite superhero from novels, comics, or movies?

It would have to be Superman, who was a journalist like myself during the day. I've never tried to get changed into a costume in a phonebox though.

Kev's response: Assuming you could actually find one, I have a feeling that you would get some phone cameras aimed your way...

Where do you get your inspiration for writing? What motivates you?

I used to read three to four books a week between the ages of 7 to 12. Growing up in Liverpool, England, I loved the work of Enid Blyton, and her Famous Five and Secret Seven mystery series have been a big inspiration for me, and that's really where my Jenny Johnson Mystery series comes from. Writing a children's book is a completely different discipline to writing for a newspaper or the BBC. You can let your imagination run wild, and take the reader to another world. I love it.

Kev's response: Very true. Technical (such as computer) writing, and scientific writing are two more types that are significantly different as well. It's interesting to think about how we can use the same words and structure, and convey things in such different ways.

Do you pre-plan your stories, or are you a by-the-seat-of-the-pants style writer?

Good question. I thought I would write my first book, Teen Idol Terror, as I went along, but I actually spent a couple of months sketching out the story first. Once I started writing it, you tend to get better ideas and the plot often goes off in a different direction. The ending of Teen Idol Terror is completely different to the one I first sketched.

Kev's response: My novels have all done that to me, at least the ones where I've laid out an outline for a good portion of them.

Do you write only when inspired, or do you have a set schedule where you sit down to write?

I'd loved to be disciplined but I'm not. My friend, Kerry Wilkinson, is a number one author here in England and I've never seen anyone so disciplined. He'd write for a hour before setting off to work at 6am ... and he would write for another two hours at the end of his shift before going home. I guess that's why he's one of the best around. I try to fit writing around my days off and family commitments, but I'm getting better at finding more time to hit the laptop.

Kev's response: Forcing yourself to sit down and write (and not allowing distractions such as TV/family/etc. to pull you away) can very much help one's productivity. Personally, I've found the time I'm on the elliptical (jogging) to be one of the best.

Do you have a favorite genre to write in? To read?

I've always loved children's books - it's probably because I've never grown up! I've loved writing for the 7-12 age group. It's such a fantastic age of innocence, and it drives you on to think you could be fuelling their imagination, and in some way shaping their lives. As a reader, I could still sit down and read a Roald Dahl now.

Kev's response: Hey, I'm of the belief that we should never have to grow up (apart from doing some activity to take care of ourselves and family). But past that, live young, my friend.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?

I love being so creative. You get a real buzz creating a storyline and watching it develop. And you also come to love your characters. I've got three children, but I often feel like it's eight because you become so close to the main characters in your book.

Kev's response: I'm completely with you here. (Well, I don't have children, but I liken my characters to having some.)

Is there any part of writing that you don't enjoy?

That's an easy one. I detest proof reading and re-editing, but it's got to be done. Subbing and editing stories is part of my job as a BBC journalist so that makes it easier.

Can you tell me something odd about yourself?

I once spent four days travelling on a bus non-stop from England to Romania. It was in 1991 and I went there with a group of firefighters to rebuild an orphanage. Then I had four days travelling back. I don't think I've been on a bus since!

Kev's response: There obviously wasn't enough drinking involved!

Do you write one story at a time, or do you have several novels in the works at one time?

Strictly one at a time. I don't think my brain is big enough to cope with multiple novels. I've just started my second Jenny Johnson Mystery, and that's just a couple of weeks after publishing the first, so it's almost at the same time!

Kev's response: I jump into my novels one after the other, without downtime, as well. (And the same with one at a time. I'm too obsessive to flip between works.)

In my evil plot to take over the world, what one animal type do you advise I use and why?

I've got a shitzu dog ... they look sweet and innocent but certainly pack a punch, and they are fearless. Mine chases horses and cows.

Kev's response: Just goes to show that sweet and innocent things only appear so!

Where do you see the future as far as paper books versus digital e-books?

I think there will be a huge swing towards e-books during the next couple of years. They are cheaper, easier to buy and easier to carry, and as the price of e-book devices tumble, the more people will buy. I’ve seen this as a journalist during the last five years as more and more people migrate from the traditional newspaper to online versions of the paper. I think e-books are more appealing for children, who are techno savvy at the age of seven, and we’ll see the number of children reading e-books surpass those reading paper books in the next two years. That’s why I took the conscious decision to publish as an e-book.

What are your current projects?

I’m now working on the second in the series of the Jenny Johnson mysteries. Here’s the blurb for it: Life couldn't get any better for Ramon Hernandez, star player for Premier League soccer club Eversham United, and his movie actress girfriend Tyra Morgan. They have it all - money, good looks and fame. But when world-famous club manager Bob Bailey is attacked in his office just weeks before the cup final, Ramon is arrested and charged with attempted murder. Jenny Johnson, who solves celebrity crime, is on the case, and soon uncovers a trail of clues that leads her to a shock suspect.

Kev's response: Wow, you've got the blurb before/during the writing of the book? That's interesting! I've never done that before. (I generally dislike writing summaries of my work. I wrote a novel to tell a full story, not to sum it up in a paragraph or three...)

Do you have any advice for others about self-publishing?

Yes, enjoy writing the book, but spend plenty of time editing and re-editing before you send it in the public arena. For Teen Idol Terror, I spent about a quarter of the time writing it and three-quarters re-editing it. And don’t be precious. Get your friends to read it before you publish and take all their criticism squarely on the chin. Also, try sending it to a book critic for feedback. Many are busy but some have time to take a look.

Do you have any online sites where readers can find out more about you (and your books)?

Yes, you can find out all about the Jenny Johnson Mystery series and about me on my website And of course you can buy the first of the series there on Amazon or on the ibookstore.

Kev's response: Paul, thanks for joining me! I hope the series takes off for you!

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