Good afternoon! It is my pleasure to present a very special guest, Ian Probert, author of the hilarious young-adult comedy. Johnny Nothing. Johnny Nothing follows the adventures of a neglected but good-hearted young boy who wins a fortune from an estranged uncle. The money comes with a challenge: he must, after one year, have only a little more in the account that the original amount. If he can meet this challenge, he will receive ten times the amount. Johnny’s challenge is to keep his greedy, uncaring parents from squandering the fortune. Can he meet the challenge, or will be in the same position where he started. Readers will be laughing their heads off at every page at Probert’s irreverent sense of humor.
About Mr. Probert:
Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: ‘Once upon a time…’. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn’t be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.
Here is what critics are saying about Johnny Nothing:
“Great new kids book alert! My two are in hysterics reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert (and I am too).” Jane Bruton, Editor of Grazia
“Oh, Wow! Dark, sordid, grotesque and hilarious are only a few words I can conjure up to describe this hilarious book.” Lizzie Baldwin, mylittlebookblog
Critics are comparing Ian Probert to Roald Dahl. And Johnny Nothing we have a modern successor to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Johnny Nothing is best-selling author Ian Probert’s first ever children’s book – although adults are enjoying it too. The story of the poorest boy in the world and the nastiest mother in the universe, the book is earning rave reviews. Children and grown-ups are all laughing at this incredibly funny kids book.
To celebrate the paperback launch of Johnny Nothing we are offering a free Kindle copy of the book to the first 100 people who Tweet the following message:
@truth42 I’m reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert. http://geni.us/3oR8 #YA #Kindle #kidsbooks
The first ten readers who answer the following question will also receive a signed print of one of the book’s illustrations.
Q: What is the tattoo on Ben’s arm?
Send your answers to email@example.com
Here is an excerpt and an excellent example of the hilarity that you will encounter:
Bill had a shaven head and was wearing a blue tracksuit. He was almost seven feet tall and built like an outdoor toilet made of brick. Bill didn’t realise this but he was a distant descendent of Neanderthal Man. He had only one eyebrow – one long bushy eyebrow that reached right across his forehead. He looked like what you might get if you force fed a member of Oasis with a half-tonne black plastic sackful of steroids.
And if you were brave enough to be present when he took off his tracksuit you would discover that his back was so covered in hair that he was able part it with a comb. If Bill had had more of an interest in fashion, he might even have considered giving it a curly perm and perhaps a few extensions
On his right arm, Bill had a tattoo which simply read ‘Bill’. This was in case he woke up one morning and forgot who he was. This was actually less unlikely than you might imagine because standing next to him was his twin brother. His name was Ben and he was identical to Bill in every way except that the tattoo on his arm read ‘Bin’ (the tattooist was either South African or not a very good speller). He was wearing a red tracksuit.
Bill gave Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie the tiniest of smiles and managed to grunt ‘hello’. Ben gave the couple exactly the same tiniest of smiles and also managed to grunt ‘hello’.
The two men were standing protectively close to Johnny. They were so large that in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom they looked like giants, which they were. They were so enormous that each of them had their own postcode. They were so gigantic that they had their passport photos taken by satellite. They were so humungous that you could spend all day thinking up rubbishy jokes about how big they were and never adequately describe just how indescribably, earth-shatteringly ENORMOUS they were. By no stretch of the imagination could you call them small (unless, of course, you were a lot bigger than them).
The pair of Goliaths were having to stoop slightly so as to avoid head-butting the ceiling, which actually even looked a little scared itself. They were a terrifying sight. Even scarier than a school trip to a Weight-Watcher’s nudist camp.
There was a long, pregnant silence in the room like this:
This eventually gave birth to an even longer post-natal silence, which, in the interest of preserving the rain forests or the battery on your Kindle, I shan’t demonstrate.
The four grown-ups eyed each other nervously. Bill and Ben looked at the Mackenzies like they were looking at insects that could be squashed into pulpy insect juice any time they so desired.
The Mackenzies looked at Bill and Ben like they were looking at two giant skinhead Neanderthal bully boys who had just appeared from nowhere in their recently and unexpectedly decorated council flat.
Johnny looked a little scared.
Finally Billy Mackenzie managed to get his mouth working a little and spluttered: ‘Who are you?’ And then: ‘What do you want?’
There was another long silence – let’s call it a pause – while Bill and Ben looked at each other as if trying to decide who was going to answer. Finally Bill spoke: ‘You the boy’s parents?’ he demanded in a voice that sounded like an angry rhino with horn-ache. Although if he was clever enough he would have realised that this was a rhetorical question.
There was yet another long silence (you’ll be relieved to hear that this is the last silence you’re going to get in this chapter) before Billy Mackenzie mumbled ‘Yes’.
‘We’re Johnny’s bodyguards,’ continued Bill. ‘We’re here to make sure that everything’s hunky dory.’
‘Hunky dory?’ Mrs. Mackenzie suddenly found her voice. ‘What do you mean ‘hunky dory”?’
Now Ben spoke: ‘What my brother means to say,’ he explained. ‘Is that we’ve been – how shall I say – contracted – to make sure that this young feller’s affairs are in order.’
‘Get out of my house!’ interrupted Mrs. Mackenzie, suddenly feeling a little braver, although she had no idea why.
Bill and Ben looked at each again for a moment. They did this almost as much as your mum looks in the mirror. Or you dad looks at websites that he shouldn’t be looking at. ‘First of all,’ said Bill, ‘This isn’t a house – it’s a flat.’
‘And second of all,’ said his brother. ‘We ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.’
‘Johnny who are these men?’ Mrs. MacKenzie asked her son, ignoring the two giants.
‘I’m sorry mum but…’ Johnny started to speak but Bill cut in like a pair of scissors that chops sentences into bits.
‘…What the young feller means to say is that the fun’s over.’
‘The fun’s over?’ repeated Felicity MacKenzie numbly.
‘That’s right,’ continued Ben. ‘You’ve had a right old time. You’ve been spending his money like it’s your own. You’ve been ripping the poor young feller off. And we’re here to put a stop to it. From now on things are gonna be different.’
‘I’ve had enough of this,’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my house…’
‘Flat,’ corrected Ben.
‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my flat. Billy, call the police!’
As usual Billy MacKenzie did as he was told. He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone. Before he had the chance to even turn it on the gigantic frame of Bill was towering over him.
‘That an iPhone?’ asked Ben.
‘Erm… Yes,’ said Billy, who could only watch as the huge man took it from him and with one hand crushed it into a chunk of buckled metal and shattered touch screen.
‘I think it’s broken,’ said Ben. ‘You ought to take it back to the Apple store. Tell ‘em that you’re not getting a decent signal.’
‘Right!’ cried Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘We’re leaving! You’ll be very sorry you did that. I’ll fetch the police myself!’
Now the giant frame of Bill was standing in front of her. He was holding something in his hand that looked a little like a child’s toy space gun.
‘Know what this is?’ he asked. Although once again he wasn’t clever enough to recognise that this was a rhetorical question.
Mrs. Mackenzie regarded the object for a moment. Then she shook her head. Whatever it was she guessed that it was not intended to provide pleasure, happiness or fulfilment. Anything that has a trigger and a barrel and goes ‘bang!’ seldom does.
‘Come on Billy!’ she said. ‘We’re leaving!’
Bill stood in front of her blocking the doorway. ‘Not so fast,’ he said, not so slowly. ‘It’s called a Taser. See this little trigger at the front? If I press this it’ll give you a small electric shock. It won’t hurt you…Well not too much anyway.’
Bill raised the object and gently touched Mrs. MacKenzie on the arm. There was a loudish bang and a flash of blue neon light and Mrs. MacKenzie collapsed groaning to the floor. She was conscious but wasn’t able to move her arms and legs
‘Oh my gawd!’ said Billy Mackenzie bravely charging out of the room in terror. He got as far as the stairs before there was a second flash. He, too, crumpled to the floor. Bill dragged him back into the bedroom by the scruff of his neck.
Johnny Nothing got to his feet and stood over his two parents. He looked anxious. ‘Are they… Are they… OK?’ he gasped.
‘Don’t you worry yourself,’ smiled Ben. ‘Give em a few minutes and they’ll be right as rain.’
‘But they’ll think twice before they try to run off again,’ said his brother.
I read Johnny Nothing and wanted to ask Probert some more questions about his life, his work, and writing career in general. Here is the interview:
- What made you decide to be a writer?
> I never really made that decision. Nor was it made for me. It just kind of happened by osmosis and probably because I can’t really do anything else. In the late 1980s I was a squatter in London. One day I found an old typewriter and used it to write an article. I sent it to a magazine and was amazed when they published it. So I did another. And another. Then I started writing for newspapers and one of them offered me a full-time job. Then I became the editor of a sports magazine. Then books. I’ve been writing for a long time, although I was insulted when someone online called me a ‘veteran writer’. Blimey. Give me a break
> 2. What gave you the idea for Johnny Nothing?
> I was very ill for years and years. You can read about it here if you’re interested.http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/sep/08/underactive-thyroid-was-slowly-killing-me. By the time I was finally diagnosed and given the correct treatment I had a lot of catching up to do. I hadn’t written anything in 13 years! Johnny Nothing was for my daughter. I wanted something to read to her at night that might make her laugh. It was written during a three-month splorgasm of activity.
> 3. What attracted you to the YA genre?
> For the reasons above. However, in reality I don’t write with any genre in mind. I might have less swear words in Johnny Nothing and no sex but it’s a mistake to ever intentionally dumb yourself down. Kids are just as intelligent as adults.
> 4. Your protagonist has a good heart in spite of having few friends and cold, neglectful parents. Do you believe that goodness is a product of raising, an inherent quality in each person, or a combination of both?
> Well in reality Johnny Nothing is probably me. All the characters in my books are probably me. I was brought up in a working class family. Things were tight when I was growing up. We slept in a cardboard box in the middle of the street. I think the question you’re asking is nature versus nurture. I’m definitely on the side of nature. People come out fully formed – being a parent has taught me that. All you can do is try to point them in the right direction.
> 5. In Johnny Nothing, you make very clear allusions to A Christmas Carol, and Johnny Nothing seems like a modern-day Oliver Twist. Were you inspired by the works of Charles Dickens?
> I love Dickens. What wouldn’t you? I think that ‘Marley was dead…’ is the best opening paragraph ever written. In fact, I wanted to begin Johnny Nothing with the same sentence. Hence Uncle Marley. However, things have a habit of changing.
> 6..What were your other inspirations for Johnny Nothing?
> Douglas Adams, whom I once interviewed. Rick Mayall. Fawlty Towers. Seinfeld. Larry David. Dad’s Army. Anything anarchic that mentions bottoms really.
> 7. Johnny Nothing is written in a humorous, irreverent tone, which offsets its more serious themes of poverty, child abuse/neglect, and conspicuous consumption. Was it your intention to teach a moral lesson with humour in Johnny Nothing?
> My only premise when I set out was to make readers laugh. However, as things developed I guess I wanted to demonstrate that being a good person is not a bad thing to be. Is that an oxymoron?
> 8. In the book, you have a fake contest entry form. Did anyone actually try to enter the contest?
> Unfortunately not, although who’s to say if the Prime Minister has had any strange abusive letters from kids? However, I have had emails asking me if I was serious. This takes me back to my days as a sports writer. I once wrote a caption for a picture of two boxers who had fallen over in the ring along the lines of: ‘Benn helps Eubank to look for his contact lenses…’ In the morning a journo from the Daily Express rang me to ask if Eubank really was wearing contact lenses. ‘It’s very dangerous,’ he said.
> 9.. The ending leaves room for a sequel. Is there one in the making?
> Dunno. Yes I did definitely leave things open ended a little but I’m not sure. I’ve never written a sequel before. I don’t like repeating myself. I don’t like repeating myself. I don’t like repeating myself. However, the reaction to the book’s characters – especially the mother – have been so positive that it sometimes seems a waste to ditch them forever.
> 10. Your book also has a recurring theme of karma. What are your beliefs in karma?
> Well I suppose I very much believe that you reap what you sow. But I’m interested that you say that. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were any themes of karma. I’ll have to read the thing one day.
> 11. Your novel also manages to weave in health lessons, such as not smoking, not drinking, and eating a healthy diet. For this reason (and another which I won’t ask here because I don’t want to give away too much), I got the impression you wrote this to be read in schools. Have you contacted any schools about possible selling copies of Johnny Nothing to the library?
> I’m pleased to say that schools have been contacting me. In March I’m due to do a tour of schools in the North of England. I plan to do some type of interactive slide show. Get the kids involved. have them reading parts in funny distorted voices.
> 12. Are you working on anything new at the moment? If so, do you care to give us a hint?
> While I don’t like to talk about current projects because you can look a pillock if they don’t come to fruition. I can tell you that the main character dies on page one which, I believe, is a first. It’s another kids book I think.
> 13. Do you have any other thoughts you wish to share?
> Only that I’d like to thank you for conducting this interview. And that readers really ought to buy Johnny Nothing. Several copies each, in fact. It would be splendid if they could do this for me.
Johnny Nothing is on a very short list of Jessica Wren’s must-read-before-you-die’s. Pick up your copy today and place it on your reading bucket list. After all, dying from funny-bone failure is one of the most pleasant ways to go.