'I wanted a deaf character who could do things no one else in the book could!'

Published on: 02 March 2018 Author: Alex Strick

Ross Montgomery has written an adventure tale of an amazing tiny world – with a main character who just happens to be deaf. He talks to Alex Strick about why he created Max...

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How would you sum up the story of Max and the Millions?

A young boy discovers a microscopic fantasy civilisation living on a bedroom floor, and accidentally becomes their god!

Max is deaf, and this comes across as a very authentic depiction – is deafness something you have personal experience or particular interest in?

Not hugely. I had glue ear when I was born, which made me mildly deaf until the age of four, and I’ve always wondered how frustrating I must have found it as a child when I couldn’t understand what people were saying!

Then a few years ago, I started working with a man who wore hearing aids, who explained to me some of the everyday challenges he faced as a deaf man. It was eye-opening, and paved the way for me writing Max as a deaf character.

How much research was involved in ensuring a convincing representation of deafness, without the book becoming "about" being deaf?

It was such a fine balancing act. I didn’t want to focus too much on Max’s condition – after all, I wanted it to be a book about a boy who discovered an amazing microscopic world, too!

I spoke to a number of people who gave me great advice and showed me where I was making errors in my early drafts. I spoke to some amazing children at the James Wolfe Primary School and Centre for the Deaf as well, who gave me fantastic insight into what it was like to be a deaf child in a hearing school.

The book gently reminds the reader that every individual is different, and that every experience of deafness is different. Was this important to you?

I didn't realise until I began researching how wide the experience of deafness is. I wanted to try as hard as possible to authentically show what Max’s life was like, and to help other hearing people (like myself) understand how challenging it can be – but there are so many different experiences of deafness that it would be impossible to convey all of them in one book.

Instead, I wanted to put a book out there with something which I had never seen before – a book with a deaf main protagonist, which didn't focus primarily on his condition. I wanted a deaf character who could do things no one else in the book could!

Another of your books, Perijee and Me, features a protagonist struggling with dyslexia. How did this come to be and how did you research it?

I worked for seven years in a primary school, and came across a lot of children with dyslexia. But there were also many undiagnosed dyslexics, who didn’t understand why they struggled so much to read and write and felt stupid. I wanted to write a book about a child who discovers an alien and feels a connection with them – in the book, Caitlin often struggles to make sense of the world she lives in, and part of this is because she is an undiagnosed dyslexic.

To what extent do you feel authors all have a responsibility to ensure a diverse and inclusive children’s book landscape?

I think that authors can feel uncomfortable about including a diverse range of characters in their books because, when done badly, it feels shallow and tokenistic. But I think we’re in a really exciting period of children’s literature. Everyone agrees that we need wider representation in books, and people are making first steps to change the landscape.

Once seeing a diverse range of characters becomes more commonplace, it stops being a talking point – but first of all, we have to do it!

Finally, your books all seem to have in common some quite wacky storylines and unusual characters! What does this say about you?

I dread to think!

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Read our review of the book

Max and the Millions

Author: Ross Montgomery

When a school caretaker mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a small pile of sand, a student is drawn into an extraordinary adventure. Alongside the delightfully daft plot, Montgomery successfully touches on topics such as assumptions about deafness.

Read more about Max and the Millions

Deafness booklist

Books to help promote an understanding

The following booklist includes books that feature deafness as a key theme, books with a deaf protagonist, and books that happen to include children with hearing aids and cochlear implants, in a subtle and natural way.