Monkey Mayhem! An interview with Thimble Wonga Bonkers author Jon Blake and his son
Published on: 05 May 2020
Alex Strick talks to author Jon Blake and his 13 year old son Jordi about the latest in a series of books that are high on both wacky humour and authentic inclusion.
Illustration: Martin Chatterton
This is the third book about Jams and family. For anyone who is new to the series, can you give us a quick introduction and tell us how a monkey came to be part of the family?
JON: Thimble was dumped on Jams and family by their bizarre neighbours; Jams’ dad does not take to his random behaviour at all, but Jams and his mum find him totally lovable, despite the trail of destruction he leaves behind him.
JORDI: Thimble is a total one-off. He arrives at Jams’ house and from then on life is never the same. His escapades are unique, involving things such as going wild in an excavator and causing mayhem with a tarantula. He’s brilliantly funny.
To what extent do you collect ideas for your books from real life? (Presumably you don’t have a monkey in the family?!)
JON: According to scientists my stories are 28.5% real life. I often start from a real person or situation, then transform them into something more interesting through this faculty I have called the imagination. For example, we have often had home exchange holidays, but have never actually blown up our hosts’ house.
JORDI: We unfortunately don’t have a monkey, although it depends on your definition!
Jams has cerebral palsy and uses a walker. This is obviously inspired by Jordi but to what extent would you say Jams is also similar in personality?
JON: Jams does have aspects of Jordi’s personality – his optimism, his eloquence and his liking for hospitals e.g. But I would have to write a much longer and more complex book to convey the whole of Jordi.
JORDI: Jams is quite similar to myself. Like me, he tries not to let disability hold him back. Like me, he has ambitions to become a writer and surpass his Dad’s achievements (although in Jams’ case that shouldn’t be too difficult!) Although I wouldn’t say I have such a strong bond with our family pet (a cat) as Jams does with Thimble, I enjoy spending time with my friends.
And (at the risk of embarrassing Jon) would either of you say there are any similar character traits where Dad is concerned?
JON: I asked my partner this question and she quickly changed the subject. Now I am considering therapy. Dad is (a) miserable, (b) pompous, (c) antisocial, (d) uncomfortable with confident women, (e) embittered by his failure as a writer and (f) totally lacking in self-awareness. I don’t see myself as any of these things, unless maybe I am also (f)?
JORDI: I refute any allegations that Douglas Dawson and Jon Blake are similar.
Jordi, what involvement do you have in the books – do you get the chance to input ideas or give feedback on Jon’s writing?
JORDI: I do give my dad ideas, and he usually gives them a read-over. The best ones make it into the book, after a bit of editing and polishing. In fact, there’s a dedication to me in the second Thimble book, Thimble Holiday Havoc. Quite a lot of my ideas come spontaneously – me or my dad will make an offhand comment and I’ll suddenly say “Has Thimble done that yet?” or “Could we get him to do this?” That way, you get a lot of refreshing new angles.
The fact that Jams uses a walker is largely incidental to the plot, but what messages do you (both) hope the books give in relation to disability?
JON: I want readers to identify with Jams, who is the narrator, and therefore not regard disability as Other. Jams’ disability does come more to the fore in Thimble Wonga Bonkers, since for the first time he comes across a man who has a real problem with it, and I certainly hope readers enjoy how Jams deals with him.
JORDI: The nice thing about Jams is that he’s defined by many things, not just disability. If it wasn’t referenced throughout the book, you might forget he’s disabled at all. That’s something we need to get across – disabled people are people. They can be funny and original, talented and confident. My friends don’t see me as someone different – they see me as Jordi Blake, a boy that happens to be disabled. We need to see more people like Jams in children’s literature – to show that disabled people can’t help being disabled. That’s a powerful message.
Jordi, I get the sense you’ve inherited your dad’s love of books?
JORDI: That’s definitely true! I read everywhere – at home or on the go. Reading for me is a way of life – it takes you places without having to go there. It’s a source of fun and information. I hope to become a writer so I can give that to people one day.
Can you tell us what you are each writing or reading at the moment?
JON: I’ve just started reading How Music Works by David Byrne. But after 36 years as a published writer, I think it’s time I admitted something. I am known for appealing to reluctant readers, and perhaps this is because I am one myself, especially when it comes to fiction. But I am writing! It’s another Thimble, with a new girl character, and it’s going really well.
Jordi differs from me in that he can read at great speed and still take everything in. He’s read more books at 13 than I have in my entire life.
JORDI: I’m reading Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a classic novel in which a rabbit prophesizes the destruction of the warren he lives in and runs away with his brother and a few others in search of a better life. Brilliantly written, and quite lengthy – over 600 pages. I’d definitely recommend it. As for writing, I’m assisting my dad on the authoring of Thimble 4. They get better every time, claims my dad, and I agree. It won’t be coming out for a good while, so I’d suggest getting cosy with the first three books, which are also excellent.
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