Before his talk at Norwich Science Festival, I got to sit down with Mitch Johnson and ask him about his novels, and the impact he hopes they are having.
Can you tell us a little about your books? What are the common themes?
Kick is about an Indonesian boy who works in a sweatshop making football boots, Pop is about a girl who finds the secret recipe to the world’s most popular fizzy drink, and focuses on plastic pollution and corporate greed. Spark, which comes out in February, is about a boy trying to find safety in a world decimated by climate change. They all tackle some sort of issue – whether social, economic or environmental.
Some might say you’re indoctrinating children because of the social and political themes. What’s your response?
I’m trying to counteract some of the indoctrination children already experience. Children only start to fully understand advertising when they’re 11 or 12 years old. So, young children are being manipulated by companies with no defence against it. I’m trying to restore a little balance and reveal the more negative side of corporations, allowing us to question what we’re being sold. These conversations are important because they’re incredibly urgent, and if you can’t face them in the safety of children’s literature, how are you meant to do it in the real world where everything is at stake?
Who, or what, do you take your inspiration from?
I was initially inspired by other writers. Now, it’s the knowledge that my work could have a positive impact on people in the real world. Thinking I can make a small contribution or be part of the solution is really motivating and inspiring. We’re in a golden age for children’s fiction and other authors are always making me want to do better.
What made you want to write political children’s fiction?
The idea of Kick took form as a short story for my creative writing dissertation at UEA. I was sure this kind of book already existed, and when I found that it didn’t, I thought that was a real shame, and I wondered what other areas children weren’t exposed to. They’re more receptive than people realise, they have a real sense of right and wrong, and writing for that age group is really rewarding. But children’s fiction isn’t just for children, it can be for adults too.
What is the most influential text you’ve ever read, and why would you recommend it to others?
Regarding climate change and Cli-Fi, The Lorax by Dr Seuss. It takes no time to read, but there’s something about the accompanying pictures that has an added impact. It’s so accessible, it’s fun, and sad and tragic, but it’s very true. We’re seeing this happen on planet earth and the tale isn’t silly, but moving and impressive.
Finally, are there plans to write Cli-Fi for older readers?
I would like to write for adults, not necessarily Cli-Fi, but there aren’t any solid plans at the minute. Now, I really love writing for children. They’re so responsive and enthusiastic, and there’s so many possibilities with that age group, and I already have so many ideas.