The man from Plainville is no or­di­nary writer

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - NICK DUER­DEN

NEW YORK: This month, the Amer­i­can chil­dren’s writer Jeff Kin­ney pub­lished the 10th book in his block­bust­ing Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid se­ries. En­ti­tled Old School, it came out si­mul­ta­ne­ously in more than 90 coun­tries and within a week had sold a mil­lion copies.

With fig­ures like this, Kin­ney need never have strayed from home and could have sim­ply con­cen­trated on writ­ing the 11th book, but in­stead he de­cided to head out on tour to pro­mote it even more. In the past two weeks he has vis­ited Canada, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Ger­many, Spain, China and Ja­pan. This week it’s the UK, and then he’s on to other sundry Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions, be­fore head­ing to South America.

“It’s Tues­day, right? At least, I think it is,” he said with a laugh, set­tling into his cen­tral Lon­don ho­tel suite and sound­ing far perkier than some­one car­ry­ing that amount of jet lag should. Given his as­ton­ish­ing sales record – the num­ber of copies in print of Wimpy Kid now ex­ceeds 164 mil­lion, there’s a film fran­chise and Time mag­a­zine has voted him among the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple on the planet – you might ex­pect Kin­ney to have su­per­star ten­den­cies, al­beit of the lit­er­ary kind.

But to call him unas­sum­ing would be to un­der­state mat­ters. Kin­ney, in his pressed shirt and ironed chi­nos, was al­most vig­or­ously or­di­nary and nor­mal.

“I’m al­ways wor­ried kids will be dis­ap­pointed when they come to meet the writer of their favourite book, only to find this mid­dle-aged, av­er­age-look­ing guy,” the 44 year old said.

Kin­ney’s early am­bi­tion was to be­come a news­pa­per car­toon­ist. While at univer­sity, he cre­ated a comic strip about a so­cially mal­ad­justed fresh­man called Ig­doof, and spent sev­eral years try­ing to get his work syn­di­cated. But, he said, “my draw­ings weren’t pro­fes­sional enough”. He started de­sign­ing chil­dren’s web­sites, and in his spare time con­tin­ued draw­ing, re­plac­ing Ig­doof with a mid­dle-school pupil by the name of Greg Hef­fley. And lo, Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid was born.

It has prob­a­bly worked so well be­cause of its uni­ver­sal­ity: we were all awk­ward kids, once. Writ­ten, as the ti­tle im­plies, like a di­ary – in hand­writ­ing – and full of sim­ple yet sprightly car­toons, it’s more comic strip than novel and fol­lows the eter­nal tra­vails of ado­les­cent Greg, his fam­ily and friends.

The lat­est story finds him at­tempt­ing to un­plug him­self from the mod­ern world – switch­ing off phones and com­put­ers – with re­as­sur­ingly calami­tous re­sults. As with the previous nine books, this one runs to a very pre­cise 217 pages (Kin­ney likes or­der and uni­for­mity), and chil­dren, as ever, are de­vour­ing it the way they do sugar.

But if his books are easy to read, Kin­ney in­sisted they were tor­ture to write. “I en­joy hav­ing worked, but I don’t en­joy the work,” he said. “It’s a grind. I can spend four hours try­ing to come up with a sin­gle joke” – his books are full of jokes – “and fail to write even one. And I spend up to 17 hours a day on the draw­ings. It breaks you down.”

He must surely be ex­ag­ger­at­ing here, if only be­cause the man has cranked out 10 vol­umes in just eigh­tand-a-half years. But if he strug­gles with the writ­ing process, then he does en­joy the spoils of his ef­forts. He down­plays giv­ing talks along­side the di­rec­tor James Cameron and en­joy­ing din­ner with US pres­i­dents past and present, but will con­cede his un­ex­pected suc­cess has ben­e­fits.

“I never ex­pected to be­come wealthy, but I do like be­ing able to make pos­i­tive changes in my town,” he said.

Kin­ney lives with his wife and two boys in Mas­sachusetts in a town called, per­haps ap­pro­pri­ately for an Every­man, Plainville, where they live in a “reg­u­lar” house and pur­sue a largely “or­di­nary” life. But he has built a soc­cer field for the lo­cal school and a down­town book­shop called An Un­likely Story.

This has been his busiest year: he has writ­ten the screen­play for the fourth Wimpy Kid film, is plan­ning two sea­sonal spe­cials and also a mu­si­cal. The books, mean­while, keep com­ing.

“I of­ten de­bate whether to try and cre­ate some­thing else or sim­ply be happy with what I have,” he said. “But I al­ways feel that when a car­toon­ist re­tires their char­ac­ters, it leaves a hole in peo­ple’s lives. I don’t want to bring them to an end un­less I have good rea­son to do so. And I don’t, yet.” – The In­de­pen­dent

● Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kin­ney (Puf­fin Books) is out now.

KIDS’ STUFF: Jeff Kin­ney with one of his char­ac­ters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.