Ian is the director of The Reading Realm. He is also a content creator and resource writer for various educational organisations, including The Literacy Shed and Authorfy. Ian has taught in primary schools for 13 years and during this time has been a member of the senior management team, a phase leader, and literacy co-ordinator. He has an NQPSL, which focused on improving reading. Ian has also run staff training and writing workshops for children. He especially enjoys sharing picture books, poetry and creative writing activities with the children he teaches.
Tell me what inspired you to write Glitter Boy?
Glitter Boy began life as a picture book called Mr. Hamilton’s wedding and gradually grew and grew! It weas inspired by my own experiences of homophobic bullying in secondary school and my career as a primary school teacher. I used to hear a lot of kids say, “Oh, that’s so gay!” to describe something as ‘rubbish’ and it really bothered me. My husband and I had just adopted our little baby boy too, so I was thinking a lot about the relationship between fathers and sons and this is a thread that’s explored throughout the story.
Essentially Glitter Boy is about the impact bullying has on an 11 year old boy called James. James lvoes singing, dancing, poetry and Mariah Carey! The book explores how James overcomes feelings of being on the outside, of being vilified and whispered about, and of being told he isn’t good enough. It’s a hopefully, joyous book about standing up for yourself, friendship, and LGBTQ+ history and pride.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book? What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
The reactions have been amazing! I always find it such a nerve-wracking process! I think releasing any book out into the world is a rollercoaster of emotions. There’s all the gruelling work that goes into the book, the excitement of publication day, the worries about school visits, and the concerns about how an LGBTQ+ middle grade book will be received. However, I did get to go onto ITV News and talk about Glitter Boy, homophobic bullying, and Section 28. This was a real highlight for me! The best thing has to be hearing from young readers though – it’s so special when your book speaks directly to someone and they find it a comfort. Lots of people in the LGBTQ+ community have reached out to me to tell me how much they loved Glitter Boy and that means an awful lot.
What can you tell us about your next book?
I have lots of books coming out over the next few years! Sadly, I have to keep it all quiet at the moment though! I have two more picture books coming out this year which I’m really excited about. I’ve also signed with some new publishers who I’ll be working on more LGBTQ+ inclusive fairy tales with and I’m just feeling my way into a new middle grade book, which is going to be very different to Glitter Boy. I feel so incredibly lucky!
What did you do before you became a writer?
I was a primary school teacher for thirteen years and loved it! However, towards the end of my teaching career I was struggling with exhaustion and my mental health and knew I needed to take a break. Teachers work so incredibly hard and ii think I was completely burnt out. The nights of marking books and weekends of planning and inputting data were just too much for me and the job has changed a lot since I first started teaching. I have a huge respect for anyone who works in education nowadays. I still enjoy visiting schools with my writing workshops and working alongside children and teachers. A great school can really energise and uplift you and visiting a school is a wonderful way for me to connect with my young readers.
Which author inspires you?
So many! As part of my job writing resources for Authorfy I get to read lots of middle grade books every week. I particularly admire Elle McNicoll although she INFURIATES me! How is it that each of her books is better than the last? How does she manage to show such control over so many different genres! How is she so good?! But in all seriousness, I was also really lucky to meet Elle at an event and she was very kind and chatted away to me when II was feeling very nervous. I’m also a big fan of Dom Conlon, Dean Atta and Jay Hulme – I think their poetry is so beautiful, insightful and honest.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I love crime thrillers and whodunnits! I always remember my mum having a huge bookshelf of murder mystery books and I loved reading John Grisham and Agatha Christie as a child. There are so many wonderful crime thrillers that have kept me up all night, glued to the edge of my seat. It’s so much fun trying to decipher all the red herrings and work out any clues which are peppered in the story along the way and I LOVE to be tricked and have the wool pulled over my eyes. A friend recently recommended The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi, which completely terrified me! I’ve also enjoyed The Sanatorium and The Retreat by Sarah Pearse, which were exciting, eerie, and atmospheric.
What is your biggest motivator?
I would probably say my biggest motivator is wanting to see change. It infuriated me for many, many years that there was very little LGBTQ+ inclusivity in children’s books and I wanted to reach out to younger members of the community and show them that they deserve to be included in the literary space too. It’s so important that children see different types of families and relationships in the books they read. I think a lot of my writing is spurred on by a stubborn defiance to make space for the LGBTQ+ community and really push the boundaries. Now that I have a son of my own, it’s also become really important that he sees his family structure in books and feels included too.
Were you a big reader and writer as a child? What were your favourite childhood books?
I HATED reading as a young child. It involved lots of Roger Red Hat books and ii thought they were so boring! However, I did love being read to. My mum read to us every night and I have fond memories of this, of feeling warm and cosy as we listened intently to my mum’s soothing voice whisk us away on all sorts of adventures. I loved the Alfie and Annie-Rose books and anything by Shirley Hughes. It wasn’t really until I was ten that a teacher called Mrs Perry guided me to Matilda by Roald Dahl and the Supergran series by Forrest Wilson. From that moment on I adored reading!
Mrs Perry also encouraged lots of creative writing – she would often give us a starter and then just leave us to write away. Or she might give us some characters and challenge us to weave them into an exciting story. I loved listening to her read every day, on the carpet. I remember vividly giggling away to Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation. I also fondly remember being sat at the Listening Station, headphones on, escaping into the magical, snowy world of The Enchanted Horse. There was also lots of drama, plays, acting and art in her class, which I loved and freedom to create – one day, Mrs Perry allowed me to write a story for the younger children in the school on the new school computer. She applauded my use of repetition and the next day I waited with baited breath as the computer painfully, slowly, gradually coughed my story out, over the course of an entire day. What a feeling!
I then spent a lot of my teenage years devouring all sorts of books by Philip Pullman, Judy Bloom, Paula Danziger, R.L Stine, and Iris Murdoch.
Now, I spend my days reading lots of children’s books and get to call it work! We really are in the ‘golden age’ of children’s fiction. I’ve particularly enjoyed Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Scavengers by Darren Simpson, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, The Star-Spun Web by Sinead O’Hart, The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin, and Kate Wakeling’s beautiful collection of poetry Moon Juice.
What do you hope young readers take away from Glitter Boy?
I hope readers of all ages take away a sense of how damaging bullying of any form can be and how negatively it impacts on people’s mental health. I also really hope they are set off on their own journey to find out more about LGBTQ+ history and maybe do some research into some of the trailblazers and icons mentioned in the story who have fought for our rights. Most of all I hope they get a sense that change is possible, that we can be accepting of others, that we can live freely and happily and that treating others with respect and kindness is just so important. Perhaps they might even decide to put some Mariah Carey songs on at full blast and dance their socks off!
Finally, can you describe Glitter Boy in three words?
Hopeful, joyful, defiant.