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1. I grew up in a cult. It was like a cross between an Indian ashram and a Victorian boarding school. We studied Sanskrit and eastern philosophy, and were beaten with a cane if we disobeyed the rules. We meditated for half an hour each morning, silently repeating a mantra. “Follow the mantra wherever it leads,” the teacher said, so I imagined the mantra as a little dog and I followed it on some amazing adventures in my mind. These were my first stories.

Alex Woolf, Mr Jones

Alex Woolf, Mr Jones

2. I’ve written more than 200 books. I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction, mainly for children since 2001. I’ve written on every subject from aliens to acne, bees to the Black Death, tarantulas to terrorism, sea monsters to soap. You name it, I’ve probably written a 32-page book about it.

3. I was once nearly arrested at Athens Airport. In the early 2000s, I went on holiday to Greece, intending to write a biography of Osama bin Laden. The airport security staff were very worried when they opened my case and saw the books I’d taken with me for research. It was a worrying moment.

4. I once had to write a story live in front of 400 Spanish teachers. I write for a company called Fiction Express that sells online, interactive stories to schools. Each chapter has a cliffhanger ending and children vote on three options for continuing the story. Fiction Express wanted to expand into Spain, so as a publicity stunt they flew me out to Barcelona and got me to write a story in front of all these teachers, including voting options at the end of each chapter. I was only given half an hour to write a chapter, and the voting app didn’t work, and I’d had quite a bit to drink, so I wouldn’t say it was my finest moment as a writer. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

5. Mr Jones began with walks to school with my daughter. The inspiration for my latest novel, Mr Jones, came seven years ago, when I was walking my then eight-year-old to school. Every day we walked through a creepy, overgrown park with a swamp-like pond covered in algae and I started thinking about what might be living in that pond.

6. I’m a member of a writing group. Seven years ago, I discovered there were three writers living in my road, and we started a writing group. Since then it’s expanded to about eight members. We meet each fortnight in each other’s houses over wine and Monster Munch, reading out excerpts and commenting on each other’s work. Being a writer can be lonely and the group is a fantastic support network.

7. I co-wrote a comic novel about a writing group. A few years ago, three of us in the group started emailing each other, pretending to be eccentric members of a fictional writing group. It started as a laugh, but it grew and grew until we had about 80,000 words. It was published last year by crowdfunding publisher Unbound under the title Work in Progress and has garnered some great reviews.

About Mr Jones

Ben hears noises in his basement and witnesses weird goings-on in his local park. His eight-year-old daughter Imogen starts receiving messages from someone claiming to be her missing mother. And then there is Mr Jones–the man who haunts the imaginations of the children at Imogen’s school. But they are just stories, surely? Ben soon develops a creeping suspicion that someone is out to kidnap his daughter. Are his fears real or a result of his own stress-induced paranoia?

About Alex Woolf

Alex Woolf is an award-winning author writing for both adults and children. His novels include Chronosphere, a time-warping science fiction trilogy, The Shakespeare Plot, a trilogy about Tudor spies, and a steampunk series, Iron Sky. His Victorian supernatural thriller Aldo Moon was one of Lovereading4kids’ books of the year. He won Fiction Express awards for two of his children’s books and was shortlisted for the Falkirk Red Book Award for his horror novel Soul Shadows. He won the Association for Science Education Book of the Year Award 2021 for his book Think Like a Scientist. He is a co-author of a ‘novel-in-emails’, Work in Progress, published by Unbound. Alex lives in North London with his wife, two children and two cats, Juno and Minerva.

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