James Russell is a children’s book author from Auckland, New Zealand. So far, he has written six books (The Dragon Brothers Trilogy of picture books, and three junior novels – The Dragon Defenders, books one, two, and three). More are underway (You can sign up for email alerts here).

Question and answer: James Russell

Where were you born?
I was born in Hamilton. I love that it’s now known as The Tron – City of the Future. My dad is still there, and of course you pass through Hamilton going just about anywhere. Now I live in Auckland with my wife and two sons.

Where did you go to school?
We moved around a lot when I was young, so I went to primary schools all over the place. Hill Park in Manurewa, Auckland (I was small so can’t remember much), then Chartwell School in Wellington (some boys snuck me out of class in the first hour to see if I was faster than the fastest boy in school. I wasn’t), then Glenholme Primary in Rotorua. Rotorua Intermediate was next, then St Paul’s Collegiate in The Tron.

What were you like as a kid?
Big and strong. I grew early. I was a bit of a giant compared to my mates. I could carry almost all of them at once. It was awesome for bullrush. I knocked lots of people and things over though.

What was your favourite book back then?
Back then!? Well, when I look back through the mists of time, I think Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl was my favourite book as a kid. I loved the naughtiness of it, and the suspense.

What do you like to do on weekends?
I like the wild places, so will take any opportunity to get out in nature. Surfing, mountain biking, skiing, snorkelling and spear fishing (I haven’t yet seen a shark while spear fishing, but apparently it’s quite common, especially just after you’ve shot a fish. If that happens, my spear fishing career could be over quite quickly).
I think we need to look after these places better, so sometimes as a family we join beach clean ups and we trap rats to save the native birds.

Why do you write for children?
I love the way children think. I love their thirst for adventure and their wonderful imaginations. I like to challenge myself to write books that fire that imagination.
English was my lowest mark at high school, so a writing certainly career wasn’t on the cards. But when I was travelling in Ireland after university I met the editor of a newspaper and I asked if I could write for him. For some reason he said yes, which kicked off twelve years as a journalist. After twelve years you figure out how to tell a good story.

Did you have any other jobs?
Yes – plenty! I was a sales rep, selling dental products to dentists. The best time to call in to see them was 2.30pm (otherwise known as tooth hurty). Did I mention that I love a good dad joke? I was a chef for a few years. Once I baked a potato that was as big as a rugby ball – it took hours! I also painted houses – until I smashed a window and dropped a bucket of paint inside. I was a pine tree pruner for a summer. Hay maker (though only when the sun shone). I washed dishes in a restaurant for a while (to be avoided if you can’t handle ‘granny fingers’ – when your hands are immersed in water for ages they shrivel up something terrible).

If you weren’t an author you’d be a…
A farmer. Or a helicopter pilot. Or maybe a doctor – the ingenuity of the human body always astonishes me. Maybe a DoC Ranger. Or a private detective…

What’s good about being an author?
The ‘authoring’ bit is the hardest part. The best part is visiting schools and talking to the kids who read my books. It’s always a crack-up!

How do you think up ideas?
In the shower, or while asleep. The shower is an amazing place to think (until the hot water runs out) and you’d be amazed at how often I wake up with a fully formed idea in my head!

If you were to have a super power, what would it be?
I need three super powers I’m afraid. I want to be able to teleport to places – and to bring stuff with me (like a surfboard, so I can surf Fiji, or Dunedin, when the waves are good, and then be back in time for lunch). Also time travel –- that would be a lot of fun, and you’d get to visit those family members who died before you were born. And lastly, to have inexhaustible energy – so I could enter marathons and sprint the whole way.