Mitch Johnson on writing his debut children's book

Mitch Johnson on writing his debut children's book

Author and bookseller Mitch Johnson talks about writing his debut children's, Kick.

What is Kick about?

Kick is about a 12-year-old Indonesian boy named Budi who works in a sweatshop and dreams of becoming a footballer. It’s about hopes and heroes, friendship and football, inequality and injustice. But ultimately, Kick is a story about a boy who dreams of a better life.

What inspired Kick?

Kick began life with a piece of rubbish in a shoebox back in 2013. I was working as a sales assistant in a sport shop when I found a discarded energy gel sachet – covered in Asiatic branding – between a pair of brand-new football boots. I couldn’t help but imagine the working environment that might necessitate the consumption of such a product; it suggested long hours, short breaks, and gruelling conditions. The juxtaposition of those objects – the litter and the boots, the worthless and the coveted – formed an irony too striking to ignore, and I started writing Kick soon afterwards.

How did you find the voice of Budi?

I remembered what it was like to be Budi’s age, what it was like to be a little boy with big dreams and a fear of the future. My life is very different to Budi’s – I have never experienced true hunger, nor worked in fear of violence – but to harbour dreams, to long for happiness, to want a better life for one’s family: these are fundamental human traits. My hope is that Kick will help introduce young readers to people who are deliberately kept unseen and unheard.

Did you do much research into what life is like for children like Budi while writing the book?

I spent a lot of time researching the garment industry, fast fashion, and the unethical practices that prevail in sweatshops across Asia. Having never been to Jakarta, I drew on an earlier visit to Mumbai for a sense of the chaos of an Asian metropolis that would form the backdrop of Budi’s daily life, and a wide range of books, articles, and documentaries helped me to understand the scale of the issues that Kick attempts to tackle.

Is there a message you want readers to take away from the story?

I would love children (and adults) to read Kick and believe that, no matter what they dream of doing or becoming, they must never give up hope of achieving that goal. I think it’s also important for children to become more aware of the nature of advertising and capitalism – that they are being sold to continually, in thousands of subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways, and that they don’t have to buy into a system that is flawed and exploitative. My hope is that through working with Amnesty International UK we will be able to kick-start a progressive conversation about the people who clothe the world, whose rights are often denied in the process.

What was the experience of publishing your debut book like?

It’s been fascinating to witness all the stages between Usborne’s original pitch (which came with a shoebox full of props from the novel) and handling the proof (an actual book!). The evolution of a book is something you don’t really get to see unless you work in publishing and, even though I work as a bookseller, I was still surprised by how many steps a book must take before it reaches the shelf. I really couldn’t have wished for a more dedicated, enthusiastic, and supportive team than the one I became a part of at Usborne; they’ve made the whole experience an absolute pleasure.

What are you working on at the moment?

My next book will be about a boy whose father returns from a warzone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As in Kick, the protagonist must display bravery, resolve, and compassion beyond his years to overcome a desperate situation and save the family unit.

Kick by Mitch Johnson will be published by Usborne Publishing on 7th September, with endorsement from Amnesty International UK.