A photography of author Ross Montgomery wearing a pink shirt, stood in front of foliage.

March has been a very eventful month for children in the UK, with World Book Day to celebrate at the beginning of the month, and the anticipation of going back into schools too! For this reason, we are celebrating children’s literature at Ultimate Library, by interviewing children’s author Ross Montgomery.

In the past, Ross has worked as a pig farmer, a postman and a primary school teacher – so writing books was the next logical step. Currently living in London with his girlfriend and their cat, Fun Bobby, Ross has penned 15 books and picture books. His work has previously had him shortlisted for the Costa Book Award and nominated for the Kate Greenaway Award. His most recent work The Midnight Guardians was named Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month and was chosen as one of The Guardian’s Children’s Book of the Year.

Despite having plenty of new works in the pipeline, Ross agreed to dedicate some of his precious time to us to talk all about his thoughts on becoming a children’s author and the importance of reading at a young age.

What inspired you to become a children’s author?

It’s a hard one to answer – I think that the most practical reason is that when I was 17, my sister asked if I wanted to write a children’s book with her, and I never really stopped from there! But I know there must be a reason why I’ve chosen to write for children rather than adults. The best answer I’ve ever heard was from another children’s author, who said that you end up writing for the age that you were when books blew your head open – and that’s certainly true for me. I was always an avid reader but at around 10 or 11 was when I started really understanding what books could do.

“If you only know the books that you read as a child, then you’re missing out”

What are your top tips for anyone wanting to get into children’s literature?

Do your research! It’s so important to understand what books are out there at the moment – the landscape is incredibly varied and exciting. If you only know the books that you read as a child, then you’re missing out. There are always going to be children who enjoy reading Swallows and Amazons or The Wind In The Willows, but a lot of children find them a bit alienating now – so much has happened in the last few decades, and you can’t judge kid’s books by the bestsellers list.

What inspired The Midnight Guardians

A lot of things, but I do remember one moment especially. I sat down in a glade and read The Weirdstone of Brinsingamen by Alan Garner, and I thought “I forgot what reading books like this felt like” – books that were rich in mythology, folklore and nature. I wanted to have a go tackling a “classic” children’s book, but to try and do something a little different with it. I think it’s the reason why the story is set during the Second World War – all my memories of “classic” kids books come from that period of time, but I wanted to find a way to present the war a little differently from my own perspective.

Why do you think it is important for children to read for fun and not just for school?

Reading is probably the best thing you can learn to do for yourself! When you show a child how to read for pleasure, you’re showing them how to teach themselves – you’re making it clear that they don’t have to have knowledge fed to them, they can seek it out and find the knowledge that suits their interests. There’s a reason why libraries are one of the first things to go under a dictatorship – that level of freely-available knowledge is very powerful. It’s what I always find fascinating about the perception of kid’s publishing – it can often be treated as a cosy, whimsical world, but I find that all the authors I know take it as a very serious responsibility.  

“When you show a child how to read for pleasure, you’re showing them how to teach themselves”

What were your top three children’s books growing up?

This is impossible to choose!! I suppose I’d have to start with three authors who were a huge influence on me and go from there:

Cover to the children's book Horrible Histories: Blitzed Brits by Terry Deary. A cartoon woman wearing a gas mask and holding a bomb are in front of a blue background.

HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE BLITZED BRITS by Terry Deary was probably the very first seed for The Midnight Guardians.

The cover to the children's book Double Act by Jaqueline Wilson. Cartoon twins are in the foreground of the bottom third of the cover, while other cartoon items float on an orange and blue background.

DOUBLE ACT by Jacqueline Wilson showed me the value of books that talked openly about emotion.

The cover for the book Mort by Terry Pratchett, featuring many of the books characters riding a flying horse, being chased by the grim reaper. The text is gold on the top third of the cover.

MORT by Terry Pratchett opened up a whole world of possibilities in writing.

We want to thank Ross for agreeing to be our Expert this month, it has been a pleasure to find out about his life as a children’s author and what books inspired him as a child. You can find out more about Ross and his books on his website and make sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.