Despite being a global bestselling children’s author with his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Jeff Kinney didn’t harbour fantasies of being an author growing up. He actually wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist. After struggling to get his comic strip syndicated, Kinney began to write down ideas for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and publish daily instalments online. Several years later, Kinney signed a deal to print the misadventures of Greg Heffley – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Having chronicled wimpy kid Greg Heffley’s middle school life over 15 books (and counting), in 2019 Kinney offered a spin-off book from the perspective of Greg’s best friend Rowley Jefferson. Rowley’s spin-offs have also been a huge hit, and the third book, Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories showcases more of Rowley’s storytelling prowess with a selection of ghoulish tales.
In honour of the book’s release, we caught up with Kinney to ask him our 21 Questions Q+A. Here, he reveals his unconventional writing scenario, the time he met but didn’t recognise a famous author, and the person he’d most like to have pizza with.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
J. R. R. Tolkien. He created a whole universe that felt lived in and very real.
What was the first book you remember loving as a child?
Swimmy by Leo Lionni. He created a lush world that was equal parts beautiful and dangerous.
What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?
A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. It had all of the magic and wonder of The Lord of the Rings series but was loaded with humour and mischief that was appealing for the teenage mind.
Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path
Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg. I use its tenets on a daily basis.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
I had a number of jobs where 'boy' was in the title: 'pool boy'; 'salad bar boy'. I’m glad those days are in my past.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
You can’t be a good writer without being a good reader first.
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)
Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. It serves as a roadmap for my career and helps me understand the possibilities.
What’s the one popular children’s book you’ve never got round to reading?
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster.
If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______
An online game developer. Which I also was, once upon a time!
What makes you happiest?
Sitting at a bar with chips and salsa, and a Boston Celtics game in front of me. Oh, and being with my kids when they’re behaving.
What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?
I’m crazy about construction. It’s an expensive hobby.
What is your ideal writing scenario?
Writing in my car, at the cemetery. It’s the only place I can really get any work done!
What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?
I once met a famous author, didn’t recognise him, and then kicked myself... I was reading his book at the time.
If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?
I’m going to cheat a little and say Bob Dylan. He wrote a book or two! We’d have pizza if he’d go for it.
What’s your biggest fear?
Leaving my kids in debt.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I’d go for flight. Although I suppose I’d feel pretty ridiculous zipping around town.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?
Class Act by Jerry Craft.
Reading in the bath: yes or no?
I’m a shower guy, so no.
Which do you prefer: chocolate or crisps?
What is the best book you’ve ever read?
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.
What inspired you to write your new book?
We’re living in scary times!
Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories by Jeff Kinney is available in hardback now.