ReadinfgZone Festival 2018


Ross Welford

Imagine if you could live for 1,000 years? In THE 1,000-YEAR-OLD BOY, Alfie Monk has done just that and is 1,000 years old. Now, though, he wants to become an ordinary boy but doing so will take courage - and plenty of help from the best friends he has ever had.

Here, author Ross Welford tells us more about THE 1,000 YEAR OLD BOY.

Q: Why did you decide to make your main character, Alfie, 1000 years old?

A: That came from the title. I just thought 'The 1,000-year-old Boy' was a cool title for a book, and set about creating the story. At one stage, I tried to make it 'The 500-year-old Boy' but my editor persuaded me to stick to the original idea, and I am glad he did.

Q: Time was also a big feature in your debut, Time Travelling with a Hamster, is it something you're interested in?

A: It was an accident, really, although I guess I must be interested in it. I certainly didn't set out to explore the theme of time, and the approach is very different. Rather than use a time machine to experience a different era, Alfie has lived for a thousand years. His 'time travel' is all in his memory.

Q: How did you decide on the 'rules' of being 1000 years old - so for example, Alfie has bad teeth and a strange accent. Were there other things you could have changed?

A: They all arose during the writing of the book, as I tried to work out what Alfie would be like. I often ask myself, 'What would really happen?' if such-and-such occurred.

I realised that, even though Alfie gets no older, his teeth would wear down. He would not have had the benefits of modern dentistry, and so on. I hope it adds a touch of authenticity. Likewise his accent: modern British English is not what he grew up speaking. There were lots of other things that I considered for Alfie (in one draft he had white hair) but I like how he has turned out.

Q: How do you keep Alfie child-like, even when he is so much older than any adult?

A: I think it is important that Alfie is still a boy. He has not been through puberty, which brings so many changes - and not just physical. This is because of my target readership, and also because I wanted to highlight Alfie's frustration at remaining a child. He is a curious mixture of boy and man, and I think this resonates with middle-grade readers. At that age, children are aware (I think) that big changes are ahead.

Q: The book explores why Alfie wants to 'grow up' and experience life as an adult - something that worries many children. Did the idea of becoming an adult worry you as a child?

A: Not that I can remember. I think, like most children, I was eager to join the adult world, and frustrated that it took so long. Looking back, of course, childhood is agonisingly short.

Q: Why did you decide to tell Alfie's story with two narrators - Alfie and Aidan?

A: I chose to have two narrators, because I wanted to be able to tell the story from the point of view of a 21st century child. Aidan is very suspicious at first: he just does not believe that Alfie is 1,000 years old. Early drafts of the story were done just from Aidan's point of view, but it very soon became clear that Alfie's side of events would have to be included.

Q: Why does the cat, Biffa, get to live for 1,000 years, too? Did it simply demand to come on the journey?

A: I guess she did! Biffa had a tiny role in the first draft, and I was urged by my editor to give her a bigger part. I liked the idea that (SPOILER ALERT!) after all of the adventures, Biffa remains ageless.

Q: If you could live any time you wanted to in the last 1000 years, which period would you choose?

A: The past is romanticised. Would anyone really want to live in a world without central heating, anaesthesia, Netflix, ice cream, printing - and yes, modern dentistry?

So I would decline the offer of living in another period. I would gladly take a holiday in another time, though, starting with a five-star mini-break at a mediaeval jousting tournament.

Q: And if you could live for 1,000 years, would you choose to do so and what would you do with your time if so?

A: If I could, I think I would. Do you remember that character played by Bill Nighy in 'About Time'? He used all his extra time to catch up on reading, "Dickens, mainly". That would be me! And films. There are loads of films and box-sets I could catch up on.

Q: You also explore in the book what the idea of having endless time - and no milestones - would be like. What would be the best and worst things for you about living for that long?

A: I'd love to be a dad again and again and again, so that would be fun but the down side would surely be seeing my children get old and die. Perhaps I would get used to it but I doubt it.

Q: Where do you write and what are you writing now?

A: I write in two main places: my study at home in London, and my cottage in the country, two hours from London, where it's totally quiet. I'm working on a new book, to be published in January 2019, but it's all pretty secret at the moment. Sorry!

Q: Can you describe what would be your perfect 'writing shed'?

A: Anywhere with no phone reception or wifi. In truth, I try not to rely on having the 'perfect' environment, or lucky charms ('My favourite mug' etc.). It's all just superstition that gets in the way of what you should be doing: applying your backside to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard. That is how books get written.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: Reading, when I'm not writing. When I am writing, reading is often too distracting. Instead, I'll walk the dog, play the piano, practice a magic trick, or fiddle with my aquarium.
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