Radio DJ turns children's author

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2017

You'd normally spot Christian O'Connell tucked away in his Absolute Radio studio from where he broadcasts his daily show but, over the next few weeks, he'll also be on the road, visiting schools and festivals to talk about his new children's book, Radio Boy.

Radio Boy follows 11-year old Spike, who dreams about becoming a DJ and loves his spot on the local hospital radio. So when he is sacked from his radio programme, Spike sets up his own radio show and takes on the persona of 'Radio Boy'. When the show proves a little too rebellious for the school headmaster to stomach - and pupils stage a strike - the hunt begins in earnest for the mysterious 'Radio Boy'. We asked author Christian O'Connell to tell us more about Radio Boy! Q: What do you love about being a DJ? A: I get up every morning at 4am and basically go and sit in a broom cupboard (my studio!) for a few hours, but I love it. I really enjoy my job, I hear and get to share brilliant stories every day. No one is feeling their best that early in the morning but I can help get my listeners ready for the day. Q: Why did you decide to write a novel about a child DJ? A: When my children were younger I used to read to them and I wondered, what if children had their own radio show, what would they do with it? I thought they'd probably use it to take the mickey out of mum and dad, and their teachers, but I didn't start to write down the story until a couple of years ago, when I was at a comedy festival and feeling really homesick. I had all day to wait until my gig so I decided to write a couple of chapters. I felt I had something to say. I also wanted to do something that my children could participate in, in some way, as my other work as a radio presenter is sealed off from them. They have been my first audience for this book and it's been really useful to have them to pitch ideas against. They have helped to keep the story true to life. Q: Why did you decide that Spike should set up his radio station in a garden shed? A: I wanted him to have that magical world of a radio station but it needed to be in a mundane setting; it just wouldn't have been as funny if it was in a shiny studio. So the spiders and cobwebs help to ground it in reality. It's a bit like when your dad builds you a camp and it's fragile and you know it's going to fall down - but it's a camp! Q: Spike is helped by a teacher but doesn't get on with his head teacher. Is this what happened to you at school? A: Spike's teacher, Mr Taggart, helps him and I had a teacher who really helped me. I hadn't thought about doing radio or entertainment as a career until this teacher said I should do it, I should honour that side in me, and I remember walking home and thinking that maybe I could do that. I never got the chance to tell him what he did for me, so this story is partly for him. But I always found head teachers to be these mythical people who had their own office and who made you file into assembly in absolute silence. Children were always terrified of them. I always wondered why it had to be like that. So the headmaster in Radio Boy is completely over the top and was great fun to write. Spike is a little like I was at school, I was shy and quiet - until I found the mischief in myself and realised I could make people laugh. The golden target, though - that was to make the teachers laugh. Q: While his radio station is a great success, Spike also has some crushing failures. Have you had any terrible moments in your radio career? A: Oh yes, that's always what people want to know! But it happens and it's that messy side of life that, as Spike discovers, makes us human. It's the idiot stuff, that's what life is, the bits where we fall short. Possibly my worst crushing failure was when I interviewed Christopher Lloyd, who played Emmett 'Doc' Brown in the Back to the Future films. I am a great fan of Back to the Future, and he came in live on a Friday morning to do the show, so he was my idol. Unfortunately, though, I hadn't been to see his new film and I tried to blag it and the first thing he said was, 'You haven't seen it, have you?' So of course I said I had, and from then on it was a very painful half hour. You know if you make a mess of it that there are two million people listening to you - and that they are loving every moment. So, I annoyed my childhood hero and now I can never watch Back to the Future again! Q: Okay, why don't you tell us a highlight, then, of your radio career? A: That was probably when I interviewed David Cameron, the prime minister, when he came in for a live interview and he swore, twice, while we were on air. It became a big news story and I even had my mum call me - although she asked why I had sworn; she couldn't believe Cameron would have done so! But the thing I really love about radio is the stuff you can't plan, that magic of sharing calls with listeners and hearing their stories. It's that connection I strive for every day Q: Do you have any tips for any young people who, like Spike, might be dreaming of a career in radio? A: I think there are so many opportunities available now for children and I don't think they always realise what's available to them. They can get out there and do their own blog, You Tube channel and social media. Rather than posting a daily pic on Instagram, there's so much more that they could be doing. If you want your own radio station, then you can record a show on your phone, or if you have a laptop with a microphone, you already have your own studio! Q: What next for Spike's radio career - and will we see his headmaster return in future stories? A: We haven't seen the last of the head teacher - he is such a great character. In the second book, Spike's identity is known and so on the one hand he is well known and famous at school, but being so well known hasn't helped him to get a girlfriend yet. There's also a talent competition, and a new character called Grandad Ray - who Spike ends up sacking from his radio show... Q: Where do you do your writing? A: I started off needing to write in a quiet place with no disturbances, but now I can write anywhere and often do when I'm travelling around the country. But I also have a shed in the garden, like Spike, where I can work.