Max Counts to a Million - Jeremy Williams
A funny, kind and uplifting book that looks at the experience of lockdown through the eyes of Max, a young boy dealing with the impact of the pandemic on himself and his family. We all saw brilliant acts of kindness and charity both small and large, and this book looks at Max and what he does to try and get over some of his fears and worries about his dad (working in a hospital) and which ultimately becomes something that brings others together too.
Warm, heartfelt and thoughtfully written to address and comfort young readers who themselves will have seen and dealt with their own experiences of the pandemic, this is a timely and empathetic look at lockdown that will be well received and appreciated by young people and their parents looking at ways of addressing, remembering and still thinking about the past couple of years. The added bonus of reference to Smarties and the free tube that Nosy Crow sent me along with the book have nothing to do with my praise for the book, honest! Max is a great character - his voice in narrating/recounting and the comic asides of his internal thoughts had me laughing out loud as I read this, and many of the situations and engagements he talks about, both in school and then at home with his family, will be thoroughly relatable to readers!
I'm thrilled that as part of the blog tour I was able to ask Jeremy some questions about his own lockdown experiences and what led to him writing this book:
Firstly – what a great book and story, and I love the fact that some of the sales is going to the NHS – thank you. Thank you! I was delighted that Nosy Crow wanted to make the book a charitable fundraiser in itself. Max would be pleased about that too.
Lots of people stepped up, like Max in the book, and did some incredible things during lockdown – were there any particular stories that impacted on you from that time – things you did yourselves, or things you saw? Perhaps the story that moved me most is one I heard from a friend of the family. They knew a boy of seven who tested positive with Covid-19. His mum had recently had a major operation and was very vulnerable, so as soon as he saw the test was positive he ran to his room and didn’t come out. Nobody was expecting him to self-isolate at that age, but he wanted to protect his Mum and he stayed in his room for two weeks. There are some well-known heroes of lockdown, but so many untold stories of people making sacrifices for the people they love. With libraries and bookshops closed, one of my own contributions was to open a ‘little lockdown library’ on the driveway. I’m rather attached to my books, but it felt like a time to step up and be generous. So, I gave away a lot books, even some favourites. I drew the line at Margaret Atwood. You would have to prise those from my hands.
Have you ever taken on a massive challenge like Max’s? If so, what was it? And if not, what would you like to do (no pressure!)? I was trying to think of something ambitious like this when I was writing the bio for the back of the book, and I remembered that I decided to read the encyclopedia when I was about ten. I only got as far as G though, so it doesn’t really count. I came back to it a couple of years later and read on a bit further, but it’s still an unfinished challenge. I’ve enjoyed coming up with challenges I can do with the kids. One was to visit every playground in Luton. There are over 50 and we walked or took the bus to each of them, so it took months to get round all of them. It was a great way to explore the town and see places we wouldn’t normally go to. My son burst into tears when we got to the last one, because he didn’t want it to end!
Max counts to a million, which is a very large and impressive number! Do you have a favourite number, and if so, what is it, and why!? I’ve never really had a favourite number, but my children are big fans of 25 and 52. On a digital clock, the 5 and the 2 mirror each other, and 25 is 52 upside down. This pleases them greatly. Of those two, 52 is my favourite because it looks like a trophy. That makes it the most winning of all the numbers.
I have two children the same age as yours during lockdown – 7 and 9 – how important is it for them to see a book like this about that time, and why? That’s nice to hear, and this book is very much for them! There were two main reasons for wanting to capture my children’s experience in some way, and that of their generation. One is that they have lived through something of historic importance, something they’ll tell their own children and grandchildren about. There’s a kind of documentary value to capturing that, if anyone cares to read the book in the future. More immediately, I wanted children to be able to see their own story reflected back to them, to validate that experience and honour the sacrifices so many families needed to make. We asked a lot of our children in 2020. If you had to miss your eighth birthday party, or stay away from your own grandparents for their safety, that matters. Those look like small losses in the big adult world of a global pandemic, but they don’t feel small if you’re 7 or 8. I want children to hear that, and to know that they were not alone.
I’ve seen from other blogposts that you scribble ideas in a notebook – can you give us a sneak peek of any other ideas you have in there!? What tips would you give a budding author? I have a lot of notebooks, and most of them are a total mess of diary notes, to-do lists, new words that I’ve learned, poetry, snippets of overheard conversations. I write down all sorts of out-of-context nonsense that nobody else would understand if they were to read it. It’s the act of writing it down that helps me to remember it, so I almost never look at them again. Just for you, I’m going to open a page at random, point a finger without looking, and tell you what’s written there…I hope this isn’t embarrassing... Okay, here we are: Minuman Susu That’s all it says, but I remember that this is (I think) the Malaysian word for milkshake. I saw it on the side of a box. I like the way it sounds and I wrote it down as a potential character name. I don’t know who Minuman Susu is, but I’d like to find out! One thing I need to remind myself of regularly - and that might be useful to a budding author - is to get off my phone. Ideas bubble up when I’m waiting, walking, or doing the dishes. My phone allows me to distract and entertain myself in all the spare gaps in the day, and that closes out useful mental down-time. A little boredom is highly creative!
What’s next – a book for adults or a book for children again? Which do you prefer writing, why, and do you approach each type in a very different way? I have ideas for both, and I’m kind of waiting to see the response to Max before committing one way or the other! I enjoy both, but they’re very different. I find writing for children is more fun, much quicker, and liberatingly expressive. But as Max’s dad tells him, the world isn’t all beer and skittles. I’ve always felt drawn to the biggest social and environmental challenges, and to use my writing to make what difference I can. So I hope to keep doing both, even if it is confusing at times for my Twitter followers!
Huge thanks to Jeremy for his time and congratulations of the book - you can follow him on Twitter as @Jeremy_Williams or find out more via his website, earthbound.report/links
Thanks to Hannah at Nosy Crow for having me on the blogtour and supplying a copy of the book for review (and Smarties!)
Follow Nosy Crow on Twitter as @NosyCrow or via their website at nosycrow.com/product/max-counts-to-a-million
Take a look inside for yourself via this link:
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) March 2022. All views my own.