Stroud, Jonathan 1970–
STROUD, Jonathan 1970–
PERSONAL: Born October 27, 1970, in Bedford, England; son of Martyn (a civil engineer) and Jennifer (a history teacher) Stroud; married; wife's name, Gina (a book designer and illustrator); children: Isabelle. Education: University of York (England), B.A. (first class honors with distinction), 1992. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, sketching, playing piano, inventing board games, walking outdoors.
ADDRESSES: Home—St. Albans, England. Agent—c/o Laura Cecil Agency, 17 Alwyne Villas, London N1 2HG, England.
CAREER: Walker Books Ltd., London, England, editor, 1994–98; Kingfisher Books, London, editor, 1998–2001. Freelance writer, 1993–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best book of the y ear designation, Bank Street College, notable book citation, American Library Association, top ten pick, Best Books for Young Adults, top ten fantasy books for youth citation, Booklist, and Horn Book/Boston Globe Award honor book, fiction and poetry category, all 2004, and Deutsche Jugendliteraturepreis (Germany) nomination, 2005, all for The Amulet of Samarkand.
Justin Credible's Word Play World, illustrated by Caroline Holden, Walker/Sainsbury's (London, England), 1994.
The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune, illustrated by Cathy Gale, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure, illustrated by Cathy Gale, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Alife's Big Adventure, Early Learning Centre (Swindon, England), 1999.
Word Puzzles, Walker Books (London, England), 1999.
Ancient Rome: A Guide to the Glory of Imperial Rome, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2000.
The Amulet of Samarkand ("Bartimaeus" trilogy), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.
The Last Siege, Doubleday (London, England), 2003.
The Leap, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
The Golem's Eye ("Bartimaeus" trilogy), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
Buried Fire, Miramax Books/Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
Also writer and consultant for The Millennium Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1997.
ADAPTATIONS: Film rights were sold to The Amulet of Samarkand.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Ptolemy's Gate, the third book in the "Bartimaeus" trilogy.
SIDELIGHTS: Author Jonathan Stroud's subjects come from a variety of sources, including folktales, myths, and his own childhood games. He sometimes generates creative ideas for his writing by chatting with children at the schools he visits. In 2003 he began the "Bartimaeus" trilogy with The Amulet of Samarkand.
Bartimaeus is "one of the most charismatic and entertaining characters to be conjured in up a long time," a critic declared in Horn Book, refering to the trilogy's central character. A five-thousand-year-old djinni, or genie, Bartimaeus is given to sarcastic wisecracks and haughty, humorous footnotes on the action occurring around him. Footnotes are "an unusual device in fiction," Carolyn Phelan noted in Booklist, but the critic added that their adoption "serves a useful purpose" in Stroud's series. In the alternate reality Stroud has invented, the modern-day British empire is run not by politicians but by magicians. Humiliatingly for Bartimaeus, the djinni has been summoned to this enchanted London to serve a twelve-year-old apprentice to one such magician. This apprentice, named Nathaniel, needs Bartimaeus's help to get revenge on one of London's most powerful magicians, Simon Lovelace, who has humiliated Nathaniel in public. The proper form of revenge, Nathaniel decides, involves stealing one of Lovelace's magical trinkets, the Amulet of Samarkand, which protects its bearer from others' spells. Stealing the amulet proves trivially easy for Bartimaeus, but this act sets in motion a series of other potentially dangerous events. Not everyone is happy with the magicians' oligarchical, non-democratic government, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel discover, and now some of them are plotting to overthrow it, much to Nathaniel's dismay.
The Amulet of Samarkand was an immediate hit with critics, readers, and award committees. School Library Journal contributor Ginny Collier declared it to be a "richly rewarding story" with "plenty of action, mystery and humor to keep readers turning the pages," while a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed it a "darkly tantalizing tale." While the book alternates in perspective between Bartimaeus, who speaks in the first person, and Nathaniel, whose passages are written in the third person, critics generally agree that Bartimaeus steals the show. His "ennui at carrying out the nefarious tasks of others is hilarious," Celeste Steward wrote in School Library Journal. Yet Nathaniel is fully realized as a character too: he "grows from a whiny, petulant and self-involved boy to a character with strength and courage," Donna Scanlon wrote in Kliatt, adding that Stroud's young protagonist "retain[s] enough of his former attitude to maintain credibility." Anita L. Burkam commented in Horn Book that although The Amulet of Samarkand is "a compelling fantasy story in a well-realized world,… it is the complementary characters of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel that will keep readers coming back."
The Amulet of Samarkand was followed by The Golem's Eye, which picks up the action two years later. Nathaniel has graduated from his apprenticeship and is now a full-fledged member of the magical government, with a post in the Department of Internal Affairs. In this position Nathaniel is responsible for quashing resistance to the government, which is quite a challenge at this time. Besides the Resistance Nathaniel and Bartimaeus stumbled into in The Amulet of Samarkand, a mysterious magician within the government has turned traitor and summoned a golem bent on destroying the city of London. Plus, a psychopathic afrit—an evil demon—has taken up residence in Gladstone's skeleton.
A third major character is added in The Golem's Eye: Kitty Jones, a teenage member of the Resistance who was introduced in The Amulet of Samarkand. She is impervious to magic, a gift with which she was born, and events in her past have made her a motivated and effective leader of the Resistance. In alternating chapters, Kitty and Nathaniel provide readers with two radically different perspectives on the government and the morality of resistance to it. However, as Tasha Saecker noted in School Library Journal, "occasional chapters narrated by the demon Bartimaeus add sarcasm and irreverent humor to the text and offer a break from the ever-growing tension." Although Bartimaeus is still magically enslaved to Nathaniel, by the end of The Golem's Eye it is clear that his sympathies lie with Kitty and the Resistance, not with his master. The djinni has no fewer reasons than the oppressed commoners to hope for the end of the magicians' government and his freedom. Readers will also find themselves identifying with Kitty, thought a Kirkus Reviews contributor: "Unlike headstrong Nathaniel … and sarcastic Bartimaeus, the fierce, fiery Kitty is easy to root for."
Critics again reacted with enthusiasm to this second volume in the trilogy. The Golem's Eye is "a dark, intriguing offering in a highly original fantasy series," Carolyn Phelan wrote in Booklist. As in The Amulet of Samarkand, "the djinni's dryly humorous, supercilious, often rude persona is one of the book's strengths," Martha V. Parravano noted in Horn Book, and a Publishers Weekly critic similarly thought that "Bartimaeus's pointed humor makes for a story worth savoring."
Stroud once commented: "I have always wanted to write, and from about the age of twelve, produced lots of fantasy gamebooks, in which the reader chose options and leapt between paragraphs. I illustrated them and included complicated die rolls to decide outcomes. For several years my best friend and I engaged in friendly competition to make the most original and entertaining books or games we could; our output included board, card, and role-playing games.
"Meanwhile, I read a lot, and years later went to university to read English literature, where I studied Anglo-Saxon and fairy stories, and experimented with writing poems and plays. I was tempted to follow an academic career, but the urge to write something myself was too strong. When I got my degree I got work experience with Walker Books in London, and began writing riddles and puzzles for some of their titles. Eventually, I got a chance to write one myself.
"I tend to write about subjects that excite me the most—the things that would give me a thrill if I picked them up in a bookshop. Folktales and fairy tales are a constant source of inspiration, as are myths, legends, and history. My first book with the illustrator Cathy Gale drew on diverse sources such as comic strips, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and the puzzle books I wrote when I was young!"
The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune and The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure are Stroud's two puzzle books that feature illustrations by Gale. More than just puzzles, each book is "built around a story," explained Chris Stephenson in the Times Educational Supplement, so it "pulls in puzzle-lovers and bookworms alike." Critic Lynne Babbage of Magpies also recognized the enticement of Stroud's puzzle books to less-enthusiastic readers, writing that the reluctant audience "may well find this an attractive book," due to the way "the text is broken up into such small and scattered snippets." In The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood, for example, the reader sets off on a treasure hunt. Along the way, Babbage explained, the reader is asked to "test … problem solving, lateral thinking, and powers of observation" by solving puzzles, riddles, and brain teasers before continuing on the treasure adventure. According to Babbage, any "inability to solve some of the puzzles is not a deterrent." School Library Journal critic, John Sigwald, however, cautioned that The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard requires "a hefty mix of patience and persistence" from its six-to ten-year-old readers, and advised that the book will appeal most to an audience of "kids who can color inside the lines."
For many years Stroud wrote his books part-time, in addition to a series of editorial jobs. "This became unsustainable in the end," he explained "because I simply wasn't able to spend enough time writing. I would scribble away in the evenings, at weekends and during holidays, and though I wrote two novels in this manner, my output was severely restricted. Finally, in 2001, I lost patience and made the decision to begin writing full time. I gave myself a year to see whether I would make it work. By good fortune, it was around then that I came up with the idea for the 'Bartimaeus' trilogy, and this has enabled my dream to come true.
"The idea for the series came to me on a very wet autumnal morning, when I was walking home through the rain, carrying heavy shopping and without an umbrella. To get my mind off the water dripping down my neck, I began thinking about fantasy fiction, looking for a new idea that hadn't been done before. I realised that a good many stories feature heroic human magicians fighting wicked supernatural enemies, and it struck me that it would be interesting to turn everything upside-down, so that (a) the magicians were villainous, and (b) the hero of the story would be a demon or genie. I then decided that I would set the story in modern-day Britain, with the basic difference that the political class are magicians who keep control by forcing their magical slaves to do their bidding. The genie would be ancient, long-suffering and rather sarcastic; he would be deeply resentful of having to obey his master—a young magician in training. By the time I finished my twenty-minute walk home I was very excited and wrote this all down without taking off my coat.
"Soon afterwards, I sat down with a blank computer screen and began to write. Bartimaeus immediately appeared to me, his character fully formed: capricious, rude and witty, and prone to explaining things to the reader in know-it-all footnotes. Inspired by this, I wrote the first four chapters of The Amulet of Samarkand in two days, and only then began to wonder how the story would actually continues. Over the next few months I mapped out the structure of the three books, and have been working to complete the trilogy ever since. It's been great fun to play around with the preconceptions of the fantasy genre through the irreverent persona of Bartimaeus, and I'm looking forward now to experimenting with something new. Time to go for another walk, perhaps…."
Stroud added: "The best advice I can come up with about writing is very simple—write everything down. It's no good sitting about waiting for a perfect idea to appear in your head before drawing up your chair; perfect ideas come along once in a blue moon, and anyway, perfect ideas are seldom perfect when they start out. The key is to always record every idea, half-idea, semi-idea, single sentence, sudden phrase that comes to you, even if they are diabolically poor. Even on the wet afternoons when no inspiration comes, it's worth writing SOMETHING. You never know when a germ of a really stunning, twenty-four-carat idea will be lurking in an otherwise worthless collection of words! And keep your papers—the inspiration may not leap out at you till you read it months later."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 123; August, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Golem's Eye, p. 1920.
Horn Book, November-December, 2003, Anita L. Burkam, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 757; September-October, 2004, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Golem's Eye, p. 599; January-February, 2005, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 30.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 123; August 1, 2004, review of The Golem's Eye, p. 749.
Kliatt, January, 2005, Donna Scanlon, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 22.
Magpies, March, 1997, Lynne Babbage, review of The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, July 21, 2003, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 196; November 10, 2003, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 38; August 16, 2004, review of The Golem's Eye, p. 64.
School Library Journal, October, 1997, John Sigwald, review of The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure, p. 112; September, 2000, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of Ancient Rome: A Guide to the Glory of Imperial Rome, p. 257; January, 2004, Ginny Collier, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 136; April, 2004, Celeste Steward, review of The Amulet of Samarkand, p. 79; October, 2004, Tasha Saecker, review of The Golem's Eye, p. 178.
Times Educational Supplement, November 21, 1997, Chris Stephenson, review of The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood and The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard, p. 12.
Bartimaeus Trilogy Web site, http://www.bartimaeustrilogy.com/ (April 2, 2005).
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/ (April 2, 2005).
Write Away! Web site, http://improbability.ultralab.net/writeaway/ (February 21, 2005), "Jonathan Stroud."