Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Presenting Kjartan Poskitt!

As soon as the SaffronTree team zoomed in on Math as a possible theme for this year’s CROCUS, the one name that popped up in my head was Kjartan Poskitt. His Murderous Maths books, packed with hilarious plots, puns and puzzles, have made math approachable and fun for hordes of children (and grown-ups). After all, how many math books can claim to have made a kid laugh through it and been read in torchlight under the covers long past bed-time?! Needless to say, he has a big little fan club in our house and I am thrilled to be able to bring him here to SaffronTree!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, presenting MR. KJARTAN POSKITT!

ST: Hello Kjartan! Thank you for being with us here at SaffronTree for CROCUS 2012. 
Folks seem to either love Math or hate it. What do you think is the reason for such strong opinions of the subject?
KP: Generally it’s the same as sport.  If you can do it you like it, and if not...! I was always lousy at football and so hated games afternoons.

ST: What made you decide to write the Murderous Maths books?
KP: 15 years ago I was asked to write one book called “Murderous Maths” to go along with the Horrible Histories and Horrible Sciences that had already started.  From the start I saw this as a chance to create a fun book involving funny “murderous” characters such as aliens and barbarians, and I put them into little stories involving maths tricks and puzzles. My aim was that anybody picking up the book (even people hating maths) would still find something to enjoy. 

ST:  And you have obviously totally achieved that aim! More folks ought to know of the amazing Murderous Math series, especially in India where they are a tad tricky to find. Please tell our readers about them.
KJ: The first MM book was a general collection of tricks, strange facts, puzzles and other things I liked, but in researching it I found far more things than I could fit in, so when I was asked to write a second book, most of the rest went in there!  I was then asked to consider writing more MM books to make a whole series, so most of the following books became themed. The third book deals with arithmetic, and the next one deals with fractions so these two books cover the basic maths needed to understand any of the other books. Later titles deal with topics such as algebra, probability, shape, formulas and so on, but the familiar characters and style remain the same throughout the series.

ST: How do you think up storylines that make kids giggle and guffaw through the books?
KJ: Whenever I try to write funny stuff, it always starts with “what would happen if...?” E.g. What would happen if there was a race between aliens, a cheetah, snails, continental drift and light?  Or what would happen if there was a secret button under your desk to help with maths, and you pushed it? Some ideas don’t go anywhere, but some run off into a funny story! 

ST: That must be such fun! Can you tell us how much research goes into the making of a book? Who are your ‘testers’ once you write a book?
KJ: I’ve always remembered tricks and number facts since I was young, so a lot of the maths in the books comes from my own memory. I also have a shelf full of maths books and there’s also a huge amount on the internet.  And finally, I get a lot of emails from people all over the world who often give me ideas. One of my favourite things is “Golomb Rulers” which I was told about by an MM reader and it appears in ‘The Murderous Maths of Everything’. ‘The Perfect Sausage’ book about formulas has so many reader ideas, I put all their names in the front!
The first “testers” are two or three people at the publishers who read it all, and tell me the bits they don’t understand. Then there is a special lady called Diana Kimpton (who is also an author) who reads the books and very carefully checks all the sums! Then recently I’ve asked a very nice friend called Michael Jones to look at the books for any last mistakes, or any extra ideas he can give me. (He told me about Golomb Rulers!)   Michael first emailed me when he was a schoolboy  and his messages have always been so good that we have been in touch for the last 12 years. We’ve even met up a couple of times, and now he has a maths degree and he’s a lot taller than me!

ST:  We hope to be able to meet you too some time! Tell me Kjartan, do you think you’d have had more fun with math had your books been available when you were a kid?
KJ: Possibly. Although we had puzzle books, they were always a bit dry to read. We never had anything like a “fun” maths book with little stories and cartoons!

ST: Finally a question from the resident 12-year old mega-fan of MM books – why don’t you write all math textbooks?!
KJ: I have written an awful lot! As well as the MM books, I wrote a GCSE exam guide, plus a book called “Everyday Maths for Grown Ups” and lots of maths activity books to go with BBC TV programmes. School textbooks are more complicated because they have to deal with things in an exact way and I would need to be a teacher to do that!

ST: Thanks very much Kjartan!  We love the MM books!


sandhya said...

He points out an unfortunate fact- "School textbooks are more complicated because they have to deal with things in an exact way..." Spot on- the reason why more school textbooks aren't this fun.

I would like to point out an earlier fun math book, (my copy has been published in 1987) which is much in the spirit of Murderous Math. It is called 'The I Hate Mathematics! Book. It is by Marilyn Burns, whose book 'Math and Literature' has been reviewed earlier by UTBTkids.

sandhya said...

Great questions, Choxbox, and wonderful answers by the one and only Kjartan Poskitt. Have been waiting for this interview. We love your books, and we've had the kid recommend them to her math teacher at school.

sathish said...

Chox, we have never read any of the murderous maths books. looks like a great series to dig into with the kids. Thanks for the pointer and an interesting interview with Mr. Kjartan Poskitt.

Anusha said...

very much enjoyed this lively interview, we are eager to delve into the MM series.

Choxbox said...

S: You said it.

Sathish: Yes go ahead, bet you will love them!

Anusha: You will never look at math the same way again!

Choxbox said...

S: You said it.

Sathish: Yes go ahead, bet you will love them!

Anusha: You will never look at math the same way again!

R's Mom said...

I have never read the MM series..wish I had got to know about it earlier..may be I wouldnt have been so scared of Maths then..super interview and thanks for introducing me to a new series...

Step 1: Get some MM books
Step 2: Get the courage to solve them
Step 3: Get better in Maths :)

Choxbox said...

R's Mom: Step 1 is all you need to do. Step 2 does not exist - nothing to solve per se. Step 3 will follow without you even knowing it! Happy reading!

p.s: Scholastic sells them in India now.

Arundhati said...

Very interesting Q&As, just like the books!

Sheela said...

Loved the interview, Choxie! And, am adding this to the list of must-reads that is getting longer quickly, thanks to CROCUS 2012 :)

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