You'd think jetting off on a tropical island holiday for some much-needed rest and relaxation would do anyone the world of good.
But for Greg Heffley and his family, the main characters in the bestselling book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, paradise isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
Sunburn, stomach bugs and venomous critters threaten to ruin the family's trip in the 12th instalment of author and illustrator Jeff Kinney's new and latest book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Getaway.
Wimpy Kid, Inc. All rights reserved.
We spoke to the award-winning author about his childhood, the similarities he has to Greg and what he loved reading growing up.
Where did the idea for Greg’s character come from?
I based Greg on myself growing up. I’d say the DNA of these books is from my childhood, and through Greg, I try to explore every aspect of growing up.
Are there any similarities between you and Greg?
Yes! Most of my shortcomings are on full display in Greg. I was an average kid, but I exaggerate his faults for comic effect.
The plot of the latest book follows Greg and his family on a nightmarish holiday. Have you ever been on a holiday from hell?
We had a number of trips that went very badly when I was growing up. Once, our pet rabbit escaped its pen in our crowded station wagon and tried to squirm out of the back window. That one sticks out in my memory for sure!
Why do you think the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is so popular with children and parents?
I think kids like the books because they can see themselves in the characters. Childhood really is universal, and most of us experience the same kind of things growing up. I think parents like reading the books with their kids because the books remind them of what it was like to be a child themselves.
Did you always want to be an author?
I never considered being an author until I started writing the first Wimpy Kid book in 1998. What I wanted to be was a newspaper cartoonist, but sadly, that was not meant to be!
Your books are illustrated in comic-book fashion. Do you have a favourite comic?
My favourite cartoonist and story-teller is Carl Barks, who wrote comic books about Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. My father turned me on to his work when I was very young, and now I’ve got a giant Uncle Scrooge bronze statue in my office.
How many hours do you spend writing and drawing a day?
My life goes in waves. At times, I don’t work on the Wimpy Kid books at all. But during the summers, I need to work about 16 hours a day to meet my deadlines.
Once you’ve finished writing, who is the first to read your book?
I always read my books to my kids first. It’s an exciting moment. But my kids are getting older now, and I’m not sure how much longer they’ll tolerate being read to. My older son is 14, but is taller than me. I’m trying to hold on to their childhoods as long as I can!
How did you feel when you were approached about the books being turned into a film? Did you want to be closely involved in the process?
It was exciting and scary at the same time. I still feel intimidated by the whole enterprise. When you make a film, you have a contract with the audience. The audience wants to be entertained. So when the lights go down, you want to make sure you’ve done your job. Yes, I was involved in almost every aspect of filming.
What did you grow up reading?
As well as the Carl Barks comics, I read lots of Judy Blume, who writes realistic fiction. Combined, these two types of “literature” helped form my style.
Before you start writing, do you always know how a book is going to end?
Yes, I outline my books before I get started. I follow a method I learned from screenwriting, so I always write my books in three acts now. Not so much when I was just starting off, so those books are pretty random.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
I’d encourage myself to get involved with volunteering, so I had more experiences to shape my adult life.
Have you got any advice for budding writers?
Yes! The best thing a budding writer can do is read, read, read! It’s impossible to become a good writer if you’re not a good reader.