Philip Ridley: When I was 12 (CBBC Newsround Interview 2005)
Philip Ridley is an award-winning author of children’s books that deal with all sorts of issues from a child’s point of view – with lots of humour.
He has a new book out called Zip’s Apollo.
Here Philip reveals what he was like when he was 12 and his experience with bullying, which is a theme in a lot of his books.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
There were so many I hardly know where to begin. My life at school was a daily embarrassment because I was a complete geek outsider.
One moment I do remember though is we did a reading of a stage version of Oliver Twist and I was given the part of Bill Sykes, a violent gangster and there was a scene when I had to shout and I got completely carried away.
I got to my feet, shouting and spitting and waving my fists in the air and it was only when I stopped that I saw the look of horror on my fellow pupils’ faces!
Looking back, although it was embarrassing it was good that I had the ability to lose my inhibitions and get carried away – which is what writing is all about.
How much pocket money did you get?
I didn’t get any. Instead what happened was my mum bought me things as and when I needed them. I just asked for sweets and things like that but the main thing that it went on was buying my comics. I was a huge comic reader when I was 12 and I still am.
What did your school report say?
They were always the same – the arts subjects were excellent and then anything to do with science was average and the sports were just rubbish.
The two phrases they always used again and again were: “Philip is a loner” and “Philip has a very strange sense of humour.”
What was your subject at school?
Anything to do with the arts but if I had to pick one it was English and then Art.
I was at my happiest when I was in assembly for drama when the lights were turned down low and we could forget about the outside world. I could re-invent myself in this magical space and got to put make-up on to change the way I looked. I would love trying to make myself look like an old man.
What was your fave TV show?
Newsround and all the other news programmes were the main things I watched. I never watched many other TV programmes.
I was very ill with asthma so I was in my bedroom a lot and this was before every room had a TV so if I wanted to watch a programme I’d have to get up and go and watch it downstairs.
I always wanted to see was what was happening in the world so the news programmes were the ones I would get out of bed for.
I would watch the news and write my diary so the news events would be included into the events of the day
What was your fave cartoon?
Without a doubt it’s the Road Runner cartoon – I absolutely loved it. There was one particular one when the coyote takes a bottle of earthquake tablets and starts to have a mini earthquake inside him. That is the funniest cartoon moment I have seen in my life.
What was your fave book?
My favourite throughout the whole of my childhood would be Stig of the Dump. Even though I read it before I was 12 it was the first book that really took my breath away and took me on a journey.
The other book, specifically in the year I was 12 was The Hound of the Baskervilles as I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. I still love it now.
Who was your favourite teacher and why?
My drama teacher at secondary school without a doubt. He was the first person that understood what I was talking about and encouraged me. Every other teacher tried to push me towards a job I had no interest in doing, whereas my drama teacher was the first to see I was a writer and performer.
His advice was to write something everyday. Never lose the routine of writing so that you never get out of the habit of expressing how you’re feeling in words, on paper.
Were you bullied?
Endlessly. A lot of it was to do with not being very physically fit because of my asthma so I lost time in school and I always joined the class after all the friendship bonding had taken place.
Also, I couldn’t run around or play football so was always an outsider which meant the bullying was intense.
Every day I felt I was taking my life into my hands going to school. This was in a time before you were encouraged to talk about it. Now if you are bullied you must tell your teacher or tell your parents, whereas it was something you were expected to get on with then.
It has changed now but when I was young it was seen as an acceptable part of the school experience. The teachers treated it as the children’s business so turned a blind eye as long as it didn’t happen in the classroom.
But because I had grown up with that I didn’t know any different really. You were either bullied or a bully – I wasn’t the only one at all. This is why bullying is a big theme in my books.
Who was your hero or heroine?
It might sound like a completely historical figure but the person I looked up to and admired was David Bowie because he was just so different and everything that was cool about pop music at the time.
He was dangerous and exciting and he looked like nobody else. All the boys wanted to look like him – he was absolutely fabulous and liked to change the way he looked which was fantastic for me.
Most pop stars of the time tried to put on American accents but he sounded like a Londoner, like me, which made me realise that wherever you came from you had the potential to speak to the world.