A Q&A with Dan Freedman – celebrating 15 years of Jamie Johnson!
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the publication of the first Jamie Johnson book, we chatted with Dan Freedman, the author of the series, to find out more about his exciting career, the writing process, and why football is so special.
Could you tell us about the Jamie Johnson series and how you originally came up with the idea for the series?
I was working in Football. My job was to interview players and I had the phenomenal opportunity to interview people like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, and Steven Gerrard. In all these conversations I would ask them about their life and their story and how they got to where they got to. And I also had the opportunity to live and work with the England team at two World Cups – and every second of those days I was watching the players, observing everything that they did and generally being as much of a sponge as I could, taking in all this information about the personalities and players at the top of football.
Meanwhile, at this time Harry Potter had just come out and was changing the world of stories and entertainment forever and I thought, well if a series of books about a group of kids trying to be wizards can go pretty well, what about a series of books about a kid trying to be a footballer? We can take the character from the playground to the Premier League and I can put in all the information, facts and knowledge that I’ve been lucky enough to develop during my time working in the game.
And that’s where Jamie Johnson came from!
How does it feel to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the first Jamie Johnson book, The Kick Off, this year?
It’s really incredible. Especially when you consider that it took me quite a long time to actually get the first book published, so to still be here 15 years later and for Jamie Johnson to feel as fresh as ever – it’s absolutely wonderful. There are so many stories over the years of kids, families and schools that have been part of Jamie Johnson’s journey and taken the character to heart that it really is a wonderful feeling. As a writer, you are by yourself creating something and you don’t really have any idea of whether it’s going to connect with people so for Jamie Johnson to have been around for this long, and for people to feel such and a strong bond with him, is really everything I could’ve hoped for.
Was Jamie inspired by any particular footballers you’ve met?
Of the players that I met, I think probably Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney were the ones that most inspired the character of Jamie because they just always seem so real, and you’ve got a good feeling for their personalities when you’re with them. They’ve also gone on to be supportive of Jamie Johnson which is phenomenal.
Steven Gerrard recommended The Kick Off when it first came out all those years ago and Wayne Rooney has been brilliant too. He even posted about the new editions of the Jamie Johnson books to all his followers on social media, which is millions of people around the world!
What do you love most about football? How do you translate your love of football onto the page?
I love the way football brings people together. Whether it’s at the highest level with the World Cup and you can see all around the globe people getting into the tournament – Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Europe – everyone’s into it. The scale of it is completely unique. I’m not sure anything else unites people in this way.
Also, on a completely different level it can be how you make friends or get to know people. In my case, I never lived with my dad but going to football and talking about…that shared passion for the game is what gave us a relationship, so I’ll always be grateful to football for that.
I still play whenever I can. Along with reading, playing football is one of the things that makes me feel calm and is great for my physical and mental well-being. I also think it’s playing all the time that is what I keep in my mind when I’m writing the action scenes in the book.
If something is happening in the storyline on the pitch, I’ll see it in slow-motion in my mind’s eye and that’s what I try and translate onto the page, so the action feels real and present.
What’s your favourite thing about the World Cup?
Quite simply it’s the biggest sporting event on the planet. All around the world, you know that everyone is tuning in, and it is so powerful when you think about it – especially at a time when there are lots of problems in the world. For football to be something that we can unite around and talk about and connect through, that is a very powerful force. And when you see how seriously the players take it, it really comes home to you that this is the pinnacle of the game.
The fact that it’s every four years is really important too. When something is scarce, we value it so much more.
How can the Jamie Johnson series help to engage and encourage more reluctant readers?
In a way, I wrote the books because they knew that I needed them when I was at school. I was a reluctant reader and there weren’t any books I wanted to read so this is for all the reluctant readers out there! I try and write the books in the way that would’ve been attractive for me to read – short chapters, lots and lots of action and storylines that keep spinning forward with every page… and loads of football throughout!
My aim is to write the books that I would’ve loved to have read, and I just hope lots of people out there feel the same.
Browse the Jamie Johnson series
Jamie Johnson #1: The Kick Off (2021 edition)
Jamie Johnson #2: Shoot to Win (2021 edition)
Jamie Johnson #3: Golden Goal (2021 edition)
Jamie Johnson #4: Man of the Match (2022 edition)
Jamie Johnson #5: World Class (2022 edition)
Jamie Johnson #6: Final Whistle (2022 edition)
Jamie Johnson #7: Skills from Brazil (2022 edition)