I’m thrilled to have the privilege of interviewing Helen Rutter today for our latest Author Spotlight! Helen is a playwright, actor, and author of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, which is releasing here in the States next week. She lives in the UK with her comedian husband, two children, and two dogs. You can find her online at helenrutter.com.
Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Helen! To get us started, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh?
Hello! Thank you so much for having me! My name is Helen Rutter and THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH is about eleven-year-old Billy Plimpton. He loves jokes and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian but, because of his stutter, doesn’t think it’s possible.
What inspired you to write The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh?
The book was inspired by my son Lenny who stutters, I wanted to write a book starring a character like him. We had never read anything about someone who stutters before and so I thought it was a story that needed to be written, at that point I had no idea if it would be published!
Billy Plimpton is such a delightful main character. He’s funny, kind, and lovable, even when you want to tell him he’s making a mistake. Is Billy based on your son at all? If so, how has he reacted to the success of the book, and the way people tend to adore Billy?
I am so happy that people seem to love Billy as much as I do. He very much started out being heavily based on Lenny but, as time went on and the editing continued, Billy’s personality developed and grew further away from Lenny’s and he became his own unique character. There is still a lot of cross over, both Billy and Lenny love playing the drums, are great at maths and have a similar love of lists, facts, and detail! Lenny has been so chuffed with the success of the book and has even done TV interviews over here in the UK to celebrate its launch!
It must be hard, but extremely rewarding to write a story that you’re so personally connected to. What was the most challenging part to write? And which part was the most fun?
I loved writing this story so much, it helped me to understand Lenny a bit more and reading it out to him every bedtime was a real bonding experience. I think the thing that was the most challenging to write was the Granny Bread strand as that felt particularly emotive as my mum is now 82 and the character was firmly based on her. The most joyful scene was the talent show. As I wrote that scene I could almost hear the music swelling in the background and could totally imagine every second of it. I wanted to get up and cheer for Billy after writing that scene!
Title: The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
Author: Helen Rutter
Published: August 3, 2021
The supporting cast is made up of several other children in Billy’s school who are all finding their way in life with their own individual “issues”. I love that this cast really illustrates how we all have something that makes us “different”, and that there really is no “normal”. Was this a point you wanted to highlight from the beginning or did it come to you through writing the book?
Absolutely! I think that everyone feels different in some way, whether it is something that the world can see or something that’s hidden away. The characters all deal with their situations in a unique way and ultimately all of them are more empathetic because of what they are going through. From the start I wanted his friends and the supporting cast to be a celebration of uniqueness and a starting point for conversations about empathy.
If you could spend the day with one character from The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh who would you choose, and how would you spend the day?
That is a tough question! I guess I’m not allowed to have a board game-based party with all of them?! If not then I will go for taking Mr Osho to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… I would LOVE that! Ask me tomorrow though and I may choose drawing with Skyla… No, snorkeling with Granny Bread… No, cheerleading with Chloe… No, watching stand up with Billy. IT’S TOO HARD!!
Not to spoil anything, but I absolutely loved that Billy finds a happy ending without compromising himself or making any dramatic changes. I love that he simply learns he was good enough all along. As a parent of a child with a stutter, what advice would you give to parents hoping to help their child find the confidence in themselves that Billy finds?
Gosh every journey is so personal. What has helped us may not mean much to anyone else but I guess looking back at our journey with a bit of perspective I would tell my former self that, as with most things in life, stutters and the emotions that are attached to them are forever changing so don’t cling onto one idea of how it is or how it feels.
I hear that you’re working on another novel now. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes! It’s a story about a boy called Archie Crumb whose wishes start coming true and he doesn’t know if it is all just a crazy coincidence or whether maybe he has a bit more power over his life than he first thought. It’s a story about positive thinking, self-belief and hope.
Do you have any plans to revisit Billy Plimpton’s story or maybe any of the other children in Bannerdale?
I would LOVE to revisit Billy and everyone at Bannerdale. Watch this space!!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s Readers?
I am doing a virtual launch of the book on Tues Aug 3rd @ 5pm EST where Gordon Korman will chat all things writing, reading, and Billy Plimpton with me! You can sign up to join us both here: https://www.rjjulia.com/event/virtual-helen-rutter-boy-who-made-everyone-laugh-gordon-korman-linked