Peter J Murray biography
Peter J Murray was born in 1951 and brought up on a council estate in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. He left school with few qualifications, feeling ill suited to a an academic lifestyle, and followed in the family tradition of working in the dangerous steel works of Sheffield. What happened over the next 30 years is an amazing story….
First of all Pete went back to school at the age of 21 - can you imagine that? No discos, no late nights, no girlfriends, no soccer matches, no……. Don’t you believe it; he did all of those things and still managed to find time for school work. At the end of his studies he won a place at Cambridge University where he specialised in metallurgy (what’s that?) and gained a Masters Degree in 1979. Not bad from someone who was meant to be no good at maths.
After a spell in Dubai working in the petro-chemical industry he decided he needed a change. He dabbled in teaching - loved working with kids and never looked back. After working in several comprehensive schools he became Assistant Headmaster of Cheam School - quite a ‘posh school’ in Pete’s own words (Prince Philip and Prince Charles are both ex-pupils). From the gritty back streets of Rotherham to the leafy suburbs of Berkshire - quite a transformation. Despite his change in surroundings Pete remained a Yorkshireman through and through; down to earth with a great sense of humour.
Peter has always been a story-teller and a practical joker. Entertaining pupils with stories of spooky characters and unusual happenings was the ideal breeding ground for the creation for many of the characters who appear in Pete’s current novels.
To give up the security of teaching in one of the most well-respected schools in the country to become a full time author was a huge gamble for Pete to take, especially when his first book had been rejected by all the leading publishers. Peter self published his first book: Mokee Joe is Coming in 2003. To Pete’s amazement his book won the prestigious Sheffield Children’s Book Award voted for by 112 schools. The rest, as they say, is history. Peter is now one of the UK’s leading children’s authors and tours schools all over the UK and abroad. He is one of the most sought after visiting authors in schools and is renowned for inspiring children to want to read (especially the reluctant ones).
Peter has two grown up sons; Simon is the youngest and has already established himself as an illustrator. As well as providing the chapter headings for the successful Mokee Joe books, he has just completed his own picture book: Icky Doo Dah.
Peter lives with his wife on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. He says that the hills and limestone scenery offer a constant source of relaxation and inspiration - in fact, they also provide the setting for Peter's sixth book, due out next year - but that's a secret!
How it all began - A new life by Peter J Murray
Uncle Pete! Do you remember when you used to dress up as Mokee Joe and chase us around?
My grown-up niece asked me this question five years ago. Could I ever have imagined how such an innocent enquiry would change my life?
At the time, I was more than happy teaching maths. My prep school was a thriving happy school and I’d just been appointed assistant headmaster. I’d recently been on an IAPS course for aspiring heads and had decided to ‘go for it’, but Mokee Joe was about to dictate otherwise.
My 25-year-old niece had remembered the sinister character for 17 years, since the time I donned an old coat and hat and spiced up a game of hide and seek. In fact, it became a family game, loved by my own children, nieces and nephews.
Mokee Joe terrified them, gave them nightmares and haunted their waking moments, but they couldn’t get enough of him! And so, five years ago, fully inspired, I started writing a spooky story based on the evil Mokee Joe. As well as teaching maths, I’d always been a bit of a storyteller and had written numerous short stories for use in assemblies, so surely this would just be taking things one stage further? But how much further no one could ever have imagined, least of all me!
I wrote the first book, Mokee Joe is Coming, in three months, much of it late at night. The ideas seemed to pour out and the narrative almost put itself together without any planning (don’t tell the Year 6 English set!). As soon as the manuscript was complete, I sent it off to a few mainstream publishers and immediately received the corresponding standard rejection slips. All par for the course, I was told. But I knew that the narrative was strong. I’d tested it on my own pupils and they loved it! So I decided to do the book myself and get on with things.
My son, Simon, an ex-pupil of my school, is a talented artist. He provided the most wonderful chapter headings. A parent at the school - an internationally renowned painter of racehorses - painted the cover (now a collector’s piece). Another parent, who’d just given up the day job as a soap star in Hollyoaks, offered her services as a publicist. And so it went on. It seemed everyone wanted to help.
The school was incredibly supportive. The first book was published on 5th July 2003 and launched in the local branch of Waterstones. Almost the entire school turned up for the signing and more than 400 copies were sold in one afternoon. My own headmaster, who never has a spare moment, paid me the greatest possible accolade. He took the book home and read it cover to cover in six hours and thirty-three minutes. I doubt whether the prime minister or the Queen could ever command such a time slot from this very busy man!
Six months later, the book had sold around 12,000 copies and mainstream publishers were lining up to take over the rights for Mokee Joe. As the book reached a bigger and bigger market, it demanded more and more of my time. There was talk of writing a sequel, maybe a trilogy, and there were still other ‘little distractions’ in my life to consider, such as leading a maths department and fulfilling my role as assistant head.
After being signed up by Hodder Children’s Books and contracted to complete a trilogy of Mokee Joe books, I finally decided to give up the day job.
On the 16th September, 2004, Mokee Joe is Coming! was re-released under the Hodder banner along with the sequel, Mokee Joe Recharged, and I set out as a full-time touring author, presenting my work to schools all over the UK. The third and final part of the trilogy, Mokee Joe: The Doomsday Trail, was published on the 16th June, 2005.
I am happy to say that I now live a most privileged and fulfilling life and one that is difficult to describe in terms of pleasure and satisfaction. My wife and I (Kath tours with me) can hardly believe that we have become roadies at this relatively late stage. We are currently visiting up to ten schools a week, all over the UK, and are about to branch out abroad. Next year we have tours of Dubai and the Cayman Islands set up. Hong Kong and Thailand are at the planning stage.
The most wonderful feedback for a teacher like myself is that reluctant readers are lining up to read the books and we are told that they do read them from cover to cover.
The author is a former assistant head of Cheam School
- Mokee Joe is Coming (2003)
- Mokee Joe Recharged (2004)
- The Doomsday Trail (2005)
- Bonebreaker (2006)
- Dawn Demons (2007)
- Moonwailer (2008)