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Class Q&A with Onjali Q Rauf


Onjali Q. Rauf is the bestselling author of The Boy at The Back of The Class, a book that sparked imaginations everywhere, winning multiple awards including the Waterstones' Children's Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award.

We gave a Year 5 class from Birmingham the opportunity to read Onjali's new book The Night Bus Hero and to ask her some questions about her writing and what inspires her. Read on to find out about Onjali's favourite children's books and her advice on dealing with bullying and homelessness, themes that are explored in the book.

The Night Bus Hero is another moving story, poignant and full of heart. It may deal with some tough topics but it is also a tale of friendship and hope. Above all, it is a brilliant read that kids 8+ will love.

Thanks so much to Linda Canning and her Year 5 class at St Bernadette's School for their thoughtful questions and, of course, to Onjali too.

Class Q&A with Onjali Q Rauf
The very excited group of Year 5 children!

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

There were far too many to ever name just one I’m afraid. I loved everything from Matilda to The Famous Five books to The Hobbit to Alfonso Bonzo to Black BeautyAnne of Green GablesSherlock HolmesThe Railway ChildrenThe Secret GardenThe Runaways and at least a hundred more. I couldn’t pick just one favourite from any of them…Sorry.

If you had to choose, which book out of The Boy at the Back of the Class, The Star Outside my Window and The Night Bus Hero is your favourite and why?

That is honestly like asking me which of my fingers I like best - they’re all joined to me and are completely different from each other, so I can’t answer as to which is my favourite. But I can answer which was the easiest to write - and that was definitely The Boy at the Back of the Class. I wrote it without any expectations of it or myself, and with no-one knowing about it except my agent, Silvia Molteni, meant that really, I was writing it for myself. Creating the first draft was so easy and so much fun - it was certainly the most enjoyable book to have written. 

How many publishers did you have to go to before your first book was published?

I’m actually not sure about how many publishers my agent tried to sell The Boy at the Back of the Class to - but I do know Hachette were one of the first to come back with an offer to publish it, and they did that within just a few weeks of the first draft being completed. So I was incredibly lucky. Before that, it took me over eight years to find an agent, and another two years with us trying to sell the book I had written before The Boy… so the whole route to being published has been a long and surprising one.

Describe The Night Bus Hero in three words.

Adventurous. Puzzling. Hopeful.

If you could be any character from a children’s book, who would you be and why?

So many…But Bilbo Baggins has always been at the top of the list. Mainly because I’d be best friends with Gandalf, have my very own party tree, get to word-battle a dragon, and live in a hobbit hole.

Your new book is about homelessness – do you have any advice for how children can help homeless people?

Absolutely - there’s lots that can be done. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask questions of your teachers and parents/ guardians about your local homeless communities - acknowledge they exist and need help and work with the adults of your world to do something positive. You can ask your family/ school to get in touch with local soup kitchens, community groups or food banks to see how you might be able to help raise goods, donations, and awareness, or maybe even volunteer with them. At the back of the book, there are some wonderful organisations listed - some of whom I have personally begun working with, who could use your help. Take time to find out about them, and see what you can do: remember, there’s no action too small.

Why have you picked a bus instead of any other mode of transport?

Because aside from being one of my most favourite ways of getting around not just London, but any city I visit, buses - and their drivers - really are safe havens for many homeless people, especially on cold winter nights. It was only natural they be featured in this story.

Was the book inspired by something that happened in real life?

Not by real life events, but definitely real-life people. Thomas, the homeless man in the story, is based on a homeless man I grew up seeing and gifting food to in my teen years. Sadly he died before I could muster up enough courage to speak to him properly, but he was the catalyst for where my life went in so many ways. And Hector the bully is an exaggerated version of some of bullies at my primary and secondary school who occasionally used to pick on me and my friends. I’ve always wondered what made them do what they did - and still do at times.

Your book is about an unlikely hero, do you think anyone can be a hero?

I think everyone deserves to be the hero of their own story, and my own faith teaches me that everyone has potential to be forgiven for their wrongful/hate-filled actions - so long as they are truly sorry and change to be a better version of themselves than they may previously have been. So I guess the short answer is, yes. With a few very extreme exceptions of course.

Bullying is an issue that affects many children; do you have any advice for children who are being bullied?

Of course. It’s crucial that anyone being bullied understands two things. Firstly: you are not alone. If you are being bullied in your school or family or circle of friends, chances are, so are many others being bullied too. It’s a sad reality that most people at one time or another, are bullied - whether it’s for the way they look, their faith, their skin colour, the food they like. So you are definitely not alone. Secondly, bullies absolutely thrive on silence - so please speak out. To friends, to teachers, to parents and guardians or siblings or even your librarian or doctor. It may make you feel scared to speak out that first time, but try your best to find the courage to do so, because no-one deserves to have to live with bullies in any form. And if no-one believes you, or nothing changes (which sadly happens a lot too), there are whole organisations of people waiting to help. Childline and the NSPCC and other fantastic charities were all created to help. You can find a page about where to go for help at the back of the book too.

Homelessness and bullying is an unusual combination - why did you decide to write a book focusing on these two issues?

The homeless people I meet in my world - whether they are women fleeing their homes because of domestic violence; or refugees fleeing wars; or the rough sleepers I see all across my city, have all - without exception - experienced bullying, and often have to cope with different forms of bullying for most of their lives. The idea for this story was always centred on the link between bullying and homelessness because I guess I don’t see those issues as separate. Bullies act to push people away and make them feel alone, unprotected and shelter-less - and I see it a lot in my works. So it was almost a natural combination to hone in on those two issues for this story. I just hope it works…

Class Q&A with Onjali Q Rauf
Book pages Placeholder Book

The Night Bus Hero

From Onjali Q. Rauf, the award-winning and best-selling author of The Boy at the Back of the Class , comes another incredible story, told with humour and heart.

'The boy's an absolute menace.'
'He's a bully. A lost cause!'
'Why can't he be more like his sister?'

I've been getting into trouble for as long I can remember. Usually I don't mind 'cos some of my best, most brilliant ideas have come from sitting in detention.

But recently it feels like no one believes me about anything - even when I'm telling the truth! And it's only gotten worse since I played a prank on the old man who lives in the park.

Everyone thinks I'm just a bully. They don't believe I could be a hero.

But I'm going to prove them all wrong...

Told from the perspective of a bully, this book explores themes of bullying and homelessness, while celebrating kindness, friendship and the potential everyone has to change for the good.


1st October 2020

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