Thursday, 8 December 2016

Farewell, Jonny by Keren David

There was only one possible subject for me this month. The untimely death of a fellow member of the Scattered Authors' Society, the late, great Jonny Zucker.

I met Jonny quite early on in my career as an author. We had a lot in common -  both Jewish, both living in Haringey, both published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books. We shared a lot of friends. But it wasn't this that made me immediately feel that I had a new friend. It was Jonny's warmth and humour, his wit and imagination and, when I heard him speak at an event organised by Haringey libraries, the way that children so obviously found him inspiring and infinitely entertaining. 

He met a lot of children. He was always visiting schools, working with children, making them laugh, encouraging them to read, inspiring them to write. His way of being an author wasn't about celebrity or making a fortune (although in Haringey schools he was famed for being a lot of children's favourite author). It was all about the readers. Who knows how many lives he changed?  It is certainly in the thousands. That, in the end, is the real measure of an author's success. 

When Frances Lincoln closed its children's fiction list, we authors had a meal with our wonderful editors to thank them for their hard work. I organised a collection to buy them gifts. But I didn't want to make a speech -  why would I, when I knew that Jonny would do it so much better than me? I only asked him that evening, and he rose to the occasion and made the perfect speech.

To get an idea of Jonny's style and wit, here's a tribute from the Hertford Literary Festival. Or read one of his many books -  there are more than 80, including the Striker Boy series. 

Over the last week I've spoken to a lot of people about Jonny, to fellow authors and to members of the Jewish community (in part because I am Features Editor of the Jewish Chronicle). These are some of the things that people have said.: 

My connection with Jonny was meeting him on the block or on the school run where he would approach me with a high five and big smile . We would chat about stories and publishing. He was kind, funny, generous and a warm hearted figure in this community. I once did an event with Jonny at our local library where he delighted the children by playing magic tricks while talking about his stories.. He was passionate about engaging the creative spirit in children and young people and was very successful in engaging boys in particular about becoming keen readers and writers. . His enthusiasm and playful nature was infectious and his passion for stories, reading and creativity has been communicated to so many.
Sita Brahmachari, author.

A memory of Jonny from me is of his tremendous warmth and friendliness and his generous enthusiasm towards other writers' work, including mine. I sat up late one night at Charney with him and another author, comparing notes on the difficulties of getting our books published and I'll always remember the hug he gave me, the day he left and him saying fiercely "It's a bloody good book, mate!" and wishing me luck. Jonny was an absolutely lovely guy. We're all going to miss him.
Kath Langrish, author.

Jonny was utterly fab - I did several joint author sessions with him over the years. His enthusiasm was infectious and kids who were lucky enough to be part of his events all ended up in stitches and totally adoring of him. 
 Karen McCombie, author

He never failed to make me laugh and astonish me with the prodigality of his story ideas - he once pitched ten ideas at me in one meeting. He always spoke of his work in schools promoting reading with great enthusiasm and he must have been a wonderful dad from the descriptions of rough and tumble with his boys. He loved to be cheekily ambitious in his expectations of his books and publishers but always did it with such great humour that you couldn’t help but love him for it. 
Maurice Lyon, editor

I've known Jonny Zucker since we were teenagers  and he was always the most talented in the room - funny, charismatic, a great mimic and wonderful storyteller. As an author, he was represented by my colleague, Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown, and published fabulous books for kids, covering  a whole range of subjects from football to spies, from flea detectives to illustrated books for early readers. His Striker series and Monster Swap books were hugely popular. He will be sorely missed by the schools he regularly spoke at and the countless children he inspired to read and write. We have lost a great voice, educator and man
 Jonny Geller, CEO of his agency, Curtis Brown. 

 He was always interested in people and his ability to transcend age differences meant he was as close to his niece and nephew, young cousins and friends’ children as he was to their parents and grandparents. The loss of a man of such talent, warmth and personality has left a gaping chasm. His legacy is a significant body of work.  
Jonny's friends, Anne Joseph and James Libson who wrote his obituary in the Jewish Chronicle which you can read here 

Jonny is mourned by his wife, Fiona, three sons, his parents and sister. I am sure I speak for the whole SAS in wishing them a long life, free from further pain and sorrow. 


Katherine Langrish said...

Thankyou Keren for writing this tribute. The clip is poignant and characteristic - that straight-faced humour.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for posting this, Keren, and the clip. Such a sad loss.

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Sue Purkiss said...

So very sad. Thanks, Keren.

Lynne Benton said...

Thank you so much for this, Keren. I didn't know him very well, but he was a lovely chap, so full of infectious enthusiasm, and will be greatly missed.

Jane McLoughlin said...

Lovely tribune, Keren.

C.J.Busby said...

I only met Johnny once, at Charney, but his huge warmth meant that I felt I had made a friend very quickly. He was clever, funny, passionate, and my heart goes out to his family and close friends. Such a loss to everyone. And thanks, Keren, for putting it so well.

Steve Gladwin said...

Such a lovely tribute. I too only met Jonny once at Charney but he made you feel like the most important person in the room. Huge loss.

Kelly McKain said...

Thanks so much, Keren, for this. It's beautiful. I love the clip. I have been so so sad and upset to lose Jonny, as we all have, but this reminded me of what he was all about - the fun, the warmth, the joy and as you say, the wonderful humour that would catch you off guard and then make you cackle! Rest in Peace, beautiful soul.