Former teacher, head, caretaker, strawberry-picker and doughnut-stuffer Jeremy Strong, 61, had his first children's story published in 1978. His 85 books, many award-winners, are now favourites with children and allowed him to give up teaching in 1991 to become a full-time writer. Last week he launched a campaign to bring more fun into classrooms and will spend this year searching for the "funniest school" in Britain.
Aren't schools funny?
"Some are rather gloomy places, I'm afraid, but in others children are brimming with enthusiasm. It's got nothing to do with the amount of money teachers have to spend. How funny the school is depends on the teachers and other staff. Everything children learn about being funny comes from the top down."
Were they any funnier 20 years ago?
"When I taught in north-west Kent, there wasn't the bureaucracy there is today. The national curriculum was just beginning, heads didn't control funding and there were no Sats. I don't think any of these things have helped teachers improve schools. But there are still funny schools where everyone is enthusiastic. I like to see people enjoying themselves. It helps children learn so much better."
Why launch the campaign now?
"It's the beginning of the year, which is depressing. There is lots of doom and gloom because of budget cuts and redundancies. Teachers have to start preparing children for Sats. My publisher, Puffin, and I thought it would be a good idea to inject a bit of fun into schools. I also hope to encourage children to read. I'm touring schools talking about my new book, Cartoon Kid, which features Mr Butternut and his class. Hopefully, this competition will lift a bit of the grey atmosphere."
What do you expect from the winner?
"I want children to tell me about all the fun experiences they have in school. They should tell me as much as possible about their school and themselves. All they have to do is take an A3 sheet of paper and use it to show me the fun. They can stick things on it, bend it, be as creative as they want. It will be a wonderful way of finding out all about the magic in schools."
Any fun feedback so far?
"I've already received replies on my website and children have told me how funny and 'mad' their teachers are. The winning school gets a visit from me, a humongous trophy and #163;200 worth of my books."
To enter send entries to: We've got the Fun Factor!, co Puffin Marketing, 80 Strand, London, WC2R 0RL or visit www.jeremystrong.co.uk. The closing date is, of course, April Fools' Day, the funniest day of the year.