Endings and beginnings. And Pigsticks

Has it really been a year?!

Too much has happened and I have no excuses for not blogging. Well, apart from dealing with everything life throws at a person, of course. (And the fact I forgot my password log-in.) So, time for a catch-up methinks!

I hadn’t talked much about it, but I’d been working steadily on a series of books about a young Robin Hood. They concerned BIG details about the character, such as him learning to fire a bow, light a fire, and survive as an outlaw – things that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.

The trilogy began with Robin’s father dying, which proved problematic as during the writing I found out my mother had incurable cancer. I suppose the story and real life became intertwined in some way, and I found writing about a boy’s feelings concerningĀ losing a parent was a bit too close to the bone. So when I used the word ‘steadily’ to describe my work rate, it was more stop and go. But the publisher and editor were really understanding.

Mum died, I grieved, things moved on, and eventually we were happy with book one. Book two, in contrast, was easy to write. It contained a huge battle at the end – one which I thought was probably the most exciting thing I’d ever written.

And earlier in 2016, I was close to finishing the final part in the series when I heard that the publisher no longer wanted the books. They were trimming their list.

It’s a very strange situation to find yourself in. The cathartic nature of battling through difficult work and finally succeeding in reaching the end was not to be mine. However, I do now sit with an unpublished trilogy of books about Robin Hood growing up in Sherwood. Who wants them?

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So, that’s Robin out of the way.

What else happened? I set up This Book is Funny, which was successful, and is back on the road again for 2016.

I travelled the world. I visited the US and China, making school visits and talking about my books. I’ve been back to China once more in this time, and made some terrific friends. I also now know that Pigsticks and Harold will be published in China, which is a wonderful thing. I cannot wait to see how they treat it.

Of course, Pigsticks and Harold have a new book out – Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure! We’ve started getting some lovely reviews, and I think this is my favourite of the series so far.

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Now then, there is much more to say, but that can wait for a bit. Events are coming up, as well as new stories, and I am dead keen to write some ‘How-to’ posts about my model-making. I’ll be doing those soon.

So, for now, thanks for reading.

America here I come!

I’m juggling all sorts of work at the minute. Much of it is self-inflicted, but that’s no bad thing. It’s a good job I have three heads!

But come this Saturday I shall be in America. It’ll be my first time in the United States, visiting schools in Seattle and Colorado Springs with one of my US publishers Kane Miller. Am I excited? Too right I am, though it does mean I’m leaving behind my family and my This Book is Funny! scheme. And we’ve just had badges made, too šŸ™

Still, once I’m back, and the Brighton Festival is done, I’ll get back to writing and illustrating. Life’s just too exciting for its own good!

Hello Shanghai!

Shanghai PudongHello World!

I’m here in Shanghai, and this is the view from my room. Now there’s a thing. I’ve been mega-upgraded to a riverview suite, with its own sitting room – don’t ask me why, but I’m really not complaining.

I’m visiting The Wellington College International Shanghai School, being looked after like a superstar, and drawing Pigsticks and Harold like there’s no tomorrow. The food is amazing, the people seem genuinely friendly, and I feel like I’ve totally lucked out. I won’t talk about the jetlag, but hey, I have two children and this is what it feels like on most days!

The landscape is so unreal out here. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see the awesome UFO-like Mercedes Benz Arena. It really does look like a spaceship – click on that link to get a better look and you’ll see what I mean. Though there are plenty of sad, depressed buildings to be seen, there are also some real stonkers.

 

This Book is Funny!

This Book is Funny has been taking shape for a while now, but after a presentation to the Press Association’s Children’s Book Group it seemed right to put it out there.

The scheme is in its infancy. We’re planning to launch with a small-ish trial in mid-April. The trial will be spread out over a limited group of libraries, schools and bookshops, and the idea is simple. We ask people to create displays of funny books, utilising our stickers and posters – the aim being to drive readers to funny books that might not get the press or interest other types of books receive.

This is a philanthropic scheme, which is inclusive and hopefully benefit all involved, from readers to authors to bookshops and libraries.There’s a lot of good will out there, and a lot of people wishing it to succeed, so I’m doing all I can in a very busy year to make it the success it could be.

So, this is a trial to begin with. The posters and stickers are the key to it all, tied to our reviews and newsletter, and we need to see how they work out in the wild to gauge its potential.

If the response is good, then we’ll seek funding to spread it nationwide.

So now you know what I’ve been dreaming of over the past few months!

 

The different species of funny children’s book

What makes a children’s book funny?

It’s certainly not always fart and burp jokes, although they do feature a lot. No, I’ve pondered this question a lot of late as I’ve been making lists of all the children’s book that have ever made me laugh – and asked others for their favourites too.

(If you want to tell me your favourite in the comments, please do. Things are afoot, and I need all the funny children’s books I can get, old and new!)

While there’s no surefire answer to the funny issue, what’s been interesting is that I’ve seen themes appear within the differing formats – different species, if you will – of children’s funny books.

I thought I’d write them down here, so let’s start with the youngest species and go ever older:

The Picture Book
Picture books often end with a punchline joke, (sometimes it’s the whole reason for the book existing, other times it’s there’s simply to round off the otherwise quite straight story). An example? There are millions, but a GOOD one is I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

Sometimes the whole concept of the picture book is the funny thing, (an absurd, surreal situation, or an insightful take on everyday life) and both the pictures and words combine to drive the humour from beginning to end. An example? Slow Loris, by Alexis Deacon, or There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson and Jim Field. Many of these books also rely on warm, loveable characters, which always helps to draw you into the jokes.

Young Reader
Next up is the early reader book that exists solely to be funny. The set-up is funny, the characters are mostly absurd/grotesques/silly, and all the daft situations contain jokes. These are often illustrated, and even the illustrations are packed with zany humour. An example? The Twits by Roald Dahl. And don’t forget the gazillion Mr Men and Little Miss books.

Middle Grade
At the early end of middle grade are books much like the last category, most of which take the shape of series. Often taking a cracking premise and rolling with it (and also sometimes containing comic such as in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants). An example? The Scream Street Series by Tommy Donbavand, for example.

Comics
Next comes the funny comic/graphic novel. Sometimes full of mad-cap humour, sometimes full of jokes and punchlines, funny comics will always have wonderful artwork. An example? Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield.

(Comics are generally the most consistent and brilliantly funny works of fiction – a feat that is often forgotten by people in Britain. But times are changing…)

Middle Grade/YA
Last up, you get the screenplay-esque Middle Grade/YA novels that incorporate witty character dialogue into the plot. Taking their cue from the wisecracking characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, these books will be a mix of fantasy adventures, rom-coms, and straight stories everyday life. An example? The Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, too.

If any of you have identified other species, do say so here!

Pigsticks and Harold and the Cybils nomination

It’s been a while since I last posted, much has changed – especially the length of my hair – but much remains the same. I’m writing and reading lots, jotting down ideas and planning ahead. I can already sense that there won’t be enough months in 2015.

However, in some exciting news, Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey is up for a Cybil! It’s a finalist in the Easy Readers category. This has come as a complete surprise and is utterly wonderful.

Hooray for Pigsticks and hooray for the Cybils!

My very first video diary!

It seemed like a good thing to do! Long may these diary entries run.

On dealing with grief and writing about pigs and hamsters

P&H 2 realIt’s only been two months, but I’m starting to come to terms with the routine of life once more, after the death of my mother. Children and work are enough to think about without dealing with loss of a parent, but I’ve been surprised how it really has made things go a little topsy turvy.

Normally, because of the thorough process I go through to plan a book, I first proofread essay online and then I find it relatively easy to type and write at a minute’s notice – a necessity when being a parent. The plot and structure’s all in place, and I just need to pick up my fingers and type. But grief put pay to that. Maybe it was because the book I was writing dealt with a child seeking vengeance and closure after the murder of a parent? Maybe it was too dark a storyline? I wanted to work and make good use of my time, but grief just stopped me in my tracks.

So I stopped writing and simply let myself draw and draw and draw. Drawing was a tonic, even if I gravitated time and again towards sad-looking hamsters. Harold seemed to know what I was going through, and was the best person to show those emotions.

It’s funny how people always say you should write about what you know. Well, I was now in the position to know about cancer, so I could have attempted a book about that and stood a chance of getting longlisted for awards. Cancer books won prizes, didn’t they? But actually, I couldn’t write about that.

The thing that got me writing was something joyful and happy. It was a story about my dear friends Pigsticks and Harold, and it was their friendship, and sense of fun that got the wheels turning. Pigsticks is so positive, and just wants to live his life to the full – what could be a better spark than that. And Harold is so gentle and tender, and full of worry and care for everything. They’ve been at the heart of me getting back to work. They’ve even made me realise what it is I truly love about my job.

So anyway, I dedicated their second story – The Tuptown Thief – to my mum and dad, knowing at the time that mum was dying. She never got a chance to read it. I think she would have liked the fact that it was basically a Miss Marple story, set in Pigsticks’ world.

I’ve just received an advance copy, and I’m really happy to have it here in my hands. A lot’s happened in the few short months since it went to print.

LEGO Research Institute is GO!

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The most exciting news in the LEGO world is that this all female set has been released.

I write many reviews of LEGO sets for Dorkadore and it’s always clear that female minifigs and characters are in the minority. This set is a great and positive addition.

It’s a special edition, started and released through the LEGO Cuusoo/Ideas site (in the same manner as the Ghostbusters ECTO-1), and the first stock has already run out by the looks of it.

This has to be a step in the right direction, doesn’t it? And let’s all buy it to show how much we want more kits with sexual equality in mind.

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D-Day Telegrams

I recently came across these amazing telegrams at my parents’ house. My grandfather’s son (my mother’s half-brother) was injured in the D-Day Landings, and I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of personal history on this the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord. Dated a week apart, I can only imagine how my grandfather felt in the days between receiving the first and getting the second.

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