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The sun is warming up the town, July is coming ever closer and so is the Summer Reading Challenge and the Bradford on Avon Mini Book Festival! And we have another amazing weekend programme of events planned for you in the library.
This year we also have not one, but two, very special guests! The author illustrator team, John McLay and Martin Brown (he of the Horrible Histories!) will be joining us on Saturday 16th July for a fun event inspired by their brilliant new chapter books for young children, published by Orion Children’s Books.
BOAMBF thought you’d like to know more about John and Martin so we’ve interviewed them for you.Come and meet them. And don’t forget to stay to the end for the jokes!
John, many local people will know you as a Director of the Telegraph Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. You’re also a literary scout and extremely experienced in the children’s book world. What led you to write stories yourself, and why did you choose to write for this particular age group?
It’s always been important to be to keep my working life varied, and I’d wanted to write stories for a long time. I’ve started with Early Readers because they’re short and are just the right kind of book for my 6-year-old son.
There are three books about Harry and Oats now. Harry is always dreaming of being a knight. Is that something you dreamed about too, when you were little?
I think all little boys dreams of being a knight, and I was one of them! The stories of King Arthur were always a favourite growing up, and I liked all the medieval stories like Robin Hood and The Black Arrow.
The books have all the best ingredients: knights, wizards, dragons, horses, treasure etc. but there are quite a lot of troublesome characters named Eric – did you ever know a worrying Eric yourself? (Don’t answer if this is too sensitive!)
I think the name Eric is just very funny. Apologies to anybody called Eric! You don’t get many Eric’s these days. I’ve not had one in one of my signing queues yet.
Martin, when did you join in with the project? Did John approach you first, or was it the publisher? How does that part of the process work?
Over dinner one night, during the Bath Children’s Lit Festival, John said that he was writing something and that he’d like to work with me. I said yes straight away. After that it was over to the publishers and agents.
There are lots of lovely visual gags throughout the stories – even the characters’ thought bubbles are shown in pictures rather than in words. They’re not in the main text, so who thinks of them? How do they appear?
John and I got together and decided what would be good to illustrate. Then, when the text was in place, the editor made her suggestions. The gags were more my department but they all sprang from John’s brilliant story. The thought bubbles just reflected the fun of the text.
These stories are known as Early Readers and fall somewhere between picture books and longer read-alone stories. Are there any special requirements for writing/illustrating them?
Martin: The pictures need to reinforce the story and, ideally, show some of the words and ideas that share the page.
John:I’m quite adamant that they are first and foremost great stories. They are easy to read, but not written or designed with ‘teaching’ reading as a primary concern.
Martin, I love the drawings of Oats, Harry’s rather portly horse. Are horses difficult to draw? What do you think is the most difficult thing to draw? And what do you love drawing the most?
Horses are difficult to draw, but luckily, as it’s a cartoon horse, it only has to look horse-ish. Olden days carriages are really hard to draw – all those wheels and spokes and curved shapes and doors and windows and coachmen and fiddly bits – and horses! I like drawing animals (even though some animals are horses).
You’re very well known for your work on all those Horrible Histories with author, Terry Deary. When you were illustrating them did you feel a big responsibility to history? Did you feel you had to be accurate and do loads of research?
Not a responsibility to history so much – it was our own voice, our own take on history – but I wanted an early Tudor to look like an early Tudor and a late Tudor to look like a late Tudor. I thought that sort of accuracy was important. So there’s always been loads of research. But I enjoy that.
When you’re working, what sort of materials do you like to use? Does it vary from project to project? Are you working on something at the moment?
My materials have barely changed for twenty years. A sheet of one of two types of paper, the automatic pencil I have using since the dark ages, and Edding 1800 0.1 black fineiner and lots of Tippex. All of which I’m using right now on the next Horrible Histories – all about castles! When I’m doing colour, as for The Dragon’s Dentist, I use Dr Martin’s Concentrated Water Colour. Brilliant stuff – literally.
John, (Apart from Martin!) do you have a favourite illustrator?
I love a lot of the comic illustrators, like Martin! Big, bold colours are cartoon styles. There is often a lot of humour in the illustration too. People like Nick Sharrat and Martin Chatterton.
Martin: (Apart from John!) do you have a favourite writer?
Right now it’s David Solomons. His first, and award winning, novel, My Brother is a Superhero, is a hoot.
Both: We know you’ve invited children to dress up in their ‘knightly gear’ for your BOAMBF event. Can you tell us what else we might expect?
John: I might tell a story or two. Martin might do some drawing. It’ll be a right knightly education. Guaranteed! Oh, and we might have some knightly gear of our own.
Both: If one comes to mind, could you tell us a joke?
John: Darth Vader says to Luke Skywalker, “Luke, I know what you are getting for Christmas.”
Skywalker replies “How?”
Vader says “Because I have felt your presents.”
Martin: What’s a pirates favourite letter? (If you don’t know the answer you’ll have to work it out for yourself.)
Hmm, thinking caps on everybody!
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, JOHN AND MARTIN. SEE YOU BOTH IN JULY. WE CAN’T WAIT!