Here’s some info you might find interesting. If the answer to your question isn’t here, feel free to contact me.
How many books have you had published?
Pandamonia is my second picture book. The incredible illustrations are by a graphic artist from Perth called Chris Nixon. Chris’s style was perfect for the book as his designs are so colourful and striking. I’m very lucky to have been able to collaborate with such a talented illustrator.
My first picture book, My Superhero came out in 2013 and was illustrated by Moira Court. A paperback version was released in 2014. It’s a rhyme, written in the voice of a child who is comparing their father to all the superheroes that we see in comics and movies. Moira did a great job with the artwork, turning the superheroes into big, bold animal characters.
How long have you been a writer?
About 6 years.
You could say I’ve always been a writer. At school, writing was always one of my favourite activities, but I actually thought I’d become an illustrator or cartoonist and had little ambition to be a writer. Even when I was a journalist, I still didn’t harbour any thoughts about penning a book. On reflection, I just hadn’t realised that I had the talent for writing books. That didn’t occur to me until very late on – I was in my mid-thirties before I started writing seriously, with the intention of trying to have my work published.
Why do you write in rhyme?
I love rhyme. I think it’s the musical nature of rhyme and its playfulness. I like the sound of rhyme and I like the challenge of finding words to fit a rhyming structure – it’s a bit like doing a puzzle. Experimenting with rhyming structures and seeing how simple or complex I can make them is great fun. Writing Pandamonia was interesting because not only did it have to rhyme and fit together as a cohesive story, but I wanted the pace to build into an explosive crescendo towards the end, which wasn’t easy. I’m very happy with the result.
What prompted you to write Pandamonia?
My aim in writing Pandamonia was to create the ultimate ‘read-aloud’ book, so it had to contain a bucket load of rhyme, rhythm and repetition. Many studies have shown that rhymes or songs are particularly powerful in helping to develop children’s language skills, which is something I am interested in. Rhymes expose children to the full variety of sounds that build words, and kids who regularly hear songs and rhymes often develop a wider vocabulary. Also, I think that rhyming is inherently fun and playful and helps to create a love of language that could last a lifetime.
What’s the best way to engage kids when reading Pandamonia?
Pandamonia has been expressly created with read-aloud moments in mind. It contains a catchy refrain (‘Don’t wake the panda whatever you do.’) which kids will love to noisily join in with. It also has plenty of rhythm that begs to be clapped, stomped or danced along to, helping kids to engage linguistically, musically and physically – great for fidgety listeners! The book’s illustrator, Chris Nixon, has designed the pictures in such a way that children will love to spot the animals hiding in the pages which could easily become a game to be played during a reading or after a reading.
Why don’t you do your own illustrations?
I don’t think I’m good enough.
As a young boy, I loved to draw and was a pretty good at creating and copying cartoon characters. I loved Asterix books and Garfield cartoons and my style resembled elements of both. Somewhere in my teens, my drawing fell by the wayside. Later in life, feeling like I hadn’t followed my ‘true calling’, I was spurred into writing rhymes and picture books. More recently, I have begun to get back into drawing again. I find it’s a great way to relax and it really clears the mind. Who knows? Maybe I will illustrate a book one day.
Where do your ideas come from?
Tough question. I haven’t got an easy answer for that one.
Ideas can come from many different sources. Lots of authors will tell you they have to write about subjects they know lots about, and that’s true for me sometimes. At the very least, I have to have an inherent interest in the subject or theme to be motivated to write. Often an idea can come from something I have read, or seen on TV. Often just a single word or phrase can spark an idea, like ‘pandemonium’ for example. I once wrote a nice rhyme about a guinea pig that goes into space and that just came from watching my son play with a fluffy toy guinea pig, pretending it could fly! ‘My Superhero’ was born out of the feelings and experiences I’d had about being a dad for the first time.
Sometimes the process of turning an idea into a story or complete rhyme is simple and happens very quickly, almost as though you haven’t consciously thought of it yourself at all. Other times it can be a real slog, like climbing a mountain. You can see the top and you know the view will be great when you get there, but the thought of getting there can seem quite off-putting.
I think what’s important is that you have your mind open to ideas so you can catch them when they come along, like catching butterflies. I think of it as having my ‘ideas radar’ switched on. Sometimes I can end up with more ideas than I can handle, and that can be overwhelming too – in that case I jot them down in a pad, file them away and keep them for a another day.
What’s your favourite book?
Favourite children’s book – Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
I love many of Roald Dahl’s books but ‘Danny‘ is my favourite of all. It’s set in the English countryside, similar to where I grew up, so I can relate to the scenery described and some of the characters too. It’s also about an underdog triumphing over an arrogant and powerful figure, and that’s a theme that I’ve always found appealing.
Favorite adult book – The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.
It’s about the people who started the American space program and tells how the first astronauts were chosen. It describes the attitudes of the navy fighter pilots towards the astronauts, who they dismissed as being, ‘spam in a can’ and not true pilots at all. It conjours up some fantastic images of daring, heart-in-the-mouth moments of near disaster averted by cool minds and nerves of steel. It’s brilliantly written.
Which writers have most inspired you?
Roald Dahl, R. Goscinny (Asterix), Lynley Dodd, Julia Donaldson, Dr Suess.
Most of the writers mentioned above are renowned for their rhyming and have all inspired me to some extent, but Roald Dahl especially. I remember buying my copy of ‘Revolting Rhymes‘ when I was ten years old. I loved that book and some of the lines in it make me laugh, even to this day: ‘ The animal I really dig, above all others, is the pig…‘ Beautiful!
Since reading lots to my own young boys, Lynley Dodd has become an author I really admire. Her rhyming is always so smooth (no hint of doggerel at all) and she never dumbs down her vocabulary.
The Asterix books, written by Rene Goscinny, remain favourites. The English translators of the original French versions should also be recognised for their clever word play and humour.