To coincide with 'Story Spark', a season of tales, literature and imagination at The Ark, Dublin, I am delighted to welcome fantastic author Anthony McGowan to Hot Cross Mum. Anthony will be reading this Saturday, 27th November at 4pm. The theme for his session is 'Heroes and Villains (and Some Folks in Between)'. What more would any 8-12 year old want?!
I asked Anthony a number of questions about his brilliant books and the Story Spark event. He very kindly gave me some most excellent responses.
How did you get involved with writing/illustrating children's books?
I began writing when I had a very boring civil service job, back in the 1990s. I had an idea for what I thought would be an adult book, about a teenage boy who gets hit by an ice-cream van and wakes up in hell. Then it struck me that as the main character was a teenager, then it really ought to be a book for teenagers. After a bit of a struggle it was published as a young adult book by Random House. I wrote a couple more young adult books, then they then encouraged me to write for younger children. So, I sort of stumbled into being a children’s writer …
Where do you get your inspiration?
Three places: memory, books, and listening to my own children. Most of my books are based on my own experiences growing up in the north of England. I went to a pretty brutal secondary school in Leeds, which left a whole series of intense memories burnt into my brain. Those memories (some brilliant, some terrible) tend to form the meat of my stories. Then I usually try to insert a framework taken from some other book – so, Hellbent is based quite closely on Dante’s Inferno, and Henry Tumour is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1, and The Knife that Killed Me is based on the Iliad. Whoops, came over a bit pretentious there, didn’t I? And then for my younger books, the Bare Bum Gang adventures and Einstein’s Underpants, a lot of it was taken from things my children – Rosie (7) and Gabriel (11) have said and done.
How long did it take you to write your most recent book?
It took about a year. I wrote the first draft quite quickly, but it was way too long and most of the time was spent whittling it down.
How often do you participate in events such as 'Story Spark' where you read to your young fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I do lots of events in schools – in fact I’ve just come back from a week of events in a school in Sao Paulo in Brazil. I find them incredibly exhilarating and exciting, but I still get quite nervous. I have nightmares about cracking a joke and looking out on to a sea of stony faces …
How important do you feel events like 'Story Spark' are in encouraging children to read and be excited about books.
They are incredibly important. There was nothing like Story Spark when I was a boy, and I know I’d have loved it. It’s especially important to try to reach out to the kids who don’t normally associate reading with fun. Having a real live author read his or her work can make it come vividly alive.
Finally, what is your favourite children's book (not your own!), and why?
For teenagers it would have to be Redshift by Alana Garner – one of the greatest books ever written for any age. For younger children I’m a huge fan of Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books. Stanton is just a comical genius. I’ve stolen his illustrator – the brilliant David Tazzyman to illustrate the books I’m working on now – a series called The Donut Diaries.
More details about Story Spark and booking details for Anthony's event, and others, are available here and at www.ark.ie - if you do go along on Saturday, please be kind to Anthony and remember to laugh when he cracks a joke. Thank you!