Welcome to my stop on the Lollies blog tour. The Laugh Out Loud Book Award (Lollies) was created in order to celebrate the funniest and most engaging books in children’s fiction. I’m very excited to say that my stop on the Lollies blog tour focuses on shortlisted book in the 6-8 years shortlist, Hamish and the Neverpeople written by Danny Wallace, Illustrated by Jamie Littler and published by Simon & Schuster Children’s UK.
Hamish and the Neverpeople is the 2nd book in the Hamish trilogy containing even more danger, adventure, excitement and humour than the first brilliant book. Planet Earth is under threat once more from a different source this time, the Neverpeople. The fun starts with some odd behaviour by the PM, and continues to get crazier and crazier as Hamish and his friend heads to London in search of his missing father. They are dragged into an alternate universe where every thing and every person has an opposite, including Hamish himself. It’s a roller-coaster, robot filled action story that will blow your funny bones!
If you’ve ever read any of Danny Wallace’s grown up books, you’ll know that he has a very particular sense of humour which threads brilliantly through all his writing, and he has transferred this most perfectly across to his children’s books. The humour is the star of this book, launching into it right from the first page, and never really letting up. It’s the kind of layered humour which will appeal to adults and older children, but also with enough silliness to engage a younger audience too. This is the exact reason that Hamish and the Neverpeople has been selected as a Lollies shortlisted title. Along with the side splitting funnies throughout, the story is packed with adventure, intrigue and a unique and inventive plot hosted by a fantastic mix of sassy, smart, funny and crazy characters.
Jamie Littler is responsible for the cover and inside illustrations through Hamish and the Neverpeople and they compliment the text supremely well. Jamie’s work is bursting with dynamic character and exciting scenes which bounce off the page, and represent both the action and the humour perfectly. The pen and ink style is so gorgeously rich, and all this shows the importance and brilliance of illustrated children’s fiction.
So, enough from me about this marvellous romp of book! It’s available now from your local library and bookshop, so do get it, read it, and laugh heartily!
I’m now passing the buck over to Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler who were kind enough to spare some time from their busy schedules to answer a few questions, and what brilliant answers they are! Huge Book Monster thanks for this moment of blogger indulgence.
1.I’ve been a big fan of your books and writing for a long time, and was excited when you moved into the realms of children’s books. What made you want to write for children?
I like trying things I’ve never done before. Except prawns. I will not try prawns. But I wanted to find out what made my son laugh. I was pretty sure it wasn’t prawns, so I wondered if I could write stories that he would find funny and which would make his friends laugh. I only had one rule: no prawns.
2.How difficult did you find the transition from writing for adults to writing for children? What things did you need to consider?
I enjoy writing the Hamish books so much. I feel like I did when I wrote my first ever book. I just wanted to make sure my readers had a good time with the book. Lots of jokes, lots of unusual words and oddball characters, lots of adventure, and plenty of cliffhangers. Those were my ways of holding interest, which is vital, because when you see a kid really drawn into a book it’s a fantastic thing.
3. All three Hamish books have had some brilliantly wacky plots, where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
I tend to find an idea or concept that excites me, and which I feel could go a million different ways. I need a beginning that is strong enough to get me to the end. And then I jump in and see what happens. It’s a bit like a swimming pool – fill it with ideas then jump in and start swimming.
4. Hamish and the Neverpeople is packed full of varied and quirky characters, who was your favourite to write about and why?
The idea for this book actually came when I was a kid. Same thing with the first book. But with this one, I remembered being fascinated by my mum telling me that if I’d been born a girl, they already had a name ready. I thought that was so weird. I could’ve been a girl, with a completely different name. A totally different person. And it made me wonder what happened to the idea of that girl when I was born? So being able to write about the people we almost were meant I could come up with plenty of fun characters to play with. “The Neverpeople”. But I do enjoy Madam Cous Cous, who runs the sweet shop. She’s lovely, but if you cross her, she’ll whack you with her stick.
5.Where do you do most of your writing?
It’s varied over the years. A room at the top of the house. A window by a railway track. An office by a park. I’ve just finished the latest Hamish, and that was written entirely up a mountain in Los Angeles. Generally, though, I just need a couple of things. Time, and a cup of tea. Being a writer is a lovely, lovely job, and I’ll never not be grateful for that.
6. Humour is a huge focus of Hamish and the Neverpeople, hence your “Lollies” nomination. Did you face any challenges pitching the humour for children?
Well, first off, I’m absolutely DELIGHTED by the Lollies nomination. Or the LOLNOM as the kids are already calling it (they’re not). There are loads of amazing, funny writers out there waiting to be discovered by kids, and I think these awards are really important. Humour is an amazing way to share stories and ideas, and the way I approached it with kids was to imagine myself telling the story to them. And also to include jokes that I’d happily tell their parents. Kids develop a sense of humour quickly, and often are far more sophisticated than people think. And if they don’t get a joke the first time? Hopefully you’ve written a book they’ll want to read again, and they might spot it then. Jamie and I try and pack the books with jokes. And then we go back, and squeeze a few more in.
7. Did any good jokes get discarded in the editing process that you’re able to share with us?
There was one in particular but it would be so complicated to explain that your ears would fall off if I told you, and then you’d go mad and marry a cat called Simon.
8. I loved the concept of Neverpeople, and the thought of an alternative version of me walking around in a parallel universe. What would be the characteristics of your own Neverperson?
He would hate tea. And he would be absolutely stuffed full of prawns, day and night.
1.I love your illustrations in Hamish and the Neverpeople. Who decides which passages of the book to illustrate, and did you get any or all say in this?
Thank you very much! Most often, I’ll get a brief from my (very lovely) designer which has been looked over and decided upon by Danny and the book editor, that details which passages in each chapter they’d like me to illustrate. Sometimes, we’ll have a meeting and I’ll be there too, and we’ll all sit around a table with the text in front of us and discuss what we think would be the coolest stuff to draw (I especially like meetings as they usually involve cake). Usually, there’s some really obvious moments (like awesome battles or scary monsters), but sometimes we need to have some quiet ones in there, and most definitely as many funny ones as we can think of. And always, if there’s something I think would be really fun or something that I simply must draw, I’m allowed to do that too, and the designers will fit the text around my sneaky new illustration. It’s quite a fluid, collaborative process, with no particular rules set in stone.
2.My personal favourite illustrations in Hamish and the Neverpeople are the gang dressed up in their fancy dress disguises, and the supermarket trolley escape. It must have been a blast illustrating Hamish. Which scenes did you enjoy drawing most? And which, if any, proved to be the most problematic?
Hamish is a REAL blast to illustrate! I love the world Danny has created. It’s got a bit of everything, is funny and action-packed, with some real surprises, so I’m always kept on my toes and never get bored. There’s been quite a few scenes I’ve really enjoyed drawing, to be honest! Anything that involves the Terribles is always great, it’s such ridiculous fun making them as grotesque and ugly as I can! The addition of the Hypnobots, too, that was awesome. Basically, I love drawing villains and monsters, they’re way more fun than the good guys! I also really enjoyed showing the Other London. I live in London, so it was great to add in all the jokes and silly things that make the other London so different to our own, whilst still making it quite recognisable. As for difficult scenes…hmmm, there were quite a few, to be honest! I probably shouldn’t say, in case anyone gets any ideas to make me draw them again! There are quite a lot of crowd scenes now, which, whilst I actually enjoy showing all the different characters, can be quite difficult, as you need to make sure the main characters or action is centre-stage and draws the eye, so there tends to be a lot of re-drawing and re-jigging of a lot of characters when I draw these scenes.
3.I would imagine the Neverpeople would have been tricky to illustrate, as they needed to look like the opposite of their person, but also have subtle similarities to link them. How did you go about achieving this?
I loved doing this! It was a real challenge, but super fun at the same time. I’d gotten to know Hamish and the gang quite well in Hamish and the WorldStoppers – I knew how each of the characters stood, the expressions they would pull and how they would act in certain situations. So when I was asked to design the NeverPeople, it was simply a case of thinking what the opposite of that would be. Hamish, of course, is a pretty good kid, who sees the best in other people and tries to think things through before he acts. It was obvious, then, that Holly would be rash, quick to anger and would always be ready for action! I made her look quite angry, and often in quite dramatic-poses with lots of movement, so that it looked like she would jump in first and ask questions later! I was sent many character descriptions from Danny too, these really helped a lot. He would tell me their likes and dislikes, their catch-phrases and things they were least likely to do or say. It really helped me build a picture of these guys in my head.
4.The style of illustrations in the book are really vibrant and energetic. Have you always had this distinctive style, or has it developed through your career?
It has most definitely developed over my career. I have always LOVED animation, I actually nearly studied animation, and so I always try and have a lot of movement and ‘acting’ in my drawings, I want the characters to feel alive. It was at university that I realised how much I liked using ink, and how fun it was to be messy and quick with my work, instead of obsessing over the tiniest details. Why spend ages carefully drawing lines and shading when you can splat a whole load of ink on the page and move it round with a big ol’ brush? As I worked on different books, I learned different techniques, and studied what I liked and didn’t like about my work. Also when you are exposed to other artist’s work, and the techniques they use, you soak it in – consciously and unconsciously. Your tastes change, or you may see something which really inspires you, or find a new paint or brush or pen that feels great and it all goes into this big pot in your mind and comes out of your pencil! It makes being an artist really exciting and really frustrating at the same time: it’s exciting to always have new challenges and to always be improving, but it’s frustrating that your work is NEVER exactly what you want it to be. It would be terrible if I ever thought it was, though, how boring would that be?
5. Which artists or illustrators have inspired and influenced you?
I could never list them all, we would be here all week! With the internet, and how easy it is to see the work of others these days, I think I’m inspired by someone every hour! I am hugely interested by animation and comics, especially the likes of Disney, Laika, Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon, with all of their amazing artists. As for illustrators, it’s quite an obvious one, but the scratchy, energetic linework of Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle have been huge influences on me, and they both taught me that you don’t, in fact, have to colour within the line. There are so many artists I love, but at the moment I’m really liking the work of Sara Ogilvie, Kennard Pak and Karl James Mountford, plus the friends I am very lucky to have who are also illustrators, hanging out with them and seeing their work is always a massive inspiration.
6. Did you always want to be an illustrator? And how did you go about getting into the profession?
I think, deep down, I always wanted to be. I have ALWAYS loved drawing, and have always drawn pretty much every day, since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I used to think I wanted to be a film director. I used to spend weeks drawing out storyboards for the ‘movies’ I was going to make. Usually it was just me ripping off things like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, but I loved it and it kept me drawing! My dad had a video camera, and asked why I didn’t take it out and try to make some short films? I never wanted to, though. Slowly, I realised that it was telling a story using pictures that I loved, and I’ve never looked back! I thought that perhaps going into animation would be a good compromise, but with animation you usually work for a studio, and have to draw in the style of the project the studio ware working on. I knew I wanted to draw in my own style, and suddenly, illustration seemed like the most obvious answer and I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it. I studied illustration at university, and then, when I graduated, I was fortunate enough to win a high commendation award in the Macmillan Children’s Book awards. This got me through a few publisher’s doors, and this, plus lots of phoning, mailing, emailing and portfolio meetings later, got me my first few jobs. I managed to get an agent, who really helped me break into the industry and get meetings with the right people. Slowly but surely, with lots of hard work, it seemed to grow from there!
7. Where do you do your illustrating and what mediums do you use?
Mostly, I do my illustrating in a studio space I have in North London. I do a lot of digital work, and use a cintiq tablet to do it, and that, as well as my trusty scanner and light box, are all there. Walking to and from my studio is where a lot of my ideas come to me. I do use mixed media, though, and I do all my watercolour painting and inking in my flat. This is because I share a studio, and I think my studio mates would go nuts if I made the type of mess I make whilst painting and inking in the studio. I’m able to spread my artwork all over the place in my room (trust me, I get MESSY when I’m racing towards deadlines – it helps with the creativity, right?!) so I do it all there, safe from the screams and cries of studio mates. Everything always ends up being scanned in and on photoshop in the end, though, kind of like a collage of mediums and textures, tidied up and brought together digitally. Saying that – I always have a sketchbook on me, and am constantly doodling and scribbling down ideas when I’m out and about.
8.I’ve asked Danny this question, and I want to ask you also, What would be the characteristics of your Neverperson?
Oh man. They’d probably be incredibly ugly and a horrible person, am I right?! In all seriousness, I think she’d be quite similar to Holly – she’d probably be very aggressive, and always up for a fight! She’d be great at maths, too. I also happen to know that if I was born a girl, my parents would have called me Natasha, so I suspect that would be her name, too.
Huge big thanks again to Danny and Jamie for those brilliant answers. So please, read Hamish and the Neverpeople, in fact read all the Lollies books, and vote for your favourite. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the rest of the Lollies blog tour taking place this week.
To find out more about Danny, check out his prawn free spot on the internet:
Jamie Littler has a rather beautiful corner of the internet right here:
Thanks you for reading this Book Monster review.