‘The Next Big Thing’. Ahem.

If you’re super into these sorts of things, you may have noticed a meme called THE NEXT BIG THING doing the rounds on various authors’ and illustrators’ blogs. I’ve been tagged to join in by Anna Wilson, the tremendously funny author of (among other things) the fab new Pooch Parlour series.

I would like to stress that ‘The Next Big Thing’ is not a description of me – although it may well be if I carry on eating chocolate to offset the misery of all this rain. It’s basically a Q&A session that lets us authorly types blather on excitedly about our latest projects. I’ve had great fun hopping along the blog chain of creative folks for a nose into their business – grab yourself a cup of tea and settle down for a read. It’s rather addictive, and I hope my effort gives a little bit of insight into the publication process.

What is the title of your next book?
This is a bit tricky as I have three books coming out in 2013. How smug does that sound? I’ll pick the one I’m currently starting to see final artwork for: HOW TO WASH A WOOLLY MAMMOTH. It’s illustrated by the amazing Kate Hindley and will be published by Simon & Schuster in August 2013. (Kate has also joined in with The Next Big Thing – have a read and find out about her ‘Guide To Being A More Remarkable Bear’ here).

YUM. One of Kate Hindley’s original roughs for our book.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Woolly mammoths aren’t easy to wash, but with this handy guide, you’ll be fine-ish.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
It started out as one of many silly 150 word poems I wrote in response to a brief. I was on holiday in Nova Scotia at the time*. It never went anywhere as a poem, but it was such a quirky and funny story, and such a neat idea, that my agent and I decided to try turning it into a picture book.

*Yes, I write while on holiday. I can’t help it.

What genre does your book fall under?
Picture books. It’s short and sweet enough for tiny toddlers to enjoy, and funny enough for pre-schoolers to get a kick out of, too. It’s essentially a book about getting a reluctant child (represented by a big soppy mammoth) into the bath, so it has ‘every kid appeal’.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The mammoth costume would presumably need to be worn by two actors, pantomime horse style. I would like Timothy Spall to be the head and Keira Knightley to be the arse. That’ll teach her. The charming little girl in a sou’wester who helps wash the mammoth would need to be someone Scandinavian – she’s got that elfin look about her.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It’s being published by Simon & Schuster. Their picture book team is awesome and we’re doing another animal-packed book together soon – watch this space. My agents are Celia and James Catchpole, who are also rather wonderful. I am a very lucky author.

This also happened on the swing chair. MIND YOUR BEER.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote the original rhyming text sitting in a swing chair, out on the decking at the family beach house in Canada. That makes me sound well off and posh – I’m not; I’m just very lucky. It took about, ooh, two bottles of ice cold Moosehead. It was one of those stories that just came out perfect first time – I find the best ones always do. Here’s a teeny tiny snippet of the original:

You start by sponging down the mammoth’s ankles,
Then rub the bubbles right up to its knees.

The trouble is their feet are very ticklish,
And bubbles tend to make the mammoth sneeze.

After acquiring the text, the publishers decided they’d prefer it to be written in prose (this removes any translation issues and makes it much easier to sell co-editions), so I had to rewrite it. That’s not as straightforward as it might sound, and the reworking probably took about a week. I made some false starts and it needed some serious structural jiggery pokery, including adding in a tree and a trampoline.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Um… I’m not sure. I’m trying to think of a really wacky bath time book, or something written in handbook style, or something else equally daft but not necessarily about washing, but I can’t think of one. What’s full of slapstick? And wool? And bubbles? Dunno. I’ll keep thinking. There’s bound to be something.

Mastodon Ridge. Image via www.thelocaltravelerns.com

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
On our drive north from Nova Scotia’s Halifax airport we pass ‘Mastodon Ridge’, where a huge fibreglass mastodon sits on the brow of a hill right next to the highway. At least I hope it’s made of fibreglass; it looks quite realistic and is very eerie at dusk. I’ve got a real thing about quirky beasties, I’m always on the look out for the next one to write a silly story about, and a woolly mammoth was perfect because I couldn’t find any other picture books about them at the time (even though I was writing poems, I always have picture books in my head). What’s not to love about a big fluffy elephant?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Kate Hindley’s illustrations are out-of-this-world-brilliant. I don’t know anyone else who gives critters such character – and so much FLUFF. I think if you were to count the hairs on our mammoth, there would be exactly as many as a real one had. Kate also has a flair for adding in unlikely, often vintage-styled props like gramophones, cranes and cupcakes. She takes funny to a whole new level, and I would happily hang any one of her illustrations on my wall. I suspect you would, too. Check out THE GREAT SNORTLE HUNT, illustrated by Kate and written by Claire Freedman of Aliens Love Underpants fame. You won’t regret it.

Well, that was fun. Thank you, Anna, for tagging me – have a read of Anna’s own Next Big Thing post here to find out about her intriguing mystery involving a pug dog, of all things. Hmm, who to tag next? How about clever clogs illustrator Nick East, because I’m desperate to know what he’s up to beyond being kept busy by me and our ‘Goodnight’ series with Puffin.

And then there’s marvellous illustrator, Sheena Dempsey – I’m keen to see what she has up her sleeve, her blog has some tantalising snippets of work in progress.

I also really want to tag brand new, horribly talented, rather mysterious author CJ Harper, whose upcoming debuts in TWO WHOLE GENRES are about to knock everyone’s socks off. BUT… she’s so new on the scene she’s still in the process of setting up her blog. This is, therefore, a tag-for-when-you’re-good-and-ready kind of tag, and a heads up to all you literati types who want a tip on who to keep an eye on. Trust me: CJ Harper is going to be BIG.

Have fun blog hopping, folks. You’d better fetch yourself another cup of tea.