How would you describe Shrunk!? Is it primarily a comedy, an adventure story, or a fantasy story?
When SHRUNK! came out on to the page, and it was a bit of a rush, I think I thought it was an adventure, with traces of inevitable comedy – it probably still is. I’ve never thought of it as a fantasy. I mean – it could happen, couldn’t it?
Shrunk! is your debut novel for children. What about it pleases you the most?
For me, I think the relationship between the three boys is the best thing about SHRUNK!. Eric is clever and forgiving, in a way that is almost saintly. Jacob unrepentant and ridiculous, and Tom, a sort of everyman/boy. I didn’t plan it, they just grew that way, and when I read it back, there they were, fully formed their characters shaping the story.
You are a graduate of the Bath MA Course in Writing for Children, which seems to be producing an extraordinary number of highly talented new authors. What was the single most important thing the course taught you?
When we began on the course, Julia Green asked us what we wanted from it. I said I wanted to be a better writer and by the time I’d finished I was a much better writer, in every sense. Without becoming a better writer, I knew that the rest of it would be impossible.
You’ve written in your blog about the necessity of appealing to reluctant readers. Did you have them particularly in mind when you were writing Shrunk!? If so, how did it affect the book?
I have to apologise for the use of “constellations” and “binoculars” on the first page. I really didn’t have them in the first draft because I wanted to use short sentences, simple words and whisk children through the story quickly, so that they didn’t get bored. I’ve kept the number of characters down, the timescale short and there are very few introspective moments in the story, very little description. I’ve tried to sum people up by what they say, how they move, not enter into lengthy discussion of their life history as I know that children like my daughter give up and lose interest.
Favourite baddie in a children’s book: the bully or the little sister?
She’s not really a little sister and in a way she’s not a baddy, but Violet Elizabeth “I’ll Scweam, and I’ll Scweam!” is so fantastically irritating, that I regularly re-visit Richmal Crompton, simply to revel in Violet Elizabeth’s awfulness.
Equally – I love the fox in the Fast Fox, Slow Dog Allan Ahlberg books. He’s such an incompetent bully, but he gives a frisson of fear to the child reading the book and my children loved him.
Favourite hero: geek or granny?
Positive grannies seem to be underrepresented in children’s fiction – Anderson and the Grimms didn’t help by confusing old women with witches. Old men have had a better time, Charlie Bucket’s grandfather, a case in point. He’s a wise old stick, and without him, Charlie wouldn’t be such a wise child. And geeks? I suppose Hermione Granger is the ultimate, if rather glamorous geek – a far cry from my Eric.
Much of the action in Shrunk! takes place in a model village – what do you think is the special appeal of model villages – or of miniature things in general?
Model villages belong to the seaside of the 1950s – they sum up the whole ice-cream, damp afternoons, crazy golf, wasp in the sandwiches British Seaside. I love them in the same way I love amusement arcades that dispense plastic pendants from tuppenny fountains and bathing huts that smell of other people’s feet.Add to that the whole tiny thing, and I’m in ecstasies. Tiny things always attract children.Tiny tractors, trains, dolls, don’t all children play with tiny versions of real life? Scale is something we take for granted so when we discover a tiny jammy dodger or a minute copy of The Hobbit, it messes with our heads, sends us back into childhood. Have we grown? Have these things shrunk? I know Swift wrote about Lilliput as a political allegory, but he was on to something there.
If you could shrink anything to carry round in your pocket, what would it be?
Oh – this one’s hard – I think, if I was allowed, a tiny version of our house, odd socks, leaky roof and all.