We’re in Celebrityland, where The Author must be noticed. Harry Hill’s trademark specs decorate the dustwrapper and, when his tiny hero watches TV (his full-size set is an iPod), it’s Harry Hill’s TV Burp he’s watching. There are numerous nods to adult readers, with references to Barry Cryer, Dr Robert Winston and Buy-to-Let Flats. A cheque for royalties is signed by ‘A. Faber’ and drawn on ‘The Bank of Eliot’. Phrases like ‘ultimate endorsement’ or ‘a hint of sarcasm creeping into his voice’ imply the writer/illustrator has at least two audiences in mind.
Would Messrs Faber have published this second book in the ‘Tim’ series if it hadn’t been written by a Celeb? Quite possibly, but an editor might then have felt more confident about deleting some of those knowing nods. The stories of Tim the Tiny Horse (he’s coloured blue and is smaller than a conventional equine hoof) have an everyday familiarity. Tim’s best friend is Fly. Fly gets married and Tim makes a hugely successful Best Horse speech. Tim’s lonely and thinks he’s in love with Fly’s sister Chenille, but she isn’t with him – her ‘compound eyes’ mean she looks at everyone like that. Fly and Mrs Fly produce a Maggot, and Tim proves a hopeless babysitter. Tim gets a greenfly pet. And so on. Simple, small-scale, gently funny – and since the joke is usually on Tim who is ‘never sorry for himself’, he becomes an endearing mini-hero. The illustrations are tiny themselves, often no more than a head or two: blue Tim with black Fly; blue Tim accidentally muzzled by a spaghetti hoop; blue Tim just thinking. Occasionally these images are interrupted by a bright splash of photography. The words, often fewer than twenty to a page, are printed as if by a childlike hand.
For all that, those adult nods make for an uneasy read. The charm is too self-aware and though the stories may well work at one level for a child, they also seem intended for the coffee table and the middle-class loo.