Monday, 21 July 2014

Joining in with Little Tiger Press's fabulous "Reading Rocks" summer campaign, we grill Sue Mongredien and Nick East about "Harry and the Monster"

We're joined for another themed post for Little Tiger Press's fantastic "Reading Rocks" campaign. All summer long, Little Tiger will be encouraging little readers to have a great time reading for pleasure over the summer. And what better way to kick off a summer of stories than with the utterly fabulous "Harry and the Monster" by Sue Mongredien and Nick East. 

Pop by and read our review but we've also been lucky enough to put some tricky questions to Sue and Nick, so without further ado let's get things under way!

1) Hi Nick and Sue, thanks for stopping by ReadItDaddy - Tell =us a little bit about yourselves!
SM: Hello, thanks for having us! I’m Sue, and I wrote the words of the story. I live in beautiful Bath with my husband and our three children, and spend a lot of time staring out the window – I mean, thinking up ideas for new stories.

NE: I'm Nick and come from the land of flat caps, whippets and Yorkshire pud and I also live in a beautiful city called York. I draw and colour-in and have a weird collection of Pink Lady apple stickers on the side of my desk (well where else do you put them when your apple's finished).

2) We really love "Harry and the Monster". We particularly liked the balance and the core theme of the story (the idea that even monsters can be scared of something!) and the fantastic illustrations. What inspired you both when putting the book together?

SM: The story came from my son, Tom, having bad dreams when he was much younger. Nobody was getting much sleep! In the end, I suggested trying to turn a bad dream into a funny dream and a little story lightbulb lit up in my head…

NE: On my first read of Harry and the Monster I scribbled and doodled all over my printout of Sue's text - which is always a good sign for me. Some stories just trigger instant visuals, they begin like a wobbly mirage in the head and solidify as pencil goes on paper, it's always my favourite part of the process.

3) We consistently find 'dark' children's books end up as our "Book of the Week" winners, why do you think children are drawn to books that dally with darker subject matter?

SM: I think for the same reason that as adults, we find ourselves drawn in by darker films or books too – it’s the delicious lure of feeling a bit scared and shivery! For children, having a story read to you by a parent or grandparent or older sibling is such a safe and lovely thing to do, it creates a secure environment in which to discuss any fears raised in a darker story. It definitely makes a happy ending more satisfying too.

NE: Yes I agree Sue, we all adore to be scared a little bit. As a small boy I remember being terrified by those wonderful monsters in Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' but as the story progresses they become a bit foolish and dependant on Max, making them all seem a bit silly. Until Max leaves the island and the wild things cry 'Oh please don't go - we'll eat you up - we love you so!' I found this quite shocking at the time but actually really loved it!

4) With that in mind, did anyone ever raise concerns over the monster in the book? He does seem a bit of a rotter at first!

SM: The idea was always for him to SEEM scary and awful but for there to be a hidden depth to him. Plus Nick has drawn him with such comedy, I can’t help feeling he’s rather loveable underneath all that roaring and bellowing.

NE: That was exactly the idea Sue - I wanted him to be all bark and no bite. He had to have all the usual things scary monsters have but to instantly look a bit daft and vulnerable at the same time. Lets face it a purple monster with a pot belly, fluffy tail, blunt claws and pink underpants on his head, can never really be that threatening.

5) Art and story work together so well in "Harry and the Monster" - How easy was it to collaborate on the book and bounce ideas off each other?

SM: It is always quite nerve-racking, handing a story over and seeing how an artist brings your characters to life. But from the very first sketches I saw of Nick’s ideas for Harry and the Monster, I knew I was in safe hands. Thank you, Nick!

NE: My pleasure Sue! Unfortunately on most collaborations authors and illustrators don't meet at all - sorry to disappoint! Maybe publishers want to keep nutty arty types (like me) away from very capable and intelligent writer types (like Sue)!

6) What's the best advice you can give to an author or illustrator looking to break into children's books?

SM: Do your research. Sit and read books with a child and get a feel for what they find funny or exciting. Don’t patronise or under-estimate your reader, and don’t over-describe the action: let the pictures do the talking, too! Finally, it’s vital to read your own story aloud to see how it sounds. The acid test is when you reach the end and a child says the magic word: “Again!”

NE: Illustration involves a lot of drawing, as you might have guessed. And if you love to draw and draw and draw and draw with a bit of colouring in, then maybe it's the illustrators life for you. If I had my time again I would go to art college - there are some brilliant illustration courses in this country that will teach you everything you need to know. But other than that, always browse bookshops, keep a sketchbook, draw funny, unusual and original characters and never ever give up if it's what you really want to do!

From Charlotte:

1) Who is your favourite monster?

SM: Am I allowed to say the monster in this story? I do love him. When he’s not growling and stomping, I think he looks very huggable. Otherwise, I’d have to say Sully and Mikey from Monsters, Inc. When my children were little, we watched that film a LOT!

NE: Funny you should say that Sue. A little girl (who shall remain unnamed) said to me that she needed a cuddly toy of the monster NOW!! So he obviously has that huggable appeal. To answer your question Charlotte I would have to say Fungus the Bogeyman. I read this book hundreds of times as a child and he is definitely still my favourite monster.

2) Which is harder, drawing or writing?

SM: Oh, writing. WRITING! Definitely writing! (But I would say that, wouldn’t I? :-D )

NE: Writing is so much harder - believe me I've had a go!!

3) Will Harry and Monster ever come back in another book?

SM: Hmmm, good question. I don’t have any plans to write another Harry and the Monster book right now, but you never know. And if they do come back for another book, I think they’d be friends now, don’t you?

NE: If he does the book should definitely come with a cuddly toy!

Huge huge thanks to Nick and Sue for some brilliantly entertaining answers to our tricky questions. Do not miss the fantastic "Harry and the Monster" by Sue Mongredien and Nick East, published by Little Tiger Press. (Pink pants on head are optional)

If you'd like to have a go at putting together your own monster creations, download and print this fabulous Monster Sheet!