The Cat and the Rat and the Hat by Em Lynas

We have a fantastic guest post from Em Lynas about writing funny books! A fascinating look at where the ideas for her newest picture book came from!

Someone recently asked me – How do you write funny books?

That’s a big question and I couldn’t answer because I wasn’t sure but it started me thinking. I don’t write jokes. I don’t write puns. I don’t write toilet humour, nothing wrong with toilet humour some of the funniest books have farts in them and children find those hilarious. But I don’t write them.

I think I usually start with a character I find amusing. Then I think about them and I start hearing and seeing them. I put them into situations and listen to them, to find out how they’d react and then their behaviours create the comedy.

But with The Cat and The Rat and The Hat it all began with a phrase that popped into my head while I was walking up the very steep cliff steps where I live in Saltburn by the Sea on the northeast coast. There are lots of steps and I try to distract myself from the puffing and panting by thinking of anything else but the next step. The phrase was This is the cat.

I have no idea why. Maybe I’d seen a cat? There is a cat that visits the prom every day, someone has even built a little hut for it to shelter in, so maybe I’d seen that cat?

I walk up those steps at least three times a week so with every climb I added phrases. This is the cat that sat on the mat. This is the cat that sat in a hat. This is the cat that saw a big rat. This is the cat in the big hat. Then I wrote down any I could remember when I got home. After a few weeks I had pages of phrases but no plot.

Luckily, it was summer and I could sit in my garden and dream plots, which has to be the best job in the world. A few ideas blossomed along with the plants and something developed into more than an idea. It was a fight between the cat and the rat for the hat that would end in neither of them winning. Then a new character, suggested by Tegen Evans, my Nosy Crow picture book editor, came in to create even more conflict. The Bat with the fancy cravat.

The next stage was to research other at words that I might have missed and see if I could work in as many as possible. That was fun! I love working with words, switching things round, trying it this way and that way to get the right rhythm and sound. I was really pleased to get splat, acrobat and cravat in as I didn’t want to just have one syllable at words.

Then there was the structure of the plot. I love plots that come full circle so I knew I wanted to end on the same/similar language and image as I began. So it starts with the cat playing, sleeping, dreaming on the mat but ends with the – oops! No spoilers. The book has a mirror image structure and I love what Nosy Crow designer Nia Roberts has done with the chase spreads on spreads five and ten – you have to turn the book round!

Creating a picture book is a team effort and so much of the comedy comes from the illustrations. Matt Hunt has done an amazing job. He’s created characters full of life and fun and those expressions are just fabulous. My favourite page is the tiny rat sitting all alone with no hat.

The Cat and the rat was such fun to write and I have found myself with a new phrase in my head as I climb Saltburn steps. This is the rat that sat on the cat…

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat by Em Lynas and Matt Hunt is published by Nosy Crow and is available now!

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