We host plenty of Q&A sessions on our blog but this time we are so excited to share a dual Q&A with both author, Simon Philip and illustrator, Nathan Reed about their collaboration on Achoo!
Achoo is a brilliantly bonkers tale of sneezes gone wrong. How much fun did you have in creating your parts of the story?
I had a brilliant time writing Achoo!, which is, indeed, bonkers – establishing it as bonkers very early on in the story (e.g. sneezing an elephant in a canoe) meant that anything could happen, so it was fun to have such creative freedom. I always love writing in rhyme and the challenge that it presents; when the rhyme scheme is particularly prescriptive, there’s a lot of problem-solving involved, and I find finding the right words and order of words really satisfying.
This has been a dream text to illustrate and before I was sent “ACHOO!”, I’d always thought it would be great to work with Simon ( “I Really Want the Cake” is a firm favourite in our house)
“ACHOO!” conjured up such brilliant characters and scenarios for me to work with so it was great fun but also a challenge to fit everything and everyone in!
You are both incredibly talented, with several books to your names. What is your favourite thing about creating books?
Thank you very much! My favourite thing about creating picture books is actually a part of the process that I’ve basically nothing to do with, as it tends to come once my work on the story is already done – and that’s seeing the story’s artwork for the first time. It’s so exciting to see how an illustrator has brought the words and characters to life, how they’ve interpreted the story and created the visual world for it. I’ve been incredibly spoilt to work with such brilliant illustrators, and was delighted when I heard that Nathan wanted to illustrate Achoo! His artwork is packed with humour, the cast of characters that he’s created is fantastic, and the spreads are wonderfully varied, vivid and vibrant.
Generally though, I feel most myself when I’m writing something that excites me and which I think other people will enjoy. I’m not sure what I’d be if I wasn’t a writer!
I love it when a tricky spread comes together-quite often the ones that are initially challenging end up being favourites!
And it’s always a joy to see my books on bookshelves and hearing when children have enjoyed books I’ve illustrated.
This will make for a super excitable read aloud with each sneeze adding more and more chaos! What are your tips for enhancing the fun of this story for children?
When I read the story to children, I always get them to help me by shouting (at an appropriate volume, of course…) ‘ACHOO!’ whenever it appears – they seem to enjoy that! It’s also fun to see if they can guess the rhyme that’s coming after the page turn; that’ll get their imagination firing. I read Achoo! to a Reception class at one school, and a teaching assistant managed to guess almost every rhyme correctly, which was unexpected but amusing! Clearly, they’re far too predictable…
I’d also suggest taking time to pore over the illustrations – there’s so much happening on each spread, with lots of little things to notice. There’s also scope to discuss with children how they think the characters are feeling at various points, as Nathan’s endowed them with so much expression – or, indeed, how the child might feel if the events in the book were to happen to them.
I’ve discovered it’s a great read aloud with my youngest and there’s a great rhythm to Simon’s text. Think the key is to encourage your child to fill in the gaps and to allow the ACHOOS to get louder and longer as the story unfolds!
Feigned shock and surprise is important and might be fun to introduce a real life spotty hanky for the ACHOOS!!!
And look out for the ducks on each page!
How long did it take to write and illustrate this book?
To be honest, I can’t really remember, as I wrote the first draft of Achoo! in July 2018 – quite a while ago now. But I’m sure I rewrote it a few times before it was polished enough to submit to publishers. Once Bloomsbury had signed it up, I worked a lot on it with Pari Thomson, my editor, who helped get it to a publishable state!
No comment! For my part, let’s just say it took a while for me to get it how I wanted it to look and I did feel a pressure to do the text justice!
Did you spend time chatting it through with each other or was each part done independently?
Nathan very kindly got in touch before starting work on the book to ask whether there was anything specific he should know about my thoughts on the text. I think I mentioned a couple of things and Nathan incorporated them brilliantly into the final artwork. We also shared the odd message at the various stages of the book’s development, I think. There wasn’t much to these though – it was mainly me enthusing over Nathan’s artwork, to be honest!
Simon and I did email each other initially and I was keen to let him know how much I loved the story! I asked him how he wanted the book to look but he and Bloomsbury pretty much gave me free reign to go and work out the spreads as I saw them compostionally.
Is a lot of your work still done by hand or on a computer now?
I always write down (somewhere, in some form) every idea I have, as I learned early on that relying on memory to recall an idea is a terrible, terrible mistake. Thinking ‘I’ll remember that later’ is fine…until it’s not, because you’ve forgotten what ‘that’ was. If I don’t have a notebook or paper to hand, then I’ll write things down in Notes on my phone, then transfer these to paper later.
I find the physical act of writing things by hand helps aid creativity, and I’ll do all of the initial planning and experimenting with pencil/pen and paper. Once I know roughly what the story is, I’ll move to my laptop and start working it up using that. Given how many changes to words, sentences, verses and events that I make as I go along, it’s just far more efficient this way – otherwise I’d be constantly crossing or rubbing out what I’d just written, were I working by hand.
I do all line roughs/doodles and final artwork digitally using my slightly ancient wacom tablet and a small pool of digital brushes!
What do you want children to take from reading this story?
First and foremost, I hope that they’ll laugh and find it a funny, enjoyable story. Ideally, it’ll be one that they ask to be read to them again and again. But hopefully they’ll also understand that manners are important, even though that message is delivered in a completely absurd way!
To really enjoy the sense of fun in the book (and of course to remember to cover their noses when they sneeze!)
Are you each working on anything new that you can share or is it all hush-hush?
I’m always trying to write new things! My next book after Achoo! is the fourth in my and Lucia Gaggiotti’s series with Templar, called I Really Want to Share, which publishes end of September. I’m pleased to say that Nathan and I have at least one more book together to come after Achoo! and hopefully more, all being well…
I’m currently working on the follow up to “Achoo!” which is equally bonkers and fun.
I also have a fiction series coming out this month called “My Mum is a Spy” written by Andy Mcnab and Jess French.
What tips would you offer children who want to pursue a career as an author or illustrator?
Read, read, read – anything! Write, write, write – anything! And, if being an illustrator is the aspiration, draw, draw, draw – anything! Keep going and belief in yourself. Perhaps most importantly, try to enjoy the process and have fun.
Draw lots but don’t overuse your rubber/eraser and don’t worry if things don’t go quite as you planned! A lot of perceived mistakes bring character to your artwork!
And of course read lots and keep safe those picture books or fictions books you really love.
They’ll prove great inspiration in the future.