Monster Hunting for Beginners- Blog Tour

Our stop on the blog tour features a Q&A with Ian Mark!!

Where did the idea and inspiration for this book come from?

The book has actually been in existence in one form or another for more than ten years, so it’s hard to remember precisely how it began. I think it’s safe to say that it probably started life as the title, and then I had the idea of Jack meeting a grumpy little man who gives him a magical book and tricks him into becoming his apprentice. I wrote a short version very quickly, and gradually it grew over the years with the addition of new characters like Nancy and Humbert the bear, and of course more monsters. I kept putting it away in my bottom drawer, then digging it out again, and expanding the world and adding more jokes. I could possibly have gone on doing that for another ten years and more. It’s quite different now than when it began, but I think the germ of it is still the same.

You reference several fairy tales, which will be instantly familiar for young readers. Do you think fairy tales are still an important part of our reading culture?

That’s actually a difficult question to answer. I hope so! Fairy tales have always been most readers’ first encounters with story, they were certainly mine, and it gave me a sense of what a story was and what to expect when I heard one. They contain the archetypal building blocks of every story, and can be endlessly taken apart and reassembled in new ways. Hearing fairy stories also imparts a sense of tradition. The reader or hearer is only the latest of a long, unending line of people who’ve been told the same stories before. Children’s lives have changed a lot, meaning they now come into contact with countless different ways of telling stories from an early age, so fairy tales will inevitably change too. What’s most fun now is to see the traditional tales being subverted cheekily with humour and anarchy. It keeps them relevant.

Do you have a favourite fairy tale?

Too many to list them all! One of my favourite books as a child was an illustrated collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, though I didn’t notice until I was much older how dark some of them were. The first two stories were The Little Matchstick Girl and The Red Shoes, which are both quite strange and scary, but I just loved the atmosphere they conjured up. Rather than having a favourite story, I’d say I like the little details in different stories. For example, in the Brothers Grimm tale The Seven Ravens, a girl sets out on a journey to find her lost brothers who’ve been transformed into birds. She asks the moon for help, but the moon is wicked, and roars: “I smell, I smell, the flesh of men.” She then has to cut off her little finger to use as a key to open a door into a glass mountain.

These images are horrible, I know, but they’re incredibly powerful, and they take root in your imagination and stay there for ever.

Actually, now I think about it, there’s a French tale called The White Rat, which is retold by Hugh Lupton in his Barefoot Books collection Tales Of Wisdom And Wonder, illustrated brilliantly by the Irish artist Niamh Sharkey. It’s about a king and queen who have no children of their own so they ask a magician to turn a little white rat into a daughter for them. He does so, but of course she remains a rat on the inside, and in the end they get the magician to turn her back so that she can be herself. I like that no one makes a fuss about her refusal to be a typical princess, they just accept that she is what she is, and that’s a rat.

Jack has a lot to learn about monsters- how much fun was it to come up with ideas for monsters and their characteristics for the Monster Hunting for Beginners handbook?

The idea of a “book within a book” opened up so many possibilities for adding new monsters who don’t necessarily appear in the story directly, but which open Jack’s eyes, and the readers’ in turn, to the teeming weirdness of the world he’s now joined. One of my favourite books is A Dictionary Of Fairies by the great story collecter Katherine Briggs. It’s an A-Z of magical creatures from every corner of Britain and Ireland. If I’m ever feeling low on inspiration, I dive back into its pages, and always find something amazing there that I’ve not noticed before. Trying to create a similar handbook for Jack was definitely fun, because it allowed for even more silliness on every page, and I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much silliness.

Your characters leap off the page and feel very real- are they based on anyone you know?

Thank you for saying they leap off the page. I couldn’t ask for a better compliment. It’s funny you should ask that, though. I was thinking about this recently, and realised that Jack is the 10 year old I would have wanted to be when I was his age, Dad is the useless grown up that I am today, and Stoop is the grumpy 200 year old who’s always thinking about food that I am on the inside. So I think they’re all different aspects of me really. I hope that doesn’t sound too egocentric, but I hardly know any real people. I generally prefer reading about made up ones.

We all love a good villain in a children’s story and Aunt Prudence is a rather wicked one. How did she develop as you wrote the story or was she always there?

Aunt Prudence just barged into the book in the same way that she does into Jack’s life. I think it would have been harder to keep her out than just let her in! But I’m shocked that you say she’s the villain. In our house, we tend to think of her as the hero. She’s a truly awful person, but I can’t help liking her too, and I feel sorry for her that she has to lose in the end to restore order. She’s just being authentically herself in an unapologetic way, and I totally share her frustration with the state of the world. She does take it a bit far admittedly, but she’s only trying to right a wrong as she sees it. Ogres really did once rule the country. Why shouldn’t they again?

Will there be more from Jack, Nancy, Stoop and Cadwallader? Can you give us any exciting clues?

There will certainly be at least two more books, and whether there are more than that depends on readers. If children like them, then I have plenty more ideas I’d love to share with them! There are so many monsters still to encounter, and the characters each have their own stories to tell. In the next book, we learn more about where Stoop comes from – as well as being introduced to lots of new monsters such as Lubbers and Noggles and Fog Goblins. Cadwallader also needs to find out if he really is the last dragon in the world, and Nancy still has her own journey to undergo to becoming a fully fledged monster hunter in her own right. I just have to keep thinking of ways to make it as funny as possible!

The footnotes are full of hilarity and sarcasm…were these always part of the plan?

I originally wrote them into the story itself, as asides, but there were so many of them in the end that I had to find other places for them to go. I also think, when you’re trying to be funny, that one idea sparks off another, and one joke leads to another, so the words are always commenting on themselves in a self-conscious way, and you’re always trying to, in a way, cut the feet out from under yourself by making fun of what you’ve written. That all seemed to fit naturally into footnotes. It’s like when you’re reading a book or watching a film, and you have this constant running commentary in your head, or else you’re making sarcastic remarks to the person next to you (who usually just wants you to shut up so they can enjoy the film). The footnotes are the equivalent of that voice in your head or in your ear. I also discovered, pleasingly, that footnotes don’t add to the word count, so you can cheat and squeeze in a few extra jokes without it mattering. To be honest, I do feel sometimes that I could write an extra footnote for every sentence, and then a footnote to each footnote, and so on, and I wouldn’t know when to stop. That’s why I wrote them in such a way that you can read them as you go along, or ignore them entirely, and either way it should make sense.

Louis Ghibault’s illustrations are superb! What did you think when you first saw them?

What I thought is that I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be paired up with someone so good. I was shown samples from a few different illustrators and they were all great, and different from each other, but there was something special about Louis’ sly, dark eye, and his pictures had an energy that I hadn’t expected. For the first time, I saw how the combination of writer and artist could work. He’d be totally himself, and I’d be totally myself, and together we’d create something new that was bigger than the sum of its parts, if that makes sense. Funnily enough, I don’t usually “see” what I write. I think entirely in words not pictures, so when I saw the way that he’d brought the characters to life it was as if I was seeing them for the first time as well. And once I’d seen them, then his Jack instantly became my Jack, and his Nancy became my Nancy, and now I can’t imagine them any other way, and that helps me as I write new stories because I can see them now. He adds a whole new level of humour I didn’t know was there.

IAN MARK is an author and part-time monster hunter living in Northern Ireland with his family and an indeterminate amount of cats. With his partner, he has written adult thrillers under the pen name Ingrid Black. Monster Hunting for Beginners is his middle grade debut.

Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark, illustrated by Louis Ghibault is published by Farshore Books, price £12.99.

Comments are closed.