Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Hugless...

When you come into Mostly Books, there are a few 'signature' books, ranges and authors that people have got to know us for over the years. Our Persephone Books have been a feature of the shop since we opened, and favourite authors of the staff tend to do well on the shelves too: Reginald Hill, Neal Stephenson, Brandon Sanderson and a few others we have more than a soft spot for.

Amongst shrines to authors in the children's room, you'll find Catherine Rayner, Julia Donaldson - and local children's author David Melling.

We've known David for many years, and recent events with him have seen a drawing masterclass at the local library, and also a splendid make-your-own-Douglas event that took place in the courtyard garden. But what has been really exciting is to see how 'Douglas' has really taken off and quickly won a place as a modern classic, shortlisted for plenty of awards, even spawning a hugely popular and pioneering smartphone app (itself up for awards).

Douglas has featured rather largely in the shop window for the last few months:


Hodder have done a great job turning Hugless into a very cute plush together with the book. Just look at his little nose and scarf:

David recently came into the shop to kindly sign copies of his books for us, and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his writing (and drawing) life...

Five questions with . . . David Melling's writing life
1.    What are you working on at the moment?
'We love you Douglas' the fourth Douglas book, then I’m taking a break from Douglas. I’m then working on a new character, not entirely sure of his name, but probably called ‘Warren’. It’s going to bit more slapstick humour than Douglas, a bit of a change of pace. The feedback from my publisher in terms of what they like about my work is my characters: they like the pathos, humour and the strength of character – and Warren will focus on all of these elements.

2.    What is the best writing tip you've ever been given?
I think my knee-jerk response to that question is: do a little each day. It’s very important. Kids often ask me ‘how do you do that?’ when I draw, and it all comes down to a little each day. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport. You don’t pick up your tennis racquet one day and be volleying, hitting winning shots the next. The more you practice the better you get, and that’s the same with drawing and writing.

3.    What's the best and worst thing about being a children's writer?
The best thing is to be able to sit down and write and draw all day long. I’m very lucky, and there is nothing better. The worst aspect is towards the end of a project however, you do long and unusual hours, you neglect your family. That can be tough.

4.    Do you have a writer's survival kit?
Well, I did hear that Andrew Motion finds Lemsip gets him all creative, and Agatha Christie apparently used to bathe in a hot bath with apples, and the aroma inspired her! If I’m stuck, I’ll go for a walk, or drive, in fact – just get moving. I find train journeys are very useful in that regard. I do a lot of work in coffee shops, just doodling when ideas come. I always have a sketchbook on me, and so can always write stuff down.

The cartoonist James Thurber once said the hardest part of his job was convincing his wife that when he was standing and staring out the window he was actually hard at work. And that’s true. When I’m sitting and staring out of the window, having a meditative moment, that’s when ideas come. It links back to the joy of the job, at any point – whatever I’m doing – I can pull back from reality a little, and dip into the writing well.

5.    What was your big breakthrough?
I had two big breakthroughs. The first was in my 20s, when I was introduced to an illustrator who lived a couple of streets away. I was very lucky, and for a year I apprenticed to him, and was able to build up a portfolio. If you have the opportunity to apprentice to someone great, it’s very fortunate, and a wonderful opportunity - but to find someone nearby in the same town was incredibly lucky.

Breakthrough number two was whilst working at an animation studio. I had been building my portfolio up, and realised that my big passion was children’s books. At the time I made this decision and starting to look around, I was introduced to someone who had just set up on her own as an agent, and was looking for clients. It was perfect timing, and although it took almost two years to get published, having guidance within the industry was incredibly useful. I’m happy to say that – nearly twenty years later – she is still my agent!

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For more insights into David's writing life, visit his rather splendid website here. And if you are a young fan of Douglas, you can vote for him in the Red House Children's Book Awards here. And of course, we have signed copies of Douglas (including rarely signed copies with the plush) in the shop. Just email books@mostly-books.co.uk if we can send you a last minute, rather special Christmas present...

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