On Thursday, June 19, children's author Dave Lowe - author of the awesomely funny Stinky and Jinks books - flew halfway round the world to meet children at two Abingdon Primary Schools.
OK, that's not strictly true. Dave was born in Dudley in the West Midlands and grew up in England, so when we found out he was back in the country for two weeks visiting family, and given how we LOVE his books - including 'My Hamster Is A Genius' and 'My Hamster's Got Talent' - we convinced the publisher to get Dave to interrupt his family holiday, which he duly did...
Cue lots of hamster hilarity at Thomas Reade Primary and Carswell Primary Schools, as Dave explained how his own experience with pets (notably begging for a pet, and getting a baby brother instead) informed some of the ideas behind his books...
As a child, David did eventually get a hamster (after guinea pigs and various canaries with imaginative names) but of course Jasper Stinkybottom - the grumpy, brilliant hamster in Dave's books - is a fantasy of a child's perfect pet: a hamster who helps his owner Ben out of various maths-generated difficulties with his nemesis, teacher Beardy McCreedy. They are fun, funny and extremely well written - and Dave explained some of the secrets behind his writing style.
As Dave explained, writing a book is a doddle. He tends to get a first draft down pretty quickly (in fact, when asked how he writes, Dave explained that he just sits there with a pen and paper each day until *something* is written). The real problems come with the editing - working hard to polish, revise and find the right words. He will do 15-20 re-writes to make it more readable and funny, and it's very, very hard work.
As well as stories of his own pets, children were challenged on their own knowledge of animals, and whether they were "Smarter than a Hamster". We learned some incredible facts about whether or not tigers have striped skin, things you can tell about a whale involving earwax, and why you should never keep a penguin in a fridge...
The children were full of some great questions: what's the best thing about living in Australia (the weather) and to weight a whale, do you *really* use a 'Whale Weigh Station'?
Thanks very much to the amazing teachers at Carswell and particularly at Thomas Reade where classes had been reading the Stinky and Jinks books. Thanks to Dave - including his young family who must know the most about Abingdon for any Australian having spent a whole day in the town. And special thanks to Olivia from Templar who used her experience as a bookseller to keep the children entertained in the queue...
It was a fun, inspiring event - and of course we whisked Dave back to the shop to ask him a few more questions about his writing inspiration...
Five questions with . . . Dave Lowe's writing life
1. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a book for an older age-group at the moment, a fantasy-type of book for ages 8-11, a sort of Narnia type of book, which I'm about halfway through. But I'm also writing text for some children's picture books, so I'm sort of going older and younger from the Stinky and Jinks books!
2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
(thinks hard) Well, if you are a budding writer, don't think of yourself as a budding writer, but instead as a *writer*. I always thought of myself as a writer, just one who had never been published. You work for years and years, getting better, so that when you are published there's a lot of 'back pay' for the work you already did! You payment is in the future, but there is no difference in terms of the product you produce - your writing.
3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is children's imaginations, they have amazing imaginations. And that means you don't have to pile adjectives and adverbs on top of each other, your reader will do the job for you, it all comes out of their brains. this doesn't work for adults, they need extra help - but for kids, they do the work for you, you just need to tell the story.
The worst thing is, once I've spent some time in a child's world, I find it quite hard to get back into the adult world. If you've just spent five hours with stupid jokes about pirates, it's kind of tough (and a bit of a shock) to have to, I don't know, go into a shop and talk to other adults.
4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
Well, I drink a lot of tea! I also write on very narrow, lined paper for my first draft. I'll then edit this, and usually write it out again entirely in longhand. After that, I'll get it onto computer. I always write out a draft at least once by hand - it takes ages! But for me, I feel that getting it onto computer feels like the book is in its final stage, so if I have stuff on the computer - and it's rubbish - I get very annoyed.
5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
I wrote a book before the Stinky and Jinks books, and it was about a boy who discovered a book of his dead grandfathers's inventions, and he tries to replicate them. The joke was of course that his grandfather was a terrible inventor, and most of the inventions didn't work or ended up doing something totally opposite. That book didn't get published, but an agent took the time to write me a proper letter rather than a standard rejection (which I'd been getting up until that point). For me, it was a turning point, because although I wasn't taken on, it gave me encouragement that I was on the right path.
So I wrote another book, sent it out to ten UK agents, I get 3 or 4 really strong responses and one agent loved it. That was Madeline, my current agent, who is amazing.