Q&A with children's author Giles Andreae
Giles Andreae is the creator of Purple Ronnie and The Interesting Thoughts of Edward Monkton, as well as author of many children's classics, including Pants, Giraffes Can't Dance, Rumble in the Jungle and The Lion Who Wanted Love.
To celebrate the launch of his new series of books, World of Happy, Giles joined us in April 2011 to answer your questions on everything from learning to rhyme and the inspiration for his books, to his personal experiences of depression and what makes him happy.
Blatherskite: Just wanted to say thank you for writing There's a House Inside My Mummy. We bought it for my son when I was expecting my daughter, and have since passed it on to friends, who passed it on, who passed it on. Have you ever thought of writing an alternate version where the new baby is a girl? We found out at our 20-week scan that new baby was going to be a girl and kept having to fudge the ending for our son.
Giles: It's an interesting question, Blatherskite. To be completely frank, the baby is a "brother" because it produced a nice rhyme with "Until she has another!" which just seemed like a fun ending. Unfortunately, the English language only really provides for a "he" or a "she" so, either way, I'd have had to pick one sex only. As you may have read, this book was written for my first son. We were actually blessed in the end by boy and girl twins!
Joolzy: My children love Giraffes Can't Dance. Do you find animals are a good way of portraying emotions? And what's your favourite animal?
Giles: Yes, animals are a very good way of showing human traits and emotions. They have the significant added advantage that you don't have to make them a specific gender, age or race. This makes them far easier to relate to for a lot of children – and adults too, for that matter! My favourite animal? Probably dogs, because they vary so much. If you read my book The Dog Machine, you'll see what I mean.
Mrstittlemouse: Do you have any say in the illustrators that are used for your books? How do you feel when you see the end results?
Giles: Yes, I always have a say in who illustrates my books. Sometimes I know exactly who I want to work with, and sometimes a publisher will put someone completely unexpected forward - but we always choose jointly. There are so many extraordinarily talented children's illustrators out there that I have seldom felt anything but immense pleasure and gratitude when I see an illustrator bring one of my books to life.
Mrstittlemouse: Why did you start writing for children? What drew you to it?
Giles: I have wanted to write for children since as long as I can remember. I grew up in a big family, where there were always cousins of all ages around me. I love the absolutely natural way that children engage with creativity, so writing for them is a real privilege and joy. Children are often far more interesting than adults!
As it happens, my first children's book grew out of an idea for a Purple Ronnie calendar. It was a collection of animal poems that was rejected by the publisher because there weren't enough willies and bottoms in it. It became Rumble in the Jungle. That was written virtually before computers existed - and now it's an app!
Ohfuschia: Is Keep Love in Your Heart out of print? I've tried to get hold of a copy in several places, and if so if it would be likely to be printed again. If not, I will go for a secondhand copy as they are available - this library one has been renewed 14 times already and I suppose ought to go back at some point.
Giles: As a matter of fact, we are working on a new version of this book at the moment, which is incredibly exciting. I can't say much more than that for now, but I think/hope you'll like it. It will be out later this year.
Mychildrenarebarmey: A lot of authors have a very similar style for all of their books. Yours seem quite varied. Is that deliberate?
Giles: No, it's not deliberate, but you're quite right about it. I tend to work in a style that suggests itself according to my subject matter. The subject matter or theme always comes first. It's fun working in different voices, too. It makes it much more interesting for me. I also quite often don't know whether or not a story is going to rhyme until I've begun writing it.
Jemimamop: My son is eight, and is currently reading Billy Bonkers. He would like to know if you based the character of Billy Bonkers on a real person that you know? And do the illustrations of Billy by Nick Sharrat look exactly as you imagined Billy when you wrote the story?
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Giles: The first Billy Bonkers story I wrote was The Great Porridge Incident, which was to entertain my son, Nat, who loved eating dry porridge at the time! So, yes, in a way, that story is based on him. Nick is such a great illustrator and I think he captured that character beautifully - so, I guess the answer is that he looked even better than I had imagined him.
Goldbutterfly: I remember from years ago that you were on holiday in Tuscany with your friends (I was just the 'chalet girl') and you wrote a lovely poem about Tuscany and said that you would like to do some more serious poetry. We all know and love you for the funny lyrical rhymes and poems - do you still write serious poetry?
Giles: Yes, I remember that holiday well. It's a very interesting question. As it happens, I have found over the years that what I enjoy most is writing about quite serious things in a light-handed and easily understandable way. My new series of books, World of Happy, addresses deep and emotional issues such as identity, love, friendship, fear, kindness and courage. The language and storylines, however, are fun, playful, quirky – and SHORT! I like to make complicated things simple. That's one of the joys of poetry.
Chocoholic: Can you stop yourself rhyming now or do you actually think in rhymes?
Giles: Once I start writing a rhyming book, it is hard to get out of the rhythm for a while afterwards - particularly with something like Pants, which is more like a song – a rap, even. Watching something rubbish on TV usually helps!
Willowbywallowby: How do you go about writing a rhyme? Does the rhyme come first and then the two lines, or do you get the rhythm and fit the words in? Or is it sent from outer space?
Giles: I wish it WAS sent from outer space! I tend to get the sense of what I want to say first and play with writing it in different ways until an easy-ish rhyming word appears at the end of the first line. The rest of it then becomes much simpler. It's a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle - you just have to try re-arranging the pieces a few times until it's right.
Cairnterrier: What's the hardest line you've had to find a rhyme to?
Giles: I tend to choose simply rhymes, so that they don't bring attention to themselves and distract from the story that I'm trying to tell. It's easier to write a line in a different way than to sweat over coming up with a particularly cunning or clever rhyme. I hope that (nearly!) answers your question.
Luckywekeptthecot: You wrote brilliantly about depression - it helped me explain a similar period in my own lucky life. I always think the speech from Hamlet, quoted to the wolves by Withnail, sums it up beautifully: "I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory... etc" Does that sound familiar (as a feeling) to you?
Giles: Yes, this is an extraordinary monologue. Beautiful, resonant and true. Thank you.
Mum2U: I have also suffered from depression. Do you have any plans to write a book on how depression affected you, and how you came through?
Giles: There are a lot of books about depression but, as you will know, the last thing you are able to do when you're in the depths of it, is read. I have considered writing something, but if I did it would be extremely short. Having said that, I prefer really to come in sideways - by writing fiction rather than 'guides'. Metaphor, to me, is a far richer and more engaging way of understanding life's truths.
FWMum: I was interested (and sorry) to read that you had suffered from serious depression. I wondered what it was you felt triggered your episode, how you coped and what helped you to recover? Has it changed the way you write?
Giles: Thank you for this. I'm afraid that these questions would require very long answers to do them justice. I have written about this period of my life extensively in The Times and the Daily Mail. May I respectfully suggest that you Google them for the detailed answers that your questions deserve? As to whether or not it has changed the way I write - most certainly. All I want to write about now is JOY - and how lucky we are to be able to experience it. Hence World of Happy.
Bumperlicioso: Giles, what little things make you happy?
Giles: Well, if you're asking for the LITTLE things, here goes: cola fizzes, sheepskin slippers, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, playing the guitar (very badly), an empty inbox, silliness, children's spelling, the perfect pair of pants, watching people dance with absolute abandon, unexpected kindness, my bed (oh, my bed!), having a smile returned by a stranger, pork scratchings, poetry, reliability, a long hot bath, tickling, anyone's enthusiasm for anything, dishwashers, the way a two-year-old walks, a cheesy power ballad - and accidental farting.
Flyingheart: I taught your son in Year 2 - Miss P here! My favourite book is Pants - do you remember the book the class wrote called HATS that we based on your book? I have always loved your books, poems and illustrations. I read to my five-month-old little girl a lot and must go out and get her a copy of Pants!
Giles: Thank you, Miss P! How lovely to hear from you. We still sing rather a surreal song in our family, which has your name in it. In fact, your name is the first three lines of the song! My son is doing well, thanks – and yes, I remember HATS!
Cointreauversial: I was at Oxford at the same time as you. Did you have as much fun and do as little work as I did?
Giles: Yes, I enjoyed it enormously. Did we meet?! I did the work that I was obliged to do but, unfortunately, developed cancer just before my finals so had to undergo chemotherapy at the same time as the exams. This did mean that I didn't have the focus to do anything like the amount of revision that I ought to have done. My mind was on other matters. Small mercies, I suppose!
Elkiedee: Do you and your family use your own local library?
Purplebrickroad: Giles, did you share a house with David Cameron? Was he a swot?
Giles: Yes, I did, but I'd prefer not to be drawn into giving opinions like this on him. Sorry!
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