Today's blog post is sponsored by Limp Stick - so weak we're not allowed to call it glue!
I am so excited to share today's blog post with you guys because for the first time ever I have a real life author joining me in the virtual hot-seat telling me all about their latest book! Eek! "Who is that author?" I hear you ask. It's only SIMON JAMES GREEN and he's here to tell us all about his middle grade debut, Life of Riley: Beginner's Luck. Thanks to the lovely folks at Scholastic I managed to get my hands on an early copy last month and it is just fantastic - easily the funniest children's book I've read this year. If you want to know more about my thoughts, you can check out my review here, but for now I'm going to hand it over to Simon!
Simon! You’re one of my favourite authors so I am soooo excited (and honoured!) to get to interview you for the blog. For anyone out there who may not have come across you or your books, can give us a quick introduction? What was it that made you want to become a writer?
Simon: Liam! So happy to be here, thanks for the invite! So, I’m the author of four YA novels – Noah Can’t Even, Noah Could Never, Alex in Wonderland and Heartbreak Boys – all of them
slightly madcap, gay boy rom-coms. This year I’ve also had my first picture book out, Llama
Glamarama, illustrated by Garry Parsons, and now my debut middle grade, Life of Riley!
I wanted to write because it’s just something I’ve always loved doing, so I feel very lucky
that I get to do it!
So many books! And what was it that made you decide to make the move to younger readers with Life of Riley? Did you come across any challenges writing middle grade that weren't necessarily an issue when you were writing for teens?
S: I’ve wanted to write middle grade for a while – I think there are some types of humour, and plots, which you can really only do with this age group. I’m a fan of madcap stuff, and I think 8-12 year olds will generally go with you more on that journey than older age groups.
I suppose the main issue during writing was that I’ve basically spent five years in the heads of various teenage boys, who tend to have a different set of preoccupations than a ten year-old, so I did occasionally have to remind myself of that!
Speaking of children's books, what were your favourites when you were a child? And are there any new middle grade titles that you've enjoyed?
S: This changed as I got older. I remember liking The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and then The BFG, and then those Choose your Own Adventure books, then Adrian Mole. I also really loved the Usborne books about how to be a detective and how to hunt ghosts! In terms of recent reads, I really enjoyed Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland - it really appealed to my sense of humour!
I love Charlie Changes into a Chicken! You’re now something of a Renaissance Man when it comes to writing; you’ve done a picture book, a middle grade book and four teen novels! And while your books are all aimed at different audiences, they all have one thing in common: comedy. What is it about comedy that you enjoy writing so much?
S: Laughter is such a powerful force for good, and there’s actual science that proves it’s good for you to laugh – good for stress, mental health, and even the immune system. It’s also a great way into talking about issues some people find difficult, because it’s very non-confrontational, and, fundamentally, it’s entertaining, and I think that’s something books should always be. (But aren’t always!) It makes me frustrated how comedy is generally undervalued by a lot of the major literary awards and how some people can be dismissive of funny books, as though if kids are laughing and having a good time, those books can’t possibly be of any value. In fact, real life has big laughs, even in the darkest moments, and if 2020 needs one thing right now, I would say it’s the healing power of laughter.
I couldn't agree more! One of the biggest sources of comedy in Life of Riley is poor Riley's rotten luck. What is the unluckiest thing to ever happen to you?
S: At the start of Year 6 we were finally allowed to write with a pen, rather than a pencil. “Who wants a FREE pen?” asked the teacher. All of us, except three girls, excitedly put our hands up for our free pen. “Now…” said the teacher, “for the three of you who didn’t put your hands up… I have an even better pen!” And those three girls each got an amazing pen, way better than our simple biros! I still think about this A LOT and am very bitter and angry. I hated that teacher, and how dare they get better pens, but also, they must have been tipped off about this, because who wouldn’t put their hand up for a free pen to start with? So, maybe it’s not unlucky, maybe it’s just some sort of inside job, I don’t know, but still!
Well that's just rude. Still, it's good to see you've moved on. One of my favourite things about Life of Riley is Aleksei Bitskoff’s brilliant illustrations. What was it like working with an illustrator on your books? Did you have any say in the character design and did the illustrations ever make you look at a scene differently or go back and make changes?
S: Aren’t they just fantastic? Honestly, I love working with illustrators, and Aleksei (for Riley) and Garry (who did Llama) brought so much to the stories, in terms of humour and personality of the characters. For Riley, I sent some initial stock photos I’d found of roughly how I thought the characters might look and Aleksei took it from there, adding his own brilliant spin.
Occasionally, I would slightly re-write a small section of a scene if the illustration needed it to make sense, but this was usually only cosmetic because I wrote Riley with the illustrations in mind, knowing they would be better able to convey some of the humour than the text.
I think my favourite thing about Riley is that he’s not like most boy main characters you come across in children’s books. He’s fashion conscious, loves musical theatre and he makes a mean Pavlova! Where did the idea for Riley’s character come from?
S: In a sense, he comes from a long line of awkward boys who don’t quite fit in who you’ll find in all of my books! And some of him is based on me at that age, because I was exactly that kid, and like Riley, I also staged a production of Phantom of the Opera is my living room. (I can’t, however, bake a ‘mean Pavlova’).
Amazing. And when you were in school were you more like Riley Quinn or Brad Chicago?
S: I was definitely Riley. But I wanted to be Brad!
Did you have a favourite scene that you enjoyed writing the most?
S: The scene on the beach, where Riley loses his swimming shorts to a dog who is sadly named ‘Shark’, causing Riley to create mayhem when he runs onto the beach calling the dog’s name was A LOT of fun to write! Writing slapstick requires you to set up all the elements in advance, so there’s a lot of satisfaction is bringing all that together in scenes like this.
That part really made me laugh too. I think my favourite scene was the "WE LOVE THE POOL" wall display fiasco (that Limp Stick has a lot to answer for!) Okay final question: will we be seeing more of Briley in the future?
S: Oh, I would say there’s a fairly high chance! ;-)
Yes!! I need more Briley mayhem in my life so I'm so happy to hear that.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Simon! It's been wonderful chatting with you!
Life of Riley is available to purchase now (see the links below). And please remember to support your local bookshop or library where you can! For more information on Life of Riley, you can check out my spoiler-free review here. And for older readers in search of even more awkward comedy, be sure to check out my review of Alex in Wonderland.
Have you read any books by Simon James Green? If so, which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!