Tag Archive for Riley Andy

So Good They Did It Again

Don’t we just love a good series? Box sets are all the rage. And children are no different. They love a series that gives an extra helping of the characters and adventures they liked the first time round. It makes a new book choice easier, perpetuates that reading experience, and develops character even further. Last year I highlighted four great new books, and this year each has a sequel out. And they’re just as good, if not better than the first.

Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough and Jim Field

The first Rabbit and Bear book was an inspired mix of great bedtime story with subtle educational facts, dominated by wit and humour. This second in the series is no different.

Bear has woken from winter hibernation, and Rabbit is spring cleaning his burrow. But then various elements in the woods disturb Rabbit’s peace, and it is up to Bear to use his wisdom to educate Rabbit about not getting quite so het up about things, and seeing the disturbances from a different point of view. I could learn a thing or two!

Vastly reminiscent of the character of Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh for this Rabbit’s general grumpiness, but also reminiscent of the Pooh books more generally, in the ability of the characters to demonstrate the finer qualities of friendship – loyalty, kindness and gently educating each other, this is a warm story for newly developing readers.

The writing excels here. Gough has a way with words – which he transposes to Bear, of pointing things out in the most straightforward way possible. Rabbit has issues with things that are both too noisy and too quiet – Bear explains that the only thing in common with these irritations is Rabbit himself.

In this clever way, Gough gently points the reader towards learning about tolerance, and seeing things from a different perspective, but all the time through the gentle humour of Bear and the funny grumpiness of Rabbit, and with a plot that develops at pace.

There are other elements introduced, such as the usefulness of practising something, overcoming fear, and finding happiness.

The illustrations help to exemplify both the gentle message and the humour – different perspectives of the forest and the animals, but also the characters’ brilliantly expressive faces. There’s so much packed into this small book – and wonderfully the publishers have produced it to a high quality – with thick pages and hardback cover, knowing that children will want to revisit it many times. Ages 6+. You can buy it here.

King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong by Andy Riley

This series about a nine-year-old king and his hilarious adventures is suitable for the whole family and has strands that are reminiscent of The Simpsons (mimicking the stupidity of Homer and the mischievousness of Bart), but also the all-out craziness of rulers, and I’d expect nothing less from one of the writers of Veep.

When a huge monster called the Gizimoth stalks a nearby land, King Edwin (Flashypants) decides that in order to prove his kingliness he must go and fight it, but evil Emperor Nurbison has plans of his own, and they include squishing King Flashypants and his kingdom.

The book is packed with illustrations, which always convey wit, and either gently nudge on the story or give an extra emotional depth to the characters. The characters remain consistent from book one, with Nurbison’s evil laugh, Edwin’s penchant for sweet foods, and Jill’s sensibleness, but each develops further with this second book.

There’s the usual amount of silliness – things being too small, or oversized, words being overused, vomit and poo etc., but there’s also a clever wit behind it all, and twists on modern everyday references that children will recognise – such as portions of fruit and vegetables, and talking about what they’ve learned after the adventure (circle time).

In fact, the book is incredibly cartoon-like – from characters falling off cliffs, to breaking their weapons, to my absolute favourite – the illustration of the evil Emperor’s sidekick Globulus on his knees, wailing “Emperooor” as his beloved Nurbison is….(no spoilers here!)

Riley is clever – there is a joke on almost every page, either tucked into plot or character, or poking the reader right between the eyes. It’s almost as if the humour is infectious – you can tell the author must have had a huge amount of fun writing it.

All in all, a preposterous story, but utterly brilliant. Packed with great character, subtle heart, charm, and nods to the history of storytelling and modern culture. King Flashypants and the Dolls of Doom is due in the autumn. Ages 6+. You can buy King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong here.

Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) by Swapna Haddow, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey

Whereas in the first Dave Pigeon book humans were friends – keepers of jam biscuits and distributors of bread, in Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) the new human is most definitely the enemy.

With their normal human and her Mean Cat away on holiday, Dave Pigeon and his friend Skipper need to find another source of food. When they stumble upon Reginald Grimster beckoning them with crumbs, they think they’ve found another patron, but would a man with mini-umbrellas on his shoulders, who keeps other pigeons in cages, really be friendly towards birds, or is he looking to make some nuggets?

This is another fabulously funny tale about Dave, our pigeon with a complete lack of self-awareness, or in fact general awareness, other than for food. Luckily he has a great friend in Skipper, who is a tad more worldly, and manages to keep them both from fatal danger.

The laughs in this story come from either Dave’s lack of self-awareness, or from the fact that all the pigeons featured are so uncompromisingly human in their thoughts and actions, such as putting up one feather in front of their beaks to keep each other quiet.

Also much of the humour comes out of misunderstandings and slapstick – a pigeon called Fienne, pronounced fine, whom none of the others realise is saying his name rather than his state of being, some nervously pooing pigeons, and a pigeon spy agency… Of course the whole premise and plot are so ridiculous that this is what makes it funny, particularly when the enemy this time is a man with a chip on his shoulder about pigeon poo.

As before, the story is punctuated with little speech bubbles from the pigeons arguing with each other about the book they are writing or talking directly to the reader, and these are all funny as well as providing interesting interludes. And because the pigeons are purporting to write the books themselves, there is an added element of self-reference in the writing too.

The illustrations are glorious – particularly as there is a fair cast of pigeons in this book as opposed to the few in the first book, and some particularly enthralling scenes in a supermarket. Never have pigeons seemed quite so appealing. Ages 6+. Buy it here.

Waiting for Callback Take Two by Perdita and Honor Cargill

Picking up more or less where the first book left off, this witty contemporary YA (although suitable for tweens) second book, Waiting for Callback Take Two, tells the tale of Elektra, a young teen wannabe actress. It can be read as a stand-alone though, as book two joins Elektra about to embark on her first film role in a dystopian thriller with some A-list stars. The book follows the trials and tribulations of filming – the delays, the stars, the arguments and the rewrites. At the same time, Elektra is just a normal teen living at home, and the reader sees her juggle her normal life of summer holidays, friendships, studying and boyfriends along with her new career.

As with the last novel, Elektra is a wonderful protagonist. Witty, somewhat self-deprecating, a little prone to peer pressure and manipulation, she is a character with whom to identify. Her supporting cast works well too – a loyal best friend, an ongoing boyfriend (will they/won’t they communicate properly?), an eccentric and loveable grandmother, and of course a home life with an over-wrought mother who struggles to make peace with her daughter’s new found passion for acting. If anything the character of the mother in this second book is slightly overdone compared to the first – less subtly witty and more full-on anxious, but she also becomes more of a minor character here.

The book feels warm and friendly throughout – mainly down to the main character, and has pace and a good evolving plot. There are interspersed gossip columns reporting on showbiz, as well as letters from Elektra’s agent, and the most winning bit for me were the text messages between Elektra and various people, but most particularly her boyfriend. Archie is a phenomenal character – a great teen boy trying to navigate his way in the world, and with women.

It’s a book that hooks the reader right from the beginning, with great dialogue, realistic inner consciousness, and oodles of heart and humour. Age 11+. Take a look here.


Children’s Book Fictional Personality of the Year

The newspapers have been packed with end of year lists since the beginning of December. In my final post of 2016, here is my personal end of year awards list.

Fictional Character Personality of the Year:
So many great characters this year, including bully Betty Glengarry in Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, but the most memorable for me has to be Sam from Alone by DJ Brazier. It’s a brave author who sustains a book for children with only one character throughout, and forgoes the device of having animals talk so that there really isn’t any dialogue, other than the conversations Sam has with himself.

Stranded after a plane crash near the Amazon River, Sam has to summon all his strength and resilience to survive. This gives Brazier the ultimate excuse to show Sam’s development – he starts as a boy just like any other, but by the end Sam has had to grapple with loneliness, despair, injury and failure.

Brazier doesn’t hold back with gruesome detail, but there is also a surprising amount of humour, and lashings of emotion – Sam is a great kid and one I’d love to meet in real life.

Picture Book Character of the Year:

I could easily have plumped for Alison Hubble who doubles and doubles, but instead, my character of the year has to be Nibbles, the Book Monster by Emma Yarlett. This isn’t because I was bribed with a plush toy of Nibbles, but because the character is easy for children to draw, adorable in his mischievousness, and an original book-eating monster with a bursting personality, despite looking like a glorified m&m! The book has been paper-engineered to a high production finish, with lots of interactivity, references to fairy tales, and a wonderful hide and seek of Nibbles in a bookcase.

Cleverest Use of Colour: The Great Fire of London by Emma Adams, illustrated by James Weston Lewis. Finally given the treatment it deserves, this seminal point of British history is given an illustrative makeover in this sumptuous book that absolutely illustrates history to life. No child will find history ‘boring’ with this book glowing into their face.

Most Satisfaction Gained from an Activity Book: Pinball Science (Build Your Own) by Ian Graham, Nick Arnold and Owen Davey. I was never one for paper engineering – when I worked at Dorling Kindersley my absolute nightmare was being involved in the paper model project of the Millennium Dome. However, I made this Pinball Machine one Saturday afternoon, and it gave hours of pleasure to the kids, plus we learned some sciencey stuff.

Most Successful Publicity Campaign (aka bribery): King Flashypants by Andy Riley Not only did this book have me rolling about in stitches, but the kind team at Hodder sent me chocolate, activity sheets, an advent calendar and a bag to accompany my enjoyment (please note this was all sent after I had reviewed the book!). But buy it, because it also wins Funniest Book of the Year. I still read chapter 12 to perk me up during sad frustrating times.

Most Likely to Give Nightmares: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Jon Klassen. I haven’t recovered from this nightmarish yet masterfully written young teen read. Merging dreams and reality, wasps and angels, this wasn’t a book even sent to me for review, but ended up being a book of the week for its lithe ability to sting the mind with thoughts and feelings.

Most Shocking Ending of the Year: Piers Torday rips up all the rules of children’s books with his ending in There May be a Castle. No spoilers here, but tissues at the ready. It’ll make adults think twice too.

Most prevalent animal this year: I’d like to say foxes or wolves, seeing as they have cropped up in so many children’s books from The Wolf Wilder, Wolf Hollow, The Wolves of Currumpaw to Maybe a Fox, The Fox and the Wild, and Finding the Fox, following in the tradition of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Call of the Wild and Fantastic Mr Fox, but actually it’s dogs. There are dogs dotted all around the chidren’s book market at the moment, The Detective Dog, Dogs on Trains, Oi Dogs, Days with Dogs, just Dogs, Claude, Spot, Odd Dog Out, The Great Fire Dogs, Spy Dog, Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog, Space Dog, not to mention secondary dog characters in stories. However, seeing as dogs, foxes and wolves all belong in the large taxonomic family called Canidae – we’ll leave it at that. Perhaps next year will be the turn of the cats. See you in 2017.


Andy Riley’s Top Tips for Comedy Writing

King Flashypants

Andy Riley is an award-winning comedy writer, accumulating accolades for his role in co-writing Veep and Gnomeo and Juliet, as well as writing a host of best-selling cartoons, including The Book of Bunny Suicides, and the comic strip Roasted in The Observer Magazine. His latest foray into children’s publishing is the outrageously funny King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor (and you can read my review here). To inspire you to do the same, Andy has kindly agreed to share his serious tips for writing something funny. 

Although I am fairly new to children’s books, I am an old hand at drawing cartoons and writing comedy scripts for TV and film. So old that 13 September 2016 marks my Silver Jubilee. The very first time I got something broadcast was on that date, in 1991. A spoof vox-pop about joy-riding for the Radio Four’s topical sketch show Week Ending. One minute of material, split two ways with my writing partner Kevin Cecil: that bagged me £14. Yes, I knew then that I was on the big script-writing money train.

I’ve discovered that writing a humorous children’s book isn’t so different from cartoons and scripts. Some fundamentals apply across all of the art form. So here is my silver jubilee list of tips on writing comedy, for books or comics or TV or radio or film or whatever…

  • Give yourself the freedom to have a lot of bad ideas. This is important. If you have one idea, then immediately try and work out whether or not it is any good, it’s like driving with the brakes on. You’re going to keep questioning your thoughts as soon as you have them. Let yourself run free for a bit. Think up ten or twenty ideas around that same theme. Then change your mental hat, enter ‘critic’ mode, and pick out which one of your ideas is any good. The ratio of bad ideas to good ones is something like 10 to 1. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more.
  • Have a go at doing it in collaboration with a friend, or at least someone that you can stand being in a room with for a couple of hours. Look at the credits of TV shows. A serious drama about an alcoholic cop is normally written by one person. Comedy programs are much more likely to be written by two or three people. The reason is that if you’re working on something all day by yourself, it’s not too hard to remember what is tragic, but it’s a little tougher to get a good handle on what is funny. You might find yourself coming up with something you really like, then being struck by the thought that you’re the only person in the world who would find that amusing. You may be right. But if you’re with somebody else and you make that person laugh, then the chances of lots more people finding it funny are quite good. You laugh more and have more fun. Also, you have to split the money two ways. Swings and roundabouts.
  • People get distracted. This was always true, but since Steve Jobs put a smartphone in everybody’s pocket, you’re fighting against that. The Internet. The single most distracting thing ever created. So you have to give people a good reason to carry on paying attention to whatever it is you’ve made. If you are writing a comedy script, this means making sure that each scene ends with some little twist, some compelling reason why somebody has to keep watching at least for another couple of minutes. If you keep doing that, they may even watch to the end. And then you’ve won. In books, particularly children’s books, which are read chapter by chapter and on consecutive nights, you have to do it by throwing in a little cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. Grab people! Intrigue them! Thrill them! And don’t let them go! Sometimes I think it’s much easier for people writing cop dramas. They just kill a teenager at the start of the episode, and that’s enough to keep people involved for the next hour. Comedy writers have to work harder.
  • If you want to be funny, get an idiot in there. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it works, over and over again. Baldrick in Blackadder. Dougal in Father Ted. Doberman in the Phil Silvers show. You can make your own list of these I’m sure. In the King Flashypants universe I covered my bases by making sure there are two idiots– Megan the Jester, and Globulus, the evil emperor’s assistant.
  • Double takes aren’t very funny. Don’t write them in. Nobody does them in real life. Falling over, on the other hand, nearly always works. Get someone falling over. Then standing up and falling over again.
  • Some lines work their way into scripts or manuscripts because they are useful from getting you from A to B in a story, but they are wizened old cliches which must be murdered on sight. They include the following:

– What is this place?

– You just don’t get it, do you?

– Why are you telling me this?

– But that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!

– Showtime.

– That’s gotta hurt.

– That went well.

– (Person insults somebody else, then says…) He’s standing right    behind me, isn’t he?

  • Try to write stories where characters are forced into situations where they have to break their own self-imposed rules. That always works.
  • It doesn’t hurt to have two or more projects on the go at the same time. When you’re stuck on one, you can go back to another.
  • Go swimming or do some back exercises. Writing and drawing tends to be sedentary so it’s not good for your body. That said, there are ways around this these: I write the first drafts of my books by dictating them into Siri as I walk down the street. I’m dictating this blog entry right now, pacing around the kitchen. It’s better for your back, your hands, your shoulders.
  • Keep your receipts. Writers and artists are notoriously bad at admin and paperwork. And anyone who says “find something you love to do and you never have to work a day in your life” probably never had to do their own tax returns. You do.
  • Funny hats are good.
  • Remember that lists of comedy tips get less useful once they have passed the halfway point.
  • Listen to people on public transport. A fragment of conversation you pick up one might be the germ of an idea for a sketch, a book, a character, a show. It’s happened to me lots of times.
  • However good you think you are, you will need some editing. I’ve had all kinds of editing on my books, TV shows and films – some incredibly good, some quite bad. You learn to value the really good ones.
  • There is never a point where you’ve “made it.” It’s always a fight. And even if you do “make it,” you can and will fall out of favour again some time. A career in this sort of work is a marathon, not a sprint, though you do end up having to sprint a lot for deadlines. It’s a sprinty marathon.
  • You might make money, you might not, but so long as you’re getting into it for the right reasons – because you like turning out this kind of work – you’ll be able to weather the tough times.
  • Don’t work all the time! Look after yourself. Learn how to knock off.

Feel free to ignore any or all of these guidelines if something is really working. Because that’s what counts, really.

With thanks to Andy Riley for his brilliant writing comedy tips. I have five signed copies of King Flashypants to giveaway. Find my competition tweet on twitter today @minervamoan. Winners picked at random. Competition closes Sunday 11th September at 23.59 GMT. If you don’t win – you can buy the book here. (Also available on audio)


King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor by Andy Riley

King Flashypants

That old adage: it’s not what you say but the manner in which you say it, is hugely applicable to this hilarious book for emerging readers. The story of King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor Nurbison in the kingdom next door, borrows a general plot from almost every story in the world – will good triumph over evil? But the freshness, pizzazz, and hilarity of its execution is what makes this title a top read for the age group (and their parents).

Andy Riley excels in his easy-to-read text that speaks directly to the reader, setting the tone from the contents page, which is called ‘The Names of all the thrilling chapters you’re about to read’. His tongue-in-cheek style is consistent throughout, from observations about how much children need chocolate (like air), to his explanations of what makes a castle good as opposed to evil.

King Flashypants, or Edwin, as our nine year old protagonist is called, is depicted nonchalantly reclining on his throne, important crown on head, drink with straw in his hand. He’s completely loveable, and understandably for a nine-year-old, has slightly let his power go to his head. So, when he runs out of money, having spent it all on chocolate that he generously gives out to his subjects, his kingdom faces enormous trouble. Resonating slightly with today’s economic deficit, this is a hilarious take on the perils of governing unwisely.

Illustrations punctuate each page, and add to the story rather than just annotate it. Things to particularly note are the map at the beginning, the gallery of portraits, the wonderful hand expressions – Riley’s characters express from their head to their toes – the eclectic collection of peasants (the description of them is hysterical), and the drawing of Edwin’s chocolate-dispensing contraption.

From creating a new evil laugh to bottomless pits, the excellent variety of villainous friends, and a particularly vocal peasant girl called Natasha, there is lots to admire here. The plot is brilliantly stupid, which simply serves to further highlight the comedy, and the ending, where the characters discuss what they have learned ‘a la primary school practice circle time’, borders on comedy genius. The funniest and most enjoyable book for this age group for quite some time. I even sang the song at the end. And apparently more to come in the series. I can’t wait. Age 6+ years, you can buy a little piece of King Flashypants’ kingdom here.