Friday 5 April 2013

Author Profile & Interview Mo O'Hara, My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish

Originally from America, I moved to London because I wanted to live abroad but spoke no foreign languages. After a brief and unsuccessful stint as a serving wench at the Tower of London I found work as an actress and comedy performer. I've performed regularly at the Edinburgh and London comedy festivals. A few years back, I got a job touring around the UK as a storyteller and that’s when I discovered that kids liked, laughed and didn't fall asleep when I performed stuff that I wrote myself. I was hooked on writing and performing for kids. Some quotes from kids about my storytelling sessions are:

“I guess you were a bit better than the rabbits with big heads that were here last week.”
“Can I rewind you and watch you again after lunch?”
And “How did you know me to put me in your story?”

I still live in London with my partner and two children, still speak no foreign languages (unless you count American) and I still have a sneaking suspicion that the rabbits with the big heads were really better than me but the kid was just being nice.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child? 

I wasn't a big reader as a kid actually. (Shock horror!)  I read from a very early age but liked to read fact books mostly and I loved reading plays. I loved Winnie the Pooh when I was little. And loved Shel Silverstein poems too. It took me a while to connect with a proper chapter book, though. I remember reading a book called 'Plain Girl'  by Virginia Sorensen about an Amish girl , when I was about 8 or 9 years old and feeling for the first time that I could really get into the head of the person in the story.  Also 'A Wrinkle in Time' a bit later, started me on a lifetime love of Science Fiction.

Just a couple of Mo's favourites...

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I read Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner recently and that was absolutely incredible. I was totally unprepared for the amount of time I spent thinking about that book after I read it. It requires a lot of the reader, but it's so worth it. I loved Dark Parties by Sara Grant last year too and can't wait to read her next one. With  humour I love the Mr Gumm books for the surreal and the Danny Baker books for the silly. I now LOVE Roald Dahl stuff but when I was little the only one I read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I've read most of his other books now as a grown up and wish I could go back and crack up 8 year old me by sharing them with her. My kids have a healthy diet of Roald Dahl now. 

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?  

For me it's voice and character. I want to have that same experience I had as an 8 year old when I connected with a character for the first time. I think the best way to do that is through a clear and authentic voice. If it's funny too then you have me completely.   

Why did you start writing for children?

I have a quote from Matilda over my desk, 

'Do you think that all children's books ought to have funny bits in them?' Miss Honey asked. 'I do,' Matilda said. 'Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.'  

That quote and Quentin Blake picture reminds me why I write. I write to make kids laugh. That's the bit I loved when I was acting for kids and that's the bit I still love most when I'm writing for them.

"Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh."
What made you want to write this book?  

I wrote this book for a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Slushpile Challenge.  So I suppose on one level I started to write this book to get an agent, but I still think I wrote it to get a laugh. Old habits die hard.

I chose to write this story though because when I was little my big brother and I brought our goldfish back to life with a 9volt battery.  We'd seen a lot of hospital shows on TV and decided we could defib the fish and ... it worked. He lived for another year at least. 

From the start I had Tom's voice inside my head and I wanted to write a story with sibling relationships and friendship at the heart.  Oh yeah, and zombies of course. 

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?  

My favourite aspect of writing for children is reading  the stuff to kids and hearing them laugh. That is honestly the best bit. If you told me that I could write but had to then be locked up and could never meet the kids who read my stuff and never see them crack up at a joke I wrote I would be miserable. I don't know if I could do it.  I get the most buzz from delivering the punchline to the kids and from seeing what they come up with. Kids are the best, non-sensored improvisers and I don't think I've ever had a school visit where I wasn't knocked out by at least one thing that they said or did. I like the getting the ideas down on the page and I love writing dialogue. But editing is really hard. Please tell me it gets easier the more you write?

‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ uses the illustrations to help deliver many of the jokes. Did you work closely with the illustrator? 

I've never met the amazing Marek Jagucki, who illustrated Zombie Goldfish. Macmillan found him and he has brought the book to life really. The kids I speak with love the illustrations.

I especially love the extra bits he puts in.  He added a random pigeon into a couple pages and I love that pigeon so much I'm going to write a mini spin off for him. 

He is just a funny illustrator, so the humour comes out in his drawings. The characters are brilliantly drawn and his pictures make me laugh at the jokes over again! 

I've got my eye on you...

The book is very funny! Is it difficult to write humour? Are you naturally a funny person?  

I think I'm a quietly funny person. I'm not the life of the party. I was never the class clown or anything, but I was always thinking funny stuff (or stuff that cracked me up at least) and sometimes I would feed funny lines to another kid to say when I was little. I was incredibly shy as a kid and it took me until college (US meaning) to come out of myself a bit. Acting helped a lot. I think I'm more gregarious now and the older I get the more confident I get really. I'll probably be a really arrogant pensioner at this rate!

Thanks very much to Mo O'Hara for joining us. If you like the sound of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, make sure you enter our giveaway! All you need to do is email us at with your name and address. Make sure you put the title of the book in the subject line. We'd hate to send you the wrong book about a Zombie Goldfish! The winner will be chosen at random on Saturday 13th April.


  1. You defibbed a fish???? when they made Frankenweenie they had no idea how close they were to the truth. Congrats on the book, Mo and may there be many more Zombie goldfish to come.

    1. I want pictures! Who doesn't want to see a revived fish?

  2. I like how you have ordered the list of kids' reactions to your readings, culminating in not falling asleep. I never did children's theatre when I was an actor but am now realising it would have been ideal prep for later life! Really looking forward to your book. Like Candy, am quite amazed to hear the battery story. How was it done? Did you have a little tiny crash cart standing by?

    1. Ah, children really are the toughest critics, aren't they? Zombie Goldfish is SUCH a fun read, but I think Mo's real life story might be just as fun!

  3. I love Shel Silverstein - I'm not sure he's that well known in the UK... My daughter isn't quite old enough to appreciate humour yet but I can't wait until she does! Best of luck with the Zombie Goldfish.

    1. Hello from sunny (read: cold and wet) Oxfordshire! I've never read Shel Silverstein, but I'll get right on it. Thanks for the tip-off...


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