Thursday, 3 March 2016

3D review – author interview – Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett

The fantastic, fast-paced thriller, Electrigirl, is a collaboration between Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett to tell the story of twelve-year-old Holly Sparkes in a new and exciting way.

Holly's story of how she discovers she has superhero powers - just as she is called on to foil a sinister plot in her town involving her best friend - is told partly in page-turning prose, and partly in comic-strip. It's an imaginative and appealing format, great fun and will introduce readers to the whole comic-book format,

Jo and Cathy join other superheroes at the book launch for Electrigirl
The story hurtles along and the discovery of super powers and a dastardly plot will appeal equally to boys and girls, from around eight upwards. Holly gains her powers when she is struck by lightning and must rely on her superhero-obsessed brother to control her powers and stop her blowing everything up, so there are plenty of comedy moments in with all the action.

Interview with author Jo Cotterill

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

I had way too many to pick just one! But I adored (in turn), Little House on the Prairie, The Ordinary Princess (by M M Kaye), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, the Swish of the Curtain, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence, and Anne of Green Gables. I liked stories of girls having adventures and taking the initiative!

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

Wow, that is a REALLY hard question because I read loads of children’s fiction and gosh, there’s some FANTASTIC stuff being published! I’m going to cheat and pick two: Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers (John Dougherty) which is for 7-9s and is hysterically funny and SO clever; and Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase (Jonathan Stroud) which features a team of teenage ghost-hunters and is genuinely scary, exciting and funny in equal measure.

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

I think any book can be inspirational at different ages. I don’t think children’s books are necessarily more inspirational than adult ones; it’s just that children soak up inspiration with an enthusiasm rarely seen in adults! Children are so open to ideas and concepts. Their imaginations are much better than most adults; they haven’t yet ‘fixed’ their paths and personalities. That’s why writing for children is so exciting – you know they come to everything fresh, and they won’t put up with something they don’t like.

Why did you start writing for children?

I was in my 20s, working as an actor and temping in between. When I wasn’t acting, I thought I would go mad with lack of creativity. So I started a correspondence writing course which was specifically designed to teach writing for children. I’ve never really had any interest in writing for adults. Maybe I will one day! But writing for children is just so much fun, and soon I became addicted to writing, and then I desperately wanted to be published, and then I became addicted to seeing my name on the front of another book…and here I am!

What made you want to write this book?

Frustration at the lack of female superheroes around. I mean, there ARE some, but they’re massively overshadowed by the men. Also frustration with the idea that when you reach a certain age, you’re supposed to stop reading books with pictures. I love pictures, and I love comic strips and cartoons. And the twin ideas of a new superhero and using comic strip just came together in ELECTRIGIRL.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

Making stuff up. It’s an actual JOB! I still think it’s bonkers, but gosh, I’m lucky.

We love the format of Electrigirl mixing text with comic strip – we’d love to know where the idea for this came from as we can’t think of seeing any books done like this before! Is it totally new?

Well, other books have included bits of comic strip – Magic Ink by Steve Cole, for instance. And there are many highly illustrated books for this age group out at the moment – the Reeve/McIntyre collaborations (which started with Oliver and the Seawigs) and Chris Riddell’s beautiful Goth Girl books. 

But no, I don’t think anyone else has told a story through both mediums (media?!) in the same book. It just seemed obvious once I’d had the idea (which was about three years ago) – you tell the parts of the story where Holly is ‘being a superhero’ in comic strip, and use prose for the ‘ordinary’ part of her life. Once I’d had the idea, I couldn’t believe no one else had done it yet and I was desperate to do it first!

How did you organise which bits of the story were to be done as comic strip? Did you write the story like that, or did you have to change how it was written it once you had decided?

The story was always written with that in mind. I write the comic strip sections as guidance for the illustrator (the brilliant Cathy Brett) along with what’s in caption boxes, speech bubbles etc. And then, early on, we all get together at OUP with the editors and Holly Fullbrook, the designer, and plan out how the panels are going to fit onto the pages and where the page turns will be and all that. It’s very complicated! Then Cathy goes away and draws it and I get VERY excited when I see the story finally appearing in picture form!

When will we see more of Electrigirl and are you developing it as a series?

A second book, ELECTRIGIRL AND THE DEADLY SWARM, will be out in August 2016 – not long to wait! I’d love it to be a long-running series, but so much depends on how well the first couple of books do. I have ideas for several more exciting plotlines though!

Interview with illustrator Cathy Brett.

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

I adored ‘Stig Of The Dump’. I loved it first because my favourite teacher read it aloud to our class and did brilliant voices for Barney and Stig. Then I loved it all over again when I got a copy of my own and discovered the accompanying illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. I’ve been a fan of his sketchy yet poignant ink drawings ever since.

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

That changes all the time because so many wonderful children’s books are published all the time. I am in awe of pretty much every YA novel that I read and all the brilliant hilarious MG illustrated stuff at the moment makes me whoop for joy. Right now I am obsessed with Jonny Duddle’s pirate books and the picture books of Benji Davis and Jim Field. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of working on Electrigirl?

The biggest challenge has been the number of illustrations - it’s significantly more than you’d find in most illustrated novels, which might have just 15 - 20 images. Electrigirl has around 200 sequential illustrations making up 35+ comic strip spreads. Electrigirl 2 has even more! Although this is very time consuming, it’s also wonderful. It’s not often an illustrator is given the responsibility to tell large chunks of a story in pictures and it’s particularly wonderful when those chunks also turn out to be the most exciting bits!

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