Wednesday, 9 March 2016

3d-review – Electrigirl - editor interview

Electrigirl is the first in an exciting new series about an twelve-year-old girl, Holly Sparkes, who is struck by lightning and discovers she has electric superpowers.

It's a thrilling story,  but what really marks this out as an exciting new project is that it takes the current huge interest in highly-illustrated fiction - by having part of the story told in a full comic strip format.

Readers (particularly those aged eight to twelve) have responded enthusiastically to the increase in storytelling with high use of illustration. From the enormous popularity of 'Diaries-with-doodles' formats such as the Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates series, plus books such as 'Goth Girl'; illustrations really seem to pull in and engage readers and fire their imagination.

Electrigirl takes the format forwards and sits between illustrated fiction and a full graphic novel. 

It's a great subject for this new format - as it is the parts of the stories where Holly uses her superpowers that get the graphic treatment.

At first Holly hates the fact that she has a habit of frying what she touches. But her best friend, Imogen, is behaving oddly, so Holly ends up in training with her superpower-obsessed younger brother, Joe, who puts her through her paces, ensuring she can control her powers.

Imogen is obsessed with an addictive quiz she's doing on her new mobile phone. But it's not just Imogen who is behaving strangely. Holly and her brother suspect that the new phone company is becoming very influential in her town and might just be at the centre of some sinister happenings. 

Holly and Joe head off to investigate, but Holly's powers are still beyond her control. 

It's a story that children will fly through - lots of cliffhanger endings to chapters will help that. 

But the real success of this story lies in the fact that the action scenes where Holly's superpowers take over all switch to comic-book format, with illustrations that really help children see and imagine the action.

Review by Timothy, aged eight

Electrigirl is an awesome, powerful book! I really wanted to pick it up and read it and it is full of energy and awesome ideas and sneaky plans. I really liked how Electrigirl had to rely on her younger brother who knew all about superpowers. A great read for anyone who likes super stuff! 

Jo talking to fans at her superpowered Electrigirl book launch in February
Written by Jo Cotterill and illustrated by Cathy Brett, Electrigirl was edited by Kathy Webb, whom we are pleased to welcome to Space on the Bookshelf today.

Interview with Kathy Webb, Managing Editor, OUP Children's Division

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

'Father Christmas' by Raymond Briggs and The Little Grey Rabbit books by Alison Uttley.

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

It’s more YA than children’s, but Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy had me spellbound. In fact, anything by Patrick Ness would be my favourite. For younger readers I love the Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face books by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman (am I allowed to say those as I work on them though!) and I’ve just finished reading Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford which I thought was fantastic. Sorry – there are just too many to choose from . . .

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

The fact that they can transport you to other worlds, other places, and other times, and you can absorb yourself completely in those worlds and go on amazing adventures all from the safety of your bedroom. Children’s writers are immensely talented – child readers are a much more discerning and critical audience than adult readers and so children’s authors and illustrators have their work cut out to hook them quickly and keep them interested for the entire book.

What do you love about this book and what makes it stand out?

Electrigirl is an amazing book and concept. The combination of pacy story, eye-catching comic strip illustrations, and engaging characters that you can empathise with is the perfect mix. I think the fact that the book is part prose and part comic strip really makes it stand out from the crowd.

How many people worked on this book from arrival of manuscript to finished book on shelf?

About fifteen – and that’s not including all the sales force, the printers, or the warehouse staff.

Electrigirl is in a great format that makes it really easy to read – but just how easy was it to get the balance right when editing it?

Jo and Cathy worked really closely with the editorial and design team on this book to make sure we got the balance between text and illustrations just right. 

Electrigirl only goes into comic strip mode when Holly is fully charged and using her superpowers and we were really careful to build up the length of the comic strip elements gradually throughout the book as we know that many children aren’t used to reading comics these days and it can be quite a tricky way to read a story if you’re not used to it. We didn’t want to bombard readers with chapter upon chapter of comic strip right from the start.

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!