The Writer's Blog Tour is a quick quartet of questions doing the rounds on the internet. John Hunter, David Baillie and Mike Carey have taken part in it, and I was nominated by Coimicí Gael’s Aidan Courtney.

So, here goes…

What am I working on?

I am working on two new children’s books for the O’Brien Press. One is an original idea of mine, a book with spot illustrations and full page cartoon strips about a boy who finds a prehistoric man frozen in a glacier, defrosts him and brings him to school. It’s a story of child empowerment and of smacking-down bullies which will (hopefully!) be told in a sort of Roald Dahl style. That one is called Korky’s Caveman.

I’m also working on a leprechaun story, the first in a series of funny books about the little people. That’s still at quite an early stage at the moment. That’ll be fun and sweet and will have full colour illustrations.

The main comic I’m working on is Sancho, which is being co-written at the moment with Ian Whelan. We just released a small print run mini opening episode for this (which is now sold out) and plan to make this available online for a free download. The main comic will be coming out later this year and will be at least 40 US size pages.

I also have another couple of children’s books on the back burner, but they are for thinking about later in the year.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Does it?? I dunno.

Ian always maintains that Sancho is different from other comics, because he doesn’t actually read comics himself. The last comic he bought was Watchmen in the late 1980s. (That was back when I was still sucking rusks, of course.)

For my own chiildren’s book work I draw on a lot of the influences I had as a child – specifically TV detective series such as Starsky & Hutch, Columbo, Poirot, Charlie’s Angels, and sci-fi series such as Blake’s Seven, Doctor Who, Sapphire & Steel, etc. Comics such as 2000AD, Starlord, Hotspur, Battle, Action, Warlord, Whizzer & Chips, Whoopee, Oink, etc., and books like the Agaton Sax series by Nils-Olof Franzén, Sherlock Holmes, Tintin, Agatha Christie and Harry Harrison were hugely influential as well. I had pretty much the usual, nerdy, hanging-around-the-school-art-room childhood – I was never much good at team sports, or any sports for that matter – I got along with everybody because I could draw and was reasonably chatty.

What I’m trying in a long-winded way to say is, my writing is a combination of all the above, jammed in a food mixer and baked into my books. It’s not that my cakes are wildly different, it’s just that I’m the one that’s baking them.

Why do I write what I do?

It’s for the sheer fun of telling a story.

I started making comics with Ian in school when we were nippers, using the middle pages from our copy books. Then as teenagers Ian and I started writing plays together and staging them. Then Ian and I started a band, writing tons of songs. Then we went back to playwriting. Then Ian and I started doing Sancho together. We were always telling stories, through comics, drama or music.

But real life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing: Ian has worked in film for the last few years with great (award winning) success; I got caught up with my graphic design day job which took over every creative urge right up until the minute the company I worked for went into liquidation. The end of that particular era, as worrying as it was, gave me time to pause for a bit and think about what I actually wanted to do.

While I was thinking, and on a bit of a whim, I arranged to get a collected hardback book of Sancho stories printed by an online print-on-demand service. When the box arrived in the post I was delighted with the books – the print quality was great, the dust jacket was lovely – so I took a photo of them and emailed it to the only Irish publisher I could think of that actually seemed to have an interest in graphic novels, the O’Brien Press. My friend Gerry Hunt had his graphic novel The Blood Upon The Rose published by them and he cave me a couple of contacts. Within a couple of hours they replied, saying that Sancho wasn’t quite what they were looking for, and asking did I have any other ideas for books, bearing in mind that they publish fiction for children and young adults, and non-fiction for adults. I asked them to give me a week and then arrived in their office with nine ideas, all for younger readers as per their brief. They bought six of them on the spot, and away I went. 

And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m writing for children – dumb luck and arm-chancing! And, of course, because it’s incredible fun.

How does my writing process work?

Usually I will be half-asleep in bed, around five thirty in the morning, and a character or book title will pop into my mind. I will play around with it sleepily in my mind for half an hour or so, thinking about basic plots, secondary characters, or book cover designs, until it annoys my so much that I have to sit up and turn on the light (which REALLY annoys my wife) and sketch something down in the notebook I keep beside my bed for just such an occasion. Then I go back to my half-sleep and repeat the process, turning on the light again and again until my wife threatens divorce.

In the morning, I’ll look at the notebook and wonder what I thought I was thinking of. Then, four-or-so weeks later, I’ll look at the ghost-of-an-idea, think it’ll make a nice illustrated novel, and start to try to build a story out of it I write up character descriptions for all the main characters, complete with sketches, and a basic plot outline. I sometimes do a pencil sketch of a prospective cover as well. This is then pitched face-to-face to my publisher, who will invariably squeal for joy and perform the hornpipe on the conference room table. Kidding. If they like it, I go away and write a more detailed draft of the storyline, marking out sequences that would make for good spot illustrations, and deciding where comic strips should go, if required. I also work on the cover, producing colour artwork almost to finished art quality. (This is where my background in design comes in handy.)

I sling all this back into the publisher and, when I get the green light, I start on the writing proper, writing the whole book in around six weeks using MS Word. I pencil sketch the spot illustrations and scan them. I start laying out the Word text in Adobe inDesign, making it look like a ‘real’ book with chapter headings, etc., and place the spot illustrations in the appropriate places. For the comic strip pages I usually put the script in (I write them in traditional comic format, with panel descriptions and dialogue), and work on those last. This jumble I send to the publisher.

The text goes through a few drafts, which sometimes entails changes to the pencil sketch spot illustrations. When the text is finalised I ink up (and colour, if needed) the spot illustrations, and then lastly work on the comic strip pages. All the illustrations are scanned and placed into the inDesign document, which is then sent in pdf format to the publisher. On approval, I do the finished art, including the title page, front and back cover and spine, and this is all sent to the publisher’s production manager who puts in the legals and sends it off to print.

Four weeks later I get an advance copy of the book, a week after that a stack of books arrives, and two weeks after that I have the supreme pleasure of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelves. Then the publicity starts, and being a born yapper, this is nearly as much fun as writing and drawing the book!

Okay, thassit.

I hereby nominate Paddy Lynch and Phil Barrett, two old pals who just happen to be incredibly talented individuals and perfect gentlemen. Just don't tell them I said that.

Paddy's Quick Quartet can be read here...!



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