With a loud toot on Betsy’s horn, I welcome you to my stop on the blog tour, where I am honoured to join a troupe of wonderful children’s book bloggers, to bring you Alfie Fleet’s latest adventure.
The amazing and frankly alarmingly inventive imagination of Martin Howard has taken off on another fantastic journey through the lesser-known planets, and here he explains a little of his creative philosophy! Over to you, Mart…
So, here we are again. Hullo, and it’s good to be back at V’s View From the Bookshelves with everyone’s favourite reviewer, our fabulous host – the one and only Von Price! Let’s give her a big hand …
*Wait for standing ovation*
Von Price, everybody. Isn’t she great? Love the book bloggers. Heart-shape. OK, settle down, we’ve a lot to get through. So, I’m back to bang the drum for the second instalment of Alfie Fleet’s fantastical adventures. He’s off to a fresh bunch of planets, which I’m sure Von will tell you all about in the review. Meanwhile, she’s asked me to talk about how I came up with the idea and why I write funny books.
This could be a looooong piece. Sure you don’t want to talk about biscuits? Biscuits are an author thing, right?
Let’s dispense with the how first, ‘cos that’s nice and quick. I came up with the idea of stone circles being used as portals to different places for a book called The Wickedest Witch, which was published about ten years ago. (It’s a good ‘un, by the way. Beeeyootiful illustrations. And still in print – hint, hint.) Years later, one summer afternoon, I was sitting in the garden and my train of thought took a sudden detour. It went something like this: “Pom pom pomty pom. Bees. Ooo, lovely flowers. Pom pom … hey Martypants, you should write about an interstellar cartography club using stone circles to map other planets.” I’ve no idea where it came from but that’s how Alfie was born. A few weeks later I came up with Professor Bowell-Mouvemont (or Major Bowell-Mouvemont as he was originally called). The name made me giggle and, as a writer, if you can make yourself laugh you’re halfway there …
So that’s how. Why I write funny books – that’s a much bigger question.
Hmm. Chin stroking moment. I suppose, when we get right down to the nitty of the gritty, I write funny books because funny seems to be my factory setting. My brain automatically goes for the funny side of any situation, which makes me a hoot at funerals. Now, I’m not saying I’m the world’s most hilarious person (I’m actually pretty annoying and humour is in the smile of the beholder, a lot of people don’t get mine) but I LOVE laughing, and making other people laugh is just about the best feeling in the world. I once made a friend laugh so hard she actually, properly, wet herself. And not just a little bit but a catastrophic loss of bladder control. People were putting animals on boats.
It was the proudest moment of my life.
So, I don’t think I had much choice. I once tried writing a serious YA horror novel. Total disaster. I had a cool, sassy hero lined up. He wore a nifty coat. Plus, I spent ages working out a gasp-worthy, didn’t-see-that-coming plot. In the first chapter he started telling gags. By the end I may as well have had vampires wearing false noses and bonking their victims over the head with rubber chickens.
At that point, I discovered it was funny writing or no writing.
Beyond the fact that I love it so much though, I strongly believe that comedy is much more important than people realise, and especially for children.
Uh-oh, serious bit alert.
Humour makes a massive impact in young peoples’ lives. This we know for an actual fact. I’ve lost count of the school librarians who have told me how much they rely on funny books to turn reluctant readers into eager readers – with all the life benefits that entails – and science tells us that laughter is beneficial on every level: physically, mentally and emotionally. Funny writers – even *yikes* David Walliams – are helping children grow up well-balanced, healthier and better educated.
So, what I’m saying is that we’re basically saints, like lovely, lovely angels making the world a better place one fart gag at a time. I mean, obviously we get paid from time to time, but it’s righteous work and it drives me bonkers that funny children’s books are sometimes seen as less important than serious books like Barry Tortoise Finds Out We’re All Going to Die. For that reason, me and Rachel Delahaye – a writer who is much, much funnier than me – recently set up a blog called Snort! We hope it will grow into a place where funny books are given the attention they deserve.
In the meantime, I’m hugely – enormously – proud to have maybe helped make a tiny difference in one or two children’s lives just by writing barmy stuff about eccentric professors wearing corsets. Every so often I’ll get a letter from a child saying how much they enjoyed something I’ve written, and how much it made them laugh. For me, more than glory or riches beyond imagination, that is the reward of being a funny children’s writer. That said, if you have any glory or riches-beyond-imagination hanging about, I wouldn’t say no.
Mwah for now
PS: for the record – a chocolate finger, if you have one.
PPS: Chocolate finger. SNORT!
Thank you for that Mart, and I wouldn’t say no to a little portion of glory and riches myself, or a full packet of chocolate fingers if you have any spare! Onto the review…
Firstly, let’s take a moment to marvel at the glorious cover art by Chris Mould, and let me assure you that his black and white illustrated pages will provide much amusement and enlightenment throughout the book.
It’s possible that your holiday plans this year might be disrupted, but do not worry – Alfie Fleet is back, and he wants to offer you the holiday of a lifetime!
If you read The Cosmic Adventures of Alfie Fleet you will remember that Alfie and his mum moved into Number Four, Wigless Square with Professor Bowell-Mouvement and Derek, the Under-sixteens Unnecessary Violence Champion from the planet Outlandish, where they were planning to start The Unusual Travel Agency (UTA). We rejoin Alfie as he and the Professor embark on a whistle-stop tour of their proposed destinations, putting the final touches to their information leaflets and ensuring that sufficient travel brochures are left at each hostelry on the tour.
Unfortunately, the planet Bewayre not only proves to be a greenly-unwelcoming place, but also provides some unexpected and unwelcome guests to Wigless Square, in the form of five ragged, crusty and extremely grubby individuals who look like survivors from a Tudor disaster movie! The leader of this pack of adventurers is Sir Willikin Nanbiter, a deeply unpleasant character, former President of the Unusual Cartography Club from 1542 – 1546 (time passes very slowly on Bewayre compared to Earth). He is accompanied by his hideously snobbish wife Lady Gardenia; brow-beaten son Flem; a donkey and two rotten henchmen named Bernard Stiltskin and Incontinence Pance. Using the ancient rules of the UCC they vote the Professor out of office, reclaim control of the UCC and set about destroying the UTA.
Alfie must use every ounce of ingenuity he possesses, to lead the Professor, Derek and Flem, along with trusty Betsy the scooter, on a quest to discover the long-lost members of the UCC to outvote Sir Nanbiter. Searching far and wide for stone circles through which they can travel across the universe, their main objective is Catsic the Henge. He was last heard of on the Planet Frimp, a vast collection of tropical islands where our intrepid heroes discover that they have been pursued across 36 worlds by Nanbiter’s henchmen! Cue a fearsome pirate battle and subsequent ship-wreck.
This book is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. From the hugely inventive planets and their inhabitants (Winspan: looks like a half-chewed tennis ball and has such low gravitational pull that the population own strap-on wings) to the running gags based on the Professor’s constant confusion of words, and the profusion of toilet jokes, it will appeal to the most reluctant of readers. Of course, under the hugely entertaining jokes, there are themes of loyalty, trust and bravery as Alfie strives to meet the expectations placed upon him. The quest zips along at a great pace, with laughs and peril often combined to great effect – the gruesome duties that Alfie encounters whilst crewing on the Jewel of the Breezy Seas had me choking on my coffee!
Will Alfie fulfil his destiny and bring peace and harmony to the universe? Read this book and expect your face and sides to ache with laughter as you find out! Toot!Toot!
Thank you Mart and OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy and for inviting me aboard Betsy for the blog tour.