Emer Stamp is the author of the award-winning The Diary of Pig series. Here she talks about winning the Lollies 2018 award for Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8s and why funny books should be taken seriously!
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Lollies 2018 award for Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8s! Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit more about The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig?
Pig is in a big trouble. He thinks he’s, by mistake, eaten his good friend Ki-Ki the turkey. And if that’s not bad enough, DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs) have chained him up and taken him away to be ‘destroyed’. Enter a three-legged dog called Rusty – a crazy canine, channelling a large amount of Bear Grylls.
With Rusty’s help, Pig escapes DEFRA (he believes they are actually called DETHRA), only to find himself a fugitive on the run, in a forest he doesn’t have the skills to survive in. Pretty big, fat and totally bonkers, right?
Why do you think awards like Scholatic’s Lollies are so important?
Funny books VERY rarely get considered for any of the major book awards. This isn’t just true in children’s fiction by the way, it’s a truth across the board with books and in film too. When did you see a funny film win the Oscar for Best Film?
Without the Lollies there would be nothing that acknowledged or rewarded funny fiction.
How difficult is it to write something that’s funny and humorous? How do you gauge if what you’re writing is funny?
Humour is something you either have the knack for or you don’t. I am happy to say I do. I don’t even write with the intention to be funny, it just comes out that way. I couldn’t write a serious book, that would be impossible. Sometimes I write something and I immediately know it is funny – it makes me laugh just typing it. But sometimes it takes others to tell me.
Pig has a very idiosyncratic way of speaking. How did this come about? What was your inspiration?
The books are based on the farm I grew up on. That farm was in Devon. I don’t know how familiar you are with a very broad Devonian accent, but it’s not a million miles from the way Pig talks.
What do you think it is about the diary format that appeals so much to this age group?
I think there are two things about a diary that appeal. Firstly, they are written in the first person. This allows the reader to quickly and easily get into the character’s head.
Secondly, diaries are usually secret. Peeking into some one else’s life and hearing their intimate thoughts is always appealing.
I know Lauren Child, the Children’s Laureate, has talked about the importance of taking children’s books seriously. Do you think funny books should be taken more seriously be the publishing industry?
Yes, very much so. Though I’m not sure it’s the publishing industry that isn’t taking them seriously; I have had nothing but support from publishers for my work. To me it feels more like the awards organisations, the critics and, dare I say it, often the parents who don’t take them as seriously as they might.
“Children are funny creatures; they love to laugh, they look for the silly and the bizarre in life. Yet somehow all this is forgotten when we critique the books they read. I’ve heard parents talk about getting their children into more serious books, like somehow funny books are simply a gateway to this end. Why? Why can’t we just accept that these books are great and allow our children to enjoy them?”
And, critically, they are seen as somehow easier to write, and ‘lesser in value’ as a result. This is very unfair. Funny books, books that really make kids laugh, are VERY hard to write. Yes, it’s easy to tell a joke, but have you ever tried writing one, a really funny one?
Which funny and humorous books did you like as a child?
I still have my copy of Spike Milligan’s Silly Verses. Even now I think it’s funny. I also still have a book called the Ha! Ha! Bonk! Joke Book, that was a favorite too. When I was a child I was REALLY into Roald Dahl – I loved how his books were funny and yet so moving. Books like Danny Champion of the World and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His work has been a huge influence.
Are there any funny children’s books you’ve particularly enjoyed recently?
I’ve been enjoying the Rabbit and Bear series by Julian Gough and Jim Day with my son. We are both really enjoying them.
What adventures do you think Pig might take us on next?
Right now, Pig is attempting to embark on his own TV series. This would be a very big adventure indeed. Whilst Pig is focusing on this, I have been developing a new series, the first of which comes out this summer. It’s a school story with a twist, a very pesty twist. It’s called ‘P.E.S.T.S. – Mouse in Training’ and you’ll be able to get your paws on it in June.
Finally, can you describe your books in three words?
Fart with heart.