Today we welcome the extremely talented and prolific children’s author Karl Newson into The Reading Realm to talk about his new picture book, which is illustrated by Duncan Beedie!
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new picture book I Really Really Love You So, which is illustrated by Duncan Beedie?
I’ll try! I Really Really Love You So was written from the heart, but in a fun (and sometimes silly) way… There are a lot of books that tackle the theme of ‘Love’ brilliantly, but often in a very cutesy and competitive way – Guess How Much I Love You is my most favourite of those. In our story I wanted to simply say “I Love You” but nothing is simple for our Bush Baby! Her character is so strong – she comes loaded! – and I knew straight away what she would be thinking and how she might attempt to show those thoughts. It was just a case of writing them all down and arranging them in the right order, topping and tailing them with an intro to set up the ‘Love’ theme and an outro to give the readers the prize of what was foreshadowed at the beginning… a hug full of love. I hope I haven’t given too much away already, because I haven’t even mentioned the crocodile wrestling, kraken battling and mountain climbing, or the jungle disguise Bush Baby uses to escape her loveable foe, the Bear from I Really Really Need a Wee! All of this, and more, is brought to life AMAZINGLY by Duncan Beedie through his illustrations. The expressions Duncan can capture in a character’s face are GENIUS LEVEL SKILLS! In summary, I’d say if you’re looking for a book to show that special someone in your jungle that you love them, but you’re not into cutesy-cheesy ways of saying it, then this book is for you!
How would you say this story is similar to The Hat Full of Secrets (illustrated by Wazza Pink)? How is it different?
It is similar in that The Hat Full of Secrets was also written by me, but I Really Really Love You So is a (dreamy Prof Brian Cox voice:) vastly different story! In a nutshell, The Hat Full of Secrets would be so small you wouldn’t be able to read it, so I’ll give you the highlights as imagined in a carpet bag instead: It’s a fiction story, coming in at a massive 96 pages / 3k words, with full colour illustrations on every page by Wazza Pink, about a young boy called Henry Pepper. It begins when Henry finds ‘a secret’ in the woods behind his Grandad’s house. Henry rushes back to the house to tell his Grandad, but he’s afraid the secret ‘might eat him up’ (in both senses!), so his Grandad suggests he keep it to himself until he feels OK to share it, by keeping it ‘under his hat’. The problem is, Henry doesn’t have a hat! Luckily, Grandad has a spare one, and he gives it to Henry, but the hat is rather old and dusty and just as Henry tries to tap the dust off, five luggage labels fall out of it and fly off in all directions. These, it turns out, are Grandad’s own secrets, and together they set off to find them, share them and in doing so, empty the hat for Henry’s secret. Grandad takes Henry on a walk about town to find his secrets and Henry hears all about his Grandad’s life of adventures – from missing dinosaur bones, to polar bear expeditions, to world racing speed records, to meeting the Queen, and a trip to space… This story is my way of saying Don’t write off the elderly because they look old, because you don’t know what adventures they’ve had and what memories have been lost to time. So, there, the stories are VERY different!
There are so many lovely, funny illustrations in the book! Do you have a favourite you could share with us?
Err… ALL OF THEM! Heehee. Duncan is a master at this so it’s impossible to choose just one. The ‘wrestling with a crocodile / sailing out to sea’ page is hilarious. It’s full of extra little additions to the characters that Duncan has used to create the vibe. Bush Baby’s mohican haircut being one of them! Another favourite accompanies the line ‘I love you from my bottom to the top of every tree’ because it’s so innocently presented and yet so packed with hilarity and cheek! And one more if I may: the one of Bush Baby standing in front of a snoring lion! Duncan has somehow filled it with sound – a snore emanates from the page when I look at it. Like I said before, he’s got skills!
What are the challenges of writing a rhyming picture book like this? How did you overcome them?
I love writing in rhymes! (I touch on this a bit in the next answer, too…) It can be a challenge at times though, of course. This book has a marching pacey beat because it follows the same pattern as the first of the series (I Really Really Need a Wee) where poor Bush Baby is desperately searching for somewhere to go to the toilet! I made it sound desperate by using a quick metre – one that I could use for an extended ‘wittering-on’ sentence, but that could also be stunted into short, sharp, desperate whimpers where needed. Once that pattern is set I find the text usually writes itself relatively quickly. I don’t count syllables, I go on sound. The tricky part is where accents collide and my Norfolkian word is delivered differently to someone from somewhere else! I find words sometimes stretch out or shrink depending on where you’re from, and tragically common in publishing, your education. I have no education beyond a C in A-Level art, so my pronunciations aren’t up to scratch sometimes… but that’s a debate for another day!
The story narrative takes some really interesting and surprising twists and turns – can you talk to us about these?
Yeah… There are some pretty wild things going on! It’s standard for Bush Baby! In terms of writing, I follow the sound of the rhythm and go where it wants to go. It’s always a song to me, so if I think it needs a chorus or a bridge or a middle-eight, I’ll do it; in terms of the story, I try to keep it pacey but I like to keep the reader on their toes, too! I find stories that have a short repeating rhyming structure rather boring at times, so I throw in a mix of longer sentences and short sharp one liners to take away and add the energy where required; and in terms of writing for this character, I guess Bush Baby does most of the hard work herself! I can see her as an animation, and hear her voice quite clearly, so if she says something in a certain way then who am I to change it?! Heehee. I am sane. I think.
Are there any other children’s books you’ve enjoyed recently?
I’m such a big fan of picture books I could list 100 easily, but I’ll try to keep it short, so… Ghost Orchid by Fiona Lumbers, is beautifully illustrated and so cleverly written with wonderful lyrical sweeps – it’s a big favourite! Leila the Perfect Witch by Flavia Z. Drago is a cracker of a book. Thoughtful. Funny. Deliciously illustrated. Flavia has shared lots of interesting notes on the making of this book via her Instagram page, it’s well worth checking out if you have the time. Annnnnd… The Blue-Footed Booby by Rob Biddulph. A fantastic whodunnit! This book has a great vintage look to it and is told with Rob’s classic rhyming charm. All three are much recommended!
Can you give us any clues or details about what you’re working on next?
I’ve got a busy 2023 coming up, with seven picture books and one board book being released. It’s all gone a bit silly really! I hope you’ll enjoy each of those titles, too! So far, (other than I Really Really Love You So) only Beware! The Blue Bagoo has been officially announced, which is illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier. The board book is a new edition of The Same But Different Too, which was in picture book format in 2019, illustrated by Kate Hindley of course! And there’s also a new edition of my first picture book, retitled from its 2017 release, called Little Owl’s Bedtime, illustrated by Migy Blanco. The others will be coming from May onwards, so more on them soon! As for Bush Baby… there’ll be a third installment in January 2024, and, fingers-crossed, more to follow! The third one creates a nice little sandwich of the three. I’ll leave you pondering that!
Finally, can you describe I Really Really Love You So in three words?
Fun. Loved-up. Kangaroo!