Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Interview #12: Giles Paley-Phillips

Giles Paley-Phillips can pinpoint the moment he was set on course to becoming a children's author.

One day, in his lunch hour, he popped into a charity shop where he stumbled across a copy of Shel Silverstein's sublime nonsense poems.

Giles collecting his People's Book Prize trophy
"It was in mint condition. I read it and became besotted with it. It was a real eureka moment," Giles told me, speaking from his home in East Sussex.

He paid a couple of quid for it and went back to work. Before his lunch break was done, he'd written his first children's rhyming story.

"The manuscript was scrawled on lots of Post-It notes," he laughed.

That was The Things You Never Knew About Dinosaurs (it will be published by Gullane Books next August).

It sparked an interest in poetry and writing in general, which had been totally unexpected.

"I didn't read a lot as a child. My mum passed away when I was six and life was difficult at home. From when I was aged three, she was in and out of hospital. I didn't have that 'before-bedtime' storybook experience.

"I am making up for that with my children. Now I am reading stuff to my boys and I am finding books I thought I knew, but actually I don't think I did read them. The covers must have been around at home.

"Stuff like Where The Wild Things Are and Not Now Bernard.

"I never intended becoming a writer. English was the only thing I was good at at school. When I left, I didn't finish college and I got into a band."

Giles played guitar with Little Ten for a number of years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, recording some albums and even playing Glastonbury.

"I also used to write quite a lot of the music and got into writing some of the lyrics. I was in a band from the age of 16 and music has always been a big passion.

"I worked in dead-end jobs to make my way as a musician, but it was very difficult. We got to the point where we had had enough of it.

"I got married and my first son was born. I decided I wanted to write something for him. I was trying to think of something to write and couldn't get inspired, so I wrote a book of poetry for adults. I self-published that."

Proceeds from that book of poetry went to a leukaemia charity in memory of his mum.

"The poems were a bit pretentious so after that I wanted to write something fun and was looking to be inspired."
It was shortly afterwards that Giles's serendipitous encounter with the Shel Silverstein book happened, putting him on his true path to becoming an exciting author of picture books.

The ideas began to flow from Giles's imagination and he  was signed up by an agent, Annette Green.

His collection of children's nonsense poems, There's A Lion In My Bathroom, illustrated by Matt Dawson, was published by the small publisher Rebel Books, and drew comparisons with one of his heroes, Spike Milligan.

Nice and scary!

The brilliant Maverick Books have published Giles's two monster-themed stories, The Fearsome Beastie and Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball, which have marked him out as a writer unafraid of using dark themes and violence to entertain his young readers. Even if it sometimes unnerves the parents.

"I guess they're wary of their children having night terrors," Giles said. I point out that many adults - parents and school librarians - were initially opposed to the books of Roald Dahl when they were first published. Dahl's darkness was seen as unsuitable, but he is now revered.

I won't give away the story to the deliciously gruesome The Fearsome Beastie, but there are echoes of fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood.

Giles revealed that Dahl's Revolting Rhymes was an early favourite of his. He also loved the work of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton and the nightmarish fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

The Fearsome Beastie earned great reviews in the Telegraph and from Julia Eccleshare in the Guardian. It also won the People's Book Prize.

Next out of the blocks was Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball. This, like The Fearsome Beastie, was beautifully illustrated by Gabriele Antonini, and again it is a wonderful marriage of rhyme and pictures.

Giles couldn't be happier working with Maverick.

"They have got this lovely family ethos. They are like an old school, small publisher from the 1950s. The book launch was held at managing director Steve Bicknell's home and he provided the food - he's an excellent cook. And his son did the cocktails and other Maverick authors were there, including Julie Fulton."

We spoke on Bonfire Night. The previous week, nicely coinciding with Halloween, Giles had been promoting Tamara Small at bookshops across the south of England.

Giles has been doing readings and signings at Waterstones in the south of England...

"Events are very important. For me it's a bit like doing a gig. I did about 40 events for Fearsome Beastie and by Christmas I will have done 30 events for Tamara Small.

"I did a sold-out event in front of 40 children at the Discover Children's Story Centre in Stratford, London, opposite the Olympic village. It was very humbling. And I was very privileged to be asked as they'd recently had Oliver Jeffers and Shaun Tan there.

"I love reading the books to the children and getting them to do noises and sound effects."

Giles would like to write stories for older children, too. He has written the beginning of a story about a boy with two left feet who falls in love with a young girl at a dance studio. He's called it Left-Footed Lance.

Giles's newly published book
 He would also like to write a novel in poetry, which sounds like a huge challenge.

But he absolutely loves writing picture books and is delighted Maverick want to keep working with him. "I feel like I am still learning the ropes."

So what's in the pipeline?

"I've got another book, Princess Stay Awake!. It was inspired by my youngest son, who was going through a period of not staying in his bed. I switched the sex of the child in the book. But a series of characters - the king, a wizard, the jester and a knight - try to get her to sleep. It finishes with them having to bring in a super nanny."

Remember the name Giles Paley-Phillips. He will soon be joining the ranks of Shel Silverstein, Julia Donaldson, Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl.

* Many thanks to Giles for speaking to Bookengine. His website is here. Take a look at his blog here. And please visit Maverick Books' wonderful site here.

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