My guest today is Chris Callaghan, author of The Great Chocoplot !
Can you imagine hearing, “in six days there will be no more chocolate in the world…ever!“? I know, pure horror!
For Jelly, the main character in The Great Chocoplot, who lives in Chompton-On-De-Lyte and is partial to Blocka Choca bars, this is a total and utter Chocopocalypse. Refusing to go choccy-woccy-doo-dah, Jelly sets out to investigate with the help of her gran. Along the way, clues lead her to Garibaldi Chocolati, the owner of a rather posh chocolate shop.
You can read an extract here, thanks to Chicken House.
This is a brilliantly funny book for kids, and was the first novel to be published through Chicken House’s Open Coop competition (open until 8th December 2017).
Many thanks to you Chris, you’ve made me chuckle lots with your answers, and it’s really interesting to discover your writer’s journey.
It is a pleasure to welcome you to my blog!
(BTW, you might as well grab a chocolate bar while you’re reading this…)
Hi Chris! As a chocoholic, the thought of a chocolate shortage scares me silly. What was the inspiration behind The Great Chocoplot?
Ha! Sorry about that, but that’s why the idea rattled around my brain so much. Initially, the word ‘chocapocalypse’ was something I put in one of my silly tweets, when I was pleading for more followers.
The idea grew and grew until I had a fully(ish) formed story in my head. I decided to write that story as a Christmas present for my daughter.
(The word ‘chocApocalypse’ became ‘chocOpocalypse’ during editing, after much to-ing and fro-ing with my editor!!)
Tell us about Jelly: what kind of character is she? How did she come to you?
I’ve made up lots of stories that had my daughter in them, but I wanted this story to be different. I wanted it to be familiar to her, but not about her. It’s only when reading through some very later versions that I realised that Jelly is very, very like my daughter. Jelly has a lot of the worries that children have these days: school work and social media pressures. I suppose these are worries that us parents have for our children too. But Jelly is smart and determined, and hopefully lovable – I certainly love her. Just like my daughter!
I’ve heard people comparing Garibaldi Chocolati to Roald Dahl’s villains. How did you go about creating him?
Wow, that’s fantastic to hear, but I’m certainly not trying to compete with the gloriumptious Mr Dahl. Early versions of the story didn’t have such a prominent baddie – that character was there, but in a minor role. It was my amazing editor (Rachel) at Chicken House who wanted to develop the role into what she later called an ‘anti-Willy Wonka’. I’m glad I took her advice, because I had so much fun writing Garibaldi’s parts. I purposely made his accent go all over the place, because whenever I read stories to my daughter, whatever accent or voice I would start a certain character with, it’s never the same voice I would end up with. So, Garibaldi’s way of talking meant I could finally get away with this!
Your depiction of family dynamics seems to be at the heart of your story. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or did that just arise organically?
It was one of the main focusses before I started writing, so it was definitely a conscious decision. I’ve written lots of stories, trying all different genres, but it’s always been the simple scenes with family and friends chatting and taking the mickey out of each other that I’ve always loved writing. These scenes come very easily, so I wanted them to be an important part of the story. Also, sometimes in children’s books, families get pushed to one side, or the child protagonist often doesn’t have a parent at all. I understand, from a narrative point of view, this might free up the story and the main character but I think (certainly for middle grade) younger children are happy to have their parents around. Obviously, as they get older, parents become quite boring and who wants boring parents in a story?? I didn’t want my family to be a kissy, kissy family, I tried to make them seem real, but hopefully readers get a sense of how much they love each other.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Ha! For about 40 years I was a pantser. I’ve got boxes of scraps of paper and post-it notes that will confirm that! When I had this idea, I really, really wanted to do it justice and finish it, so I decided to have an actual plan! Luckily, because the story is told over a fixed six days (the build up to a predicted Chocopocalypse), there was already an inbuilt structure. I got a big sheet of A3 and wrote Monday, Tuesday, etc on it and underneath scribbled what would happen on these days. It’s simple, but it worked!
I see on your website that you like music. Do you write to music?
I love music, it’s always been a huge part of my life. I believe an album (that shows how old I am!) should be given as much attention as a book. Music is sometimes in the background too much, which might be fine for most, but not for me. Therefore, I have problems if I try and write with music playing – I end up listening to the music and not writing! But then, I don’t like complete silence either. What I have to do (and this might sound a bit mad) is put some music on – or the telly on – in another room. Loud enough to hear a mumble, but not loud enough to be able to listen properly to it (yes, this does sound a bit mad!). I also have the disadvantage of living next door to a noisy neighbour – but probably best if I don’t go into all that!!
Your book seems to be popping up all around the world! What’s it like being an international author?
Yes, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’m very grateful to Chicken House, especially Elinor, for pushing my story into the wide world. Although my book is having a jet-set lifestyle, I experience it via emails and photos! But it is amazing seeing it in different forms, with different fantastic titles and languages. Whenever we get a new copy we always go straight to the dedication page. It’s dedicated ‘To Trinity (to make you smile)’ and seeing that in a different language is wonderful – we know exactly what it says, even if we can’t read it properly and it ALWAYS makes us smile!
Most versions have Lalalimola’s wonderful illustrations on the cover, she also does the internal art too. I have been so lucky to have someone as brilliant as Lalalimola involved, her artwork has become such a prominent part of my life. I once mentioned that my favourite illustration was one of Jelly’s dad sitting in a chair and she sent me the original drawing of that – what an amazing gift! I have it framed and will treasure it for ever!
I’ve also been very lucky with my overseas publishers, they have been so friendly and it’s been quite a giggle!
I’m curious as to whether (or not) your jobs before becoming an author have contributed to your stories or storytelling somehow?
Yes, definitely. Right back to my military days, where I learned one of the biggest lessons in my life – never take anything seriously! I’ve worked in a number of sectors and areas of the country, and have always enjoyed listening to the crew room chatter. I suppose I was always making mental notes of characters, ways of talking and how people interact with each other.
I have spent a lot of time on factory roofs, measuring pollution, and there’s a scene in my story where the characters all climb up onto their kitchen roof. It wasn’t until my editor asked if I’d done that on purpose, when I realised the connection. It’s always been quite natural for me to climb onto a roof and I accidentally got my characters to do the same!
It’s really hard to write funny, and keep up the funny throughout the book! What’s your secret? Any tips for other writers?
I’m not really someone who dishes out advice – even if I knew the answer to that (which I don’t!). When I started writing this, I wanted to write a silly story – not necessarily a funny story. I knew I could do silly stuff, but funny is completely subjective. I thought that if I write enough silly parts then maybe some readers might find some parts funny, but if they didn’t, then it was still silly and hopefully entertaining. It’s been interesting hearing readers talk about their favourite ‘funny’ parts, and how much that varies.
Regarding being ‘funny throughout the book’ – I feel there are some books, and in particular comedy films, that during the last act seem to stop trying to be funny/silly and become quite well-meaning and gushy. If this is what the writer intended, then that’s fine, but I wanted my story to be silly from the start to the finish. I made a lot of effort to keep the silliness in, right to the end.
What was it like winning “Worcestershire’s Awesomest Book” award?
Awesome! Really! Completely unexpected (I know everyone says that, but I mean it!) It’s been a thrill being shortlisted for a few things and knowing that children are reading it and discussing it with other readers is a weird but wonderful feeling. When I visited Worcestershire, it’s amazing finding out how much work goes into these regional awards. The librarians and schools involved are brilliant. These award schemes exist mainly to encourage a culture of reading amongst children and the actual award itself is just a happy accident. It was wonderful to meet the people who had read, and in some cases voted, for my story. It’s a huge honour.
What’s your favourite thing about being an author?
Blimey! Where do I start? I don’t think there is one thing. Just a whole sequence of wonderful stuff. Genuinely!
Before publication, I thought the main thing would be holding a real book – that I’d written – in my hands, or seeing a real book – that I’d written – on a bookshop shelf! When that happened, it was amazing, truly amazing, but it’s only a small part of the wonderfulness. I get to go into schools and libraries and meet readers and have a laugh with them. I’ve got to do events at Seven Stories, the Roald Dahl Museum and some literary festivals. I’ve signed copies to queues of smiley faced readers (honestly, sometimes there’s been actual queues!) – I usually try to remember the last name I signed a book to, just in case it’s my last!
I’ve heard about my story being read at bedtime, where families have chuckled together while reading it – that is such a privilege. I’ve got to share all this experience with my family and friends, who have been fantastic. I’ve seen the joy in their faces and it has made us all so happy. I wrote this story for my daughter, in the hope it would make her smile. I’d love to think, in the years to come, when I am long gone, she’ll slide a copy off her shelf and flick though it – and it will make her smile. If that happens, THAT will be my favourite thing!
Can you give us a chunk of a choccy-clue about what delicious treats you’re rustling up for us next? Go on!
I’ve got plenty of ideas and I’ve spent 40 years prior to being published scribbling stories and, with any luck, I’ll spend the next 40 years scribbling them too. But as for being published again: I’ve already won my writing lottery, and that’s probably the end for me. I became published because of Chicken House’s open day (or Open Coop, as they called it) – where they asked for any unpublished children’s stories to be submitted for one day only. I am incredibly grateful to Chicken House for reaching out and grabbing my silly story. But it’s always been just a ‘one-off’ deal. I have several events and schools that I’m booked into over the next few months, but once they are done, I’m back to the real world. The bills need paying! But I’ve had such a wonderful time and I will always look back on my days as an author with so much fondness and happy memories. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Thanks once again, Chris, and we all wish you the best of luck with your future books!
You can find Chris on twitter as @callaghansstuff and on his website http://www.chris-callaghan.com/
Happy reading to you all, thankyou for visiting my blog 🙂
2nd November 2017