Thimble and the Girl from Mars Blog Tour

It’s a totally bonkers feeling that we get to celebrate the publication day of Thimble and the Girl from Mars with you. An honour and a pleasure to be kicking off this blog tour.

We first met Thimble, the anarchic Monkey Superstar, around 4 years ago. The debut was a fresh and funny madcap adventure full of hilarious slapstick episodes. Plenty of toilet humour and unbelievable escapades, with the parents (particularly Douglas, the dad) ending up as the ‘butt’ of the joke. Our children have laughed out loud with Thimble and Jams and have grown up loving this favourite series.

That first book was rightly nominated for the Lollies Laugh Out Loud Award, at which point Jon Blake wrote us a rather wonderful blog introducing Thimble to the nation. Do check it out.

Subsequent books, Holiday Havoc and Wonga Bonkers, continued to thrill new generations of the Bookworms family and even inspired one to commit an outrageous act in a branch of IKEA.

All this brings us to Thimble and the Girl from Mars, the newly published installment featuring an extremely unlikeable girl who wants to claim Thimble as her own. This feisty and intelligent foster child, with fantastic football skills, is a mean match for Jams as she manipulates his family and charms his primate pal. Jams needs to use all his wits to keep Thimble on his side. Just like the rest of the series, this is great fun, fast-paced, light-hearted and ever so slightly unhinged!

Jon Blake has written over 60 books for children (and many more radio scripts and books for adults). He is well used to questions, having regularly carried out school visits. Indeed he answered our Q and A back in 2017. But “What are the best questions that children have asked Jon Blake?” we hear you call through the Internet. Here is some exclusive Blog Tour content:

We are very grateful to Jon for sharing this video with us and look forward to finishing Thimble and the Girl from Mars as our current bedtime read. The book is out now and you can buy signed copies from Jon here. Follow Jon and illustrator Martin on Twitter, and check out Jon’s website because there is plenty to explore!

Blog Tour: His Royal Hopeless

We are very happy to be part of the blog tour for His Royal Hopeless, the debut novel from Chloë Perrin, published by Chicken House. We heard that Chloë had been brought up in North Wales so were keen to support them and find out more.

His Royal Hopeless is funny, tender and wise, centering on Robbie – the heir to the Sinistevils – the most wicked dynasty in the world. He can’t wait to pledge his heart to the menacing power of the family Sceptre and embark on his bloodthirsty future. The thing is, Robbie is … well … nice. And when he discovers his heart has been swapped for clockwork, he’s incapable of believing Mother had dark intentions. Instead, he embarks on a quest to retrieve his heart, claim his wicked destiny, and secure Mother’s pride at last. But Mother has other ideas …

Billed as ‘Despicable Me’ meets ‘The Descendants’, this is a fun and absorbing fairy tale from a new voice in middle-grade fiction.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy by Richard Pickard at the moment – it’s an offbeat adventure about a girl and a mysterious boy with tentacles for hair and crab claws for hands. It’s really heartfelt, funny and wonderfully twisted (all my favourite things in a book).

What are your favourite books?

I absolutely LOVE Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series, his “fantasy-gone-wrong” tone really influenced me as a writer! I also love Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, for the wonderful and hilarious characters but also for the complete Welsh-ness of it all.

Where and when do you write? Do you have a routine?

My writing routine is woefully non-existent!! I tend to end up writing in any spare moment I have, usually late at night fuelled by dangerous amounts of coffee and toast (would not recommend).

What was your journey to publication?

My journey to publication was quite a fun one. I entered His Royal Hopeless in the Times Chicken House competition in 2019 and was longlisted, which was amazing! However, when I didn’t make the shortlist I assumed HRH’s journey was over for the time being- until I got a phone call from Chicken House saying that while HRH wasn’t right for the competition they still wanted to have a chat about it. A coffee-shop meeting and several panicked emails to my university lecturers with the subject header “what do I do what do I do???” later, and HRH was on its way to publication!

You are a “North Walian writer who currently lives in London”. Tell us about your Welsh upbringing.

I grew up in the tourist town of Llandudno and lived there for most of my life. Llandudno isn’t such a rural area but there’s still mountains whichever way you look, castle ruins down the road and wild goats wandering the streets completely nonplussed by the people. And, of course, there’s Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, less than an hour away. I love the history you see walking around London, but nothing will beat the wildness of North Wales for me.

Does Wales or coming from Wales, have any influence on your writing?

I think all the things I mentioned about North Wales in the previous question pretty much set me up to write fantasy-adventure stories. The fact that Robbie and Layla need to traverse through deep forests and treacherous mountains is a very Welsh influence on HRH. I also used to work as a storyteller, which involved reciting Welsh folklore by heart, and the constant practice of retelling exciting and often frightening stories about castles and magic and devious villains really moulded what I’d eventually end up writing down.

In His Royal Hopeless, there is an optimistic message for readers about forging your own path and accepting yourself for who you are. How deliberate and planned was this?

Without giving anything away, I always wanted HRH to be a book about understanding yourself in spite of what the world around you is telling you to be, so it was very deliberate. The optimism, I went back and forth on- I appreciate children’s books that give layers of reality to the lessons they teach, and I definitely didn’t want to completely sugar coat the ending of HRH. Hopefully I struck the right balance, but we’ll see what people think!

What are your hopes for His Royal Hopeless?

I hope that HRH will give perspective to people who may be in Robbie’s situation without realising it. It’s SO easy for us to get stuck trying to be something that’s actually harming us, and no one is immune to Robbie’s level of obliviousness. But honestly, I’ll just be happy if the readers laugh at the jokes!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you have received?

Have projects ready. They don’t need to be polished, but when competitions start calling for submissions you don’t want to be stuck with only a third of a first draft to hand.

The book is brilliantly illustrated by George Ermos, including some internal illustrations. What were your thoughts when you first saw them?

I ADORED them!! My biggest anxiety around HRH wasn’t “what if people don’t like it?”, but “what if it has a bad cover?” The moment I was told George Ermos was designing it, however, I never had that worry again. I was honestly stunned by the final design. George Ermos has done an absolutely amazing job. And Robbie’s crown! I very much want that crown.

Could you recommend any other books for those who enjoy His Royal Hopeless?

The books I mentioned before – any of Pratchett’s middle grade work or Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. I wouldn’t dare put myself on their level but we do share a “this is fantasy but not quite how you remember it” tone I know children will love. Also, they’re hilarious.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

A few little things, but I’ll also be starting my Creative Writing MA at Brunel University London this year so I’m going to be busy either way!

What question have we forgotten to ask you?

What my favourite sweet is, and it’s Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. And yes, if you see me in the street you should definitely hand me one and I will graciously accept it.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS by Chloë Perrin is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House), available from all good bookshops including your local independent store.

Thank you to Chloë for answering our questions. Follow Chloë on Instagram @chloeperrin_author and Twitter @ChloePerrinUK 

Q and A: Jack Meggitt-Phillips

The Beast and The Bethany by Cardiff-born writer Jack Meggitt-Phillips is published on 1 October 2020. This dastardly inventive and hilarious novel channels Dahl and Lemony Snicket in a tale about the Beast in the attic who’s hungry for, well, anything. It’s an absolute delight – brilliantly written so that it can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages (including adults!). Kit (aged 7) thought it was the “best book I’ve ever read”, and it was similarly devoured (gettit?) by 13-year-old Hobbit-loving Noah. The film rights have been snapped up so we’re at the start of something huge. It’s only proper that we should invite Jack to answer a few questions…

The Beast and The Bethany is the first book in a trilogy that was highly-sought after by publishers and has been snapped up by a film company too. These are exciting times for you…

It’s all delightfully bonkers, and I’m still trying to find a way of telling people I’m a children’s author without blushing purple and combusting into a flurry of awkwardness.

I’m very grateful for the chance that I’ve been given, and if there’s a chance that my books can give children the same feeling I experienced when reading The Bad Beginning for the first time, then I shall be brimming with ever greater quantities of delight.

The story has drawn comparisons to Roald Dahl, Despicable Me, Little Shop of Horrors, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lemony Snicket. Which of these comparisons is the most accurate/helpful?

It’s a fabulous list of comparisons, isn’t it? May have to frame this question for my wall.

The plot probably shares most in common with Dorian Gray. It’s about a 511-year-old called Ebenezer Tweezer who keeps a beast he keeps in his attic. He feeds the beast all manner of things (hedgehogs, chandeliers, the occasional pet cat), and in return the beast vomits out presents, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.

One day, the beast announces that it wants to eat a child, and so Ebenezer brings a rebellious prankster into the house – one who will be a lot trickier to get into the beast’s belly than any cat or chandelier.  Enter Bethany . . .

The story seems delightfully bizarre featuring parrots who sing like Elvis and a blob who lives in the attic. What’s the most bonkers detail that you included?

There’s an exceptionally silly scene in Buckingham Palace involving a stand-off between Bethany, and the Queen’s chief under-butler, Perkins. Fully expecting to receive a firmly written letter of complaint from Her Majesty about it.

Were there any details considered too farout by your editor?

Unfortunately, my agent and editors have been terribly bad influences on my penchant for silliness There are now twice as many Elvis parrots, twelve more squashed muffin sandwiches, and a whole gaggle of villainous household appliances because of them.

Are you looking forward to seeing your creations come to life on film?

This was another moment when I squealed ungainly with delight. The beast and I couldn’t hope for better partners in Heyday Films and Warner Bros., in our quest to delight and terrify as many children as possible.

Do you have more of an affinity to The Beast or Bethany?

Both are far too ill-mannered for my tastes, and frankly I don’t think either of them would care to spend any time in my company unless they could chomp my head off, or pull some ghastly prank on me.

I have far more in common with Ebenezer Tweezer, and his obsession with velvet waistcoats and eccentric teas. He has better hair than me, and somewhat looser morals, but aside from that I think we’d get on very well.

Have you already completed the trilogy? What can you tell us about the other 2 books?

The series is essentially going to be about two misguided people trying, and miserably failing to become do-gooders. All whilst saving themselves and their friends from the beast’s dastardly, bone-crunching villainy. 

I’m currently in edits for book 2. After that, the beast, the Bethany, Ebenezer and I are going to have a long, serious think about what we can try and get away with for the next book.

You are a scriptwriter and podcast presenter – how did you get into writing for children?

I had been working on another book for a few months, which just sort of collapsed at the seams. The characters weren’t behaving themselves, the plot was pettily refusing to come together, and my interest in the thing was wilting faster than a dying daffodil.

I started The Beast and the Bethany, because I wanted to have some fun writing again, and because the idea had been scratching away in the back of my brain for a while.  I’ve now buried that other book in the back garden. 

What are you reading at the moment?

For years I’ve been struggling with a worrying habit for Victorian literature, and it only seems to be worsening. Currently I can be found wearing a cloak, carrying a candle, and cackling menacingly at The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins.  

Where and when do you write?

I write exclusively in my dressing gown, which can make my attempts to write on train journeys a little awkward.

My most productive times are before I’ve had breakfast, and before I go to bed. I’m like a needy puppy – I need the reward of a pain au chocolat or bedtime in order to get me writing.  

What are your favourite books for children?

The books I’ve enjoy most are the ones that feel like they’re too mischievous or macabre to be written for children. Books like those belonging to Mr Snicket and Mr Dahl deserve all the praise and plaudits that are heaped upon them, and I would also put in a very warm word for a book called ‘The Day My Bum Went Psycho’ by Andy Griffiths.

Can you tell us about your Welsh connections and inspirations?

Well, one of the biggest influences on my writing has to be the modern series of Doctor Who, and frankly anything written by Russell T Davies – what a legend.

My running/ out-of-breath stroll route in Wales also takes me past the Mrs Pratchett’s Sweetshop plaque – the one featured in Roald Dahl’s Boy, so that always cheers me up. It also gives me an urge for sweets, which immediately undoes any of the good work done by my attempt at exercise.   

We’ve heard that you’re fond of tea. Any thoughts on Welsh tea?

Several. Enough to bore even the most patient and indulgent of listeners to tears.

Waterloo Tea Gardens, Cardiff

However, I shall spare your readers the agony by confining my recommendation to any of the loose-leaf delights from Waterloo Tea Gardens. The Orange Blossom green tea is a personal favourite.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?

I’ve always loved horror stories with a supernatural tinge, and especially those that can make you jump between laughter and screams. So currently having a bash at one of those.

Huge thanks to Jack for answering our questions! You can follow him on Twitter. The Beast and The Bethany is published by Egmont and you can pick up a copy in your local independent bookshop.