Could you drink the sea like Danny McGee does? Find out more, and read an exclusive interview with author Andy Stanton, in today’s post, as part of the 2017 Lollies Blog Tour!
Danny McGee and his sister Frannie go for a daytrip to the seaside, where Danny confidently declares that he can drink the entire body of water. Watched on by his curious (and understandably dubious) sister, Danny proceeds to suck up all the salty water through the world’s longest straw, before going on a rampage to consume everything else in the entire world (including Andy Stanton, who is in the process of writing the book). He thinks he’s got everyone, until he stumbles across Frannie. Will Danny burst? How bad is his indigestion? How will he get rid of all that water if there are no more toilets left?
When I read the book aloud to the children in the school library, they fell about laughing. They all expected Danny to explode or run off for a wee and kept watching in disbelief when he didn’t. They tried to anticipate the rhymes and giggled at the absurdity of the situation, made even more hilarious by Neal Layton’s brilliant, anarchic illustrations. Danny McGee was certainly a winner in our eyes.
Therefore, you can imagine how delighted I was to be offered the opportunity to interview Andy Stanton as part of the Lollies blog tour. Huge thanks to Andy for taking part, and thanks to you for reading. Enjoy!
How did you come up with the idea for Danny McGee Drinks the Sea?
For some reason, I’ve always thought that ‘McGee’ is a funny surname. Others seem to agree because it feels like it gets used a lot in comedic writing. So the name ‘Danny McGee’ popped into my head and I just loved the rhythm of it and started playing around with rhymes that could tell a story.
Is it difficult to write a book in rhyme? What are the challenges?
I love writing in rhyme, it comes very naturally to me. All of my Mr Gum books have at least one rhyming song in there and I often put little rhyming phrases into the narrative too. For me, writing a whole book in rhyme isn’t too difficult – what’s difficult is finding the right idea, something that’s worth telling. Having said that, ‘Danny McGee’ held some particular challenges because I use a very strict rhythmic structure (one that’s quite like some of the Dr Seuss books) and that means that you have to find very succinct ways to tell the story. Not only that, but I gave myself the additional difficulty of only using one rhyme sound – ‘ee’. So it’s McGee, sea, tree, pea, three, tea, glee, etc. I couldn’t even use words like ‘gravy’ because the rhythmic structure means they wouldn’t scan. So yes, that was the challenge. But often, when you find the ‘game’ in writing something, then the challenge becomes fun. For ‘Danny McGee’, the difficulty of what I’d set out to do became a game, and that’s sort of hinted at by the fact that I made up a nonsense word to give myself an extra rhyme, when Danny swallows a ‘swee’. It’s often when you’ve set yourself tight rules that you come up with the best stuff and the funniest ways of getting around those rules.
How is writing picture book different to writing a novel? Did you find one easier than the other?
Picture books are easier to write because they have a simpler through-line and, hey, they’re a lot shorter. But any type of writing is demanding. With picture books you have to come up with the killer idea and then you have to tell it well, and there’s just no space for something to be not quite right – every word has to work very hard, every word has to count. And you pretty much have to have a killer ending too. With ‘Danny’ I wrote about a third of the story in an hour or so and then I got stuck and thought, no, it’s impossible to write a book using one rhyme. A year later I showed it to someone and she said, ‘you have to finish this book!’ so I sat down and gave it another go. It took me about two hours to get the rest of it done. So I like to say that it took me a year and three hours to write ‘Danny McGee Drinks The Sea’. Anyone who thinks writing a picture book is easy probably hasn’t tried to write a picture book. It’s like solving a really difficult and multi-dimensional crossword. (And then there’s the matching up of the words to the pictures and I like to work collaboratively with the artist to get things exactly right. That’s a whole other subject.)
What has the response to the book been so far? Are children and parents delighted?
From what I’ve heard the response has been really good. One mum told me that her kid likes the book so much that he pretends to drink his bathwater to be like Danny. I’m not sure that’s what I want to encourage but it’s quite flattering.
Is there going to be a follow up or is this a standalone book?
I do have an idea for another ‘Danny’ book. Like the first one, I wrote half of it and got stuck. But it’s been about a year now. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and see if I can finish it…
Have you ever drunk the sea?
I’ve drunk tiny bits of it by accident. It’s not very tasty.
Where is your favourite place by the sea?
This is a great question but I haven’t got a great answer. I spent a year in New Zealand and you really feel the presence of the sea and the coastline there. You’re never too far from some rugged coastline with a dramatically crashing sea; or some impossibly beautiful and underpopulated beach. Then again, somewhere like Cornwall where it’s colder and harsher and exciting because you think of old stories about smuggling… I’d like to live by the sea one day but I’ve no idea where.
Can you drink a lot of anything in one go?
When I was at school, a bunch of us would sometimes have eating and drinking contests after home time. It was pretty gross. I was quite good at drinking an entire can of soft drink in one go. These days I’m trying to cut down on the sugar though.
When I read this book out loud to the children in my library they were convinced Danny would either explode from too much water or need a wee desperately. Did either of these outcomes occur to you when writing the book?
No, I didn’t think of either of those things! One of the things you worry about is that the reader will guess the ending of your story before you get there, so I’m glad the kids thought it would go in a different direction, because hopefully the real ending comes as a surprise.
What was your favourite funny book as a child, and what makes you laugh now?
In terms of pure funny, probably The Twits, although I loved the Just William books too. They’re probably the funniest children’s books ever written. A lot of things make me laugh – funny books, films, TV and music. I love silly songs and I’m always coming up with them. Me and my brother have about fifty stupid songs that we’ve made up together and which we sing all the time instead of talking like normal people. Most of the songs aren’t suitable for children though, so that’s enough of that. And cats. Cats are the funniest animal on the planet and I’m glad they’ve taken over the Internet.
Childtastic would like to thank Andy Stanton for his fab answers and Scholastic for asking us to be part of this blog tour.