We’re delighted to welcome author / illustrator Jim Smith to Story Snug today. Jim’s book, Barry Loser and the birthday billions, is shortlisted in The 2018 Laugh Out Loud Awards (Lollies) which were created by publisher Scholastic. The Lollies celebrate the funniest children’s books in three age categories, Barry Loser and the birthday billions has been shortlisted in the Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds category.
Hi Jim. Thank you for joining us on Story Snug and congratulations on being shortlisted for The Lollies. How / where did you find out that you had been shortlisted?
I’d been stuck in a lift with twelve strangers for a week when the ceiling hatch flipped open and a dog’s head poked through. He was holding a rolled-up A4 sheet in his mouth. ‘Drop!’ shouted one of the lift people (up until this point he hadn’t said a word), and the piece of paper fluttered to the ground. It unfurled and the old lady to my left (Maureen or Doreen, can’t remember now), started reading out loud what was printed on it – which was that I’d been shortlisted for The Lollies – it was an email from my agent! ‘How does your agent know you’re stuck in a lift?’ said a voice. I couldn’t tell who it was because we were all so squiggled together and it hard to look around. I explained that I’d emailed everyone I knew a week ago, asking for help and dropping a pin so they knew where I was. ‘We’re saved!’ cried another voice, but we weren’t. It’d be another month until we were rescued.
You have written several Barry Loser stories. Is the character of Barry Loser based on anybody you know or have met?
I’ve never met him, but Barry Loser is based on me. I’m sort of a combination of thinking I’m the coolest person ever but also the most loserish. I can get very upset if my friends don’t take enough notice of me, and like coming up with stupid little ideas. Which are all things Barry Loser has about him too.
In Barry Loser and the birthday billions Barry comes up with some extremely bizarre ideas to make money to buy a SHNOZINATOR 9000. Where did you get the inspiration for his inventions? Did you invent anything when you were younger?
I’ve never really invented anything for the real world, but I’ve always liked coming up with stupid ideas. They just pop into my head, like with everyone. The difference is, I take my stupid ideas very seriously and write them down in a notebook which has my name and phone number in the front of it in case I lose it. That’s one of my biggest fears – losing one of my books full of stupid little ideas.
A notebook is a great idea, often our ideas come to us when we’re least expecting them!
We’re huge fans of illustrated children’s fiction and enjoy reading diary style stories. How do you create the Barry Loser stories? Do the words come before the pictures?
Yeah, I write the story first on my computer, although before that I make lots of notes in my sketchbook and sometimes draw little drawings next to them to picture what I’m thinking better. Then once I think the story works ok, and my editors have gone over it and told me which bits are rubbish, I lay it all out in the pages of the book and add about one drawing per page. This is supposed to be the fun bit, because you can listen to music and podcasts while you’re drawing, whereas that’s nigh-on impossible when you’re writing something because your brain needs every bit of spare RAM it can get to concentrate. But drawing ends up being as much hard work as writing, because I usually have about two weeks to do around 250 drawings, which if you do the maths is seventy-nine thousand drawings per day.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I like sitting outside a cafe and writing. Or just inside but near the window. Sometimes I’ll sit right inside a cafe – but only if I’m really into the writing and can disappear inside the story. Mostly I like to be able to see people walking past me though. You hardly ever see the same one twice, no matter how long you live.
Are there any particular authors and / or illustrators who have influenced your work?
I always wanted to write like Roald Dahl when I was a kid, the trouble being that every time I started trying to write something, it’d come out sounding like a rubbish Roald Dahl. But over the years I wrote more and more stuff (mostly just little paragraphs for the backs of coffee cups, because that’s another job I do), and gradually I developed my own style. Illustrator-wise, I’ve had loads of heroes over the years, starting with Quentin Blake, then Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman, then onto Picasso and Saul Steinberg and Jean-Jacques Sempe. They all have a comic quality to their line, I spose.
We always like to know how our guests became authors / illustrators. What was the title of your first book and how did it come to be published?
My first published book was with my sister, Alice. I wrote a very short thing about someone who hated fairies (Ali was always drawing fairies, and this seemed like a way for her to make a book out of it). It was originally called ‘God I hate fairies’, but the publishers made me take God out of it so in the end it was called ‘I’m so over fairies’. Ali sent it out to publishers and someone at Orion spotted it on the ‘slush pile’, which is a pile of letters that’ve been sent in from people who haven’t got agents and haven’t been published before. They liked the idea of it and it got published. Then years went past before I wrote my first Barry Loser book, which I sent out to a few agents, and Caroline Sheldon picked it up and worked her magic on it, which led to now!
I recently read ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar for the first time and thought it was so brilliant – funny and sad and written in such a snappy restrained way. I would skip nominating it for a Lollies and go straight to awarding it one.
My daughter also has a couple of questions for you. She often likes to read the publication details in a book but yours are different to any that we’ve ever seen before! She asked;
Why are the publisher’s details written upside down?
Well spotted! I like doing thing like that. It probably comes from reading Mad Magazine when I was a kid – they never took anything seriously and were always messing around with stuff. I also like the idea that it might annoy a few people.
And an illustration question;
I wanted my characters to stand out from other cartoon characters, and my drawings already had big noses, so I just decided to super-size them. I also just like noses in general. I like smelling everything I pick up, plus I have quite a big nose myself.
Thank you so much for answering our questions Jim. We wish you and Barry Loser lots of luck in The Lollies!
About Jim Smith
Jim Smith is the keelest kids’ book author in the whole wide world amen. He graduated from art school with first class honours (the best you can get) and is the author of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning and bestselling BARRY LOSER series: I am not a Loser, I am still not a Loser, I am sort of a Loser, I am so over being a Loser, Barry Loser and the Holiday of Doom, Barry Loser and the Case of the Crumpled Carton, Barry Loser hates half term, Barry Loser and the birthday billions, Barry Loser: Worst school trip ever and Barry Loser is the Best at Football NOT.
He is also the author of the Laugh Out Loud Book Award-winning FUTURE RATBOY series: Future Ratboy and the Attack of the Killer Robot Grannies, Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms and Future Ratboy and the Quest for the Missing Thingy. He lives in London. He also designs cards and gifts under the name Waldo Pancake.
Barry Loser and the birthday billions: Barry is delighted when he receives a SHNOZINATOR 9000 for his birthday but then his little brother breaks it (we found what he did absolutely hilarious!!). Barry and his friends come up with a variety of madcap ideas to make money so that Barry can buy another SHNOZINATOR 9000. But time is against them as there aren’t many left in the shop…
You have until December 14th to vote for your favourite book in the #Lollies2018 Awards. Head over to the other blogs on the tour to find out more about the other authors, illustrators and books on the shortlist;
- October 7th – Library Girl and Book Boy talks about being a Lollies judge.
- October 8th – Books With Baby – Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field
- October 9th – Bookbairn – I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt
- October 10th – Acorn Books – Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory by Elys Dolan
- October 11th – Two in a Tepee – The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright and Jim Field
- October 13th – Childtastic – There’s a Werewolf in My Tent! by Pamela Butchart and Thomas Flintham
- October 14th – Family of Book Worms – The Pudding Problem by Joe Berger
- October 15th – Book Monsters – The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp
- October 16th – Books For Topics – Football School Season 2 by Alex Bellos & Ben Lyttleton
- October 17th – Kids of Readalot – Uncle Shawn and Badger Bill and The Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure by A. L. Kennedy and Gemma Correll
- October 18th – Minerva Reads – Tom Gates EPIC Adventure
- October 19th – Get Kids into Books – My Mum’s Growing Down by Laura Dockrill