Friday, 24 February 2012


Hello and happy end of the week. For those of you who had half term off, this week might have been a grumpy trudge. No fear! I have something that will brighten your trudge to a merry jaunt. Rebecca Patterson's NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT is a warm and funny tale of two boys' avoidance of bedtime (and may encourage triceratops impressions). Rebecca was kind and lovely enough to let me ask her questions and then to answer them for me, and her INTERVIEW appears below the review. 

Rebecca Patterson
Macmillan Children's Books
5 Jan 2012

It's bedtime.
Brush your teeth, snuggle down, turn out the lights.
Not a chance!

NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT is the story of two boisterous boys who see slippers, pillows and duvets as the start of great adventures - the chance to be a dinosaur or a king, or the setting for THE BIG JUMP. The one thing they aren't going to do is sleep. And that could be a problem, because Mum is tired. And it is A SCHOOL NIGHT.

This book, much like Rebecca Patterson's previous book - THE DEEP END, highlights the way that children view everyday life in a far more interesting and imaginative way than adults do. (Except perhaps adults who make picture books.) In this book we see two boys who each night use the things in their bedroom to embark on crazy adventures - on Tuesdays their silly slippers turn them into dinosaurs, on Thursdays they are King Pillow and Mr Duvet Slug. 

I loved the way the days of the week built the comedy, with each night's game being a punchline. And the rhythm varies with each one, so you can't guess what's coming. Such as on Wednesday, when 'the big jump' continues unexpectedly for another four panels as they boys 'jump, and jump, and jump, and jump again!' The lower half of the page shows Mum and Dad downstairs, getting increasingly riled with every jump until they storm up to tell the boys off.

Rebecca Patterson uses the slightest of touches to bring the personalities of the family across immediately. The older brother is the ring leader, with his cheeky grin and messy hair, while his younger brother has an adorably worried expression as he follows the big brother around. Mum gets increasingly wilder-eyed and wilder-haired through the week, and I found it hilarious how Dad (who looks a bit like the younger brother) followed her lead in telling off the boys (playing Mr Duvet Slug to her King Pillow). 

Readers will have plenty of fun in recognising all the details from everyday life and following certain objects throug the book. This is also a feature of THE DEEP END, which featured that staple ingredient of a swimming pool - a plaster - on every page. In this book the boys' cuddly toys feature in the background of each adventure (my favourite was the bear in glasses, who looks increasingly distressed as the week goes on). The toys have eerily lifelike expressions - an instance, perhaps, of the undercurrent of spookiness that Rebecca mentions in the interview as being present in THE DEEP END, where a girl imagines that the deep end of the swimming pool leads to an underground tunnel, and the forthcoming THE PIRATE HOUSE, where a boy tries to convince his friends that pirates live in his street. 

Rebecca Patterson uses the everyday world to spring off into the world of the imagination. It encourages the reader, like the characters, to see the potential for adventure and stories in familiar things. I loved these books, so without further a to-do, let's hear from their creator!

Have you always wanted to be a children's book illustrator? 

Yes, I always took picture books out of Bolton library as a small child and never stopped liking the combination of pictures with words. I also read those old Giles cartoon annuals, the penguin Charles Addams (till it fell apart) and the Searle St Trinians cartoons. I had a copy of the Beano delivered every Tuesday. 

I wrote my first story to send out to publishers when I was about 18 and collected rejection slips for assorted submissions throughout my twenties, while I tried to study fashion and do various jobs. As soon as my second child was at school I started the children's book illustration MA at Anglia Ruskin University as a mature student and got work as a result of the course. Hooray! I was getting to the stage where I was going to give it two more years of sending stuff out and then I was going to give up all hope and think about getting a nice sensible job as maybe a vet's receptionist.

And did you plan to make funny books, or did the laughs just happen?

Well, I am silly in my own home (if I'm not shouting) - quite a lot of impersonations and wonky-glasses-wearing goes on. My parents were funny when I was little. And I love funny pictures - I can't quote any Shakespeare but I can bore my children rigid quoting from a Thurber cartoon. I draw things for my family to amuse them, things you couldn't publish, like when my mother got diabetes and I did her a spoof National Heath leaflet called "Die or Beat It!" with cartoons of possible afflictions. Sometimes my daughter and I will have a little drawing session where we make up hybrid animals or disastrous fashion lines. I'm not sure my work is all funny - I think for some small children THE DEEP END and THE PIRATE HOUSE have an undercurrent of spookiness.

Where did you first get the ideas for THE DEEP END and NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT?

Watching my children learn to swim inspired the DEEP END. My children also invented THE BIG JUMP that features in NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, but it was originally an unpublished story in verse I'd written in my twenties which I re-worked years later.

Do the stories change very much on the way to becoming the final books?

Yes they do! I could not have imagined the power of a good editor and book designer before I got commissioned. When I see the finished book I cannot believe how far it has come from the original dummy, but the key elements are the same.

I loved how you used subtle details to show the very different personalities of the brothers in Not on a School Night. (The older one, or King Pillow, is the leader and his little brother, Mr Duvet follows what he does). How do you create your characters?

I draw a lot of rough versions of the characters and then choose the ones I like best, like an audition! Then I have to re-draw the roughs each time and get the book sorted with my editors, and that could seem a bit tedious, so in my mind I pretend my little drawings are my child actors and each time I re-draw them they have to give me a better performance.

Do you imagine real people when you draw?

I don't really imagine actual people while I draw but when I see the finished book I see that they are all people I know or knew as a child.

What's your favourite part of the making-a-book process? 

Starting a new book that hasn't been and may never be commissioned. Just drawing through the book with my radio on is nice and seeing the first proofs of the book is always exciting. I have just started reading them to school groups, then the book seems real because real, live children are there listening and looking.

Who are your faviourite illustrators?

Hilary Knight who did the Eloise books and Tomi Ungerer, Dr Seuss, Ludwig Bemelmanns and Edward Ardizzone. And although he is everywhere I do like Dick Bruna, I like that flat look!

If you could be any character from a book, who would you be?

I would be Francis that little badger in the books by Russell Hoban. She has a lovely life and gets the best packed lunch I have ever heard about. I have named my pug dog after her little sister, Gloria.

*Images from NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT and THE DEEP END copyright Rebecca Patterson 2012 and and published by Macmillan Publishers* 

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