'The Great Chocoplot' by Chris Callaghan is a hilarious adventure about Jelly and her family in the middle of a CHOCOPOCALYPSE (the end of chocolate!). It’s full of laugh-out-loud moments and features a cast of brilliant characters. I loved it. It's really a very impressive début and I hope it receives the attention it deserves. My review here.
Let me start by saying how much I enjoyed 'The Great Chocoplot'. It's a great premise. Where did the idea come from?
Thanks Kieran, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. It's a very scary premise and it is based on something that REALLY happened!
When I was about ten or eleven, a brand new bar of chocolate appeared in the shops. It was different and wonderfully tasty, and all the kids immediately fell in love with it. But after a while, the shops started to sell out and it became harder to find. If we heard of a shop that still sold it, we would all go there (sometimes on a bus!) and buy as many as we could. Eventually, it completely sold out and we could not get it anywhere. It was a disaster!
What we didn't know at the time (there was no internet to google anything), was that this had only been a 'trial' and the chocolate bar had only been released in a small area to see if people liked it. Luckily, people had liked it and about a year later it returned back in the shops throughout the whole country - and has been available ever since. But the memory of it disappearing from the shops stayed with me.
What was the chocolate bar called? I hear you ask! Well, I'm not sure if I can advertise it here, but I could maybe whisper it to you (hint, hint!!).
I think I know which bar you're talking about. Wasn't it discontinued in 2003 and relaunched in 2007? An interesting story in itself! Much like your own route to publishing. Can you tell us a little about this?
I didn't know about the chocolate bar being discontinued again. There must be mini-chocopocalypses happening all the time!
Yes, my route into publishing is quite unusual. I suppose you could say I stumbled into it.
I've alway written stories, but purely for my own pleasure - and to keep me sane (the voices in my head keep me awake at night until I write them down!). Since my daughter was born, ten years ago, I've written more and more stories for her and with her. Then I had an idea about a great 'Chocopocalypse' - where chocolate became extinct and decided to write it as a full length story for my daughter's Christmas present. She really liked it and just after Christmas I saw an advert asking for unpublished writers to send in children's stories to Chicken House Publishers - they called it their 'Open Coop'. Encouraged by my wife and daughter, I sent it off - not really expecting anything. Six months later, I signed a book deal.
It was crazy!
Absolutely! As I said, my previous experience of writing was for pure pleasure - I had very little experience of editing. It came as a shock to me too! I loved the parts where I was able to discuss different options and ideas with the incredibly talented people at Chicken House. We explored lots of silly and fun ways of developing the story. But I was not ready for the shear brutality of the later edits. I found it quite upsetting to lose scenes or characters I'd become very fond of. Now that I have the finished version, I see how necessary that was. It is a much better story as a result. I'm very lucky to have had an editor with such patience with me. I didn't understand it at the time, but I understand it now!
Indeed! It's not until you go through it that you understand the true meaning of 'killing your darlings'. Your book has a lovely cover and illustrations. Did you have a role in this process, and what were your reactions to the finished pieces of artwork?
One of the best parts of this process has been seeing the illustrations. They have been done by a fantastic illustrator called Lalalimola (www.lalalimola.com) and I love them. They really bring the characters and the book to life - my only complaint is that there isn't enough of them!
I also adore the cover. The arty people at Chicken House and Steve Wells (www.stevewellsdesigns.com), with Lalalimola's artwork at the centre have made the most delicious book I have ever seen. I wasn't involved in this process at all - which is probably why it is so good!
One of my favourite things about your book is Jelly's family. I particularly liked her dad. Having met you, I'm guessing there's a bit of you in him? Would this be true? And if so, how many of your other characters are based on people you know?
Oh dear - I could get myself in a lot of trouble if I told the truth! But I'm delighted you like Jelly's family, those were my favourite scenes to write and I have a huge fondness for them all too. I see Jelly's dad as the brother I never had. He's a simple guy, who tries his best - so I hope there's a little of him in me (and I do love cheese & onion crisps!). I have a fantastic daughter and a wife that works very hard, so I suppose there are similarities. I didn't plan it that way. I wanted the scenes to be familiar, but not direct copies. As for the next-door neighbour - I'm not saying anything!
What did you like to read growing up? And what sort of books do you like to read now?
I didn't read much at all, growing up. Which is terrible to admit - but true. I enjoyed watching Jackanory, but that was the closest I got to a book outside of school. In fact, it was probably school that put me off reading. We used to have to read a book in a week or so (and I'm still a very slow reader) and write a review. I remember it being quite stressful and certainly not enjoyable. I did read 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' after seeing the series on TV - it's still my favourite book. But it wasn't until I became a dad that I discovered how fantastic children's stories are - and not just for children, they are for everyone. There's part of me that regrets not reading more when I was younger, but there's a bigger part of me that has loved sharing books like 'Matilda' for the first time with my little girl. I wouldn't change that for anything.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
I'm probably not the best person to give out advice. I've just made it all up as I've gone along. But maybe that is good advice for writers: make it up as you go along, and enjoy!
What's next for Chris Callaghan?
I'm going to visit as many book shops and libraries as I can and take cheesy selfies with any copy of 'The Great Chocoplot' I find.
After that? Who knows? Like I said, I'm making this up as I go along!
And finally, but most importantly, Mr Chris Chocopocalypse, how do you eat your Creme Egg?
Very quickly - because there's a Chocopocalypse coming (to all good shops for a very reasonable price, wink, wink!)
Thanks a million, Chris, for visiting us here on Middle Grade Strikes Back. Go forth and write more funny books. The world needs them.
Thanks Kieran, it's been a pleasure.
Find out more about Chris here.