Wednesday 3 June 2015

An Interview with Stephan Pastis by Tizzie Frankish

"When you lose hope, find it." -Timmy Failure
As a writer of humorous stories, I am pleased to welcome Stephan Pastis author/ illustrator of the fabulously funny Timmy Failure books to the Middle Grade Strikes Back Blog.
For those of you not yet acquainted the Timmy Failure books feature a hapless detective, his business partner Total the polar bear and their plans for world domination. Timmy is the founder, president and CEO of the best detective agency in town, probably the world but unfortunately for him, failure is an option! And it’s a theme that unbeknownst to Timmy continues through all the books in the series.
Stephan was in the UK to promote ‘Timmy Failure: Now look what you have done’ which is now available in paperback and very kindly stopped by to share his deepest, darkest thoughts on the worst detective in town, probably the world! 
So without further ado… 

You’ve previously said ‘Pearls before Swine’ was your escape route from ‘evil lawyer to kind-heart-hearted cartoonist’. So what encouraged you to make the leap into writing and drawing for children?
The amount of space and freedom that writing a book gives you. It gives you 200 blank pages to tell any story you want. That’s something I don’t have with a comic strip – with the strip I only have 3 panels to tell my story.
So, when did Timmy Failure appear on the scene? Did he wrestle his way into your consciousness or hang around in the wings for a while? What came first his voice or his picture?
His picture came first – I was sitting around doodling, and this picture of a little kid with a scarf appeared on the page, and I was writing in the margins what this kid would be like – he’d be a detective, he wouldn’t be very smart, he’d need a sidekick. I remember I sat down consciously to think what character would I base the book on, and Timmy was the first guy I drew.  His voice came really easily - I love that kind of character where they’re dumb, but arrogant.
 Dumb and arrogant definitely come together to create laugh out loud moments, especially with Total by his side. But, if Timmy’s partner in solving crimes wasn’t Total the Polar Bear who would it have been? Did you have a back-up buddy for him?
 I did not have a back-up-buddy for Timmy, but if I did I think it would be a monkey, I love monkeys.
 Timmy and Total are quite possibly the worst duo in the history of the world for solving mysteries. Where did the idea for a detective series come from and why are they so rubbish at it?
Because every kid’s book I read with a kid detective had the same type of character in it every time; a smart, clever character who could do or solve anything – it seemed so well established that I thought it would be kind of funny to do that type of character but have him not be smart in any way. That made me laugh. I like a characters’ blind spot; the difference between who they are and who they think they are – and the wider that gap, the funnier the character.
 My children and I love the witty line drawings which add another layer of humour to the stories. What comes first the story or the drawings?
 The story always comes first – without the story I wouldn’t know what to illustrate. I leave little gaps in there for where I think a drawing would work, and I make a little note like “show Timmy with broken leg falling off statue here” for myself.
 Your enjoyment for what you do (create stories that make us laugh) clearly comes across in your work. Do you have a particular audience/child in mind when you’re writing?
 Myself. I just try to make myself laugh. Secondarily, I try to make my own kids laugh – they are the first people to read the books.
 Which book in the Timmy Failure series did you enjoy writing the most? And is the one you enjoyed writing the most your favourite?
 I like every single one of them, I take 7 weeks off from writing the comic strip during the summer and I enjoy it every time – I’m looking forward to doing the same this summer!
 Another summer of fun, no doubt! There are lots of funny characters in the books (Flo is a particular favourite of mine!) If you could pick one of your characters for a spin off series, who would it be and why?
Probably Corrina Corrina, I think she’d be the most interesting, because she has a lot of similarities to Timmy but there a lot of blank spots on her life. It would be fun to go in and fill some of them in and find out a little more about her.
The fourth book in the series; Timmy Failure: Sanitized for your Protection, is out in October.  What trials and tribulations can we expect from the hapless detective this time round?
 Timmy is going to run away from home and get arrested and that’s all I can say for now!
And just when you thought life for Timmy Failure couldn’t get any worse… After Sanitized for your Protection, how many more Timmy Failure books do you have left up your sleeve?
 I think there’ll be two or three more, I know where he’s going to end up and I’ve always had the ending in mind, I just need to figure out how he gets there…
Quick fire questions:
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Pantser
What do you like best drawing or writing? Writing
Are you left handed or right handed?
It depends, for drawing I use my right hand.
What do you like best comics or books?
I like writing the books the best.
Chicken nuggets or sausages?  (I know what Total would answer!)
I like sausages.

Questions from the kids:
I love the drawings in the books. How many are there in a book? (Ollie age 7)
About 3 every 2 pages, so that would be 300-ish drawings.
Timmy Failure doesn’t have a mouth. Why is that? (Ollie)
Because he looks very funny and odd with one.
Does Total really exist? My brother says he doesn’t, but I think he does. (James age 5)
It depends how you read the book, I think you can legitimately read it and see it as he’s in Timmy’s imagination and I think you can read it and legitimately see that he’s a real-life character. I leave it up to the reader.
What were your favourite books when you were my age (5)? (James)
I read a lot as a kid, I remember reading all the C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia books, and How to Eat Fried Green Worms, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth – there were a lot!
Did you feel like Timmy Failure when you were a kid? (Rory age 9)
I still feel like Timmy Failure.

Thanks Stephan for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and for sharing your insights into the world of Timmy and his creation. I look forward to the release of Timmy Failure: Sanitized for your Protection in October. Until then…
‘The seal became dinner. The End!”

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done is now available in paperback, £6.99

Or click on the book below

Interview by Tizzie Frankish       @tizzief

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