I am huge fan of Emer’s hilarious writing (see the Lollies 2018 winner – The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig) so was thrilled time see that she had an entirely new series out soon – ‘Pests.’
“When the lights go off the Pests come out!”
Told from the perspective of inquisitive mouse, Stix, ‘Pests’ is all about creatures who don’t play by the rules. A secret school in the basement teaches certain animals all they need to know about being a pest….
Stix lives a comfortable life with his super-sticky Grandma behind the washing machine of Flat 3 Peewit Mansions. This is a particularly good flat to live in as its residents don’t clean more than once a week and don’t have a cat, thus making the chances of finding a decent meal whilst avoiding being eaten yourself all the higher.
Grandma has a strict set of rules which she and Stix must follow if they’re to avoid triggering a visit from the dreaded Nuke-A-Pest. These mainly involve leaving absolutely no clues that there mice living in the kitchen.
But Stix yearns for excitement and likes to sneak out at night when he has the run of the place. When visiting rats wake the dog, a call to Nuke-A-Pest is made and Stix’s life will never be the same again.
After reading ‘Pests,’ I had a few questions for Emer:
Q1. You are best known for your award-winning ‘Diary of Pig’ series. How difficult was it to switch to writing from the perspective of a different character?
It was pretty tough to begin with, especially as I kept drifting back into Pig speak. Stix is quite a lot smarter than Pig and I kept having to remember that too. It was sort of easy with Pig to deal with difficult things by just making him fart or say something silly. But Stix isn’t like that, I didn’t have those literary crutches to turn to. However, slowly but surely over the time it took to write the book I became more mouse than Pig.
Q2. What made you decide upon a mouse as the central character of ‘Pests’?
I had been toying with the idea of a mouse for some time. Stix began as a dormouse in a completely different story that didn’t work out. I then came up with the idea of a school for pests and he seemed a natural fit, only I turned him into an everyday house mouse as no one thinks of dormice as pests.
Q3. What research did you do to get such a perfect ‘mouse eyes’ view of the human world?
I read up about mice, about what they like to do and how they live. I also did a lot of lying in the floor and looking at the world from that perspective. It was interesting trying to get my head around just how big everthing is for a mouse and how dangerous. Just crossing the kitchen floor is an epic adventure when you think about it – which I did A LOT. Luckily, I have a very keen sense of smell, so that bit wasn’t so hard to imagine.
Q4. ‘Pests’ is written in the first person, as was ‘Diary of Pig.’ What is it about this style of writing that you like so much?
I find it easier to get into my protagonist’s head by actually being them. I really do become my characters when I write. I talk to myself as if I were them and I go to bed wondering what they are doing or how they are feeling.
That said I do sometimes really wish I was writing in the third person. Being stuck as your character means you don’t have the luxury of showing the story from a different angle or introducing anything to it without your hero seeing.
Q5. What’s your secret for making your books hilariously funny but also with moments of real sadness and poignancy?
I am hugely flattered by this question, that you think my books are like this makes me very proud. I don’t actively think about writing in this way, it’s just what seems to come out. I guess I’m just reflecting how I see life – funny stuff mixed with the sad. For instance, early on in PESTS, I take Stix’s Grandma from him – a really upsetting moment – but the knock–on effect of that is that he meets Batz, who brings jokes and silliness into his world. In my mind that’s how the world works, you get a generally get a dollop of the bad stuff mixed with a spoon of the good.
Q6. As an illustrator too, do you find that characters appear as sketches before you start writing or do they evolve over the course of the story?
It’s a bit of both. I generally map out a rough idea of my story and who is going to be in it and then I stop and do some drawing. It’s important for me to see my characters. In drawing them I often realise things I hadn’t previously. For example, drawing Maximusthe rat made me realise how big his teeth were – a feature Stix makes mention of quite often.
Q7. Do you draw story maps to help plan out your stories?
YES. I discovered this brilliant online site called plotdevices.co(that’s not a typo there is no ‘m’ in their address) as I was starting to plot out PESTS. They promote something called a Story Clock which I found invaluable. Though I did go through a brief period where I couldn’t get past plotting my clock, endlessly writing stuff on it and rubbing it off. The end story didn’t stick strictly to the clock, but it really helped with the pacing of it and how and where key moments happened. I thoroughly recommend checking out the website. Even if it’s just to watch the funny promotional videos the guy who runs it has made.
Another brilliantly funny and poignant title from Emer about a little mouse trying to find his way in the world. Absolutely packed with fantastic illustrations (and featuring a glow-in-the-dark cover and sprayed edges), this would be an excellent read for anyone aged 7+
*Thank you to Hachette Children’s Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*