Bethan Clarke has been a story maker-upper ever since she could write them back to front. This has proven to be a vital outlet for her love of silliness and fondness for puns. Bethan lives near Manchester with her partner, two children, two dogs and a headful of nonsense.
Anders Frang is a Danish illustrator with a passion for illustrating picture books. He seeks inspiration in many forms of art, but also in playing music, dog sitting and cycling trips. He is currently based in Copenhagen after spending several years in Edinburgh, and holds an MA from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Holey Moley (Little Tiger Press)
In this fabulously funny rhyming tale, discover how Goat learns where Mole lives - and it's not in a hole, a bowl or on a pole, as Goat likes to think! The misplaced rhymes will have children giggling until the final pages - and they will definitely want to hear this one all over again. We spoke with author Bethan Clarke to find out more about what inspired her new picture book, Holey Moley!
Review: "This HOLE-ARIOUS story will have children laughing from the very beginning. Will they identify with Gus the Goat, who loves guessing and rhyming, or Mole who gradually gets more fed up as the story progresses?"
Q&A with Bethan Clarke
1. What has brought you into writing stories for children? Do you do other kinds of work?
It was about 10 years ago when I first started thinking about writing for children. I've always loved creating things and as a child I'd loved writing - stories, poems, songs, plays, newspaper articles - anything really but as I got older, it became more difficult and lots of life things happened and writing didn't really surface again for a long, long time.
I cringe a little when I think about the things I wrote when I first started - I attempted to write really heartfelt texts, again thinking that's what I was 'supposed' to write but they just came out sounding unbelievably cheesy! I soon found I was much better suited to writing absolute nonsense and so, silly stories full of puns and word play kind of became my thing. In my day job I work as an administrator and fit writing in wherever I can around that and family life.
2. What kinds of picture books inspire you as a writer?
I have quite a silly sense of humour so generally funny picture books, toilet humour, books about bums, deadpan humour, silliness, puns - anything that will make me laugh. I'm here for all the nonsense and also books that have a really unexpected twist at the end. I also love picture books that are empowering and talk about the importance of self-belief.
3. What happens in your picture book, Holey Moley?
Holey Moley is about what happens when a goat calls Gus meets a mole called Mavis and tries to guess where she lives. But, poor Mavis struggles to get a word in edgeways and all of Gus's guesses MUST rhyme with 'mole'. It's a very silly story that escalates with Gus's guesses while Mavis remains adamant that she is most definitely not a holey moley.
4. What was the spark of the idea for this story? Was it all about the rhymes and play on words?
I often have the title before I have an actual story and that is what happened with this one. My initial idea was for it to be a kind of whack-a-mole story but I couldn't quite execute it the way I wanted to so I started to brainstorm where the story could go and what it could be about.
I landed on the idea of talking about all the places a mole could possibly live. This started as suggestions of the mole being able to live/be anywhere they wanted but then I hit upon Gus's character and that all changed. I also needed a way to make it sillier (always a writing goal of mine!) and so, having all the places mole could live, rhyme with mole just about did that! I also love using puns and word play in my stories so that had a huge influence on the language I choose.
5. Why did you decide on a goat and a mole as your main characters? What are they each like?
Gus the goat actually started out as a stoat but this changed through the editing process and I knew from the start that there was always going to be a mole character because of the title.
Gus the goat is confident, loud, creative (with his mole rhymes), and quite bossy too. Mavis on the other hand is quiet, shy, more reserved, and increasingly exasperated by having this other character try to guess where she lives when she could just tell him.
6. Holey Moley has repeated rhymes, which are fun, but we also learn about moles throughout the story. What were the challenges in writing the text?
When I write, I tend to have an idea or a title in mind that I will focus on and then make endless notes before I physically sit down to write the text. With Holey Moley, I had lists of words that rhymed with mole, notes about who the characters were and snippets of dialogue and plot.
One of the biggest challenges I had was deciding what was going to drive the character's interaction. I also love writing dialogue-only texts and knew that was what I wanted with this story so making sure that the characters came across with their different personalities was also a challenge.
Once I had the characters in mind, the mole rhymes I thought worked well, and a vague idea of where the story was going to go, the actual writing of it didn't take long at all. I think maybe about an hour or so. But I had a lot of the content already, it was just a question of building it all into an actual story.
7. As well as a great story, do you feel this picture book could help children develop their awareness of letters and sounds?
Absolutely. I think using humour can be a really good way to engage children and to help them develop a love of language by making it fun. I think the rhyming and the rhythm of the text, along with the repetition of the moley rhymes, could definitely help children with recognising sounds and letters.
8. How well do you feel the illustrations by Anders Frang complement the story? Any favourites?
Ander's illustrations absolutely make the story. When I first saw them, I was blown away by how perfectly he'd captured the characters and the humour that I'd hoped had come across in the text. I tried not to have any pre-conceptions of what the illustrations would look like, I was intrigued as to how the text would be interpreted and I didn't want to feel disappointed if they didn't match up to something I had thought of. In the end, they were a thousand times better than anything I could have possibly imagined.
If I had to pick a favourite, I think it would be the sausage rolly moley - Mavis's facial expression is just perfect and makes me laugh every time I see it!
9. What are you writing currently?
I'm currently working on more picture book ideas - there are always a few on the go at once. I'm also hoping to write more of on an idea I've had for a longer text which is Christmas themed - this one started off as a picture book idea but kind of escalated from there and will now not be confined to a picture book word count!