Matt Brown is an author and broadcaster based in the UK. His books for children including FCBG Children's Book Award winner, Mutant Zombies Cursed My School Trip. He's also been a TV presenter and has hosted radio shows and made documentaries. He is a passionate promoter of reading for pleasure.
Flavia Sorrentino works as a freelance illustrator in Rome, where she grew up. She loves her city and the figure of speech, 'Rome wasn't built in a day', which inspires her to seek new ways of communication and expression. Her passions include Toulouse Lautrec, poetry, historical costume, typography and Tina Turner!
Kevin the Vampire: A Most Mysterious Monster (Nosy Crow)
Meet Kevin the Vampire, a small vampire with a longing for friendship and a strong sense of justice. His family runs the strangest carnival you will ever see - Carnival Monstromo! - and they are on the way to Monstros City to revive their flagging fortunes when they get lost, and arrive in a town that hates monsters....
Author Matt Brown and illustrator Flavia Sorrentino talk to ReadingZone about their monster carnival, killer bunnies, a dog who isn't a dog, and exciting real world adventures....
Review: "The first in a brilliantly funny fantasy adventure series."
'The Killer Bunnies are my faves because when I was writing the book I said to my son "what would be an amazing monster?", and he said "KILLER BUNNIES". I loved the idea that something could seem very sweet and cute but also want to eat your soul.'
Q&A with Matt Brown
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? What were your favourite children's books as a child, and what brought you into writing for children?
I grew up near the sea in south Wales so I LOVE the seaside. My head is too big for hats, which is a shame. I am very tall, which can be a surprise to some people when they meet me for the first time (sometimes they cut my head off in photos). I was once bitten by a dolphin. I recently decided to dye my hair grey for fashion reasons. I know a surprising amount about sandwiches.
When I was in school I loved books and comics. My favourite books were the Mr Men books, Brer Rabbit, A Christmas Carol, the Selfish Giant, the Happy Prince, the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, and a book that was about a class of kids who all had different dreams that somehow solved their problems (but I can't remember what that book was called.) I also loved reading comics like the Beano, the Dandy and Roy of the Rovers.
I have always loved writing, mainly because I love words. I especially like writing for kids because they are up for anything, and anything is possible. I have been a radio producer, a radio presenter, and a TV presenter too.
2. What was the inspiration for Kevin the Vampire - and the idea, from Liz, that you credit at the start of the book?
The idea for Kevin the Vampire came one night during the first lockdown of 2020 when my wife, Liz, said to me: "You should write a story about a circus of monsters". As soon as she said it, I could immediately imagine what a circus of monsters would look like. As I was writing the story, the circus became a carnival, I'm not sure why.
I have always LOVED monster books and comics and movies and TV shows so I took my inspiration from all of those things. At the time, my son was in the process of changing schools and was a bit nervous about making new friends. I think Kevin is a bit like that in the story. He is always moving around and never had a chance to make any friends his own age, until he gets to Lower Drudging.
3. Can you tell us what happens in A Most Mysterious Monster?
The Carnival Monstromo is a travelling carnival of monsters. Kevin's mum and dad run it and so he has grown up as part of it too. Although, he is too young to do anything yet, despite the fact that he is desperate to fly dragons (and is very good at it too). The story is about what happens when the carnival accidentally ends up in a town that hates monsters.
4. Do you enjoy visiting carnivals? If you were lucky enough to visit the Carnival Monstromo, which part of the show would you most look forward to?
I love everything about going to the carnival; the rides, the stalls, the food. It's such an exciting place. If I managed to visit the Carnival Monstromo I would really want to see Spydra, the juggling werewolves, and Brannie the dragon taking to the skies.
5. We love the Monster Fact File - what gave you the idea for this, and was it fun creating monsters like Dog and Killer Bunnies? Any favourites?
Coming up with the monsters for the carnival was such a lot of fun. I love Dog so much because no one knows what Dog is (he's not a Dog). He's so loyal to Kevin and is always eating things and then burping them back up. I absolutely love Flavia's illustration of him.
The Killer Bunnies are my faves too because when I was writing the book I said to my son "what would be an amazing monster?", and he said "KILLER BUNNIES". I loved the idea that something could seem very sweet and cute but also want to eat your soul.
6. Kevin the Vampire is funny but there are also things to think about in the story, like who are the real monsters? Other than a great read, what would you like children to take from your book?
My big goal is always that the story is funny and that people have a great time reading it. But, lurking in Kevin the Vampire is the idea that people are not so very different from one another. They may look a bit different, or think different things, or speak in a different language but we always have more things in common with other people than things that divide us. Well, I think so anyway.
7. Kevin and his family never get to their planned destination, Monstros City, in this story - so do you have further adventures planned for Kevin?
Oh yes, there will be more adventures for Kevin and the Carnival Monstromo but you'll have to wait and see if they ever get to Monstros City.
8. What's the most adventurous thing you have done in your life, or journey you have made?
I have been very lucky in my life to travel to other countries, it's something that I love to do. I've also been lucky to do some adventurous things too. I have held snakes and crocodiles, I have driven huskies in the Arctic, and I have wing-walked (this is where you are tied to the top of a plane whilst it is flying).
Q&A with Flavia Sorrentino
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? What were your favourite children's books as a child, and what brought you into illustrating children's books?
My name is Flavia Sorrentino, but you probably already know this. I live in Rome, where I was born. I've always loved drawing but I didn't study it, only after finishing high school did I totally dedicate myself to drawing. When I was little, I could often be found climbing trees, but I also read lots of stories, most of which had witches as protagonists. My favourite book when I was younger was a translation of a French book: Pinch, Pinch and the Witch written by Henriette Bichonnier and illustrated by Pef.
I've always loved stories with lots of irony and for this reason my childhood library also had to include Roald Dahl, the undisputed master of this genre, and the Pongwiffy series by Kaye Umansky.
Besides children's books, I also design book covers for different genres. When I'm not working in publishing, I work for cinema clients and in merchandising. I love to keep my work diverse, so if a project interests me and it gives me the opportunity to express myself, I'm happy to give it a try.
2. What drew you to illustrating Kevin the Vampire - are you a vampire fan?
I immediately loved the story, it reminded me of the atmosphere of the books I read as a child. The combination of vampires, monsters and witches with irony and humour makes me feel I can express myself freely in the character design. For example, I loved finding the right design for Dog, starting from his description. So I'm a big fan of all those weird characters that are part of Kevin's vampire world.
3. How did you decide what Kevin and his family would look like - what were the challenges in making them appealing, as well as looking like vampires?
I must say that the author and the whole team at Nosy Crow didn't give me any great restrictions, they really trusted my vision of the characters. So keeping in mind the main traits of each character, I drew with total freedom.
I am a lover of historical costumes, so when I started brainstorming ideas for the illustrations, I tried to throw in a little bit of Victorian style, a little inspiration from old circuses, and a nod to old films. For example, for the grandfather I was inspired by a mix from the 1932 film Nosferatu and from the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
4. Which part of Kevin's adventures did you most enjoy illustrating?
The part where Kevin helps the dragon Brannie, but also the part where all of the circus characters are introduced.
5. If you were lucky enough to visit the Carnival Monstromo, which part of the show would you most look forward to?
I'd be very curious to see what Spydra, the giant spider, would do, she's a very unique character.
6. We love the Monster Fact File - was it fun illustrating monsters like Dog and Killer Bunnies? Any favourites?
As I mentioned, I loved drawing Dog, but the Killer Bunnies gave me a lot of freedom because I love when a character is a bit outside of the ordinary. Then I had a lot of fun drawing all that drool!
7. What else are you illustrating currently? Can you describe your studio for us?
I've recently finished a job for a poster for a very famous film, but unfortunately I can't say the name yet! Then in September I start again with some series that I've been working on for a few years.
My study is full of books. Before starting on the digital documentation, I like more to focus on the physical books first, like any true bookworm! Then there is a space where I keep my laptop and graphics tablet. On the back wall I have a station where I paint in the traditional way, but usually that's just for my personal projects.
8. What's the most adventurous thing you have done in your life, or journey you have made?
I guess the most adventurous thing I've ever done in my life was at the age of five when I walked 1km alone on the beach to visit my cousin at the nearby campsite. My poor mother, she must have had a stroke! As an grownup, I have never defined my travels as very adventurous, but one of the most beautiful trips was in Ireland - I made a trip from Dublin to Galway along the south coast while stopping off in various villages. These places are magical even if a bit melancholy.