Matty Long creates picture books including Who Rules the Rockpool?, the Super Happy Magic Forest series, Turbo Bunnies, and Salty Dogs. He is an award-winning author and illustrator based in Cambridgeshire, England. He has a First Class Degree in Illustration and a master's degree in Children's Book Illustration. Most of his work is drawn by hand and coloured on a computer, but this will likely change when the felt-tip 3000 is invented.
Who Rules the Rockpool (OUP Children's Books)
In Who Rules the Rockpool, Crab is determined to prove that the creature who rules the rockpool is of course Crab, and Prawn has a tough time trying to tell Crab that he might be wrong... Along the way, we learn about camouflage, adaptability and other survival skills that aquatic creatures have developed for this environment.
We caught up with Matty Long to find out more about Who Rules the Rockpool!
Q&A with Matty Long
"I found a lot of humour in the lives of bugs and rockpool creatures. They lead such challenging lives,
and these books celebrate that while having some fun with it, too."
1. Hello Matty, and welcome to ReadingZone! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer and illustrator? What kinds of books do you enjoy creating?
I am most definitely a writer as well as an illustrator, and not the other way around. My favourite thing about making books is the drawing, whether it is the first sketch or final image. I like making very visual books with lots of character and humour. I try to make books that are about things that I enjoy or interest and excite me. If I can make you feel the same way then I am doing a good job!
2. Can you tell us more about your recent picture books, Who Ate All the Bugs and Who Rules the Rockpool?
They are two books with a bit of everything - a story that tries to educate as well as excite along with fact and activity pages. They have a lot of detail and things to look out for. I found a lot of humour in the lives of bugs and rockpool creatures. They lead such challenging lives, and these books celebrate that while having some fun with it too.
3. What inspired these picture books, and will young readers learn more about bugs and aquatic creatures?
I find bugs interesting, they play such an important role in our ecosystems but at the same time are so small and fragile. I originally just wanted to make a book about them getting squished and dying in all sorts of ways but the more time I spent with them, the more I realised how amazing they are. So, we (my publisher and me) decided we wanted to show readers that side of things too. You'll realise how even the smallest creatures have incredible ways to survive and contribute to the world at large.
4. Why did you decide to give your characters (and readers!) a mystery to solve with each of these books?
It just seemed like the best way to drive the story forward. It's a kind of hook, a question that the characters and the reader want an answer to. It keeps them moving forward or turning the page because everyone is curious for answers. I think it sits very nicely with the overall theme of finding things out when you open these books.
5. Do you need to research your subjects and ecosystems before you write these books? Can you share some favourite rockpool facts?
Yes! I needed to immerse myself in these worlds. I watched documentaries, read books and spent time in these settings. I needed to make sure that the things I was showing properly reflected our world and that I understood how it all fits together.
My favourite rockpool creature is the anemone. They look like blobs out of water, but once submerged their tentacles come out! My favourite fact is that they and hermit crabs sometimes form a relationship based on something called mutualism. This means they both help each other out. The anemone sits on the hermit crab shell and repels predators, while the crab finds things to eat and lets the anemone have the leftovers. I also learned an incredible fact about barnacles but it is too rude to mention here!
6. The stories are also very funny - what makes you laugh the most in Who Rules the Rockpool?
I started typing out my favourite joke but it immediately lost its humour. So I'd rather readers found it for themselves. It involves a group of clams and a pun I couldn't resist....
7. You write and also illustrate these stories - what is your process for creating these books?
I'll start by drawing anything and everything associated with the subject matter. So for Who Rules The Rockpool? I filled a sketchbook with clams, crabs, shrimps, everything! I'd write down facts and story ideas as I go.
The hardest part is fitting it all together. I knew I wanted a crab as the main character early on as they are the classic rockpool creature. But originally he was paired with a limpet! The characters and story changed throughout. It was a hard book to get right.
8. Is it hard to make sea life and underwater landscapes appealing? What are the main challenges in illustrating these stories?
I think the creatures already make for appealing and interesting characters, but I wanted to show things as they are, so some of the colours are a bit more muted in places so they have a degree of realism. So I had to find places to make the colours pop too so you still knew you were reading a picturebook.
The challenges come in composing the pages and figuring out the best way to draw the creatures. Shrimps in particular were tricky - they don't really have faces! Just a load of sinewy bits. So you have to figure out a way make them appealing while not taking too much away from what makes them recognisable.
9. Do you have any more ecosystem survival picture books planned - or Super Happy Magic Forest adventures? What are you working on currently?
There will be one more in the Who? series to complete the trilogy. It might be slightly more exotic than the others. At the moment though my full focus is on my new chapter book series, Croaky. The first book, Croaky: Search For The Sasquatch, publishes in May!
10. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk, and who are your go-to authors and illustrators when you have a spot of reading time?
I like playing video games and walking Sherman, my sausage dog. Sometimes I'm away on school visits or appearing at book festivals and I love doing that too. One of my favourite author / illustrators is Shaun Tan and I can easily lose myself in his work for a while. I also really enjoy Sarah McIntyre's books and art if I'm after something a bit lighter. But give me a Where's Wally? book and that will shut me up for a long time.