A big, giggly, fangirl hello to everyone and especially to Alan Snow, author of Here Be Monsters! I was lucky enough to be leant a copy of the original Here Be Monsters! to read some time ago and once I finished it, I was hesitant to return the copy to the Other Half. Thankfully, he bought me my very own signed and Boxtroll-doodled copy and I can read it any time I like now! I’m very honoured today to bring the author of the book that I love, to answer some questions and celebrate the new edition of the book, ahead of the film.
How did you create such a big and consistently ridiculous world, yet maintain the logic within it?
Think about it the other way round. Our world is big and ridiculous, and I just brought a few new characters into it.
Here Be Monsters! is full of such a wonderful mix of odd characters, but were there any that you had to lose in the editing process because they didn’t work out or just didn’t fit in with the finished version of the book?
Indeed there were. Hilda who ran the Sunday night‘Lettuce and Slugs in a barrel entertainment’, Wompbats that lived in the tunnels and were powered by farts. Hilda was based on a great aunt of mine and was very mean (my aunt charged me for old buttons and secondhand comics when I was a kid).
This book has a very English and wonderful wacky sense of humour about it. Did you write the story with the intention of it being a “funny book” or did it just happen that way? What are your “funny” inspirations?
Children deserve intelligent humour and wit, and this was what I was hoping to put in the story along with an interesting yarn. What I grew up with and remember most enjoying were Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Uncle the Elephant by J.P. Martin (the Uncle series were possible the funniest books I ever read and there are few to match them).
Part of what I loved about reading Here Be Monsters! was the artwork that made the world of Ratbridge a more concrete place to read about. Had you always planned to illustrate it and which part took longer to complete: the writing or the illustrations?
I tried to make the book I always wanted. As a kid I could spend hours looking at maps, old catalogs and diagrams. I enjoyed the detail of old books with their plates and headers. So why not put everything in? It did all take time and I can’t really say which took longer as I worked on them together, switching back and forth as it seemed natural. With the second Ratbridge book, I wrote first as it avoided losing drawings that might not see the light of day because of editing.
With The Boxtrolls movie soon to be released, it’s giving a whole new audience to the Here Be Monsters! book. Does this mean there might be a chance for more adventures in the Ratbridge universe?
I do hope so. There is a Christmas tale of Ratbridge that I would like to do.
With all the weird and wonderful creatures in Ratbridge, I wonder how you came up with them all. Was there a whole water-filled farmyard full of other animals before you decided on the Sea-Cow? Why Cabbageheads and not any other vegetable?
I tend to think of a creature while drawing and just draw what amuses me. Its place in the ecology of the world may be immediately apparent, and if not then I will ponder and see if there is an interesting solution to making it fit. As to ‘Why Cabbageheads’? Tone! It may sound ridiculous but a cabbage has the right tone (at least to me). A potato would be too earthy and lumpy, an artichoke too posh, and a carrot perhaps likely to get snapped.
Which children’s books or authors would you recommend to readers? Classics or contemporary?
I have already mentioned the Uncle books by J.P. Martin, which I highly recommend, but I would also recommend Anything by Leon Garfield, or Tim Hunkin.
I know that drawing and illustrating are passions for you; which mediums do you like to work in and is there any other creative avenue you’d like to try but have yet to pursue?
Drawing for me is not so much a passion as a voice. It is also a key to a dream world. I can slide into other places as I do it. I feel most natural and very quiet when I’m doing it. Though I do use other mediums, there are nonethat feel quite like this for me. That is probably down to the fact I’ve not spent enough time practicing them.
Cheese features a great deal in the book; what’s your favourite cheese?
There are many but very fresh mozzarella is lovely.
What has been your favourite or most memorable response from a fan?
There is a boy in France who dragged his parents halfway across the country to a signing in Paris to bring me a model box troll.
It’s nearly 10 years since Here Be Monsters! was first published: Looking back on it, is there anything you would do differently if you were publishing it now?
Write faster and avoid distractions… apart from family.
I know that right now you’re working on opening up your own ice cream shop! How has that come about? It’s a bit different from writing and drawing for books!
It’s not quite so different as you might imagine… I started looking at doing a food-related book a few years ago and this led me to researching science, and flavour. I built a lab at home and started playing with extracting essences out of all kind of foods. Ice cream is excellent place to put flavours and I started making my own. I also spoke to some publishers and was told that unless I was a famous cook or chef they weren’t interested in a book. So I thought about a shop or small factory as people I let taste my ice cream thought it different and very good, and I was enjoying making it. I decided that an ice cream shop with a lab – which was as interesting as possible – would be the way to go.
Now I am building the shop’s fixtures and fittings in a workshop and am looking for a place to open it.With luck it should open next year and be unlike any ice cream shop ever seen. Think Fortnum and Masons in Ratbridge.
I can’t say enough thank you’s to the lovely people at OUP for helping organise this interview and to Alan for being so kind and answering all my questions.
The new edition of Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow is available online and in bookshops from September 4th and The Boxtrolls movie is in cinemas from September 12th