Ahead of World Book Day 2019 on Thursday, 7 March, Alan Nolan talks about being a children’s author and illustrator, and his World Book Day book, Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny.
A good book will put you directly in the shoes of the characters, helping you see the world through their eyes. That’s my favourite thing about reading – understanding and empathising with others.
I love storytelling, and writing and illustrating are two great ways of telling a story. I enjoy them both equally, and I try to get them to work together and complement each other. I tend to think visually – if a character pops into my head, I have to draw them immediately; if a scene comes into my head, I reach for a pencil and get drawing. Then I’ll write some notes about what I’ve just drawn around the sides of the sketch. It always happens in that order: idea, drawing, writing.
My favourite character to illustrate is Ogg the caveman from Conor’s Caveman and the Sam Hannigan series. I had a lot of trouble getting him right at the design stage – I knew he was huge and that he wore caveman furs and had chunky, hairy arms, but I just couldn’t get his face quite right. His big, stubbly chin worked, but there was something too open and modern about his eyes. Then I hit on it: a huge, bushy monobrow would hide his eyes, making him more enigmatic, and it would also make him look more Neanderthal-like. Ogg is an easy character for kids to draw as well – I can show them how to draw a very convincing caveman with only twelve pencil lines!
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dog. My granny, Lizzie Bunn, lived with us (as did her mum, my great-granny), and she helped me achieve my doggy dreams. She made me a pair of doggy ears out of stuffed brown socks that she stitched onto a Healy-Rae flat cap, and a furry tail that I tucked into the back of my trousers. Sometimes when she’d call us down for dinner, I’d insist that she put mine on the floor. I would eat it on my hands and knees, my ‘tail’ (actually, my bum) wagging happily as I chowed down without the aid of a fork, knife or spoon, my doting granny looking on. Of course, this only happened when my mother was at work. She would have marmalised me and my poor granny if she knew these canine capers were going on every second day. So I think the character of Sam Hannigan was based partly on me – a dreamer with a lightly loopy grandmother.
Nanny Gigg, the star of Sam Hannigan’s Rockstar Granny, is based on my real-life great-granny, who, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, was also called Nanny Gigg! She lived with my family when I was quite small, but thanks to her daughter Lizzie Bunn (my granny) and her grandson (my dad), stories of Nanny Gigg’s shenanigans have passed into legend. For instance, she used to regularly walk up to the shops with my father’s dog, Roy, in a pram. She would dress the dog in baby clothes and put a bonnet on its head, and when other old ladies stopped to look into the pram at Nanny Gigg’s new ‘grandson’, she’d whip the blanket off the dog and say, ‘Do you like my hairy baby??’ She was also well known for putting on my dad’s school uniform and playing hopscotch with the kids on the street – five foot tall, with a mop of grey hair, my Nanny Gigg was the oldest and boldest kid on the block!
Sam Hannigan’s Rockstar Granny by Alan Nolan (published by O'Brien Press) is out now. Find out more about World Book Day here.