February Artist of the Month – Robin Price
We caught up with Robin to ask him a few questions.
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I joined Authors Abroad way back in the mists of time (2012), because I love working in schools and getting kids into writing. When I was a kid I was captivated by the Royal Institution Christmas lectures where a mad professor would invite kids up to do experiments. I’ve created themed assemblies that tie in with my books: on Vikings, Romans, Greeks or Shakespeare to name a few. Each is a mini show in itself – packed with audience participation, props, role play, dress up and music including live looping. It’s a chance to celebrate the history that inspired me and got me writing – and get pupils to create their own stories.
How naturally do stories come to you to write – how much is a flow of creativity and how much is planning and research?
Writing is half Athens and half Sparta, half Thor and half Loki, half Luke Skywalker and half Lord Vader.
A part of you needs to let your creativity off the leash, but another part has to have a bit of grit when the writing gets tough. Writing is far easier than coal mining. We’ve made it easy for anyone to write a story on this website: http://www.creativewritingclub.co.uk
You have a huge span and variety of books – how did they all turn out so different?
I think we’re already got enough books about boy wizards, vampires, teenage spies, zombies, superheroes, unicorns or dystopian teenagers in gladiator arenas. It’s not that I don’t love all this – it’s just that we don’t need two Harry Potters, or a female Harry Potter or an ‘urban’ Harry Potter or whatever. I call this ‘tailgating’ – where one car is dangerously close to the car in front. You can see this mindset in action on tv, in films, games, product design – or wherever commercial trumps artistic. I think artists should be free to stretch out. Even if you are writing in a tried and trusted genre, your work needs to be significantly different. My half graphic novel series – London Deep – is set in a flooded London which was original at the time of writing in 2008. But the twist is that there are two rival police forces – for kids and grown ups. I wanted to unpack the divisions between kids and grown ups, against a backdrop of climate change. And the manga element really moves the story on. The final episode: London Stars – comes out in 2020.
So, you have designed a Feline Empire and re-written lots of historical people and places with a feline twist. Why cats?
Ha! Well I am totally mad about cats, but I had a dog when I was young and I’ve written two Beowuff books featuring Anglo-saxon dogs vs Viking dogs. I think for ancient Rome, cats work brilliantly because they can be super cute or rather evil – just like human beings.
Are there a lot of historical facts and things to be learnt in your books despite the fact they are fiction?
Yes! I obsess about getting the details correct. The Journal of Classics teaching did praise my description of the flooded arena in the second Spartapuss book – Caligula. I also got a great review from Your Cat magazine! so the cats are accurate too.
How different is it to write songs for a musical? How involved in theatre are you now?
I love theatre and I was honoured to be asked to write songs for The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom musicals for the amazing Tall Stories theatre group. I am currently toying with a rap/beatbox version of Beowuff. Check out the rap version of Spartapuss with the incredible MC Lars rapping (and music and words by me).
How is the Spartapuss TV animation coming along?
Animation is a super slow process. You would not believe how many people it takes to get a cat striding across the arena – let alone fighting gladiator battles. You can see how it’s getting on here: https://vimeo.com/268538409 or about a Welsh language version here
You’ve done quite a few overseas visits for Authors Abroad – how do these differ from the UK? More fun or just more exhausting?!
It’s mad but brilliant and it’s a privilege to be invited to visit so many amazing countries. Lots of weird and wonderful things happen – In Malawi we had monkeys coming into the Reception class trying to steal packed lunches. It is exhausting because the schools (quite rightly) want as many children as possible to meet the visiting author. To help out, I can offer very large workshops – with 60 or 90 students all writing their own stories in one session. It’s mad and fantastic fun but I need to lie down when I get back to the UK.
What would you advise to someone who had a young child not displaying an interest in books?
Culture is copying. If that child looks at the people around her – her friends, her family, her siblings are they reading books? Or are they playing Fortnite and constantly checking their social media? There is no silver bullet for this but I would say create an environment where there are no screens, phones or distractions, get her to choose a book or graphic novel and do 20 mins reading every night. Incentivise her with treats. After two weeks she’ll be in the zone.
Do you have a favourite environment to write in, or is it a case of wherever you can and have time and a pen/laptop?
I always use a computer because my writing looks like a spider died on the page. In fact I was in remedial classes for English when I was a kid. But I went on to edit magazines and the BBC Homepage – and write 20 books and graphic novels. So do not give up hope! I can write anywhere as long as I’ve got something to type on.
Any plans for new books?
Yes! We have London Sink – the final London Deep book coming out in Sept – with artwork by the amazing Rebecca Davy who has taken over manga duties from the equally talented Paul Mcgrory. As well as the TV projects I am working on a super secret Shakespeare project. Very exciting!
I have always wanted to be an Umpa Loompa – but they will not let me into the Chocolate Factory.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Follow your star. And write something kind if possible.
How do you feel about celebrity children’s authors? The more the merrier if it gets kids reading, or do they have an unfair advantage and sell disproportionally because of their reputation?
How dare you! All my friends are celebrity authors – and so are their cats!
What books do you read for pleasure?
I like to tackle a classic book – Candide by Voltaire and follow it up with something like sci-fi. I am reading The Expanse series which is great space opera – for 15 plus.
It was great to meet you in person at the Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival – did you enjoy the event?
It was amazing to meet you too! I Ioved the festival have two friends who organise an underground music festival and so I know exactly how much effort it takes to get everything in place for a major event like Broughton Hall. I hope you can do it again.
Paperback or Kindle?
What’s more interesting – Romans or Vikings?
Thor goodness sake – Jupiter knows the answer to that one.
Cats or dogs?
Very hot veggie chilli.
Summer or Winter?
Would you rather be able to time travel or turn invisible?
What would you introduce if you were Prime Minister for the day?
Off the top of my head: hats for cats, an off button for social media, edible books – so I can eat my own words.