Six Questions with Pen Avey
Pen Avey writes and illustrates for children from her home in Norfolk, UK. She is quite a nosy person but uses the cover story 'RESEARCH' to hide this fact. When not being unduly curious about the affairs of others, she enjoys hanging out with her family and playing with her pet cats, Crumble and Mortimer. Pen's most recent release is a middle-grade novel titled Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent (Common Deer Press). She is represented by Hannah Sheppard of DHH Literary. Check out Pen's website for more information about her and her work.
1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban. It's a charming picture book in which a family of miserable monsters change their ways when Baby Brute finds a good feeling and brings it home in his pocket. He starts being kind and his behavior spreads to the rest of the Brute family, who end up changing their name to "Nice." I loved the humor (visual and text) and have always been drawn to funny books. Probably why I enjoy writing them so much!
2. When you begin writing a book, do you always know where the story is going?
I usually have a rough idea, but I don't pin everything down on a spreadsheet. I find my characters have a way of influencing the plot that even takes me by surprise at times! I love it when that sort of magic happens.
3. What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?
Read! Not just kid-lit, but other stuff, too. Books and articles on the craft of writing are essential, plus non-fiction research to generate ideas. I wrote a book recently featuring a Roman soldier, and thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Ancient Rome. It gave the character an authentic flavor and sparked some interesting sub-plot I'd never have thought of otherwise. And of course, read current books of the type you want to write. I'm in a Twitter middle-grade reading group, which is great as I read books I may not have picked myself.
4. Where did you get the idea for Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent? What was your inspiration?
As a child I had a pen pal from Czechoslovakia and loved hearing about his life, which was wildly different to mine, yet in some ways startlingly similar. Dear Earthling takes this concept to the max. What if you had a pen pal from another planet? What would your similarities and differences be?
5. Who should read this book?
Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent is aimed at younger middle-grade readers who enjoy funny illustrated books with short chapters. If you rate Captain Underpants and the Wimpy Kid series, I’d say give this book a try.
6. Where did you get inspiration for your characters? Are you influenced by people you know?
I tend to take traits from lots of different people and stitch them together, a bit like Frankenstein's monster! I love sitting quietly in a public place and listening to what's going on around me. That can turn up some interesting stuff! The characters in Dear Earthling: Cosmic Correspondent are human-like aliens, but there are also sentient robots and strange creatures on their planet. The book's main character, Dethbert, has a pet chickensnail called Precious - the result of an experiment to create a chicken with its own built-in hen house. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful as Precious crushes most of the eggs she lays with her giant slimy foot!