Steve Hartley Interview

Steve Hartley is a winner of the ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition and his books include the Danny Baker Record Breaker series and more recently, the Oliver Fibbs books. To celebrate the release of Oliver Fibbs and the Giant Boy-Munching Bugs, we caught up with Steve to find out the inspiration behind the Oliver Fibbs character and which children’s books make him laugh out loud.

You were ’discovered’ as a writer after winning the ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition organised by The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Can you tell us a bit about how your writing career changed after the win?

At the risk of sounding like a headline from Chat magazine: ‘Undiscovered Voices’ changed my life!

After spending more than fifteen years trying to get my stories published, within two weeks of the anthology being launched, I had been approached by four agents and two publishers keen to talk to me. Within four months I had signed with one of the agents, and had a four-book deal with Macmillan. Four years on, the one-off tale that won the competition, Danny Baker Record Breaker, has grown to thirteen stories in seven books, and I have two books in a new series, Oliver Fibbs, making their way in the big wide world. I gave up my “proper” job about two years ago to become a full-time children’s author: doing school visits, festival events, workshops, and when I have the time, writing new books.

In your newly-released book, Oliver Fibbs is frequently in trouble for his ‘creative stories’. What’s the worst fib you’ve ever told? More importantly, were you caught out?

I can honestly say, hand on heart, without a word of a lie, that I have never, EVER told a fib. Probably.

I’m actually too cowardly to tell real whoppers, which is why I love Ollie so much – he just goes for it!

But as I tell kids, one of the great things about being an author is that we spend our lives making up tall tales, and get paid for it.

What first gave you the inspiration to create Oliver Fibbs and his high-achieving family?

I saw one of the Fiennes clan being interviewed on Breakfast News one morning, and realised what an amazing family of high achievers they are: some actors, a film maker, an explorer, an author, a director, a composer, an environmentalist, a surgeon. . . I wondered: what if you were the Fiennes who collects the shopping trollies from the supermarket car park? What would it be like being surrounded by all those uber-talented and famous people? How would you cope?

So Oliver Ranulph Templeton Tibbs was born!

Unlike the rest of his super-talented family who are all brilliant at something, Oliver thinks he’s only brilliant at eating pizza and reading comics. What would you say you’re secretly brilliant at doing?

Hanging wallpaper.

Oh, and being silly, although since I started doing school visits, that secret’s out! Once, during a Q+A in a primary school, a girl asked, “Why are you so odd?” It’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

At the start of the new book, Oliver Fibbs and the Giant Boy-Munching Bugs, Oliver claims his dad has been struck down by Wenghi Benghi Fever. Without giving too much away, is there a cure for such a deadly-sounding disease?

Sadly for Oliver, Wenghi Benghi Fever (and the tiny beetle that carries it) is one of the most dull and boring tropical diseases there is. The cure is worse: lots of naps and lashings of cabbage-and-cauliflower soup. What can a Big Fat Fibber do? He has to make it a little more interesting than that!

Can we look forward to more adventures with Oliver Fibbs in the future?

Book 3: Oliver Fibbs and the Abominable Snow Penguin, is due for publication in March 2014. When his famous explorer uncle gets lost in the Antarctic, Ollie sets out on a fib that involves ninja penguins, arctic ants, a mythical ice palace, and an evil monster penguin called Norman.

Book 4 is on the way, and doesn’t have a title yet, but does have dastardly, earth-destroying robots. That’ll be in bookshops in June 2014.

Apart from your own books, which other children’s books make you laugh out loud?

I think Roald Dahl’s The Twits is one of the best books ever written – delightfully silly, as is Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum series, and one of my favourite new books for younger kids, My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, by Mo O’Hara.

For older children I regularly recommend CosmicFramed and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. He manages to tackle quite serious topics while being warm, off-beat, and very funny.

Ditto Dave Cousins, whose books 15 Days Without a Head, and Waiting for Gonzo, are two of the best and funniest books I’ve read in the last year.

Lastly, as an avowed technophobe, I recommend It’s A Book by Lane Smith, to everybody.

What could your young audience expect if they came along to one of your live events? It wouldn’t involve any fib-telling, would it?

Fibs? Me? I really am an astronaut, spy, and vampire-hunter. My hobby really is hamster-wrestling. Why will no one believe me? My show contains top-tips for writing stories, readings from my books, a game show, a superhero, a huge pair of alien knickers, a giant sprout-bomb, and possibly the biggest, fattest fibs you’ve ever heard!

If you’d like to win a copy of  Oliver Fibbs and the Giant Boy-Munching Bugs, just tell us which famous family were the inspiration for the Oliver Fibbs books. Please email info@bookeventsforchildren.co.uk with your answer and contact details before 5pm on Monday 8th July. 

To find out more about Steve, please click here to visit his website.
Click here to fins out more about Steve’s publishers, Pan Macmillan.

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