Radio 1 DJs Greg James and Chris Smith talk about their first children's book Kid Normal, which tells the story of a boy who accidentally enrols in a school for children with superpowers.
Why did you want to write a children’s book?
We’ve always loved coming up with weird and wonderful characters together. It’s a process that started on Greg’s weekly podcast where we would invent things like the Butter Monster (and his seasonal relative the Brandy Butter Monster) or the receptionists at CERN. We wanted to do something more substantial with some characters and got really excited about the idea of writing a book together. And if you’re writing a book, what better readers could you have than children? That’s the age when you get grabbed by reading – we both love the whole torch-under-the-duvet excitement of getting lost in a book when you’re a kid. And they’re the most honest audience as well. If they don’t like your book, they’ll just stop reading! Our greatest fear is finding a half-finished copy of Kid Normal.
What inspired the story of Kid Normal?
We wanted to explore that feeling that we all get sometimes – that everyone else seems to be good at something. Everyone else has a “thing,” there are the sporty kids, or the brainy kids and so on. It’s basically the idea of being forced to do sports day when you’re not sporty – but substitute super powers for sporting prowess. In fact, you could see the whole book as an allegory if you really wanted to. But we’d never do something so pretentious.
How did you come up with the characters’ super powers?
When someone on TV or in comics gets a super power, it always seems to be really useful, doesn’t it? And when they’re bitten by a radioactive animal, they only get the really useful attributes of that animal. You never see Cat Woman licking her own bottom and sleeping on a radiator, do you? So we thought: why don’t people get weird and useless powers as well? What if you just had the ability to shoot flowers out of your hands, and had to go to school to learn to control it in case you got locked up? Coming up with incredible and silly powers was one of the most fun parts.
Which super power in the book would you most like to have?
Ooooh, tough. Chris would like to be able to make his teeth scream like Barry Talbot. And Greg wants to produce tiny horses at will. No, actually, we’d both like to be brave and resourceful like Murph. That’s the worthy but boring answer.
How did you find Erica Salcedo and how did you work with her on creating the book?
Bloomsbury had already collaborated with Erica and we just loved her style. It was the first drawing of Mary that really clinched it. She’d drawn her hanging upside down, and we looked at the way she was dressed and went, “that’s exactly what Mary would wear!” Erica just gets the characters so well. We suspect Nellie is her favourite; some of her pictures of her are just beautiful.
What were the challenges and benefits of writing as a duo?
A lot of people hear that we’re writing together and go, “oh, I could never do that!” But loads of TV shows, films and songs are written as collaborations. We don’t understand why books should be different. Writers are often seen as rather solitary and donnish, sitting in the café being all literary. But writing can be a party too. We’ve had so much fun bouncing ideas around and acting out the characters. Two men in a room, laughing uproariously at their own jokes. That’s rather tragic actually, isn’t it?
How did you find the publishing experience?
We have entered into the publishing experience like two wide-eyed and excitable rabbits who have inadvertently found themselves in a carrot warehouse. We both love books so it’s been endlessly fascinating and we’ve probably bored our friends at Bloomsbury stupid with questions about publishing, typefaces, book fairs and word counts. And there are cakes! Publishers always seem to have cakes at their meetings, it’s brilliant.
What message do you want children to take away from the book?
Well, firstly that you don’t need super powers to be a hero. Secondly, that we all feel like we’re Kid Normal sometimes, looking around at all the other kids with their extraordinary skills. But it’s ok! And thirdly, don’t accidentally meld your DNA with that of a wasp in a hideously botched science experiment. That never ends well.
Are there going to be any more book adventures for the Super Zeroes and what can we expect from them?
Well, what a coincidence you should ask. We are just polishing off the second volume of Murph’s adventures at the moment. You want exclusive behind-the-scenes scoops? OK, here you go. We find out a lot more about some of the history behind the world of Heroes in this one. And we meet a mysterious figure from the past. And someone gets covered in custard.
Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s on 13th July.