Interview with Mo O’Hara

jurassic carp cover

I’m absolutely over the moon to welcome a very special guest to the blog today –  the fabulous Mo O’Hara. Mo is the author of the hilarious My Big Fat Goldfish series, which I recommend to anyone who loves funny books about friendship and adventure. Recognising a good opportunity to get an insight into the secrets behind this brilliant series, I jumped at the chance to ask Mo some questions…..

My Big Fat Goldfish is in its sixth adventure this year. Is it true that your inspiration was bringing goldfish back from the brink of death?

It is true that my brother and I resuscitated our goldfish with a battery when we were kids. Who knew that it would turn into a six book adventure! Our actual goldfish, I should add, showed no zombie-like tendencies when we revived him. But hey, he might have had lots of adventures when we were asleep….

Looking at the fan gallery on your website, Frankie clearly inspires a lot of children. That must be really satisfying?

I get so excited when kids send me stuff. My cork board and my desk are covered in Zombie Goldfish art! I have a Zombie Goldfish baseball cap that a little boy made to wear on World Book Day and then sent to me. I have bookmarks and T-shirt designs that kids have done and the YouTube videos that some kids have done are absolutely amazing. There are some seriously talented kids out there.

Do you get a lot of pet-related fan mail?

I do. Kids tell me all about their pets and the weird and wonderful things that their pets do. I’ve also heard soooo many pet resuscitation stories. I can tell you strategies for reviving goldfish that range from massage to ‘Alka Seltzer’ tablets that kids or their parents have tried. I love it when kids send in shots of their pets reading with them too!

There has been much debate lately about whether, as children’s writers, we should ‘get rid of the parents’ or not. The family relationships in your books form so much of the humour. What do you make of the ‘get rid of the parents’ rule?

I really like the idea of the Roald Dahl way of killing off the parents so they can’t help the kid. The stakes are definitely higher. In my books though I just make the parents really really ineffectual so that it accomplishes pretty much the same thing but without the trauma. Tom’s mom is just always distracted and too busy to notice that she has a zombie goldfish living in her house. ( She is loosely based on me) Both the boys dads are too distracted by their work and their phones in some of the stories and Mrs Kumar is overprotective to an extreme so she becomes ineffectual because of that. This way the boys are left to fend for themselves and sometimes to look out for Sami as well. It ups the stakes and makes them completely active in their own journey.

The illustrations by Marek Jagucki are fabulous fun. I love their quirkiness. How do you work together? Do you suggest parts you want illustrated or leave it to Marek?

I LOVE Marek’s illustrations and I think kids really connect with his drawings. Marek and I only met about a year after the first book came out. Since then though we’ve done events together and email back and forth. I love his sense of humour and how he makes the little things in the story really pop out at you. Generally I work on the text of the stories with Rachel Kellehar , our editor at Macmillan, and there will be some illustration notes in that text. Usually this will be if there’s a joke that has a visual payoff. (I’ve attached some examples to the email). Then Rachel will go through and think what bits of the story need an illustration to explain or enhance. ( sometimes a map or note) Then other areas are suggested for being a good place to put an illustration. Marek comes back and agrees or makes other suggestions and then he goes away and does his magic. He works incredibly fast so sometimes we see roughs in a week or less. He usually also puts in little extra funny touches to the illustrations. There is a theme of random funny birds ( pigeons, seagulls etc) that crop up and always make me giggle.

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Being a plotter myself, I’m always interested in whether people are ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’? How much plotting do you do before you start drafting?

I was definitely a ‘pantser’ but doing a series has turned me into a plotter.
I do allow myself to detour from the plot though. I always start with a voice and a character and then work up the plot though. I have to do it that way around or it doesn’t work for me.

What was your favourite genre of fiction when you were young? How do you think that has influenced how you write now?

In books I’ve always loved humour. Roald Dahl and Douglas Adams were my absolute favourites. I am a complete Sci Fi nerd too. I’m obsessed with Dr Who ( old and new series) , Star Trek ( all of them) and Star Wars ( mostly the old stuff). Also lots of other Marvel, Buffy, DC stuff and on a less kid friendly note- Game of Thrones.

What would you have been if you weren’t a writer?

I love Science. I’ve taken courses in Oceanography and in Astronomy and would love to learn more about both. My dream job would be to be the next Brian Cox if I could ever really understand ‘string theory’ and ‘quarks.’

Do you have any pets now?

I have two kittens. Well, they are two years old now so we should really stop calling them kittens but they still don’t seem like grown up cats to me. They are more ‘Cattins’ I suppose. They are the reason I wrote about ‘Fang’ the mostly evil vampire kitten who appears in book 3 of the series. They are only occasionally evil , mostly cute and their party trick is playing fetch with a wine cork. ( The record for one of them is 11 times in a row!) Also we made the mistake of training them to come when I call ‘Dragons’ from the back door. They never learned their own names so when I want them I still have to shout ‘Dragons!’ It must make the neighbours giggle.

Kittens reading MBFZG

In ‘The Curse of the Cat of Kings’ Tom and Pradeep get to go to a museum sleepover, which sounds so cool. If you could sleepover in any museum, which would you pick?

The Planetarium or the Science Museum I think.
Although sleeping with the mummies like Tom and Pradeep do, must be really fun.

What next for Tom, Pradeep and Frankie, do you think?

The series is complete with all six books out now. Jurassic Carp ( probably my favourite title so far) came out in July. I’m not sure what will happen in the future. At the moment I’m working on some new projects. I have a second picture book coming out with Macmillan next year and I’m working on some other ideas as well. It’s strange not writing in Tom’s voice though. After six books ( and 12 stories) it felt very comfortable in Tom’s head. The next challenge for me is writing in a new voice, with new characters and hopefully connecting with My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish readers and new readers as well.

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Massive thanks to Mo for being so generous with her time and answering all that. Cattens is now my favourite word 🙂 

You can find out more about Mo and the brilliant Zombie Goldfish books on her website

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