Rex: Dinosaur in Disguise Blog Tour

I have a super blog post from author-illustrator, Elys Dolan to share with you today as part of the blog tour! Rex is a laugh out loud, amazing book!

Why Do I Make Funny Books?

When Walker Books first asked me to create latest book, Rex: Dinosaur in Disguise, one of the reasons they said they wanted it was that my books are genuinely funny. Of course, I’m delighted that my work has given them the odd laugh, but what I always find so interesting about this is that I never really set out to make funny books. Back when I was a wide eyed, wet nosed, brand new, baby author/illustrator the idea of making any kind of book seemed like a big enough challenge. The funny bit was a totally accident, the career equivalent of slipping on a banana skin.

I was studying on the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art and for the first few modules I’d made some pretty average work. It was yawn inducing because I was busy trying to make what I thought a children’s book should be like. This meant that I was busy making work that was a bad impressions of books that were already out there. This was reflected in the lukewarm feedback I got from tutors and the polite smile I got from my classmates.

But I didn’t really understand this at the time, all I knew that was my work wasn’t hitting the spot and it made me a combination of furious and sad, an emotion I shall now term “furisad”. The furisad brought took me to a place where I wanted to fling all the expensive pens I’d bought (thinking they might fix all my problems) at the wall. After one particularly bad tutorial where my work was described as “just a bit weird” I did fling an expensive pen at a wall and make myself a promise. I was going to stop trying to make the kind of books I thought my tutors wanted to see, stop trying to make books I thought my peers would like and stop trying to make the sort of the books I thought publishers wanted to publish. I was going to spend the rest of the MA doing exactly what I wanted, making the kind of books that I enjoyed, and the rest of them be damned!

So that’s what I did, I started making books that were full of what I found interesting. And it turns out what I’m in to is weird, eccentric, nonsense like weasels plotting world domination, tycoon rabbits running factories and, of course, dinosaurs pretending to be people. I thought that making this choice would mean that I’d fail the MA, but it was also incredibly freeing. For the first time I really started to enjoy making books instead of being stressed out by it. But what shocked me the most was that I didn’t fail my course. When I showed my new, arguably even weirder, work to my tutors and peers they liked it. They even found it funny. Later on, I found that a publisher found it funny, enough that they wanted to publish me. And that’s how my first book, Weasels, came into being. 17 books down the line it seems that children find them funny too, which is the most important thing.

When I was making work full of the eccentric nonsense that I enjoy I discovered that other people share my sense of humour. When I tried to make the work I thought my audience would like, but I didn’t really care about, it felt contrived and that was obvious to the reader so nobody was into it. So, if I have any advice for someone looking to create a children’s book, funny or otherwise, it’s to be sure you’re making a book about something you’re interested in and that would want to read, either as a child or a grown-up. That will shine through in the work and, chances are, someone else will be into the same things as you and love the book just as much. At the heart of it that’s why I make funny books, because the things I care about enough to put in a book are just a tad ridiculous.

This is the ethos I brought to making Rex: Dinosaur in Disguise. I love a fish out of water comedy, so putting a dinosaur in a world of humans is the kind of thing that would keep me entertained for hours. I also love a good mystery. I find the idea that there might be legendary creatures living among us, such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, fascinating. Putting these things into the book meant that I had a genuinely brilliant time making it, and now I’m hoping that there’ll be readers out there who will love these things just as much as me.

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