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- author Jackie French

Thursday 19 March 2015

Author Interview: Stephan Pastis

Photo credit: Susan Young
“Self-confident, bumbling and always triumphant despite the chaos he creates, Timmy Failure is irritatingly adorable. When you realise that his business partner really is a semi-hibernating polar bear, the stage is set for an out-of-ordinary tale.”

Stephan Pastis is a cartoonist whose first children’s book Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made hit the New York Times bestseller list. Timmy Failure is now a hit around the world with a series of three books, and a fourth on the way. Stephan is visiting Australia on a promotional tour, and agreed to answer a few questions from Kids’ Book Review.

Timmy Failure is a bumbling boy detective, and his business partner is a polar bear named Total. How did you come up with these characters and their story?
I really liked the idea of a detective who was not smart at all and could not solve any mystery.  And I thought it would be funny to give him a big, inept partner.

Which come first, the words or pictures?
For me, it's always the words.

Timmy Failure has been enjoyed by readers around the world. Why do you think they respond to the series?
I suppose because they find it funny.  I think that's the key.  And it also has some heart to it.

What’s the most satisfying response you’ve had from readers and why?
For me, it's always hearing that a kid who never showed any interest in reading was given a Timmy Failure book and read the whole thing in one sitting. I love that.

Do kids ever suggest characters or ideas for you to use? Any that you’ve been tempted to include?
Yeah, all the time.  At the last school visit in Sydney, one kid wanted me to incorporate a rich, evil donkey.  I haven't used any yet, but I might one day.

The pop culture references in chapter titles are a fun touch. Do you think your young readers understand all of them, or are they intended more as a joke for yourself and any adults reading the stories with their children?
Yeah, definitely the latter.  I like giving the adults who might be reading it some inside jokes like that. [Editor: Look out for references to Willy Wonka, The Terminator, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, among others.]

You’ve credited the creators of Peanuts and Dilbert as being inspirations. How have they influenced your work?
Well, they were certainly the influences for the comic strip I draw.  They taught me the timing of the panels, the tone of a comic strip, and the sparse style of writing.

Timmy Failure said he had to overcome obstacles to become a detective. What obstacles did you have to overcome to become a cartoonist with a best-selling series of children’s books?
None, really.  I see it as a great opportunity to have that many blank pages to tell a story, as opposed to the comics page, where I have very little space to do so.

You quit your job as a lawyer to become a full time cartoonist. What was it that prompted you to make that decision and what advice would you give to someone who wants to do the same?
I just hated being an attorney.  My advice would be to just put in the time to make your dream a possibility.

What might happen to Timmy in the next book?
In the opening scene, he is arrested!

5 quick final questions:

What’s your favourite Timmy Failure escapade?
What he does in Book 4, which I have to keep a secret for now.

If you weren’t writing and drawing for a job, what would you love to be?
I'd love to write movie screenplays.

What are you reading now?
A Bill Bryson book.  I'm a big fan.

What was your favourite book as a child?
"How to Eat Fried Worms" by Thomas Rockwell.

Favourite joke?
It's a dark one.  "Why'd the monkey fall out of the tree?"
"He was dead."

Thank you Stephan for taking time to share a little of your experience with Kids’ Book Review!
For more information you can visit the Timmy Failure website and read our review of Timmy Failure: Now Look What You've Done.