'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 17 December 2020

Guest Post: Chris Collin

Award-winning author, performer and Enthusiologist Chris Collin, is the creator of Funky Chicken, A Bug Called Doug, Funky Chicken: Chooks in Space, and Mission Crocible. His last two years have been spent working on an exciting new project, The Things You Can Do with Blue Whale Poo to be released in January 2021. Chris shares his inspiration and other wonderful and interesting facts about his new book.

 It’s a strange name which will grab the attention it deserves. Why this title and what inspired the idea for the book… Blue Whale Poo?
Believe it or not, I have to thank Social Media for the title inspiration. I opened a story about a giant flocculant flume of whale poop floating on the surface of the ocean. The story revealed the source of the bright orange flume, which was from the insides of a blue whale! On reading the article, and the importance this stinky stuff had in our world, I was instantly ‘hooked’, and for the first time ever, the title came to me before the story!

It is gross, funny and perfect for getting an environmental message across. How long did it take to complete the book?
It only took a week or two to write the story. And then another 3 months or so of revisiting the script with minor edits here and there to get the story to the stage where it was ready for publishing. This is mostly to get the meter spot-on! From that point there’s another few months illustrating and designing the book. All up it was around 9 months labour of love.

This picture book educates on many levels through its characters and the clever, informative text. Did you have a song in mind when you chose the humorous rhyming verse?
As with all of my previous books, I was always going to have a song connected to this book. I work with an incredible song-writing, engineering and composing team, Adrian and Barb Hannan of the SongStore. Barb normally comes up with the songs, ingeniously plucking bits and pieces of the text from the book, but still managing to separate the song from the story, so it’s an entirely different entity all of its own, but still connected to the book. One word to describe this amazing team is GENIUS!

…Blue Whale Poo is divinely illustrated by the talented, multi-international award-winning Bruce Potter. He is also author, musician, stage performer and composer, amongst a string of other things. How did your collaboration come about?

I was connected to Bruce through a couple of amazing children’s authors, Dean O’Brien (a.k.a Mr Yipadee) and Craig Smith (Yes, the Wonky Donkey man!) who has collaborated with Bruce on a few other projects. Craig and Dean had interviewed Bruce recently together, and when I mentioned to Dean the Blue Whale Poo project, he very kindly connected me to Bruce, and as they say, the rest is history! Bruce has done a fabulous job, and I hope to continue the partnership on other projects down the track.

There are files to download as well in addition to the book. Please tell us what they are and how you hope they will complement the book’s content and intent?
We like to call our books musical picture books. Our books all come with an incredible musical package of the entire story narrated to an orchestral backing score and song, both performed by the author. Along with my life and business partner, Nadia Rabiller, one of the most important things for us in this business was to create quality Australian books that anyone could enjoy, regardless of abilities. 

Our music can be downloaded as audio only (mp3) or an audio-visual movie slideshow (mp4). This means anyone with hearing or sight limitations can still enjoy stories like this together, whether they be children, a sibling, parent or grandparent. We have had a great deal of feedback over the years from families who have struggled to find this kind of package in traditionally published picture books, and to my knowledge, we are the only publisher consistently producing this kind of package in a picture book. Also did I mention…it’s FUN!

Will you please share with us your serendipitous experience while at a beach house at Macleay Island, working on … Blue Whale Poo?
I am very fortunate to have some dear friends who own a small beach house on an island off Brisbane. For years they had offered the house to me if I needed to escape to write, and late in 2018, I finally took them up on it. My intention was to work on two other ideas. After two days of floundering about getting nowhere, I shelved those projects and began drafting a story that befitted the title I’d had floating in my head for months, The Things you can do with Blue Whale Poo! It took 3 days to come up with a draft that made sense (assuming of course that a story of blue whale poop can actually make any sense!)

Your Funky Chicken books have been turned into full musical stage productions. How did this wonderful and unexpected progression come about?

Some years ago, we were connected to an amazing Australian playwright, actor and teacher, Jodie Cook. A couple of years ago Jodie contacted us from Vienna, where she was living and working at that time, asking if we would be interested in her creating a full musical stage production that schools could perform for themselves using the characters and themes from our beautiful books. Needless to say, the answer was a very loud YES!

Interestingly, Jodie wanted to use our books simply due to the fun, joy and uplifting themes they represented. Oh, and did I say they also come with a world-class musical package, which has been modified brilliantly again by Adrian and Barb from the SongStore especially for the play. We are very excited indeed to confirm the play is now available for school to access for 2021!

I understand you were performing over 100 events in schools, preschools and libraries. Can you expand on this please?
Our business has always been closely connected to schools. Nadia and I have always had our focus on supporting literacy not only through our fun, musical books, but also by creating our own blend of literacy-based performing arts shows and workshops. We have been lucky enough over the years to travel a great deal around Australia and internationally, and one thing I have learnt from all the places we have been is that children (and adults for that matter), are always keen to engage with story when there is a combination of engaging stories, music, puppetry and humour!

Performance is not merely an entertaining factor, is it? Is it your belief that appearances encourage children to read and discover how books can change or influence their lives?

100%! I consider myself incredibly fortunate to do what I do for a living. I believe my role is to encourage kids of all ages to develop a love of reading and writing through fun, engaging books and author experiences. Even as adults, we seem to have a built-in ability to absorb and remember information when something is interesting and FUN! Laughter around books really is the BEST medicine, and I believe changes lives, and the world for the better!

Over the years, many schools have asked if we could create curriculum lesson plans around our books. I was lucky enough to meet another amazing Jodie, Jodie Carlson, an amazing teacher-librarian in NSW. Jodie has created an awesome lesson plan package around our books, with individual plans for all year levels from the early years through to year 6. The lesson plans follow the Australian curriculum, and include a STEM activity.

We are so fortunate to have been connected to all of these incredibly talented and fun people throughout our journey, all of whom fit our funky ethos of fostering literacy through fun and funkiness! https://www.funkybooks.com.au/