Watch Out, Robot Librarians About: An Interview with Sam Copeland and Jenny Pearson
Our blog this week is here thanks to Sam Copeland and Jenny Pearson, authors of Attack of the Robot Librarians, and also to Lindsay Sethia at Penguin Random House for facilitating and making it possible for us all. Sam and Jenny very kindly gave up some of their writing time to answer a few questions for us about how they work and write together. Be warned... this is a very funny blog!
Now, there is no requirement to read The Underpants of Chaos or The Attack of the Robot Librarians before you read this post, but I can't recommend them more highly. Here is just a little bit about them.
In Book 1, The Underpants of Chaos, we are introduced to Little Strangehaven Primary, the SHIVERS and, perhaps most importantly, Topps and Tuchus, spy-detective extraordinaires. In the process of spy-detecting, they find the Book of Chaos hidden in the Room of Forbidden and Dangerous Books. This is not just a special book - it is a very special and important book. You see, all books have power - especially this one!
In Book 2, The Attack of the Robot Librarians, our favourite spy-detectives are back, and this time they are investigating some bizarre technological changes at the school. Somehow things are still as weird as they were last term. Now though, there are laser-eyed robot librarians in charge of class discipline, pedal-powered desks and some very odd goings-on in the cellar...
Did you work together, or even know one another, before this series started?
J: We did! Sam is also my agent – and a very excellent one too! An agent is someone who looks after authors and sells their books to publishers.
Who had the idea of pairing you together and could you tell us a little more about how this was decided?
S: I think we wanted to write together for a while, but it was only when the pandemic hit and we had the first lockdown that we had the time to do it. Because everything was a bit grim in those early days of Covid, we decided we wanted to write the most fun book possible.
How did you balance the writing? How did you decide who would write which parts - did this involve a few arguments?
J: I write the Agatha Topps chapters and Sam writes as Lenny Tuchus. We write a chapter then send them to each other to look at and edit. We didn’t have any arguments at all – we were too busy having fun and making each other laugh.
You have both written a number of other books - which we have loved reading. What made you decide to write a book together?
S: We decided to write together because we get on fantastically well, and we thought it would be a fun thing to do. And it was – a huge amount of fun.
How did the names Tuchus and Topps come about? Was there a brainstorming session of silly names or did they just pop naturally into your heads? If one of you has an idea - for example, in this case the names - do you easily agree with one another?
J: There was some brainstorming which was fun to do. Sam suggested Tuchus which is the Jewish word for bottom or bum. We then thought Topps would work for Agatha because she (correctly) thinks she’s the brains of the operation.
The name of the school the story is set in - Strangehaven Primary - suits the story perfectly, but is it a reflection of a real place? If not, where did the idea come from? Does one of you lay claim to it, or was it a joint decision?
S: I’m not sure about Jenny, but I don’t think it really reflects my primary school. It is a little like my secondary school though, which was foreboding… And it’s difficult to remember who comes up with the ideas – but the rule we have is: if it’s a good idea, it was probably mine.
Of course, I have to ask: what was primary school like for you both? Do you have any fond or hilarious, memories you could share?
J: I loved primary school, but I did not love the school dinners. I used to hide things like spam and liver in my pockets, so I didn’t have to eat them.
S: Jenny still hides spam and liver in her pockets to this day which is why she smells a bit funny. School for me is so long ago I can’t really remember it. I can only remember the terrible, naughty stories which I am not sharing here, thank you very much. Let’s just say, I was not very well behaved.
I can only begin to imagine the creative process for these stories because they are so completely madcap! Do you have a planning board to keep track of all the ideas or some other way to make sure that, as crazy as they are, there is still a sense of order to the stories?
J: Neither Sam nor I are big planners for our own books but working together meant that we needed to keep some notes so we both knew where we were heading in the story. We also wrote brief chapter outlines as we went along so we could keep tabs on what was happening.
As a librarian myself I thought the title was brilliant, funny, and intriguing. Do you have fun playing with stereotypes while making sure you stay within the realms of the understanding of your readers?
S: I have never really thought about stereotypes, but looking back I do have a habit of playing with them. Never noticed that, actually. And understanding the readers is totally vital for me – I always focus on the child who will one day read my books. There’s no point writing children’s books otherwise.
If you had not become authors what would you see yourselves doing? Would you be librarians, detectives, spies or something else entirely and why?
J: I’m also a teacher – which I love – so I think I would be doing that full time. I do like the idea of being a spy-detective though. Especially if I got to play with lots of gadgets like night vision goggles!
S: Obviously a footballer, rock star and astronaut. I still harbour hopes on these three things happening.
There is a touch of magical fantasy in these stories as well as sci-fi. Is it fun to play around and mix up genres as writers, and what do you think the readers get from it?
J: When we set out writing the series, we just knew we wanted to make children laugh and I don’t think we really thought about the genre any more than that. I think that by including touches of magical fantasy and sci-fi it allows more opportunity for humour and imagination. We both wanted kids to have a really fun time reading the books and I think by mixing-up genres it allowed us to be outrageously ridiculous!
I can see this series as having an infinitesimal number of books, which would be brilliant! Can you give us an idea of how many we might expect and any clues as to what adventures might be yet to come?
S: We have all sorts of ideas of what’s to come, but I am not at liberty to say!
Would you like to work together or any other stories? Maybe you already have some others you could tell us about? Are there any other authors that either of you would like to co-write with?
J: I’d love to write more stories with Sam. Writing can sometimes feel like quite a lonely undertaking, whereas writing with him is so much fun. It’s so nice to be able to talk through a story and bounce ideas off each other. There are so many great authors out there who I’m sure would be great to write with but I can’t imagine doing it with anyone but Sam now!
S: Yes, Jenny is a very lonely person, so it’s nice for her to have some company. But honestly, no, I couldn’t imagine writing with anybody else! I’d never tell this of course, but Jenny really is one of the best children’s writers out there and I am fortunate to write with her.
Can you each tell us how you became a writer of children’s books, what you love to read and share any tips you may have for our readers?
J: I wanted to write books for children having seen the power of sharing stories with my classes and my own children. I spent a year writing a book, which in the end, wasn’t quite good enough. I then wrote The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates which was the book that got me a publishing deal. My tips for writing is to read widely as it helps you to understand story. To seek feedback to help you make your story as good as it can be. And finally, to watch and listen. We live in a wonderful world that is full of inspiration that you can draw from.
S: I was reading books to my children, and inspiration just hit me and I started writing. And once you start, it’s difficult to stop. I work in publishing so almost all of my reading is books by my clients. And my tips are of course read as much as you possibly can. Try and understand how other author’s succeed in their aims. Try and see what would set you apart from the crowd.
I hope, now that you have read this wonderful Q&A that you'd like to have your own copies of the books, they can be purchased from all good booksellers, to help you here are a couple of links (just click the title words):