Debi Gliori, not content with being an illustrator extraordinaire - over 500,000 copies of No Matter What sold worldwide - decided that she also wanted to write fiction and preferably before her fortieth birthday. She succeeded with just ninety minutes to spare when the last words to Pure Dead Magic were penned - at which point she punched a few high fives into the air and danced around the room.
If you haven't stumbled across the wonderful gothic world of the Strega-Borgia family you are in for one huge treat because there are now four titles in the series. The Strega-Borgia's live in a huge rambling castle, StregaSchloss, in the middle of the Scottish highlands. Fantastic names abound … Damp the Baby 'the small thing that wears a toilet around the middle' … Marie Bain the worst cook in the Highlands who 'blew her nose, examined the result in her handkerchief and sneezed wetly into tomorrow's soup' … Lucifer Di S'Embowelli who hisses his way through the plot … Tarantella the spider who wears lipstick and is 'suspended on legs that cry out for shaving foam and a good razor' … Multitudina the rat who 'despite a rigorous post natal exercise programme had not regained her pre-pregnancy figure' … along with a vegetarian crocodile, farting yeti, a gryphon with diahorrea and lots of vomit … what more could you ask for?
The Financial Times (UK) said it all because they truly are 'Good disgusting fun!'
We went along to Riccarton School to listen to Debi talk to a huge crowd - what a treat it is to listen to an author read their own work, especially when it's delivered in a beautiful, broad Scottish accent accompanied by a wicked sense of humour … 'I think possibly I was the first author to introduce vomit into picture books …" And we later met up with her for a few brief, precious minutes at her hotel. Here's what she had to say about a few things.
It's a shame you can't write when you're in that space between sleeping and waking, the twilight stage, because that's when things seem to happen so easily. The Dream State. But it doesn't happen like that - not for most of the time, anyway. People procrastinate about starting writing - oh, but I don't have the right tools, I haven't got a computer and I haven't got anywhere to write, Basically, all you need is an idea, a pencil, a notebook and bucket loads of determination. Once I decided I wanted to illustrate books for a living I stuck with it but there were times when it was rrrrreally difficult. There are amazing views from my studio windows but I write with the shades pulled down so I won't be distracted!
Pure Dead Magic was written when I started thinking about how my older kids would love to get rid of their little sister for a while, maybe by shrinking her and zapping her off into cyberspace … and now look what's happened! There are three other books in the series, another one half-written and I've signed up with Universal for the movie rights.
I always handwrite my first draft and they're full of crossings out and scribbles. It looks like spiders have stepped in ink and scurried across the pages because it's never, ever perfect the first time. It's a bit like bread dough. Initially it's sticky and full of lumps and bumps. It needs time, so you put it away and go back to it and iron out those lumps and bumps when you can look at it as a reader and not a writer. But I have to tell you, my first book was terrrrrrrible and although I thought it was such a good idea at the time, Attila the Bun, I can assurrrrrrre you it wasn't!
I tell lies and people pay me for it. Isn't that wonderful? I see places that don't really exist but they're so real to me. Stregaschloss is real to me … here we go bumping down a three mile track to get to where my characters live. There are brambles on either side forming a tunnel and then we burst out into the sunlight and there it is … they must be real to others too because the American filmmakers rang me to say they couldn't find Auchenlochtermuchty on the map!
My characters are so real to me too. I think I'll stop when I don't hear them anymore. I'm feeling rather guilty at the moment because since being on this tour I haven't been able to continue with the new book (Deep Water) and I've left them in some dirrrre and terrible situations - one's been kidnapped, another's seriously ill and the Signora's pregnancy has been put on hold.
I'm not sure what stage it's at. Oh, but the contract I had to sign was amazing. There was a clause in it that said something about "throughout the universe and forever" … so that aliens can't get there hands on it I guess!
I couldn't believe it when Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) said he'd do the film script but they've now got a team working on it - both in London and L.A. I simply can't believe that there are people working on this filmscript in two different countries and all because I had the idea of zapping Katie Rose off through the email!
Richard E Grant would be fabulous as Signor Strega-Borgia and Tarentella (the spider) needs to have a really deep sexy voice - like someone who smokes about 60 cigarettes a day but I really don't know that much about movies and actors. I haven't had any involvement in it whatsoever although I 'd love to go to L.A. and do the whole Hollywood scene, so long as I don't look too much like a plonker. The most exciting thing will be to see my dragons fly up there on screen!
Well, the characters are really a composite of my own family plus there's a little bit of me in all the characters in various ways. I can see myself in Mrs McLauchlin and in Signora Baci as well - I'm always having temperamental outbursts! Damp was based on my youngest, Katie Rose, who was 14 months old at the time of writing but she's 7 years old now. The books have evolved with my family - in the latest book Titus and Pandora are in their teens and doing all those teen things. My younger kids love being in the books but the older boys are a bit embarrassed - but also appreciative of the extra kudos it gives them!
I live in a very messy household too - just like the Strega-Borgias do. My partner can complete these huge, wonderful projects and I don't even notice! It's a bit reminiscent of the breakfast scene in Pure Dead Magic when Signora Baci is immersed in the newspaper, completely oblivious to the mess and arguments going on around her whereas Signor Luciano has an absolute fit.
I don't consciously bring real life issues into the books but somehow they end up. Divorce, plastic surgery, working mums. "Life goes on, as it always has. Worlds collapse, people go to war, divorce and cause each other immense amounts of grief, but nappies still have to be changed, food cooked and parents, no matter how unhappy, still have to go to work …" (extract from Pure Dead Magic)
But I'm not here to moralize. One of my books was supposed to be about divorce but about halfway through it up and said NAH and took off in a completely different direction!
The books are funny. There are scenes I've been writing where I've had to stop and simply put my head down from laughing so much. There's a lot of adult humour in them too which isn't a bad thing. So many parents read out loud to their kids and I reckon they need to enjoy it just as much.