Interview: Pat Chapman talks about her latest children’s book, The Best Mum in the World

Pat Chapman published The Best Dad in the World in 2016, a number 1 bestseller, and ‘Tis the Month Before Christmas: the True Story of Santa in 2015. She is the author of several non-fiction books, including the best-selling Dunmore Book of New Zealand Records, and Strange Facts and True About New Zealand, as well as three novels for adults. The Best Mum in the World is her latest children’s book.

The Best Mum in the World is a heart-warming story with delightful illustrations. What comes first? The story or the illustrations?

The idea for the story – the concept – always comes first. Then the story develops. At that point, Cat and I discuss the idea and the potential for the illustrations, and I develop further ideas that flow back to the story.

How did the process work in creating this book with the illustrator Cat Chapman?

We talk about the humour and toss around ideas for what works visually, and then I finalise the text. Once that’s been approved by the publisher, Cat creates concept drawings, which we will work over, always looking for elements that will enhance the humour or the art. Once all that’s approved, Cat gets started on her beautiful artworks.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have always loved the direct way children experience life compared to the way parents might see it. So the book explores parental reality as well as the world of the child and tries to show how wildly funny those differences can be. For example, parents often think they must take their children to playground with swings and slides, but often a visit to watch cranes preparing a building site can be just as much fun.

What do you hope children will take from the book when they read it?

I hope they will see themselves and recognise their own everyday experiences. I am sure they will get much of the irony and enjoy that too. And I hope they will be able to see themselves in the illustrations, as we have made a conscious effort with both Best Mum in the World and Best Dad in the World to show normal people of all kinds – young, old, and of different cultures – that Kiwi kids interact with every day.

A thread of humour runs through the book. How difficult was that to achieve, and how did you decide what worked and what didn’t when it came to the humour?

Humour is tricky to portray sometimes, especially as we have to be aware that children learn from everything they read. Cat and I agonised over mum on the tractor, as artistically, there was such a strong pull to sit the child on mum’s lap on an old-fashioned tractor – as happened all the time when Cat and I were young. But that won’t work now, so we had to find a responsible way to show the child driving the tractor with mum.

The Best Dad in the World was awarded a Storylines Notable Book Award 2017. Was there extra pressure to write The Best Mum in the World after winning the award?

Not at all, because Best Mum was finished and off to the printers before the Storylines Notable Book Awards were announced. Nevertheless, we were truly honoured.

You have written children’s books, fiction and non-fiction for adults. Which is the most challenging to write?

For me personally, it’s adult fiction. With children’s picture books, they are forever popping up in my brain and I have to resist the temptation to write too many. Adult fiction is a huge undertaking, and requires enormous amounts of time. I used to write historical fiction, so there was a lot of research involved, but now I am working on contemporary suspense thrillers, and if something like that doesn’t come off, there’s really nowhere to hide! Every page has to be perfect. But that being said, I absolutely love the creative freedom of children’s book, and the pleasure they bring. Switching little kids onto the joy of reading is the best thing society can do.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the book?

We always celebrate when the first advances arrive from the printer. That’s just such an exciting moment when you finally get to hold you book and know that it has become real.

What’s next for you?

Later this year, I have the start of a new series of picture books coming out, on forklifts. When I got my forklift driving licence I was amazed by how many different machines there were and what they could do, and I have rather fallen in love with them. We were treated to a tour of the Whitcoulls warehouse so I could see their absolutely amazing machines that are the tallest in the world, and I have built this first book around that. It’s called “The Tallest Truck Gets Stuck” and show how the little forklifts work together to rescue him. All forklifts have personalities to me, so it was easy to choose characters the kids can relate to. That is being illustrated by Tauranga artist Richard Hoit, who also did the pictures for ’Tis the Month Before Christmas. That’s an advent bedtime storybook, giving parents a month of stories to read, one per night, that tell the story of Santa from the time he was a boy until he came up with the idea of making gifts for the children of the world. That was great fun to write.

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Karen McKenzie Karen McKenzie is a Director of NZ Booklovers. She has worked in book publishing for the past 17 years, as a publicist and also selling international rights. Karen is passionate about book publishing and enjoys working with authors to help them realise their dreams. She is also a published author of twelve books under the name ‘Karen McMillan’. More info at www.karenm.co.nz

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