The book our Cockatoo subscribers are reading this month is a laugh-out-loud romp with a creative and hugely relatable lead character. Plus its packed with three of our favourite things: poetry, punk music and parrots! Here Clementine Florentine author Tasha Harrison tells us all about her favourite funny books, inspiring teachers and writing gross poo stories for kids...
What inspired you to write Clementine Florentine?
I’ve always wanted to write books that are funny and entertaining, but also warm, uplifting and hopefully helpful in some way – books that would give young readers a good laugh and a reassuring hug. I also wanted to create characters who were flawed and human and relatable to readers young and old, to help us see our humanness a bit more!
Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people or events?
YES! Like Clem, I once stuck chewing gum under a desk and got told off by my teacher. I also hurled mashed potato across a canteen at a boy who was annoying me and got into trouble for that, too. And all the gross, cringey poo stories are true – the bird poo one, the dog raiding the sack of kibble, and the return trip from the vet’s – were all borrowed with permission from friends and given a few fictional tweaks!
We love the poems! Which is your favourite and why?
I think my favourite poem is Dad’s version of Candle In the Wind, which you could argue is more of a song than a poem – although equally you could argue that all songs are just poems set to music! Anyway, I love writing comedy versions of pop songs when I have the time!
Who is the best teacher you know and why?
I had an awesome teacher at primary school in Year 6. He had a great sense of humour and made learning fun, but was also quite strict, so no one messed with him. I desperately wanted to impress him, but regularly failed! Also my mum was a primary school teacher, so I saw behind the scenes all the planning, effort and energy the job involved.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I started off writing for adults, then for teens/young adults. All the manuscripts I wrote over the last 20 years failed to find a publisher, but with each one, I felt like my writing was getting stronger. My previous MS, a comedy for teens, was rejected by all the publishers it was sent to, but the feedback was super-encouraging. A few editors recommended I try writing something for middle grade next. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but knew I needed to give it a try – and I’m glad I did!
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I write in our small spare room, between the clothes horse and the window! I also work as a copywriter, so working from home all week long tends to make me go a bit stir crazy, so once a week I go and sit in a café by myself with my notebook and let partly-formed ideas come a bit more into focus.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved Grinny by Nicholas Fisk. It was a creepy sci-fi story about a boy whose estranged gran comes to stay, but there’s something weird about her… something very unsettling. I think it’s out of print now, but you can get second-hand copies from Amazon. I also loved The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and Three-Quarters by Sue Townsend which was hilariously funny and definitely inspired me to be a writer.
What other funny books for kids would you recommend our subscribers read next?
I recently read Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor by Lucy Brandt, which is lower middle grade and very funny with great illustrations. I also enjoyed The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter, which is full of good gags! And a book that I’m hoping to read very soon is Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List by Jenny Pearson.
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