David Crosby is the author of the award-winning picture book ‘Pirates VS Monsters’ and he’s here on Stoomio! And I’m really chuffed about it too as he is absolutely brilliant as you will see…
First off, tell us a little about yourself…
Well, I don’t quite know how to put this but…I’m a 40-year-old man who LOVES children’s picture books!
I used to borrow armfuls of them from the library and pretend they were for my son, George. I can now reveal that they were not always for George. They were sometimes for me.
I would take them home and study them so I could learn how to write them. And it worked! I am now a writer of children’s picture books. MU-HAHAHAHA. MU-HAHAHAHA.
My debut picture book, Pirates vs. Monsters, is the first picture book text I ever wrote and to my great surprise, it has just won the Bishop’s Stortford Picture Book Award from a shortlist featuring the amazing Julia Donaldson, Rob Biddulph, Sarah McIntyre and Tom Percival!
I live in Sunderland, which is on the coast of the North East of England, with my wife, son and our naughty cats Ollie and Lizzie, who chase each other round the house in the dead of night. I love football and I used to be a reporter for my local newspaper.
As a northerner, what are your favourite book spots that people should check out?
I love an independent – ones that spring to mind are DRAKE – The Bookshop in Stockton, Sam Read’s in Grasmere, Bookends in Keswick, The Highland Bookshop in Fort William, and The Whitby Bookshop in err…Whitby! I love Whitby.
I’m also fond of the Waterstones in Sunderland. I was once mistaken for a member of staff in the Metrocentre one (I must look ‘bookish’) and gave out some sparkling recommendations before confessing I didn’t actually work there.
Tell us about your first picture book ‘Pirates vs. Monsters’…
Well, it’s got pirates…and monsters! What more could you ask for?
In short, Pirates vs. Monsters tells the story of three pirates down the pub bragging about the ingenious methods they’ve used to get the better of three fearsome monsters. Here’s the book trailer.
The grog is flowing and it gradually becomes clear they may not be being entirely honest! I can’t say much more without giving too much away.
There are lots of books out there addressing serious issues so I set out to write a funny, unconventional book with a ripping story that’ll hopefully give kids a good laugh.
I think that’s important with everything that’s going on in the world at the minute.
The illustrator, Lee Cosgrove (aka ‘gorillustrator’), has done an incredible job – creating atmospheric and eerie scenes with mist, candle-lit taverns, pompous pirates, and monsters that are fierce but child friendly.
I’m not sure where the idea came from really but when I was a boy I loved Sinbad films with Ray Harryhausen monsters and the ‘Monkey Island’ games on the Amiga. I think all these things have conspired to inspire Pirates vs. Monsters!
What was your nickname at school? (If you had one)
I got called ‘Croz’ or ‘Crozzer’. Startlingly original, I know! But I’d rather that than ‘Dave’! I’ve never really been a ‘Dave’. My son George is nine and he gets called…George. But I’m fully expecting he’ll get called ‘Croz’ at some point. I think that’ll happen very soon. I played local football for years and also got ‘The Leg’ coz I’ve got lanky legs and loved a crunching tackle!
Were you good at writing at school?
Yes. English was always my strongest subject by far and I loved creative writing. But I don’t think you have to be a great writer to tell great stories. They’re two very different things. I think when you submit stories and get rejected you think ‘Oh I’m a terrible writer’ when it’s often the case that the writing is fine and it’s the idea that isn’t strong enough, or you haven’t structured the story well enough.
What was your favourite book as a child?
It’s got to be a tie between The Three Little Pigs and The Three Billy Goats Gruff from the old Ladybird ‘well-loved tales’ series. Those illustrations were absolutely terrifying but also brilliant and they are forever etched in my mind. You don’t get many genuinely scary books for kids nowadays.
What was it that inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve wanted to write a children’s book for about 20 years, I’ve just never been able to settle on which type i.e. a picture book or a chapter book. I’m a terrible procrastinator.
But when my son George was little we started borrowing dozens and dozens of picture books from the library. I’d always start by reading him the names of the author and the illustrator and we quickly latched on to our favourites – Peter Bently, Valerie Thomas, Timothy Knapman, Sarah Warburton, Adam Stower and Jim Field to name but a few. We’d also go to Seven Stories in Newcastle and seeing all the artwork, the rough drafts, and the behind the scenes correspondence just got me.
That’s when I knew I wanted to write picture books. There’s something magic about them.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not reading and not writing. There’s this great quote from Stephen King which goes: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I still kick myself now for not reading enough and not writing enough! There are so many distractions!
With picture books I think the short word count can trick people into thinking a) it’s a lot easier than it actually is and b) that there’s no story structure involved but in actual fact you need water tight structure to tell a complete story in 250 to 700 words and even if you do a grand job, the idea or concept itself has to be so strong to get you an acceptance.
As for aspiring picture book writers, and aspiring rhyming picture book writers in particular, I think bad rhyme and bad metre are the two biggest pitfalls. I only learnt about metre after Pirates vs. Monsters was accepted for publication but it really is a must. In my case, I watched the Renee LaTulippe videos on YouTube and did a course with the lovely Amy Sparkes and I’m much better at finding and fixing problems in my texts now. Catherine Emmett (who wrote the marvellous King of the Swamp) has some brilliant stuff on her website too.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Stop wasting time thinking about it and just do it! I spent years dreaming of becoming a writer and Pirates vs. Monsters was the first picture book text I ever wrote and to my amazement it got accepted for publication. To my even greater amazement it has now won an award! I wrote it over about three nights but it took me years to actually put pen to paper! There’s a lesson in there somewhere. To be fair though, I wouldn’t have known where to start had it not been for the hundreds of picture books I’d read with my son George.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My first piece of English homework in Year 7 springs to mind. The task was to write an ‘About me’ kind of piece – about my family, my friends, my hobbies and interests, that kind of thing.
I wrote something very functional and predictable but my big sister took a look at it and said “No, make it funny and enjoyable.” So I did (much to the embarrassment of some family members!).
I realised you could do that with any piece of writing. It needn’t be boring and predictable. I wish I still had that piece.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m a classic introvert – I don’t go out much or socialise much at all. It’s just so exhausting! If I’m invited to a party or social event and it gets cancelled at short notice, I’m relieved rather than disappointed! So in short, I’ve got no author friends (sob!) as such though I do interact with a few on Twitter and the like and they’re all incredibly kind and generous people. I also live near the very successful Glenda Young, who writes books for grown-ups.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
Dreaming of being a writer.
Has a book ever made you cry? What was it?
Only one book has ever made me cry – The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I was reading it in the bath at the time and ended up sobbing like a baby. I’ll not spoil it by revealing details but anyone who’s read it will know exactly which part of the book made this happen.
Strangely enough, only one film has ever made me cry – A Monster Calls by…guess who…yes, Patrick Ness! Oh Patrick, why do you do this to people? It left me in bits and I had to remain seated in the cinema for about 15 minutes afterwards just to put myself back together.
I think Patrick will come to be regarded as an all-time great (if he isn’t considered that already).
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Two things spring to mind.
1. Social media/iPad games – they are the enemy of productivity for me!
2. Me being a perfectionist – sometimes you’ve just got to get words down on paper.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The “Save the Cat” series of books by the late Blake Snyder. Not directly relevant to writing picture books but a brilliant insight into story types and storytelling structures and written in a completely unpretentious way. Rumour has it it’s used by those storytelling geniuses at Pixar.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A leopard. I love big cats (and am fascinated by stories about possible sightings of big cats in the UK).
What does literary success look like to you?
Four things spring to mind.
1. Getting more books published for a start! It wasn’t long after I’d had Pirates vs. Monsters accepted that I started to feel I might have fluked it, and imposter syndrome set in. Thankfully, I’ve got a second book on the way with Maverick in September 2021 so I feel more like a ‘real’ author now. I’m really happy with how that’s coming along.
2. Having a book illustrated by Sarah Warburton or Adam Stower. Me and George always loved Sarah and Adam so that would be a dream.
3. Seeing Pirates vs. Monsters read on CBeebies Bedtime Stories (it’s my wife’s wish to see Tom Hardy do the reading…I’ve no idea why). I’m not asking much (someone give Tom a call)!
And the ultimate…
4. Seeing Pirates vs. Monsters turned into one of those animated versions like the Julia Donaldson stories are every Christmas. I think it’d made a lovely little animated short actually. A Wallace and Gromit style version by Aardman Animations would be even better! Get me Nick Park on the phone!
Do you Google yourself?
Everybody Googles themselves. Don’t they? What do you mean, ‘no, only extremely vain people do that’? In that case no, I don’t. Honest.
Unfortunately, I have the same name as a much more famous David Crosby so there’s not much point Googling myself. Maybe I should change my name to something else. Something more heroic, like ‘Dirk’ or something. Or Hector.
And most importantly… What is your favourite biscuit?
Fox’s double chocolate chip. No contest. I’m telling you, there is something very addictive in that chocolate.
Thanks so much to David Crosby for putting so much time into this interview, we definitely want you back on! (Even if you are a sunderland fan 😉 )
* Pirates vs. Monsters, published by Maverick Publishing, is out now priced £7.99 in paperback. It is available in Maverick’s Bookshop store.
* You can follow David on Twitter and Instagram and on Facebook.
*If you are an author (or publisher who would like to introduce an author) and would like to do your own q&a, or something else, to feature on the blog then send me an email… It’s a great opportunity to wax lyrical about your work and do some shameless self-promotion.