Earlier this month, Simon James Green released his second middle-grade novel – Sleepover Takeover – featuring main characters Otis and Rocco, after releasing his debut middle-grade novel Life of Riley, which was shortlisted for last year’s Blue Peter Book Award. Simon’s other releases have included the popular YA novels – Noah Can’t Even, Noah Could Never and Noah Goes Nuclear – with the first being recognised for one of the best LGBTQ+ books of the year by Attitude, and picture books Llama Glamarama and Fabulous Frankie, both illustrated by Garry Parsons. In May, Simon releases his new YA novel Gay Club and he is working on future novels and picture books for a range of ages. We chatted to Simon about his recent release of Sleepover Takeover, his previous novels and his picture books – Llama Glamarama and Fabulous Frankie.
You’ve recently released Sleepover Takeover, can you say about the book and who do you think it will appeal to?
It’s a hilarious middle-grade comedy, aimed at eight to twelve year olds, but I hope would be enjoyed by anyone who loves to laugh! When eleven-year-old Otis wakes up after a birthday sleepover at Rocco’s house, it’s a scene of mayhem: there’s a donkey breathing in his face, a suitcase of sausages, the birthday boy has a tattoo on his forehead, and Otis himself is wearing a wedding dress. Even weirder – no one can remember what happened last night! When the other guests scarper, Otis and Rocco team up to sort out the mess and try to work out how the Sleepover went so horribly wrong.
What are you able to tell us about the main characters of the story?
Otis is a real underdog, and isn’t one of the popular kids at school. He’s in the final months of Year 6, and he’s worried about going to secondary school. Rocco, on the other hand, seems to have it all – he’s rich, he’s popular… but what he’s really missing is a true friend. There’s also a fun supporting cast, including flamboyant Jagger, and three fearsome girls known as The Chloes.
What’s the response been like to the release so far and how long were you working on Sleepover Takeover?
People have loved it! I’ve had a great reaction from parents, teachers and librarians, as well as actual kids! A lot of people seem to appreciate reading a funny book which helps them escape from real life for a bit. I’ve been working on the book for around a year.
How different do you find writing for the middle-grade readers opposed to young adults?
I love writing middle-grade because I find I can take the humour and wild situations to the next level, and kids of that age will just go with it and enjoy the ride.
Can you say about the three Noah books you’ve written – Noah Can’t Even, Noah Could Never and Noah Goes Nuclear – and what were they like to work on?
Noah Can’t Even was my debut YA and features another awkward boy who is something of an outsider at school. It’s a coming-of-age story, and also a coming-out story. With these books I was keen to write something that showed LGBTQ+ experiences in a fun, funny, positive light. Even five years after publication they remain really popular, which is lovely.
With Noah Can’t Even being your debut YA novel, how did it feel releasing the book and seeing the success of the story?
Fabulous! You never know when you release a book whether it’ll take off or sink without trace, so I’m thrilled that Noah has been such a popular series. It’s still the book people ask me about most.
How is it seeing your work be recognised by publications such as Attitude as one of the best LGBTQ+ books of the year?
It means a lot. Funny books very often miss out on book awards, and I think there’s this idea that those types of books aren’t ‘important’ enough to deserve recognition. It happens in film and TV too – it’s always the bleak and hard-hitting stuff that picks up prizes. It drives me mad. Writing comedy is really difficult and requires a lot of skill, and laughter is just as important, if not more important, than tears, so it’s always lovely when that does get recognised.
You have released a number of other books, as well as a short story for the Proud anthology, can you tell us about some of them?
My other YA books include Alex in Wonderland, Heartbreak Boys and You’re the One That I Want. They all feature LGBTQ+ representation, they’re all funny, and they all have positive messages and swoony romance. My other middle-grade book is Life of Riley – and that was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award last year – which I was thrilled about. It’s about a boy who gets cursed at fairground and then bad luck follows him everywhere – and, believe it or not, it’s hilarious.
Why did you decide to release picture books (Llama Glamarama and Fabulous Frankie) and how was it seeing Garry Parsons’ illustrations for them for the first time?
Writing picture books is a challenge – having to tell a story and develop character, but within such a small word count (500-800 words usually) is really difficult. However, it was something I wanted to do for a long time, so I pitched my idea for a llama who loved to dance, but was embarrassed to tell his friends, and the rest is history. Garry is a fantastic illustrator – he’s so talented, and his drawings are brilliantly funny. I was blown away when I first saw the artwork because it really brings my words to life.
What’s your favourite aspect of being an author and how did you start?
Meeting and hearing from readers never gets old! It’s so nice to hear from people who have enjoyed your book. I’ve always been a writer, although I originally did a law degree and then worked in theatre for several years. Getting published was a long, hard slog, involving writing lots of books that got rejected, attending writing courses, and getting rejected some more. But if you want it, you’ve just got to carry on!
Where do you get the inspiration from for your stories?
Everywhere and anywhere. It might be a story on the news, something I read on social media, or a conversation I overhear in the street. The idea for the next bestselling novel is out there, sitting in front of every single one of us. The trick is trying to spot it.
Did you have any favourite authors’ work/books to read when growing up?
I loved the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend.
Having previously worked in theatre and screen, can you say more about this?
Yes, I worked as a director for many years on big musicals in the West End and on tour – shows like The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, End of the Rainbow, Blues Brothers and Art. I’ve also directed Hollyoaks and previously written a feature-length musical romcom for the BBC called Rules of Love.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I really enjoy cooking, and hanging out with my two dogs, Beau and Dolly, who are very demanding and always want either food, cuddles or walks.
Are you currently working on any future releases that you can tell us about?
I have a new YA novel out in May called Gay Club! This is probably my gayest book yet, haha. I am working on more middle-grade, YA and picture books, coming soon!
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