She’s good at reading from her books, that Francesca Simon. She does sound effects, and she even pretended that her main character was so well behaved that the book had to come to an end before it had begun, seeing as there wouldn’t be a story.
I was a little surprised a week ago when I realised Francesca was coming to talk about her new venture which is very far removed from Horrid Henry. She has a new book out, featuring the Norse Gods in a 21st century England where Christianity never happened. (Yeah, I’m not getting into that…) And I would have known this, had I been able to read, since it’s in the programme. I suppose I only pretended to read, the way you do when you are young.
Her new book, The Sleeping Army, is six times as long as Horrid Henry book, and it took her a year to write, after nine months of thinking. So, it’s a toddler by now, I suppose. Francesca was the star children’s attraction for Sunday’s Manchester Literature Festival at the Whitworth Gallery, and brought hints of all that fame and wealth. Lovely dress, as usual. Photo of her large house in London. No, hang on, that’s actually the British Museum. Francesca doesn’t live there. Yet. But she apparently did so much research that it feels like it’s her home.
She found the Lewis chessmen in the BM. They are very old, and they look really grumpy. She sees them as a sleeping army, and in her book she has her main character – who for a long time went by the name of ‘The Girl’ – accidentally wake them up. The Goddess of Youth has been stolen by a giant and the Norse Gods are growing old, so the Goddess needs to be found.
In this new pagan Britain there are no boys called Christopher. But they do have an Archpriest of York. There is ‘The Girl’ who became Freya, someone called Snot, and somewhere there is an eight-legged horse. (This despite horses legs being the hardest thing you can ask an illustrator to tackle.) There is a berserker, who is always a nice kind of person to have in any story.
And if you too are nerdy enough to need to know why the chessmen when they are so rudely awakened speak English, it’s because for years and years they have heard the phrase ‘where’s the toilet?’ from just about every visitor to the museum. (Actually, they didn’t. I think it was probably just me. I forgot every time.)
After all that background information, Francesca sat down in front of the pretty park outside and read to us. And despite Norse Gods generally bringing me out in a rash, I have to say it sounded pretty good. I might have to rethink my Norse ban.
Then it was Q & A time, and not only is her son not naughty enough to have inspired Horrid Henry, but he doesn’t know what a hoover is. (Francesca is a woman after my heart!) She hasn’t seen the HH film. Reading the script was enough, apparently.
Francesca always writes a first draft that is absolutely terrible, but believes that this is necessary for a good book (which happens after another ten goes, or so). And she might be great with the sound effects, but when her toddler son wanted to know what a caterpillar sounds like, she didn’t actually know…
And then Francesca signed books. Lots of them.