It’s my stop on the blog tour for How to Survive Without Grown-Ups by Larry Hayes, illustrated by Katie Abey and I’m super excited to be sharing an interview with Larry. I knew from the moment I heard about this book that I was going to love it, but it beat every expectation I had. This is one of my top picks for 2021!
How to Survive Without Grown-Ups is explosive right from the start. The sparkling cover and catchy title draw you straight into the opening chapter where we first meet ten-year-old Eliza and her genius little brother Johnnie. It’s not the best day for introductions. The world has just ended as they know it, and they are setting off to rescue their parents from Mars in a car, that has a bomb in the boot.
I know, it’s a lot to take in. The hilariously-wacky-but-oh-so-believable events in this book are captivating. Eliza is probably one of my favourite middle grade protagonists ever. Naturally an anxious person, she doesn’t have time to worry about what might happen on a rescue mission to Mars because the worst has already happened.
Katie’s graphic-style illustrations take this book to another level. I was laughing out loud so much it brough tears to my eyes. How to Survive Without Grown-Ups is not too long and is so fast paced that it will appeal to young readers of all abilities. The high-tech gadgets and futuristic setting will captivate their imagination and leave them desperate to read on.
Can they handle vampire squids, a suspicious villain, a secret island full of traps and a trip into space? And – more importantly – will they ever get their parents back?
It’s over to Larry to find out more...
Hi Larry, this book had me hooked me in from the moment I heard about it. I was smiling at the idea of Mum and Dad going to Mars! What made you want to write this book?
I was sitting in Newbury Waitrose café with the kids and realizing we were going to be stuck there waiting for over an hour while the car was MOT’d. And being a rubbish dad, I’d forgotten to bring anything for them to do. So we chain ate Waitrose’s (very tasty and reasonably priced) full English Breakfasts and made up a story together and that’s where the initial idea of Eliza and Johnnie and Myrt (the dog) stuck in a car, in space, with a bomb and a face-sucking vampire squid, and not enough air, came from. We call them “Challenge Stories”, where I come up with some weird dangers and they have to use their wits to escape. It all came crashing to a halt when Johnnie got over-excited, stood up on the sofa and started screaming for help (this actually happened – he was only 3 at the time and had a loose fix on reality). “Maybe there’s something special about this story,” I remember thinking… and so I started writing it the next week.
What do you think your two children would say if you told them you were going to Mars?
I know the answer to this. Because I just asked them. They said, “Great, will you be on the telly?” I suspect they think I’d chicken out at the last minute. But I’m sure once the engines started firing they’d get totally freaked out and cry and stuff.
Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a scientist, famous for blowing up the sun (don’t try this at home). Keith Jones from up the road questioned whether this was a good idea. We had a big argument and I took to my bedroom, reading The Wombles Go Round the World twice, back-to-back. And that’s when I first decided that if I couldn’t blow up the sun, then I wanted to be a children’s author. Someone who could take readers on wild adventures to far flung places. I wanted to write stories that made you laugh and cry and be scared and excited all in the same book.
How does being an author compare to your day job running an investment fund and being a trustee for a homeless charity?
It’s so much more fun. I come out of a day writing with more energy than when I went in. Although I sometimes write for hours and hours without a break and then I get a bit dizzy.
You know when you’re reading sometimes and the pages disappear and you’re totally in the story? Well writing can be a bit like that – I can be tapping away at the keyboard and the screen disappears and my mind is just totally in the adventure.
It’s like watching a movie in your head but even better because you get to decide what happens next.
I’ve heard that you once spent some time at a NASA research base – how did that trip inspire parts of the book?
It gives you a great insight into the direction the world is going in, because in Silicon Valley they’re working on the tech now that won’t be in shops for another 20 years. The book is set 30 years into the future so we get to see what tomorrow’s world is going to be like. It’s especially fun thinking about how kids and school will be affected by future inventions – like flying to school by drone instead of taking the bus, and having a talking dog, and linking your brain to the internet so you can look stuff up in Wikipedia with just a blink. There’s a possibility that school in the future will feel a lot more like playing and a lot less like school. That would be amazing.
If you could go exploring anywhere in the galaxy, where would you most like to go – would it be Mars??
No, I’d go much further . There are about 40 billion earth-like planets so I’d love to check some out for Alien life. But the nearest one is 12 light years away – which means that even if we could travel at the speed of light it would take 12 years to get there. So I think it will have to be Mars for now. But it’s possible that the first human to travel to another solar system has already been born! It might be one of our readers!
Katie’s illustrations are fabulous – how did you feel when you saw your story come to life in print? Did you and Katie work quite closely together on the graphic style elements?
I couldn’t really believe it. Katie Abey is a genius who can bring the most amazing things to life with just a few flicks of her pen. It really is amazing to see her drawing in real time – the pictures just appear like magic and they’re so incredibly funny. I’d love to have one of those “how to draw” the characters sections in the back of our next book because I’d love to have a go.
The way we work is that I describe what I think the graphic should look like, and then Katie draws something much funnier than I could even imagine it.
What advice would you give to someone trying to write a funny, futuristic middle-grade?
I really think it helps to have kids you can talk to on a regular basis. Because kids are so funny, much funnier than adults. It’s like kids haven’t learned to be boring yet. They’re always coming up with totally wild plans and weird ideas about the future. Every time my kids come up with something funny I write it on the fridge, and now I’ve got a fridge covered in smudged felt tip and enough ideas to write the next 6 books in the series. I probably owe them lots of money though.
This is a tree I sit in to write when I get stuck / writer’s block. I have stay up there until I’ve written 500 words. It’s a bit creaky (and fally-downy) because it’s so old and it’s full of bugs.
Finally, can you give us any exclusives into what we can expect from the second book in the series?
Yes, the second book is even more Out-of-this-World. Eliza, Johnnie and Myrt go way back into the distant past to save the planet before they’ve even been born. Eliza begins to learn some secrets about her past. She learns a bit about why she’s bullied at school, even by the teachers and what makes her so special. We also spend a lot more time with Sadie Snickpick, the school bully who is Eliza’s great enemy, but might be the only one who can save them. Sadie Snickpick is this brilliant character who doesn’t care what anyone thinks – it’s kind of her super power because it means she’s totally fearless.
Oh, I can’t wait to read it! Thank you for a brilliant interview, Larry!
Published by Simon & Schuster, 19 August 2021
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary review contains my honest opinion.