Meet private detective, Mr Penguin!
24th Oct 17

Meet private detective, Mr Penguin!

Fans of the Claude books will love Mr Penguin by author Alex T Smith. Here, we ask Alex why his new detective character is a penguin, and whether he likes spiders....

Mr Penguin has decided to work as a private detective. He is helped by a friendly spider called Colin. Mr Penguin's first case is to find the treasure hidden at the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. He has no idea of the adventures and escapades that await....

We asked author and illustrator ALEX T SMITH to tell us more about how MR PENGUIN came about:

Q: Your new Mr Penguin character is a private detective. Why did you decide to make him a penguin?

A: He could have been anything but I have always loved penguins. I remember seeing them in zoos and bird centres when I was a child and there is something very funny about them, maybe it's the way they wobble as they walk.

A couple of years ago I went to London Zoo to 'meet' the penguins where they take you behind the scenes, and that's when I decided I wanted my detective to be a penguin.

I like that penguins are small and a bit vulnerable - the opposite of what you might think of when you're developing an adventure hero!

Q: And there is LOADS of adventure in Mr Penguin. Were there any films that helped inspire the plot?

A: I used to love the Indiana Jones films and I still watch those, and I read Agatha Christie's Poirot books, and both of these have helped inspire Mr Penguin.

Mr Poirot is also small, round and very particular, like Mr Penguin, although Mr Penguin isn't nearly as clever or sharp as Mr Poirot. He gets into a lot of scrapes as a result.

Mr Penguin is not particularly good at being a detective and he is a really rubbish penguin. He's not keen on being cold, he's not particularly brave and he's constantly distracted by how hungry he is. He is eventually good at his job but in a round-about way

Q: Mr Penguin gets a lot of help from his friends, especially Colin the spider. Why did you decide to make his friend a spider?

A: When I gave Claude Mr Bobblysock as his companion, it was so that he had someone to go on his adventures with and he would feel safe, but I didn't want that friend to be another animal or a human, so he became a sock.

It was the same with Mr Penguin, I though he should have someone to confide in and to talk through his problems but that it would need to be someone who was clever at solving clues, so he's a spider who doesn't speak although he can write on his pad. He's also a kung-fu expert as I thought that might come in handy.

Q: What is your favourite moment in the story?

A: One of my favourite moments is when Mr Penguin is riding down a river on a log, and he's so busy showing his client how clever he is that he doesn't notice that the log is a crocodile, even though Colin is frantically trying to tell him so.

It reminded me of the Indiana Jones films when Indiana is trying to be all macho but then loses it completely when a snake shows up.

I loved that Mr Penguin thought he was going on a safe treasure hunt and then suddenly realises that it's not safe at all, but his friends help him to get through it all and to resolve the case.

Q: How closely did you plot Mr Penguin's adventures?

A: I needed to know roughly what was going to happen so I could lay the clues and there are lots of visual clues as I like the idea of children going back, once they know the ending, to find all the clues.

There is also a twist in the story. I like to surprise the reader and the twist introduces them to the idea of not trusting the narrator too much.

But while the plot was planned, one of the characters, Edith Hedge, who lives in the park and who has a pigeon on her head, wasn't planned at all. She appeared unexpectedly and demanded to be in the story. She will be in the second book, too.

Q: Does drawing your characters help bring them to life for you?

A: The Claude books started with me drawing a little dog in my sketchbook, so in a way, yes. Mr Penguin developed more over time; I have pieces of artwork from years ago, a little painting of a penguin sitting on an aeroplane, so I have kept coming back to this character.

When the story started to develop, I decided to give him an Indiana-style look so I put an arrow through his had, it was just something fun and silly, and he kept developing while I wrote the book so there was a lot of going back and forth.

Q: We can't wait to see the new Claude series on Disney Junior - have you been involved in its creation?

A: I've been incredibly involved with it. The animation is being made in Belfast by Sixteen South and they wanted me to be involved from the beginning.

I've helped design some of the new characters and reviewed every script, I've even written six or seven episodes myself. I go to Belfast every couple of weeks to see how it's progressing and it's been an incredible experience working with such inventive people. It's a lovely, lovely project.

Q: What are your top tips for children who like drawing, but who worry that they can't draw well?

A: I think that everyone can draw, including adults who think they can't. The problem is that, as we get older, we think that everything we draw should be realistic whereas everything we see on screens and in magazines is stylised.

So draw confidentally and have fun with it! Experiment to find your own style - and keep drawing, all the time. Keep a sketchbook with you and your drawing will keep evolving.

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