A small mouse and big adventures!
2nd Apr 20

A small mouse and big adventures!

Welcome to a special school - for PESTS! Learn where to find the best food to nibble, how to avoid ferocious dogs, and most important of all - HOW TO AVOID BEING SEEN BY HUMANS!! Author EMER STAMP tells us more about PESTS!

Stix is a small mouse who is destined for big adventures after his grandmother leaves (well, is flushed down the loo...) and he sets off to find some company at PESTS - a special school for pests, where small creatures learn how not to be discovered.

Here, author and illustrator EMER STAMP tells us more about PESTS:

Q: What is PESTS about?

A: Pests is about a timid little mouse called Stix who discovers a secret school in the basement of the block of flats he lives in. It's a school for pests just like him, helpfully called PESTS (The Pewit Educatoruim for Seriously Terrible Scoundrels). Here a crazy teacher called Dr Krapotkin (a one footed pigeon) teaches all her pupils how to be the very best pests they can be.

Stix is a shy mouse but, with the help of a friendly bat called Batz, he slowly works out his place in this new and strange world. Only of course, just when things seem to start going well, they start going wrong. Enter Professor Armageddon - whose name pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Q: What sparked the idea for a 'school for pests'?

A: I was lying in bed early one morning listening to the pigeon outside my window cooing really loudly and it suddenly struck me that maybe the bird was doing it on purpose, as a malicious way wake us humans up.

And that's when the thought hit me, what if there were a school where creatures like this pigeon went to learn how to bug us? I pictured a singing teacher showing birds how to sing REALLY loudly (I have yet to include that in the books but I will). I got up and started writing out a synopsis and a year and half later, the book was published.

Q: Stix is a small mouse who has big adventures. Can you tell us a bit more about him?

A: Stix lives with his Grandma (his parents died when he was a baby) in a nest behind the washing machine of number 3 Peewit Mansions. They live a cautious and timid life. - Grandma constantly drumming into him the importance of being careful and never being seen.

Stix tries his best to obey his Grandma's wishes, but he's young and full of energy, so hard as he tries, he can't quite follow them to the letter. And it's this boundary pushing that eventually gets them both into trouble.

Q: How did you decide who his other 'pest' friends would be, do you have a favourite?

A: I spent quite a bit of time looking at websites like Rentokil. I went through all the creatures they deemed pestilent and chose the ones I thought would make the best characters. For a while there were some clothes moth, but I had to take them out after a particularly nice jumper I had got eaten - I was too angry with them to give them a place in the book.

I have a real soft spot for Dug the mole, he's shy yet super-eager. When I draw him, I always wish I he would come to life so I could give him a hug. I really enjoy writing the dialogue for Batz, Stix wise cracking best friend. And of course, Maximus the rat, the class bully and his sidekicks the Plague (the two fleas that live in his fur). I always find writing for the bad guys lots of fun. I'm not sure I can say I really have a favourite.

Q: Was it hard to make bats, flies and carpet beetles appealing, both in the text and the illustrations?

A: To begin with I did worry about this. But I worked really hard on their personalities, giving each vulnerabilities and strengths just the same as we humans. I figured the trick was to make the reader see them as no different from themselves.

And I worked hard with the pictures too. Bats, mice, pigeons, moles and rats can be easily made to look more appealing. But flies, fleas, cockroaches and carpet beetles are a little more problematic. So, I made them more cartoony, a little less like their real selves.

Q: How much fun did you have with the bad guys - a rat and a cockroach?

A: I'm so pleased you have asked that. I love, love writing the bad guys. I've heard actors say how it's much more fun playing the villain. And it's true. Being bad is so enjoyable.

I put a lot of thought into my bad guys, who they are, what their back story is - all baddies need a reason to be bad, it's what makes them so interesting. And I relish writing their dialogue. I get to say all the terrible, hurtful, despotic things I would never dream of saying (or thinking for that matter) in my life.

Maximus is the class bully, so he gets all the bone-headed nasty put downs (don't worry, he does get his comeuppance). Whereas Professor Armageddon the cockroach (I had such fun naming him) is cunning and clever, so the way he talks his more devious.

Q: What are you like with bugs and mice in real life...? Have you ever had bug or rodent pets??

A: When I was eleven, I had two pet mice - they turned out to be a boy and a girl and bred like wildfire. So, for a while I had A LOT of mice. As a child I also went through a phase of keeping pet snails (I took them to the beach one hot, sunny day and it didn't end well) and stick insects.

I grew up on a farm, so I'm not particularly squeamish. I try to adopt a 'live and let live' attitude. I am forever telling my kids that spiders are their friends, and not to squash ants. But in reality, like anyone, if I had an infestation of something, I'm afraid I'd take drastic action.

Q: Where is your favourite place and time to write?

A: I am afraid my writing practice is neither very exciting nor inspiring. I write at home, either in my kitchen or in my studio. I start once I the kids are safely installed in school and nursery and I stop when they come home. Sometimes I work in the evening, but only when I have a pressing deadline, or something nagging that I HAVE to fix.

Q: How did you create the drawings for PESTS?

A: I start by doing sketches. Once I have got those to a point I am happy with I then use a lightbox to trace them onto a clean piece of paper and, using a black pencil crayon, turn them into finished illustrations. I've created a video that takes you through the whole process you can find it on my You Tube Channel The World of Emer Stamp.

Q: What are you most likely to be found doing when you're not at your desk?

Drinking tea - one cup of English Breakfast to start the day. A cup of Jasmine (with a bit of cake ideally) at 3pm.

Wiping my daughters bottom (she still hasn't quite got potty training sussed).

Listening to my 6 year-old describe to me at length how Darth Vader swings his light saber.

Playing my banjo.

Looking at my fish - they are very pretty.

Boxing - I go once a week, again there is video proof on my YouTube channel.


Doing online yoga sessions - best to grunt and bend privately away from the view of others.

Dancing around my kitchen - I'm mad about music.

Reading - I'm a bit of a bookworm. Though I often find myself with massive author envy. I'm reading a Roddy Doyle book at the moment and I am like, 'I will never be this good!'

Thank you EMER STAMP for joining us on ReadingZone!

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