Can you see him? Look! He's sitting on that chest right there.
This photo makes me smile. It was taken about two years ago and I was asked to take it, by Ava. Her kitten, called 'Cat', was sitting in the window and obviously she wanted to capture the moment.
Tamsin Kelly, the editor of Parentdish (a parenting website I write for as part of my day job) will attest to this. They were running a little competition at the time for people to send in images of their pets. Tamsin (who I'm pleased to say lilts towards the happy side of bonkers) said I should enter the picture, but it was vetoed in the end, on the grounds that Cat's cuteness could not really be judged what with him being invisible to everyone bar Ava. Boo hiss.
Anyway, as a general rule, what you're looking at is my view when I sit down on my sofa with my laptop to write. Yes, I know I should probably be at a desk, but being on a sofa means you can lie down instantly if you come to a point where rhyme is threatening brain implosion.
When I am in McFluff zone, I often gaze at the chest and, you know, 'look' at him (assuming he's there, who bloody knows where he is, frankly). When we took this picture, Cat – in my own imagination – was a real kitten. He was tiny, fluffy, grey and white – just as Ava described him to me.
Now when I look at that chest for inspiration, I see not Cat, but Squishy McFluff, a kitten who has been drawn. He's as sweet looking as ever, but he's a cartoonish cat – and he has some human qualities, too. He's capable of looking surprised, happy, sad and (naturally) mischievous.
Well, hopefully really soon, I'm going to see what Squishy McFluff might actually look like because the people at Faber have turned their attention to finding the right illustrator. The Squishy McFluffs won't be picture books, but they will be (a new phrase on me, as introduced by Agent Julia) highly illustrated, a bridge between picture books and early readers.
A great deal will still depend on the pictures, which is something I've always known (hence my illustration notes to heighten some of the gags!). But as an author, rather than an author illustrator, the big decision when it comes to the illustrations lies with the publisher. As a debut author, you don't get to say: "Thanks for buying my books – I want Quentin Blake / my mate Dave to illustrate them".
It makes sense, the publisher has to market the product, the team at Faber are the experts. That said, I know that they would want me to be happy with the final decision – and we talked some time back, when I met the whole team, about the feel and the look. Squishy McFluff is, of course, brand new, but even I think it has a sort of familiar and classic feel to it. So the pictures that swim in my mind have always been fresh, but also maybe a little retro. They're sweet but not sickly cute. They probably embody Ava and McFluff's personalities: clever, but oh so cheeky.
It's a hard thing to verbalise though, which is why I'm so pleased with what Faber showed me – it really does fit with the burgeoning visions in my head. It's a big deal – it's hard to say how big a deal it is. It's a bit like asking someone to do a portrait of your baby, and you hope it'll look all cherubic like a Da Vinci, but you aren't sure whether it'll actually end up being all Picasso – you know, with a massive eye or something.
In a way, someone will be drawing my actual baby (Ava!) but I don't mean it like that. I mean the stories have become my 'baby', something I've done alone and have been very close to for a long time – I know them and the characters inside out. Now someone else, who's completely new to it, will be interpreting all that in their own way.
It's SO exciting. The next stage is that Faber will commission some character sketches, which will be drawn from seeing the completed text and a brief. I'm not quite sure yet when I will see those, but I know who's going to be doing them, and I'm full of anticipation! I'll write more about that when I can.
In the meantime, you can read a mini excerpt of Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat (to learn a little about what he looks like) over on The Greenhouse blog. The Greenhouse Funny Prize has re-opened for 2013 and so I chatted to the guys there about what's happened to me in the last six months, hopefully to get even more people fired up to write funny and enter the competition this year.
Do enter. Do it! It could make your dream a reality. You've got loads of time. The deadline isn't until the end of July.
[Think Abba tune]: "Funny, funny, funny… Must be funny…"
Sorry, that's going to be in your head all day now isn't it?