Julian Gough is better known – where he is known at all – as a writer of sharply satirical, often odd, short stories and novels for adults.
Gough, who spent much of his childhood in Nenagh and turns 50 this year, was once lead singer for a band called Toasted Heretic, has based himself in suitably distant Berlin while labelling Irish literary fiction of the recent past as “knackered, backward-looking, male-dominated”, written the ending of computer game Minecraft, courted crowdfunders to raise the cash for a recent writing project (offering, amongst other things, lipstick and whiskey-stained postcards in return) and memorably rubbed World’s Most Valuable Brand™ Apple up the wrong way with his satirical BBC National Short Story shortlisted techno-story “The iHole” (which, it seems, has been consigned to a literary black hole forever).
But his newest book charts new territory: it’s a picture-book for children.
Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Hachette Children’s) is a collaboration with illustrator Jim Field and, gladly, it seems it’s the first in a series. A series which could, the ultra-competitive nature of children’s publishing notwithstanding, become lucrative for author, illustrator and publisher alike.
By some measures children’s publishing accounts for approximately 30 per cent of the UK market and while it may be less than that in the US, there’s no doubt it’s a hugely important sector of the global publishing market. It’s effectively, if not exclusively, immune to the race-to-the-bottom world of digital, where an occasional few grab big headlines but the vast majority are left floundering in a sea of 99c Kindle deals in a desperate attempt to gain a foothold.
Far away from that morass, Gough and Field have produced an early contender for children’s book of the year with Rabbit’s Bad Habits.
The cover quote by Neil Gaiman – never a bad thing – says it’s “laugh out loud funny”, and that was exactly the reaction it got from our two (aged 6 and 4). I respectfully suggest, without meaning offence to any other form of enjoyment, that howling laughter at a book is the best kind of laughter there is. When it’s pre- and early-schoolers, so much the better.
The book starts in midwinter and there follows an unlikely alliance between gullible old Bear and opportunistic little Rabbit. It’s not too much to suggest that saying a whole lot more would amount to spoilers – the central jokes, suitably appealing to all kids with a wicked sense of humour, are just too good to ruin for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
I’m already looking forward to seeing what Rabbit and Bear get up to next time out.
The main reason for the blog silence over the past six months has been the fact that we (my wife Lorraine and I) have successfully managed to get Ireland’s newest independent bookshop, Blackbird Books, off the ground. If you’d like to hear more children’s book stuff (and lots of other book stuff) you can sign up for the Blackbird Books newsletter here. Rabbit’s Bad Habits will soon be named Blackbird Books Children’s Book of the Month. Because we love it.
Note: The shortlists for the Lollies, the prize for UK’s funniest children’s books, were announced this week. Rabbit’s Bad Habits was not included. I suspect, perhaps, that it was ineligible as it has been published this year – Field was nominated for his previous book, The Parent Agency, a collaboration with comedian David Baddiel. The shortlists are not without an Irish presence, though. Echoing the illustrator-and-comic turn of Field and Baddiel are Irish tandem Chris Judge and David O’Doherty, nominated for their excellent Danger Is Still Everywhere. Voting is open until June and you can cast your Lollies ballot now over here.