Inventing Mad Grandad

Thursday 14th March 2013 by Support

Mad Grandad was an accident. I was just looking for some illustration work. I went to O'Brien Press last year and showed them the kinds of artwork I could do, and they said one of the styles I worked in was just right for their Flyer series. They didn't have any new stories for the Flyers just then, but they were looking for writers who could come up with books for the series. I wanted the work, so I figured if they didn't have a book for me to illustrate, I'd make one.

And so Mad Grandad was born. I came up with two ideas; the first was when I imagined finding an ad in the newspaper for a second-hand flying saucer. That meant I could invent aliens and spaceships - so that was exactly what I did. The other idea, 'Robot Garden 'started off as a title, and then it was easy to come up the story, once I had this image of rampaging robot flowers in my head.

When I was young, I read stuff by authors like Roald Dahl, and I hoped to come up with the same kind of weird and zany books. As an illustrator, I wanted to come up with stories that would be fun to draw as well as write, and I knew young readers would spend nearly as much time looking at the pictures as they did reading the words, so I wanted to give them images that would tickle them. The stories gave me plenty of room to make up lots of odd creatures and machines, and I wanted to draw them in a style that would be quite detailed, because it would let me stick in lots of interesting things in the backgrounds. I also wanted the drawings to be rough and scratchy, because I think it makes things look a little madder.

To fit the storylines, I wanted a character who wouldn't be too bothered by all the weirdness that happens to him, and he obviously had to be interesting too… so I came up with a nutty old man. Old people normally seem a bit strange to children; the difference in age between grandparents and their grandchildren is so great, some old folk must seem to kids as if they're from another world. Mad Grandad's not based on any one person, but there a lot of old lads who have given me ideas. His thick glasses, big ears and huge, bristly nose, and the way his trousers are up around his chest, are all things I’ve seen in the old men I've known. Like every grandad, he has plenty of stories to tell, and because he's old, it takes a lot to surprise him. Despite being a bit mad, he's no fool, is Grandad.

The other character, Lenny, is his six-year-old grandson, who thinks his grandad is far more interesting than any normal adult. Lenny is the one who tells the story, because he is the more sensible one, in fact sometimes it's like he is the grown-up and Grandad is the child. Like any boy, Lenny likes playing football and computer games, or breaking his toys by driving them off cliffs or crashing them into each other. But for him, there's nothing like going over to Grandad's house to play. Because with Mad Grandad around, you just never know what’s going to happen.

Oisín McGann