Paul Coomey works as a publishing art director by day, and by night creates his own children's books.

His debut Stick Boy (Little Tiger Press £7.99) came out this month just as he tested positive for Covid. Although it wasn't the launch he had hoped for, the Hornsey author is delighted his illustrated book - aimed at 8-12-year-olds - has finally reached young readers.

"I worked hard on it for two years. As a book designer and art director, I've been exposed to really good stuff and worked with some really good people," he says, citing Phil Earle, Jamie Littler, and Onjali Rauf among the authors he admires.

Humorous yet with a serious undercurrent, it's the story of Stick, "a boy who's a bit different and trying to work out who he wants to be."

Stick struggles to fit in when he moves to a new town and both bullying and escaping technology feature in a "crazy plot" which takes in a new Mega Mall, a popstar, and the suspicious Home Bots that infiltrate Little Town.

Ham & High: Book jacket for Stick Boy by Paul CoomeyBook jacket for Stick Boy by Paul Coomey (Image: Little Tiger Press/Paul Coomey)

Stick sprang from Coomey wondering "what the world is like for children who can't hide their feelings."

"It's non-toxic masculinity, Stick almost can't tell a lie and has to be true to his emotions. His struggle to hide them is what drives him on until he realises it's ok. He came out of my head when I was working at Little Tiger. We were developing story ideas to give to writers as an audition to create samples. The core of everything I was coming up with was the idea of what it means to stay true to yourself, how you express feelings, and what it's like for someone who wasn't able to hide them."

Stick's emotions have a physical manifestation. "When he is upset he goes wobbly around the edges and when he falls apart he actually falls apart."

"It's how others react to him. Some will treat him badly because of being different, some will take it in their stride. He's trying to figure things out, hiding his feelings from his mum and dad until he can't get away with it any longer. Once he makes a gang of friends he starts to develop. He learns from them in a way we all learn from our friends, but he's not perfect, along the way he makes some poor decisions."

The outcome of Stick's adventure is realising: "It's ok to be yourself, you don't have to change to suit others. People will love him for who he is."

As with Tom Gates and Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Coomey's illustrations "are a good invitation to let readers in" without facing acres of text. And the setting is grounded and recognisable - Stick's dad drives a van and his mum works in a supermarket.

"There's a lot of fantasy escapism in children's books but as a kid I found it so far removed from where I was growing up in West Cork, it didn't connect with me. I wanted to write about an ordinary place with ordinary people. There is a crazy plot but no time travel or casting spells.

"It's finding those little lovely moments in life that are fun or funny so kids think 'that could be me and my friends."