Black Books and Bunny Suicides writer pens new children’s book

Andy Riley

Andy Riley - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to Andy Riley, a comedy writer and cartoonist who has penned his first children’s book

He’s co-scripted sit-coms, award-winning dramas and animated films, but Andy Riley’s latest project is the story of a nine-year-old king called Flashypants.

The Crouch End writer who is behind the Bunny Suicide cartoons, has also illustrated the comic story of a chocolate-loving king who rules over a kingdom of happy peasants but falls foul of an Evil Emperor. (Hachette £6.99)

“This is my first children’s book,” says the father-of-two who is married to fellow children’s author Polly Faber.

“There’s an age that all of us get stuck at. I have always been eight years old. I couldn’t write YA fiction because I never was a teenager, I was eight trapped in the body of a teenager.

“It’s very easy for me to remember what it felt like to be eight.”

Riley’s CV reads like a who’s who of British comedy; award-winning episodes of Black Books and Veep, TV adaptations of David Walliam’s books, and the animated movie Gnomeo and Juliet starring Emily Blunt and James McAvoy - all co-written with childhoood friend Kevin Cecil.

Most Read

But this is a solo venture.

“There was a stage when Polly was working as a children’s book blogger and Kevin and I were adapting a David Walliams’ book. There were loads of children’s books around the house, I was surrounded by them morning noon and night and thought ‘I can have a go at this I can combine my skills, draw the pictures and give it a try.’”

Visually inspired by the children’s comics of his childhood; Whizzer and Chips and Beano, King Flashypants is perfect for encouraging reluctant readers.

“Those comics used to sell by the gazillion but kids who have difficulty getting into reading don’t have that now.

“I’m trying to plug that gap with words and pictures in a big fun pot.

“They can put my Bunny Suicides books in front of people who have never read a book and they can get the jokes. It’s great.”

But Riley likes adding gags that adults will smile at. “The Emperor is a terrible politician by which I mean he is good at it, but a bad man.

“You can build different levels into the book particularly if your main character is a head of state and has to make policy decisions.”

When co-writing with Cecil, Riley takes the W7 from Cranley Gardens to an office in Highbury Barn.

“With comedy, the failure rate is really high, all you can ever do is try to be funny,” he says.

“It’s very common not to write on your own. Lots of people do it in pairs and everyone has their own system – some plot together then go away and write the scripts separately, some take an episode each then swap over.

“Writing by yourself it’s easy to remember what’s tragic but very difficult to remember what’s funny.

“You go a little bit mad and it’s better to bounce off someone else. I am pacing around and Kev types.

“We go backwards and forwards, taking it in turns to be bad cop. You learn not to tread on ideas too quickly. Don’t say no to an idea just let it die.”

After Oxford University Riley started out as a cartoonist as well as writing jokes at £12 a pop for Radio 4’s Weekending.

He has since built a dual career as writer and cartoonist and says working with Walliams to adapt Gangsta Granny and The Boy in the Dress for TV was “good fun”.

“Sometimes having the writer in the room can be tricky. When you’re adapting stuff you always have to remove characters or scenes, but David is completely unprotective about his material.

“In fact he wanted to change more things that we did.”

He likes both devising his own projects - like rambling sit-com The Great Outdoors - and coming into an existing set-up like Black Books or Armando Iannucci’s Veep.

“There’s something fun about coming onto a successful going concern, like a substitute in the second half who sprints onto the field to show the manager they are keen.

“You slot in, read the show and work out what you have to do. Building things from the bottom up is punishingly hard.

“Most sit-coms even by successful writers don’t get on air because there’s not many slots.”

Working on HBO hit Veep was the same system as when he worked on other Iannucci projects: “but with much more money”. “

HBO wisely stayed away and mostly left them alone. As a writer you’re are living in Armando’s world which is not like anything else.”

With a second King Flashypants, a Gnomeo and Juliet sequel and a film for Universal starring Seth Rogen in the pipeline, has he plans to move to Hollywood?

“There are many frustrations in America. They are always trying to find ways to not pay you.

“We are currently chasing two cheques we’ve been owed for six months from major corporations worth millions.

“I like Britain as a place to live. Crouch End is better than Los Angeles.”