Bookniks festival comes to JW3 with Andy Stanton, David Solomons and Claire Freedman

Andy Stanton's Mr Gum

Andy Stanton's Mr Gum - Credit: Archant

Roald Dahl funny prize winner Andy Stanton appears at a mini book festival at JW3. He talks to BRIDGET GALTON

The authors of My Brother is a Superhero, Aliens Love Underpants and the Mr Gum series line up for a mini children’s book festival on Sunday.

Bookniks is a fun-filled afternoon of stories, crafts, Q&As and puppetry at JW3 in Finchley Road as part of Jewish Book Week.

David Solomons introduces his highly anticipated new book: My Gym Teacher is An Alien Overlord, Claire Freedman reads from her rhyming tale Aliens Love Underpants before leading a workshop in making pants-flags.

And Holloway author Andy Stanton, who celebrates the 10th anniversary since publishing bestseller You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum brings his surreal, anarchic humour to proceedings.

Stanton won the inaugural Roald Dahl Funny Prize for children’s literature, and his imaginary town of Lamonic Bibber populated by heroes like Friday O’Leary and revolting evil baddie Mr Gum owe a debt to the late great author.

Stanton agrees: “There’s a nod to Dahl, and Enid Blyton in an outdated England that never even was, only a bit more surreal and there’s a cross between The Young Ones and The Simpsons as well as private references to Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa and Prince.”

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Although he jokes about the “massive pressures of success,” Stanton is temporarily resting Mr Gum to write picturebooks.

“I have a constant desire to melt children’s minds and at the moment I’m having fun seeing if I can melt minds of three or four,” he says.

“I have come to a bit of a stop with Mr Gum. It’s a very extreme voice and I’ve written a few that haven’t come out right. I would rather give the world nothing than bad work. I am one of those people who has really high standards for myself.

“The positive is that when I can decode the riddle it comes out really good and it’s something to be proud of. The bad side is it can spill into perfectionism and the fear to do anything. I wish I could be a little easier on myself.”

The finished books are the result of “endless refining, trying to get blood from a stone that’s then disguised as something that looks effortless. If it does I have done my job.”

The 43-year-old has committed himself to “a lifetime of accidental study trying to find out what makes something funny”.

“You can have a funny idea, say it in 100 ways that kill it and one way that nails it. You have to be really hard on yourself to get it right and get it honest.”

Stanton is looking forward to meeting his fans on Sunday.

“I love having a back and forth between myself and an audience of adults and kids, playing with the different register of talking to both. But the best bit is the one to ones where I get to give every kid a moment. You can have a really big effect with a little exchange.”

Children often make him laugh or even give him ideas for new characters.

“They are so honest. They have no filter. One boy said I was his favourite author, then he thought for a moment and said ‘actually my third favourite’.

“Another time I was asked what fast food Mr Gum likes to eat so I came up with Greasy Ian who owns a kebab shop in Lamonic Bibber.”

After his latest Danny McGee Swallows The Sea in which he set himself the “little game” of making everythign rhyme with sea, there are two more picturebooks in the pipeline as well as some books “set in the Mr Gum universe”.

Having dropped out of his English degree at Oxford and done various jobs including “NHS lackey” he says there was no lightbulb moment when he decided to be a writer: “The lightbulb was there for as long as I can remember,” he says.

“I was too lazy to screw it in.”

Booknik sessions cost £4 per adult or child. Free crafts and stories in the Lobby and soft play area for very young children.