Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Mo O'Hara, author of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH

Behold!  The cover!
I am thrilled to introduce to the Inkpot Mo O'Hara, who is the author of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH, which is a hilarious comedy fantasy for readers aged 7+ and has been described as a cross between SHAUN OF THE DEAD and FINDING NEMO but for kids.  MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH was released in the United Kingdom on 28th February 2013 and will get its US release on 9th July.  A sequel cunningly entitled MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH - THE SEA-QUEL is released in the United Kingdom in July 2013.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH tells the story of Tom, a young boy who discovers that his evil older brother Mark has brought home a goldfish to conduct horrible experiments on.  When he dunks the goldfish (called Frankie) into a toxic brew of his own making, Frankie dies.  Mark uses a battery to zap Frankie back into life but now Frankie has magical hypnotic powers and he wants to get his revenge on Mark ...

In this interview, my questions are in bold and Mo's answers are in italics.

Hi, Mo, and welcome to the Inkpot!

You pretty much had me with the title of your book.  Where did the idea for a zombie goldfish come from?  Are you a fan of zombies generally and what do you hope that Frankie the zombie goldfish brings to zombie mythology?

It's weird.  When I was first writing the book the working title was 'FRANKENFISH'.  Then after the first few chapters I fell for the title MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH and I think it really suits the book.  You know what you're getting with a book titled MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH.  It's not heavy, it's not erudite but hopefully it's flipping funny (sorry - fish puns just roll out unexpectedly).

I am a fan of all things fantasy and sci fi really.  I'm not necessarily a horror fan so the really gruesome zombie films aren't my thing.  I do love 'B' movies though and old horror films, so old zombie flicks were definitely more ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

I love the fact that Frankie has hypnotic powers and can take control of people and you have a lot of fun with this in the book.  Did you have definite rules in place for what Frankie's powers were and how far they went and are you going to explore this more in the coming books?

Yeah, so in my mind there are two types of zombie: 

  1. the body-parts-falling off, brain-eating, virus-passing zombie; and 
  2. the hypno powers, rise from the dead, trance-like zombie. 
I'm more into the second kind (although the brain-eating kind (although the brain-eating kind have their great moments too).  I always thought the Haitian voodoo kind were much more interesting.  In the book I did have definite rules as to how Frankie could zombify people and what he could make them do.  Obviously when you have a 4-inch goldfish it's kinda important to have some way of getting other people to do your evil (or not-so-evil) bidding.  I like the idea that he hypnotises a toddler to take him around and fight for him too.  Sami (Ed - the aforementioned hypnotised toddler) and Frankie as a dynamic duo just cracked me up from the start.  In the second book we discover that maybe other animals can have this hypno power too.

Mwhaa haa haa haa!


Central to the book is the friendship that Tom has with Pradeep and how this extends to include Frankie.  Where do you start when you're constructing those friendships and how much of it starts off on the page and how much is achieved in editing?

I think friendship and sibling relationships are completely central to this book.  At aged 7, 8 and 9, kids are forming really important friendships and those friendships are tested constantly.  From the beginning I wanted Tom and Pradeep's friendship to be strong.  They both had really clear voices in my head and all the quirky plans and secret codes that they have seemed like a good way to show how close they are.  

I think the editing made the relationships stronger.  It made the whole book stronger really.  Sam Swinnerton and Emma Young, who edited book one, both have wicked senses of humour. So that meant that we were all going for the funny all the time, but they never let me slide over the edge into cartoon.  Tom and Pradeep always had to be real kids in my head and on the page.  And I think they are still.  I'm not working with Rachel Kellehar on book two and she is fantastic at bringing the friendship to the forefront of the story.  And it's even more important in book two as Tom and Pradeep's friendship is really, really tested to the limit.

Tom and Pradeep both have evil older brothers.  Very evil.  Did real life influence this at all and why do you think that sibling rivalry plays such a big part in fiction for children?
Mo O'Hara

Again, I would like to say for the record that my big brother is not now, nor has ever been evil.  Now my brother and I can sit and talk about Dr Who for hours on end and we did the same as kids but we also fought.  I think that's pretty normal for siblings.  My kids can be the same.  I remember my daughter described how she felt about her brother when she was about 6-years-old as "loving him I guess but in a not-liking-him kind of way".  Again they can play for hours and then fight like banshees.

A friend of mine asked me if I was dealing with some major sibling rivalry issues myself in writing this book.  All I can say is that anyone who has a big brother or sister knows that evil is in the eye of the beholder.  I think that sibling relationships are big in fiction in general, not just kids fiction.  It goes right back to Cain and Abel.  They are some of the most influential relationships that we'll ever form and the roles we play in our families affect who we form relationships with as adults and how we function in those relationships.  It's a big area to explore.  For kids too it's an area that they don't have control over as well.  You can't just not see your siblings.  You are with them all the time so it makes for interesting conflict and drama.

What was it that drew you towards writing for younger children (i.e. those aged 7+)?

The voice in my head for Tom was a 9/10 year old boy so that meant the book was going to be for the 7 - 10 age group.  I don't know whether I'll stay writing for this group or expand into writing younger or older fiction.  I have some ideas for middle grade books and for picture books too.  I do know that I really like talking to kids in that age group.  Doing school visits for them is a blast.  I love it!  They are independent and articulate about what they think and what they want but they aren't jaded or cynical yet.  You get all the creativity bursting out without all the self-censorship that follows so quickly when they group up just a bit.  Don't get me wrong - I've met some fab cynical snarky 12-year-olds and some super sweet crazy 5-year-olds but maybe mentally, I'm stuck at age 9 myself.

Ah, yet another question for my therapist ...

Illustration by Marek Jagucki
The illustrations by Marek Jagucki are absolutely awesome.  Did you have any input into them and do you have a favourite?

I love Marek's illustrations as well.  And the kids REALLY love them!  When I go to schools they all show me their favourite ones.  My personal favourites are the zombie dinner ladies in story two of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH and the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE-style bathroom escape plan in story one of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH.  It's the pigeon on the ledge that sets me off.  He's a genius.  In fact, I'm going to write a spin-off for that pigeon sometime.  

As far as how much input I had it varies.  Some of the illustrations that are jokes are based on illustration notes that I had in the text (about one or two per chapter I guess).  But then Marek also illustrated other bits of the story.  The editor gave him notes on which bits of the story she wanted to have illustrated and then he just put his own extremely funny sense of humour into overdrive and came up with some hysterical stuff.

I happen to know that you're a comedy performer and actress in real life.  Does that make it easier for you to write humour for kids and do you have any tips for writing humour that you'd be willing to share?

I don't know if my performing makes it easier to write but it probably means I'm a harsher critic of my own work.  I always read my stuff aloud (even at the first draft stages) to see if it sounds funny and sounds authentic.  I think the biggest tip about writing comedy is that it has to really, really, really crack you up if it stands a chance of making anyone else laugh.  Most of the comedy in MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH comes from Tom's take on things and his voice.  You also have to pick and choose when to be funny.  Sometimes, you have to sacrifice a small joke because it ruins the run-up to a bigger payoff.  I always have to stop myself throwing a joke in the middle of an action scene too.  (Well, sometimes I let myself do it if it's a really good one).

I think writing humour for grown-ups and for kids is only different in the following ways:

  1. Kids want really funny not moderately witty or whimsically amusing.  They want to laugh.
  2. You can use curse words when you write for grown-ups but you can make up words when you write for kids, which is usually way more fun.
  3. For better or for worse a kid's response is more honest and immediate than a grown-up's.  They aren't laughing because they feel they ought to.  If they don't like it, they'll let you know.  If they like it, the sound of a kid cracking up controllably is probably the best sound in the universe.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH: THE SEA-QUEL is due out in July.  Can you give us a taster of what to expect?

Well it's a Sea-wuel because Frankie gets his first taste of the big blue sea when the families take a trip to a lighthouse.  If the series is FINDING NEMO meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD, then this story definitely has a dash of SCOOBY DOO thrown in too.  In the second story, Frankie steals the show in the school play.  This except is taken from Chapter One of story one:

"Pradeep, Sami and I all craned our necks to look.  The lighthouse was tall and white like a swirly whipped vanilla ice cream cone sticking up out of the sea.  That is, if swirly whipped ice cream cones had giant lights at the top of them.  It jutted out into the bay so the water lapped against it on three sides.
Mark sat slumped in the back of the car behind us, flicking through Evil Scientist magazine.  This month's cover feature was called, 'How to Take Over the World in Ten Easy Steps'.  He had his earphones in and didn't even look up when Dad spoke.
 'It's awesome, Mark.  An actual lighthouse,' I said to him.
Mark shot me an evil glare.  'There is nothing awesome about this moron-fest holiday.' He pulled his hood up over his head.  'You losers have made this the lamest trip ever.' 
The cool box that was under Sami's feet started shaking.  I lifted the lid to investigate.  The eyes of Frankie, my zombie goldfish, glowed green as he batted cans of coke against the side of the cool box with his fins.  He must have heard Mark's voice and gone all zombie mega-thrash fish." 

Awesome!  Thank you so much for sharing and thank you also for stopping by the Inkpot!

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH is available in the United States from AmazonBarnes & Noble and all good independent bookstores.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH is available in the United Kingdom from Amazon UKWaterstones and all good independent bookstores.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH - THE SEA-QUEL is available for pre-order fromAmazon UK and Waterstones.


  1. ooohhhh these books look great! I love the artwork!!!


    1. They're absolutely awesome. I laughed so loud while reading the first one on the train that my fellow commuters all gave me a wide berth. Which was a bonus.

  2. The books sound hilarious, and I 100% agree about the importance of sibling relationships, and not just for children (though particularly for children, of course).

  3. The mental picture of the toddler and the zombie goldfish will follow me all day. Hysterical! Thanks for a great interview.


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