NNFN: It’s always been non-fiction – a guest post by Martin Brown

Today’s guest post comes from Martin Brown, the cartoonist illustrator of the hugely successful Horrible Histories series.

Martin originally trained to be an art teacher back in Australia, where he grew up, but his life course changed and he ended up in London working on magazines and greetings cards before finding work illustrating children’s books where his humorous drawing style has earned him many loyal fans. Today Martin talks about his longstanding enthusiasm for non-fiction, and his newest book – the first he has written as well as illustrated – Lesser Spotted Animals:

lesser-spotted-animals-jacket-lowres

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“I’ve been a fan of Non-Fiction November ever since it started out as just Non-Fiction Day back in 2010. The plan was to have a day to celebrate all that is important and wonderful in children’s non-fiction. But how can you do that in twenty-four hours? You’d barely scratch the surface. No surprise the day became the month.

Since long before the Horrible Histories came along non-fiction has been a huge part of my reading and illustrating life. When I was small, growing up in Australia, it was the How and Why Wonder Books and encyclopaedia entries I read more often than the books with made-up stories. And like every single boy on the planet I drew dinosaurs and moon rockets and exploding tanks. When I started cartooning here in the UK, as well as the gags for birthday cards, I drew editorial cartoons for magazines about real people and real places.

Martin Brown at his desk.

Martin Brown at his desk.

My first books with Scholastic were the Coping With series by Peter Corey – Coping With Parents, Coping With Teachers and the like. And, although they were wild and jokey, we always started the subject with a look back at its history – its real history. We made it funny – but the fun of the thing was in the fact of the thing. No wonder then, that when Terry Deary came along with his brilliant Terrible Tudors and Awesome Egyptians, he found a willing publisher and partner.

Of course not all non-fiction can be turned into humour. The Horrible Histories have always had their serious side. Some cruelty you can’t make light of and some sadness needs to stay sad. But, tragic or comic, history is fascinating. It is full of the most extraordinary stories. Whether it’s Julius Caesar’s dramatic rise and fall or the remarkable Christmas truce in no-mans-land in 1914 – you couldn’t make it up.

And of course it’s not just history. The first book I’ve illustrated and written is about animals. Not the ones you’re probably familiar with, whose stories have been told many times over, Lesser Spotted Animals is about some of the other creatures out there – the ones we never see in books even though they are just as beautiful, strange or important as their more exposed, celebrity cousins. The serious side to this is that it’s harder to sympathise and protect something you’ve never heard of. The fun part is that these animals have great tales to tell. The onager is fast, the gaur, huge – the southern right whale dolphin is stunning and the zorilla is stinky. And some animals merely have marvellous names, like the pectinator or the dagger toothed flower bat.

Credit: Martin Brown

Credit: Martin Brown

Credit: Martin Brown

Credit: Martin Brown

Take the crabeater seal for example. There are something like 200,000 brown bears in the world, 600,000 bottle nosed dolphins and 700,000 common zebras. These are abundant animals. But sitting on the Antarctic ice and swimming in the freezing southern seas there are somewhere between ten and fifteen million crabeater seals. They are, without doubt, the most numerous large wild mammal in the world. And chances are you’ve never heard of them.

So what’s not to like about non-fiction and Non-Fiction-November.

This stuff is real!”

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Our thanks go to Martin Brown for his thoughts today. Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown out now in hardback (£12.99, David Fickling Books)

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