Interview with ‘Sherlock Sam’ Authors! January 04 2013

Happy New Year, dear readers! Here at Epigram Books, we’re looking forward to another year of putting out well-designed and thought-provoking titles. Today, we’re excited to present an interview with A.J. Low, the husband-and-wife writing team behind our latest children’s series, Sherlock Sam. The series follows “Singapore’s greatest kid detective” and his trusty robot sidekick Watson, and is illustrated by drewscape.

1. What are the ingredients that go into the making of a great children’s book? Are these aspects what you used or thought about in concocting the story of Sherlock Sam?

The same as any other kind of story: relatable characters and a good plot. Everything else is an added bonus (things like genre, humor, etc.) that can make a story better, but without that foundation of character and plot, readers, especially children, will be able to tell and will never pick up a book by you again.

For Sherlock Sam, we first focused on all the characters and tried to make them as great as possible. Sherlock, his sister Wendy, his parents, his robot, and his friend Jimmy make up the core of the first book, and we think readers of all ages will love them, and recognize them as people they might know (even possibly the robot). We think our plot is pretty good too, if we do say so ourselves, and was made better by invaluable input from various folk who read our initial drafts, especially our editor Ruth Wan. If you read our very first draft now, you’d think it was a completely different, and not as good, book as what we ended up with.

2. What kind of preparation and research went into the story and the series?

We researched Peranakan food a lot. Like, we ate it every day. That was fun research.

3. What are the characteristics of a good children’s writer in your opinion?

Again, the same as any other kind of writer: being able to write a good story that people will enjoy. I think it’s important to not talk down to children, but also understand that there are things they won’t be able to understand yet. It’s a fine line between “dumbing down” a story, and writing age-appropriate material, but I think we were able to hit that sweet spot in the middle with Sherlock Sam.

4. Describe your creative collaboration process as a writing duo.

We tend to plot out the book together, agree on all the major story beats and then get them down on paper, then we split up the actual writing: I’ll write a chapter, then she’ll write a chapter, etc. After that’s done, we go through it together and make sure everything makes sense and is cohesive. Chances are good that if something doesn’t make sense to your writing partner, it’s not going to make sense to anybody else either, so something needs to be changed.

5. Why would children enjoy this book and the series?

We set out to write a book that we ourselves would enjoy, at any age. Since we’re mostly still kids ourselves (you should see our LEGO collection!), and we enjoyed writing and reading the heck out of this book, we cannot imagine anybody else not enjoying reading this.

6. Why should parents buy this book for their children?

Because it’s good. It’s the only reason to ever buy any form of media.

7. What makes this book and the character of Sherlock Sam different from those of other investigative series?

We based a lot of Sherlock Sam’s mannerisms on his namesake, so he’s extremely intelligent, he has a food vice, and he wants to solve mysteries for their own sake. However, unlike Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Sam is quite a nice person, so while he wants to solve mysteries because, in his mind, they all need to be solved, he also does it because he wants to help people. And he readily asks for and accepts help when he needs it. He’s not in it for the fame or money or prestige; he simply wants to help people and get to the bottom of things.

8. What were some of the key inspirations of the book and its characters?

Nancy Drew, the Famous Five, Scooby-Doo, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. We’ve been watching a lot of detective shows as well, like Castle and Elementary, to help with our plotting. When and how to reveal clues is a very important element of all mystery fiction that we constantly have to keep up on.

9. What advice would you give to parents in bringing up their children as avid readers (having grown up to become avid readers and writers yourselves)?

Let them read. Let them run wild at a bookstore, or give them a library card, and let them read. If they ask to be read to, read to them (in fact, chase them around the house reading aloud to them). If they pick up something you think might be too advanced for them, don’t tell them to put it back. Instead, help them with it. Read it with them and explain words or concepts that they don’t yet know or understand.

Let them read.

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Look out for the first book in the series, Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong, out later this month! In the meanwhile, explore the Sherlock Sam website and follow the Facebook page for exclusive content and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.

See more of series illustrator drewscape’s work on his website and check out his collection of short comic stories, Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise, published by Epigram Books last year.