Sam Copeland is an author. He is from Manchester and now lives in London with two smelly cats, three smelly children and one relatively clean-smelling wife. He works as a chicken whisperer, travelling the world using his unique gift to tame wild chickens. Charlie Changes Into a Chicken is his first book. Charlie Turns Into a T-Rex is the sequel. He has threatened to write more.
He is also a literary agent and director at Rogers, Coleridge and White.
It’s not very often that you get to conduct an interview while sitting in the reptile house of London zoo , and by that I mean sitting on a mossy rock, amid very humid conditions whilst a twenty-foot long boa constrictor sleeps under dripping ferns. It’s a unique setting for an interview but then again I am speaking to the writer of a very unique book series – Sam Copeland, author of Charlie Changes into a Chicken.
Before we begin can I just confirm that this snake, called Huggy, has in fact been fed?
I’m getting a thumbs up from the zoo keeper, who is nervously outside the glass looking at me and Sam Copeland.
Thanks for coming to this interview here today, Sam. Your first book Charlie Changes into a Chicken, outstandingly illustrated by Sarah Horne, about a nine-year-old who can’t help changing into animals, has been an enormous success, translated into 23 languages and recently longlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards. Your second Charlie Turns into a T-Rex is already a best seller on Amazon and you’ve just announced the title of your third – Charlie Morphs into a Mammoth.
You’ve had many years’ experience as an agent for both literary and commercial fiction – what made you want to write for children instead of adults?
Even though I love reading adult books, the honest truth is I couldn’t imagine anything more tedious than sitting and writing a whole book for adults. I love the fact that (in some respects) I have total freedom to let my imagination and humour run riot.
You wear a lot of hats in publishing – both as a literary agent and as a children’s author, which is your favourite hat to wear and why?
I love both hats. I’m incredibly lucky that I have two jobs that I love so much. My wife is not so lucky as she has to pick up all the other pieces!
There’s a multitude of great non-fiction animal facts in your Charlie stories (along with one or two very funny almost non-fiction facts), you are obviously interested in animals. Did you have a fondness for animal stories growing up, and if so, which writers inspired you?
Funnily enough, I don’t think I realised quite how much I liked animals until I got older! Of course, I was brought up on Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit, but I was no more influenced by those as I was C S Lewis, Tolkien and Alan Garner. Maybe the next thing I will write will have no animals in…
You constantly break the fourth wall in your writing and some might say that you are flippant in your use of footnotes . Is this a subtle attempt to engage the reader in your writing process or is there another reason?
I had a couple of reasons for breaking the fourth wall, adding footnotes etc. It’s mostly down to the narrative voice, who really has his own character. I like the fact that the narrator gets to abuse and hector the reader, get in arguments with the publisher, the illustrator etc. It allowed me an extra dimension for loads more humour. Similarly, with the addition of footnotes it allows space for more jokes, and info, without slowing the pace of the story down, especially for younger readers who might just want to focus on the plot, rather than the distractions.
The stories about Charlie are packed with hilarious incidents, I question how many bottom-based evacuations you can fit in a book (reader, you will be stitches about vast amounts of rhino poo falling from the sky and also a lift scene that is extraordinary) but there is more heart than poo in this story (and that’s saying a lot). Charlie has worries and in the most wonderful way these funny books inadvertently are mini morale boosts for anxious children. At what point did this go from being a funny book to one that is a Little Zoological Book of Calm?
It was actually a slow process. I had no intention of being serious when I started – I just wanted to write funny. But I slowly began to realise as I was writing that I was cathartically examining my own childhood problems, and I started to think about what would have helped me deal with my issues. It was then a short leap to insert these into the narrative.
In an attempt to salvage the tone of the interview, and as Huggy the boa seems to be stirring, what are your top tips for writers who want to write humour for children?
Firstly, read. Obvious, but the amount of submissions I see from children’s writers who clearly haven’t picked up a children’s book in the last 30 years is staggering. Don’t patronise children, and assume just because they are children they would find anything funny. If it wouldn’t make you laugh, don’t think it will make children laugh. Realise and recognise what’s funny and what’s not. Concentrate on the rhythm of the humour and especially how the jokes land.
And quickly now, what are your top tips for writers wanting to submit into an agent?
Write a fantastic book. Honestly – that’s it, really. Do that, and everything else will (probably) fall into place. Make sure you pick the right agent at the right agency. And write a good letter to the agent – really nail that pitch of your book. But really, it’s ALL about the book.
Finally, the Charlie changes into . . . series is gathering a great amount fans. What future adventures lie ahead for Charlie and his friends? Down, Huggy, lie down!
Well, a third adventure awaits in February. Beyond that, who knows… It depends whether there is still an appetite. We shall see!
Oh help, and any tips for ending this interview? That’s a very tight squeeze you’ve got there, Huggy…
(c) Olivia Hope
Author photograph (c) Charlotte Knee
 Please note this interview did not actually happen in the Reptile House of London Zoo and no Writing.ie staff members or children’s authors were actually consumed by any snakes.
 Like this.
About Charlie Changes into a T-Rex:
What happens when you feel stressed? Maybe you start sweating, or your heart beats faster.
When Charlie McGuffin gets stressed, something a little bit different happens: he turns into an animal!
Unfortunately, things are getting quite stressful for Charlie:
– His dad’s business is in real trouble
– He might have to move in with his Aunt Brenda and her seventeen cats (and wooden leg)
– And it’s getting harder and harder to control his powers
Luckily, Charlie’s best friends Flora, Wogan and Mohsen are on hand to help.
If they can break into the fortress-like offices of Van Der Gruyne Industries and recover the McGuffins’ stolen gold, maybe Charlie won’t have to move away after all.
Can Charlie’s friends help him master his powers once and for all, or will he end up stuck as a pigeon forever?
Order your copy online here.