Penguinpig Creators: The Interview

PENGUINPIG is the number one best-selling story about a little girl who reads of an exciting creature known as a Penguinpig on the Internet. Filled with delight and intrigue, she decides that she must go and find one.

However, her parents are far too busy to take her and so she decides that she will sneak out and find the adorable Penguinpig all on her own. Carefully, she follows the instructions from the website – but does she find her delightful Penguinpig?

Penguinpig Cover
Cover of Penguinpig book

Well! You’ll have to read the book to find out.

In the meantime, if you want find out more about Penguinpig, then you’re in luck, because, firstly, Amy Bradley – the book’s illustrator – will be reading from Penguinpig at our upcoming Festive Story Fun event on Saturday 12th December. Children will also be given the opportunity to have a go at drawing their own Penguinpig (make sure you don’t miss it!).

And secondly, we had the privilege recently of interviewing Amy and Stuart Spendlow – the author – about the book and what they have planned next.

So, without further ado, here’s the interview:

We are delighted to welcome Stuart and Amy so that we can quiz them on the book and their plans for the future.

Thank you Amy and Stuart for taking time out of your busy schedules to answer our questions about Penguinpig. Unless stated otherwise the questions are aimed at both of you as we are very interested in how you collaborated to produce such an entertaining and informative story.

Q1: Would you both like to tell us a little about yourselves?

Stuart: I’m a teacher based in Lincolnshire. I love my job and keeping myself busy trying out all different ventures in life such as producing shows, writing music, acting, keeping up to date with all technological advances in the world and eating pasta. And biscuits. I love biscuits.

Amy: I’m an illustrator based in the little market town of Uttoxeter. How I spend my days…..drawing!! And I absolutely love it! To me it’s the best job in the world and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Apart from drawing I often spend my time eating cake (and chocolate and ice cream and sweets, oh and I can’t forget biscuits!), talking (my sister often suggests ‘I should glue my mouth together’!), reading, socialising with friends and family or singing (FYI…I can’t sing, I’m often caught out in my studio pretending I’m Swifty!).

Q2: Stuart, where did the idea of writing the book come from and how did you decide on such an intriguing character as Penguinpig? To what extent did you have a clear idea on what the character would look like and to what extent did you benefit from Amy’s illustrative skills?

S: The story behind the penguinpig itself is a great one! It just so happened that, for some bizarre reason, I ended up in the situation where I had to show my class how to draw a quick cartoon penguin. Unfortunately, my illustrative skills are terrible and the class decided that it looked like a mix between a penguin and a pig. To add to the hilarity, they tried persuading another teacher that it was a newly-discovered animal!

Q3: Amy, what guidance, if any, did Stuart give you on what he thought Penguinpig and the other characters should look like?

A: Stuart is very creative and came up with lots ideas of what the characters should look like. When he sent over the manuscript he included a description of how he saw the characters. It also helped that Penguinpig is described in the book, so with a little imagination and some ‘Amy magic’…..Penguinpig was born! Hip Hip, Hooray!

Q4: Did you already know each other before you began working together on it?

S: Not at all – but what a perfect combination we turned out to be. I hope Amy agrees with that…

A: Stuart was a total stranger, but luckily we clicked straight away. It’s a great relationship we have, bouncing ideas of one another, having full trust in one another and allowing each other to do our ‘creative thing’! I do have one slight issue though….he is yet to call me Amy! In Stuart’s eyes I go by: Brads, Bradmondo, Bradriella, Bradders or BRADMONDICLES! I imagine his next child will be called Brad!

Q5: Would you like to share with us your tips on how you ensured such a fruitful author/illustrator partnership?

S: I think the main thing is to trust one another as the experts in our particular fields. We bounced ideas off one-another and threw challenges at each other, but we knew to trust one another and let each other crack on with it! We’re both highly efficient people and tend to want everything doing ‘yesterday’ which, rather impressively, worked out alright!

A: Firstly you’ve got to allow the other person to do exactly what they do. It’s so important to trust them and be honest. Keeping in touch is key; we always e-mail, chat over the phone, Skype and have some bants over social media! Having fun is also one of our top priorities; we always know how to make one another smile :-)!

Q6: Why do you think fictional stories are so important in getting the serious message of internet safety across to young children? How important is it to use the right kind of illustrations?

S: Young children have simply got to understand the potential dangers with using the Internet so that they can keep themselves safe. Children as young as four are using the Internet (especially in school) and, as a result, they’ve got to know that you can’t always trust what you read. From my perspective, the illustrations were key as they had to capture the interest of youngsters to make them stick with the story. They also need to stay in their memory to support the message, so the illustrations had to be super-catchy!

A: I think the illustrations are really important, to me it was crucial they caused intrigue and excitement to get the reader coming back for more and in turn reinforcing the serious message of internet safety.

Q7: How long did it take to produce the book from the original idea to printing and how did you find a publisher?

S: Writing the story started one summer in a hotel on a rainy day. I started writing after being frustrated by the lack of resources available for young children and soon got into it. After several drafts, I put it away in a draw and decided to see if I still liked it after two weeks. As it turned out, I really didn’t like it after two weeks so continued to redraft! Eventually, I got there and then let Amy work her magic on it.

A: From receiving the manuscript to completion it took approx. 4/5 weeks. I promised Stuart it would be done by the end of the month and true to my word I delivered the finished book on the very last day of the month. Phew!

Q8: I understand that book 2 of the Penguinpig story is on its way. Do you have plans for any future books in the series or plans for other books you are able to share with us?

S: That really would be telling…! We won’t be seeing a penguinpig for a while, but keep your eyes peeled for other characters appearing! Also, we’ve just had The Art Of Being A Brilliant Primary Teacher released (Crown House Publishing) which was a co-write from me and Andy Cope. Amy illustrated that too – what a superstar!

A: We’re catching up in a few weeks to discuss future Penguinpig plans and the possibility of new books!! #topsecret #watchthisspace

Q9: The theatre production of Penguinpig (more information below), which incorporates puppets, sounds really exciting! How did this come about?

S: I’m extremely excited about – especially since seeing the preview performance. TRAUM Theatre (led by Jane Crawshaw ) have done an awesome job of bringing the story of PENGUINPIG to 3D life and even have developed some gorgeous songs for it too. The whole thing started with an initial meeting to discuss how the story would work on a stage and it all developed so naturally from there. Jane and her team really have worked some magic on it.

A: The preview was amazzzzin!! It was surreal to see all our little characters in 3D, with voices, dance moves and gorgeous songs. A dream come true!

Q10: Amy, how long have you been working as a children’s illustrator and what special training did you have? What would you say to anyone considering a career as an illustrator?

A: Unofficially I’ve been working as illustrator my whole life – drawing has always been my favourite thing. Initially I did a degree in Surface Pattern Design and I didn’t believe I was good enough to be an illustrator so I started A PGCE in Art & Design but didn’t feel it was right to encourage students to follow there dreams before having a go at following my own. Luckily at my degree show I had a lot of industry experts suggest I go into children’s illustration, which made me believe in myself and gave me the confidence to progress. It hasn’t been the easiest of journeys, in the early days I had a couple of part time jobs to help support my illustration business but only a few years later I gained my own studio and not long later I managed to make a full time living from it. If you’re considering a career in illustration my advice would be to keep going. If you really love it, work hard and give it your all – you’ll get there. Never give up!!

Q11: Stuart, what do the pupils at your school think about one of their teachers becoming an author?

S: I’m not really sure to be honest. I guess to them I’m first and foremost a teacher – which is where my heart lies. It’s quite nice to recommend PENGUINPIG to staff as a resource to use – but I’m not entirely convinced they take me very seriously!

Q12: Would you like to share anything else with us about Penguinpig?

S: Whilst there isn’t too much to share (honestly!) I believe it has a huge future ahead of it. It’s been an unbelievable 18 months and I’m very proud of all the success and incredibly honoured by all of the support.

A: Penguinpig has already been on such an incredible journey in its short existence, I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings…the possibilities are endless!! #excitingtimes

Thank you Stuart and Amy for taking the time out of your busy schedules and we look forward to welcoming Penguinpig to Tamworth on the 12th December!

Finally, as mentioned above, here’s some information about Penguinpig The Play!

Told by TRAUM Theatre, with beautiful puppetry, catchy songs and accompanied by an original music score, PENGUINPIG is a fun-filled, magical, theatrical experience for 4-7 year olds. It is ideal for schools to host as part of delivering the National Curriculum.

PENGUINPIG previewed this year at the prestigious Little Angel Theatre in London, and later this month will travel to Lincolnshire’s Wolds Words Festival. The show received fantastic audience feedback in London from children and parents alike, who described the show as “magical”, “imaginative”, “funny” and “clever”, with “great music and puppetry” and an “important but subtle message about safety” (audience feedback from the showing at Little Angel Theatre).

PENGUINPIG has been created in line with the National Curriculum’s aim for safer Internet practice for KS1 and from 2nd April – 15th May 2016, PENGUINPIG will embark on a tour, visiting venues and schools in the North of England.

For schools interested in booking a visit, please email Jane Crawshaw at, or call on 0785714503.

More information on the show and TRAUM Theatre can be found at:

LitFest Digs Deep into the Mind of Local Author Rob Watkins

Interview by Tina Williams

Local author Rob Watkins has recently published his first novel, How to Kill a Minority Shareholder and get away with it. Last week one of LitFest’s committee members, Tina Williams, held a candid interview with Rob where she quizzed him on its publication, his writing and his future projects.

LitFest wishes Rob every success with the publication his first novel and hope to see him at our future events. You can read Tina’s review of the book here. For now though, over to Tina for the interview with Rob!

The title of this book really intrigued me from the off as did the synopsis as I am partial to tales where the underdog fights back and triumphs.  I invited Rob to tell us about himself and what prompted him to write it. Rob explained that although he has worked in many different roles throughout his working life – his current occupation is that of a painter and decorator, not once did he envisage that he would write a novel!

It is clear that the inspiration and compulsion for How to Kill a Minority Shareholder and Get Away with it was very much a personal one. Rob acknowledges that the first third of the story flowed from his experiences of witnessing someone very close to him suffer the crushing blow of having their successful career brought to an abrupt end, due to what he describes as the deliberate and questionable actions of others.

The novel’s main themes are pretty dark: greed, jealousy, bullying, mental cruelty, violence and revenge, reflecting human nature at its worst. When questioned further about these themes, Rob stated that he finds it difficult to comprehend how the legal system can do little to protect employees subjected to situations such as those experienced by Deb, the heroine of his novel. He stressed how he wanted the book to serve as a warning to those in the corporate world, so that they take any necessary steps to prevent a similar event befalling them.

Although the issues raised in the novel are serious ones, there is a great deal of humour peppered throughout, much of it dark. Rob stated that the final two thirds of the book, where the hero Bob begins to contemplate and exact his revenge upon his wife’s persecutors, allowed him more scope to introduce humour into the narrative.

One of my personal favourites is the passage where Bob dreams of exterminating his wife’s persecutors, in bloody technicolour glory! It comes at the point when I believed that those who destroyed the professional reputation and the life of Bob’s wife deserved to meet a grisly end!

Rob underlined how he enjoyed injecting humorous elements into his novel, believing it important to lighten the mood for the reader. The passage in the novel where Bob attempts (with comical consequences) to secure the pontoons in the Venice canal so that his victim is forced out of his water taxi and onto dry land was one of Rob’s favourite passages.

Rob maintained that he endeavoured to illustrate to the reader how and why Bob was spurred on by a desire to avenge the wrongs that had been done to his wife. Before reaching this point Bob had tried to seek assistance from every avenue available to man or woman; personal entreaties; legal assistance and media coverage, but to no avail. Indeed, events soon spiral out of control and lead him deeper and deeper into darker actions and questionable moral behaviour.

Rob stated that he was inspired by some of the scenes portrayed by the character William Foster played by Michael Douglas in the 1990’s film Falling DownI remember this film well and think that he succeeded in doing this perfectly. Throughout the novel I was constantly torn by the question of whether I believed Bob to be the hero or the villain of the piece! I will not say which side of the fence I opted for – you will need to read Rob’s work and navigate the moral dilemma it presents for yourself!

Rob Watkins - Author
Rob Watkins – Author

The metamorphosis that Bob goes through, from supportive husband to master avenger fascinated me and I was particularly interested in how adept Bob became at planning and executing the technical aspects of his ‘hits.’ Rob stressed that he tried to inject realism into his work, especially with regards to the systematic and ordered way Bob eliminated those who had wronged his wife. Rob explained that his penchant for crime thrillers helped to fire his imagination, particularly when it came to ensuring that Bob’s activities left no traceable clues for forensics to link him with a particular crime scene.

As much of the book was autobiographical Rob stated that he rarely experienced writer’s block. The challenge was not writing too much rather than too little. Rob reported that once he had the rough outline worked out, the main task was to weave the various elements of the narrative together, to create a book that offered an enjoyable reading experience but at the same time conveyed Rob’s message about how those in the corporate world should take care not to fall prey to the jealousy and greed of others.

Rob makes us look at our own friends and acquaintances and begs the question “how much would it take for the people you know and trust, and class as best friends, to betray and denounce you to get a share of the pie or increase the size of their slice?” Even when they know the “pie” is only there thanks to you? The answer, and how small the amount might be, may make you look at your closest friends and people around you in a new slightly sinister light and will shock even the most cynical of readers.

The book is Rob’s first published novel, taking four years to write, and I asked him if he had any experience of creative writing prior to penning it. Surprisingly, given the literary quality of the work, Rob stated that he had no prior experience, although he conceded that he has always been artistic, having attended art college in his youth.

Although the characters per se are purely fictional, they nevertheless reflect Rob’s own experiences of a lifetime of people watching! Rob is particularly well traveled, often to places off the main tourist map and writes with authority about a number of these far flung places in the novel. Thailand in particular features heavily, and it is there where he met a number of acquaintances who inspired many of the characters in the book, including the Lady Boy owner of the brothel and the expat ex-military personnel whose activities sail close to the wind!

Rob explained that as this was his first novel he wanted to find an established publisher, rather than self-publish, partly because he felt it would validate the book to himself and also because the world of publishing and book marketing was very much outside his realm of experience. He feels very fortunate in that he found a publisher in Book Guild (now part of the Troubadour publishing group) and a very supportive and enthusiastic editorial team.

What of Rob’s own reading material and future works? Rob’s favourite genres to read are sci-fi, fantasy and crime and thriller books, although he laments that since becoming a writer he does not have he chance to read as extensively as in the past. He confirmed that he has another work in the pipeline, also set in the corporate world, involving a character who is being blackmailed and set up to be the fall guy. This work he explains contains more humour, although it too deals with questionable morals and business practices. He hopes to progress this further at some point.

As to all the readers out there, Rob very much hopes that they have as much fun reading his novel as he had writing it; that they laugh and cry at what he writes and that they learn something from it.

Disclaimer: All the characters mentioned in the above interview and in the author’s work, How To Kill A Minority Shareholder and get away with it are purely fictitious.