The Spotlight Series: John Kane

John Kane arrives for our meeting appearing very well put-together considering he is the father of rambunctious young twins. One would expect a more dishevelled, disorganised, even haunted look from a man with not only two children, but with an interest in two businesses (Scrumdiddly’s ice cream parlours and online florist Little Flowers) and one full-time job for which he travels internationally. His debut picturebook, I Say OOH, You Say AHH is published on February 8th and I am particularly interested to find out the challenges he faced in creating this rowdy read-aloud book. It turns out that he uses his talents as a Creative Strategist. His background is in art direction and advertising but he has always been an ‘ideas man’ and loves the challenge of problem solving. Turning a problem on its head and finding a concept to build on is his first step to finding a solution.

When John’s twins began learning to read, he discovered that while his daughter was drawn to books, his son, like many children, preferred anything with a screen. Driven by a desire to get his son interested in reading, John approached this ‘problem’ as he would any problem – he looked at it from a different angle. What he first realised, in his infinite optimism, was that his son didn’t dislike books, he just preferred interaction. So where could John find a book with an interactive element that would encourage reading? Hervé Tullet’s Press Here was an inspiration but didn’t quite fit the bill so John decided to play to his creative strengths ­– he is good at developing ideas, he is a conceptual thinker and he is a designer. Why try to be Hervé Tullet when he IS John Kane?! So, John sat down and within an impressively short length of time wrote, illustrated and designed the first version of I Say OOH, You Say AHH.

There are those among us who might scoff and say, “Writing a book isn’t the problem, it’s getting the book in front of the right publisher that presents the real challenge.” But no one told John and, again within an impressively short length of time, he landed himself a publishing deal and an agent. He simply sent his dummy book in to a publisher he saw as a good fit and they got straight back to him. Templar asked John to sign a contract and I Say OOH, You Say AHH had found a home. Once he knew the publisher was interested, John approached his choice of agent and, with a combination of charm and the leverage of an impending contract, he was taken on by Bell Lomax Moreton. John insists he was naive about the process of submitting to publishers and says there was some dumb luck involved. He laughs at himself now, but I am thoroughly encouraged by his story of success. If John’s book wasn’t fresh and fun, or if it hadn’t suited the publisher’s style, there wouldn’t have been ‘dumb luck’.

The book that John originally wrote was a more complicated version of what we see today. The first dummy had more actions, responses and colours to remember, and included more hand-lettering than the published version. At first John was taken aback when he met with the designer at Templar – declaring to himself ‘But I AM a designer!’ – but he quickly realised that he was working with professionals and wanted the end product to be the best it could be. He decided to embrace the changes. He felt that the give-and-take with his team and the trust they developed in each other was of vital importance. While the editor pared the content back, the designer worked with John to ensure that the look was just right and would have international appeal.

John’s debut has been getting great reviews. Teachers and organisations supporting children with special needs are praising it as an aid for memory and concentration as well as for its interactive concept. When John read at last year’s CBI conference during the New Voices segment, it went down a storm. I Say OOH, You Say AHH is a bright, original book that will have you shouting about your underpants by the end. It’s not often we get to celebrate the seemingly instant success of a newcomer to the field of children’s books and I’d like to offer John a great big AAAAHHHHH from all of us.