Blog, Interview, Interviews

Interview with children’s author Jen Carney

Catch our interview with children’s author Jen Carney as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, as she tells us all about her book series The Accidental Diary of B.U.G and offers her own tips on how to write comedy in fiction.

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Can you tell us a little about your series The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and where the inspiration for your main character, Billie Upton Green, came from?

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is a contemporary comedy series firmly rooted in reality. Each book is narrated by Billie Upton Green, a sparky ten-year old who sneakily ‘repurposes’ boring old spellings practice jotters into diaries that she doodles and writes in when she should be going to sleep. Billie’s funny observations on life knit together so that each book tells a story. In The Accidental Diary of B.U.G., for example, the story is about a thief in Billie’s school.

Billie was inspired by my son. He wanted to read a funny book in which the main character was happy, feisty, and had two mums, like him.

Your books have been praised as ‘perfect for fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and Jacqueline Wilson’. What was your initial reaction when you first heard this?

I was filled with joy and a little nervous! These are marvellous books and wonderful authors! I was aware that Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books were real gateways to reading for children sometimes classed as reluctant readers, so that was a real compliment for me as I’d written the first book to appeal to that market – my son hated reading for a long time and these were the kinds of books that piqued his interest. He moved on to Wimpy Kid after Tom Gates and I think the B.U.G. series sits well between the two. As for being compared to Queen Jacqueline – what could be better! She’s a wonderful writer who kept my daughter entertained every night for many years.

Your main character, Billie, often finds herself in the middle of surprises and hilarious happenings. What do you find is the hardest thing about writing comedy?

Trying to come up with jokes and laugh-out-loud moments can be hard while staring at your keyboard! Fresh air helps loads, as does life in general. Also, finding the right balance for your target demographic can be tricky – not under/over-estimating their ability to infer.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to write comedy?

Keep a pen and paper on you at all times. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and when you least expect it. Also, read your work aloud frequently and test things out on your target age group. Be prepared to cut LOADS when no one laughs! Think back to when you were the age your main character is. What did you find funny? Read other writers’ books and see what makes you laugh/smile.

What’s the best thing about writing a series and how do you come up with new ideas?

I like being able to develop characters; not just Billie but the secondary ones too. I’m constantly coming up with new ideas, so a series gives me the opportunity to explore them more fully without trying to squeeze them into one book. It’s also great to be able to carry themes through a series. So, in this series, acceptance of differences, navigating a new friendship, adoption and The Biscuit Laws run through all the books.

As for new ideas, I think about my life, and that of my children and those that I have taught and play around with ideas until I have something I’m happy with.

Your main character, Billie, is adopted by her two mums and has a larger-than-life personality. How important do you think it is for children to read inclusive books?

I think it’s vital that children have access to books that both mirror their lives and provide a window into the lives of others. Age-appropriate inclusive books really help children to empathise with people who are different to themselves and broaden their knowledge of our world and the people who live in it. Similarly, reading books about people a bit like them, or someone in their family, can really validate a child’s experience of life.

Are there any other authors out there who you admire and, if so, why?

I read loads and there are so many authors I admire. A few to mention are Sarah Hagger-Holt who isn’t afraid to tackle same-sex parenting head-on, Louise Gooding who is an amazing advocate for inclusion, Masie Chan who brings other cultures into popular fiction, Emma Mylrea and Heneka Statchera whose world-building is brilliant, Joanne O’Connell whose book Beauty and the Bin I thought was a brilliant novel for bringing food waste issues into children’s lives, Jamie Russell who is building a fantastic series to engage gamers and entice them off their consoles, and Louie Stowell whose comedy skills are top notch. I could go on!!

Are there any more books from The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series on the way?

At the moment, B.U.G. is a three-book series. However, the door has been left ajar on it, and I’d love to write more in the future. At the moment I’m working on a new comedy series targeted at the same age range. Watch this space!

Jen Carney is a children’s author-illustrator living in Lancashire. Co-mum to three children, Jen is passionate about the representation of different family units in children’s books, and promoting reading for pure pleasure. The Accidental Diary of B.U.G is her debt comedy series.

Follow Jen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Sister Act, the third book in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series, was published on 3rd Feb 2022 by Puffin, currently available in the UK and Commonwealth.

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