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Halloween 2016

What do you get when you cross a bestselling author with a room full of enthusiastic and clever primary schoolchildren? A Roddy Good Idea!

Ni4kids editor Nadia Duncan talks childhood favourite reads, big fat babies and dog poo with Fighting Words founder Roddy Doyle...

If I had begun to have any concerns that children nowadays are less enthralled by the presence of the creator of wonderful, but traditional page-turning books, as opposed to the possible sighting of a YouTuber, the rapturous applause as Roddy Doyle entered the auditorium in the Skainos Centre, East Belfast, soon put my mind at rest. Hundreds of pupils from six local primary schools were buzzing with the anticipation of being among the first to hear extracts from the Booker Prize-winner author’s brand-new adventure for children, Rover and the Big Fat Baby.

Accompanied by the book’s illustrator Chris Judge, who delighted the crowd with quick on-stage drawings of characters from the book, Roddy proclaims ten minutes is ample enough time to get the gist of the plot via chapters one to three and then he will be available for questions. After a call for the audience to shout ‘shut up’ after exactly ten minutes and not one second over, Roddy begins…

The latest installment of The Giggler series, Doyle’s eighth book for children, follows our protagonist, the wonder-dog Rover, as he searches for the missing BFB (Big Fat Baby) while continually worrying about what will happen to kids all over the country if naughty adults aren’t kept in line with an adequate supply of dog poo to step in!

Let me explain. The first instalment of the Rover series published in 2000, entitled The Giggler Treatment was inspired by the memory of a journey to a train station in his hometown of Dublin with his two young children. As he walked down a narrow alley with a toddler balanced on the back of a buggy, young baby sleeping inside, he was running a gauntlet of dog poo avoidance, cursing lazy pet owners who sneak out during the night to let their dogs leave a disgusting mess on the pavements which poor parents have to dodge the next morning. He suddenly had the idea that stepping in dog poo, particularly in the summer months whilst wearing flip flops, is actually a perfect punishment for people who are mean to kids. And so the Gigglers came to be. Little beings whose sole mission in life is to create havoc for nasty grown-ups and are destined to become business dog Rover’s best customers.

When the ten minutes of Rover’s antics are up, and Roddy keeps his promise and asks the audience if they have any questions. They’re kids, of course they do! At least fifty little arms shoot into the air and just keep coming – for over an hour!

Q) Do your children like your books?

A) Well they’re all grown up now but when they were little my three kids were my toughest critics when it came to children’s literature and yes, I created many stories just for them.

Q) Which books did you read as a child?

A) When I was very young I loved comics, The Beano and Danny. I also read a lot of books about a boy called William written by Richmal Crompton. My two older sisters had shelves full of Enid Blyton books and I read every one.

Q) Why is the baby a Big Fat Baby? Isn’t that rude?

A) I thought it was funny and babies are lovely when they’re big and chubby. The name reminded me of the BFG and Roald Dahl is another one of my favourite authors, although his children’s books weren’t written until I was an adult.

Doyle goes on to reveal to his captive listeners that he published his first book ‘The Commitments’ (1987) himself. While working as a teacher he had been sending stories to publishers without any success so he got a bank loan with a friend and persuaded some of his students to dress up as a band and pose for the front cover. A publisher from London, Dan Franklin read it, loved it, and the rest as they say is history. Thirty years on Franklin is still the publisher of Doyle’s adult novels while another editor friend encouraged him to start writing for children.

In 1999 Doyle founded the charity Fighting words with friend Sean Love. The project aims to provide children aged six to 18 with the chance to explore their imaginations through free creative writing workshops, whilst also helping to improve self-expression, literacy and self-confidence. It was inspired by a visit to Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia project in San Francisco which Doyle was invited to attend while in the city on a book tour. He explains, ‘It was just a lovely way to make creativity and using words out of a school context more inviting for children. I thought it was amazing and really wanted to bring it to Dublin.’ And why call it ‘Fighting Words?’ He confesses, ‘We needed to come up with a project name quickly whilst completing a charity form for tax purposes and I just wrote it down. But the response was great, everyone liked it and it reminds me of a phrase my dad always used to say – ‘Them’s fighting words’.’

The initiative launched in Belfast in 2015 supported by a three-year sponsorship with nationwide book retailer Eason and Young at Art with funding from Arts Council Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council. Based primarily in the Skainos Centre, it offers free drop-in after-school clubs and schools’ workshops for kids who want to create stories, screen plays or perhaps even one day – novels.

Back to the questions and one young man who has been patiently waiting his turn is finally given the microphone. With a deep breath he asks, ‘I read online that you were in a Harry Potter movie. Which character did you play?’

Roddy’s response is wise words of advice for a future writer: ‘I didn’t, and that question is why you have to do your research properly if you want to be an author and don’t believe everything you read on the internet.’

Rover and the Big Fat Baby by Roddy Doyle and illustrated by Chris Judd is published by Pan Macmillan. Hardback available from Eason priced £8.99. To win a copy signed by both Roddy & Chris go to our competitions sections before Friday 11 November 2016.

For more information about Fighting Words Tel: 028 9023 0660 or visit

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