Author Eoin Colfer knows the world has plenty of "boy-and-his-dog books." So if you want to write a book about a boy and his dog, he says, "you have to have something new."
Colfer's The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a book in two halves: "In the first half the boy heals the dog, and in the second half the dog heals the boy," Colfer explains. Music plays a role in helping both characters cope.
P.J. Lynch illustrated the book. His wife fosters dogs in their home — "we usually have a few pups running around the place making a mess," Lynch says — and the focus of the book really took shape one night when Colfer was over at Lynch's house for dinner.
Colfer and Lynch are family friends. Colfer calls himself a "late bloomer" — he didn't start publishing books until his 30s — and he always looked up to Lynch who started his illustration career straight out of university. The two had collaborated before and were excited to take on another project together.
On finding inspiration for the book
Colfer: I was in P.J.'s house for dinner and I wanted desperately for us to work together again. ... I had a few ideas I was playing around with, and one of the ideas was a rescue dog that, in turn, rescues the boy who has rescued him. But I couldn't find a way into it until P.J.'s son started playing the piano — he's a wonderfully gifted piano player — and the dog that they were fostering at the time loved the music and it was just giving little barks and wagging his tail. And that was like a thunderbolt of inspiration for me.
On finding a good model for the dog
Lynch: I was struggling at the start trying to find a face and a form for the dog — you know, trying to get a mixture of character and cuteness. I tried lots and lots of different ones. ... I came home one day, I was a bit despairing, and there were two new [foster] pups in the house and ... one of them was cute and fluffy and the other was less so. So I went for the one that was less fluffy and cute and ... she became the model for the dog, Oz, in the book.
Colfer: I need to have a picture in my head when I'm writing a story and for the longest time I couldn't get the right picture in my head. Even when I'd finished the first edit I wasn't happy with my imaginary dog. So P.J. very quickly did up some sketches and when that first sketch of Oz came in — [I knew]: That's the dog. ... It's a little bit like when you're writing drama or theater — when you get an actor and you see what the actor can do then it really helps to point you in a certain direction.
On getting adults hooked, too
Colfer: I'm getting a lot of letters from people who are using it as their nighttime story. So they're reading it to kids who are maybe a little too young to read it themselves ... and they're really enjoying it as a family. ... The absolute best compliment you can get [is when parents say]: "Yes, I'm reading to this to my kids as a family, but when they go to sleep I keep sneaking out and reading the next chapter on my own." I love to hear that because it's kind of mischievous but it also means that the parents are enjoying the story, too.
On the way music helps us cope
Colfer: I've always been very affected by music ... [When] my father died, I used to just listen to the songs that he listened to a lot and it really helped me through it. So then I started to look up music therapy which is a very powerful tool ... and I thought this would be a lovely way to get the importance [of music] ... across to kids. ... It was a nice way for us to get an undercurrent of seriousness into a beautiful story about a boy and his dog.
On doing school visits together
Colfer: It's good fun and P.J. does live drawing. I could be literally reading the phone book and the kids are just staring at these beautiful drawings appearing out of thin air.
Lynch: [The students] want to do something with their eyes while they're listening. ... The great thing about live drawing is that kids let you get away with anything — you could do terrible drawings and they love it. ...
I remember when I was [a student] at school, we never met authors. I certainly didn't even know illustrators existed. So I'd like to think that some of those hundreds of kids that we've worked with — and drawn and talked for — hopefully they'll be inspired to write their own stories and illustrate their own books.
Samantha Balaban and Evie Stone produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
The Dog Who Lost His Bark. Text copyright 2018 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright 2018 by P.J. Lynch. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass., on behalf of Walker Books, London.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In the book "The Dog Who Lost His Bark," a boy named Patrick rescues a scruffy, little dog named Oz, who's been mistreated and abandoned at a garbage site. Oz is so traumatized that he's lost his bark. And Patrick tries to help him get it back. We've been asking authors and illustrators how they work together or separately to bring stories to life. In this case, Irish author Eoin Colfer says he got the idea for the book during a dinner at illustrator P.J. Lynch's house.
EOIN COLFER: I had a few ideas I was playing around with. And one of the ideas was a rescue dog that, in turn, rescues the boy who has rescued him. But I couldn't find a way into it until P.J.'s son started playing the piano. He's a wonderfully gifted piano player. And the dog that they were fostering at the time loved the music. And it was just giving little barks and wagging his tail. And that was like a thunderbolt of inspiration for me. So I added that into the dog story where the boy heals the dog through music. And I don't know what P.J.'s first reaction was when I approached him with that idea.
P J LYNCH: Yeah. Well, I - we had been talking about...
LYNCH: ...Working together for some time. In fact, when we first met, you said, oh, I'd love to do a book with you. And I thought you were just being polite.
LYNCH: But my wife and daughter are mad about dogs and cats - that they foster animals, young animals and unwanted animals and sometimes sick animals. It's very noisy (laughter). There's this piano playing. And there's dogs barking. We have two very noisy ones at the moment (laughter). And I didn't know that this was affecting Eoin in that way. He was feeling inspired. It just shows. I think he's thinking of stories all the time.
COLFER: I've always been very affected by music. Music heals the savage breast and our beast in this case. And I remember when my father died, I used to just listen to the songs that he listened to a lot. And it really helped me through it. So then I started to look up music therapy, which is a very powerful tool that's used on children but also on animals. And I thought this would be a lovely way to get the importance to music of - not just for enjoyment but to affect you in a positive way as an art form. I also knew that P.J. would definitely have musical instruments and dogs that he could use to model.
LYNCH: I was struggling at the start trying to find a face and a form for the dog - was trying to get a mixture of character and cuteness. And I tried lots and lots of different ones. And then I came home one day. I was a bit despairing. And there were two new pups in the house. They were called Popcorn and Marshmallow. And they were - one of them was cute and fluffy. And the other was less so. And I went for the one that was less fluffy and cute. And he became the model. I guess there was a girl...
LYNCH: ...Who modeled for the boy. But if I had to have Oz looking quizzical, I could just sit with her for ages. It made the job much more pleasant and doable for me, actually.
COLFER: Well, I was a fan of P.J.'s first. And what's very nice is when we do events together. I really enjoy that.
COLFER: It's good fun. And P.J. does live drawing. I could be literally reading the phone book.
COLFER: The kids are staring at these beautiful drawings appearing out of thin air.
LYNCH: No. From my point of view, that's absolutely brilliant fun when we do an event together because I don't have to worry about the talking because Eoin goes off and...
LYNCH: ...Never stops. And he's always funny.
COLFER: Sometimes, when you really hit the sweet spot and P.J.'s really on fire with the charcoal and I've told a few really funny jokes and all the kids are with us, you realize that for them - as it was for me as a child, if you were ever at an event like that - it just becomes something you remember. And I like to think that we are in the memories of all these schools around the country...
LYNCH: Yeah. That's a lovely...
COLFER: ...That we travel to. Yeah.
LYNCH: That's a lovely way to look at a dog.
LYNCH: I remember, when I was at school, we never met authors.
LYNCH: And I certainly didn't even know illustrators existed.
LYNCH: So I'd like to think that some of those hundreds of kids that we've worked with and drawn, talked for - hopefully, they'll be inspired to write their own stories and illustrate their own books.
COLFER: What you said there about not meeting writers now - that's so true. And what that does is it makes kids think that that we're some kind of strange species and that they couldn't possibly do it. And it's - you know, it's out of their reach. But when you meet me and you - and we're extremely ordinary...
COLFER: I think they go, maybe I could give it a go.
COLFER: I could try to draw that dog. And I could maybe write a little story. So yeah. That's lovely to think that that might happen.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLITZ&SUPPE'S "ACTIVELY IDLE")
BLOCK: That was author Eoin Colfer and illustrator P.J. Lynch talking about their latest book "The Dog Who Lost His Bark."
(SOUNDBITE OF FLITZ&SUPPE'S "ACTIVELY IDLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.