Today is World Book Day, a celebration and appreciation of reading and the illustrators and authors that help bring our children’ imaginations alive via words and pictures.
J. Anthony Vassell is the author of ‘The curious Mr. Gahdzooks and his Cautionary tales for Naughty Children‘. We caught up with him to talk about his book, the inspiration behind his character Mr. Gahdzooks and how to keep children engaged when reading.
1# Hi Julian can you tell us a little about yourself …
I’m a father firstly, everything I’m doing is for my little man. I would then class myself as an all-round creative, currently based in Surrey. I act, I dabble in music and I’m a published author and scriptwriter. I am also one of four creative directors at Dare Arts Society, a media production house in South London.
2# When did you start writing and what have you learned about the writing and publishing industry along the way?
Wanting to be a writer became a realisation when I found myself reworking other productions in my head, whether it be TV shows or films, adding my take and spin on them. Being an actor performing on stage and screen also ignited the drive to write my own stories. There was a lot of studying involved, learning from other writers and their techniques and success. The publishing industry is an eye opener as there are so many other writers out there all trying to be noticed and heard, so the routes to being published were tricky and unknown. Putting yourself out there to be judged was something I had to become accustomed to. Having the strength to hear ‘no thank you’ more than ‘yes please’ is a must. You have to have the grit to keep pursuing publishers because one took notice of me and now Mr Gahdzooks has the platform and a growing audience eager to know more.
3# Why children’s books?
With the arrival of my son and watching him grow, the information available for him and the idea of creating material that young minds like his could relate to on subject matters familiar to them became a priority to me. My son was my muse and I used our day to day activities and games as inspiration.
4# Can you tell us what your book ‘The Curious Mr Gahdzooks…‘ is about?
‘The Curious Mr Gahdzooks…’ is a book about good manners and behaviour, the consequences of actions and ultimately who you choose to follow, shown in a way that relates to young diverse minds growing up in a society not necessarily built with their interests at heart. Mr Gahdzooks himself lives in our children’s imagination as an overseer, a mystical sage, bringing tales to a select group of mischievous children hoping to change their mischievous ways for the better.
5# What inspired you to come up with the story and where did you get the idea for your character Mr Gahdzooks?
The inspiration originally came about when my son was 2 years old, being a young father and remembering when I used to play the clown in my younger days. So seeing it in small form in the shape of my son, I had to find a way to curb his enthusiasm for mischief the only way I knew how by creatively using my imagination. Mixing that with my Jamaican upbringing, my jovial nature, and playful mindset.
Growing up hearing and reading Aesops Fables and the Anancy stories, I’ve kinda had the storyteller bug in me from a young age and I’ve been aching for a chance to put it to paper. Seeing what was out there for children like my son that spoke about magic and wizardry was entertaining but didn’t inspire so I took it upon myself t0 create ‘Mr Gahdzooks’.
6# How did you set about bringing the character to life?
The book is written in a special poetic verse and came about from short poems I was writing about following the rules and the consequences of breaking them. I decided a Wizard delivering these tales would be great for a younger generation. It was the amalgamation of all the characters I’d grown up with, from Lou Bennett’s Anancy to the wonderful characters from the world of Roald Dahl, The Cat In The Hat, The Grinch, the energy of Jim Carey’s The Mask, coupling all of that with my Jamaican roots, heritage and upbringing in and around South London from the 80’s. I created a character children will hopefully admire and enjoy for years to come.
7# Can we expect a series of books or maybe an animation or game?
I’m happy to say yes you can expect more. The second ‘Mr Gahdzooks‘ is in production with the third installment being written currently which will begin to delve into the origins of Mr Gahdzooks before the curious tales and the vast universe in the beyond, where he came from. Along with ‘Mr Gahdzooks‘ there are 3 other children’s titles being worked on.
8# In this digital age with so many entertainment options how can we keep our children reading?
Keeping the content relatable. Characters in books have to connect with the imagination of the youth, to keep their attention and interests. With many stories now becoming available on E-book as is ‘The Curious Gahdzooks’ there are now new ways to read so the younger generation have the option of a digital or physical version of their favourite stories.
9# Today is World Books Day. What was your favourite book/ character growing up?
The Anancy stories by Louise Bennett, the morals that ended each story from Anancy the spider’s mouth were fun to read and digest, with the clever storytelling all in Jamaican Patois, it just felt like the book I was supposed to read as a child over and over again. Anancy would be faced with a problem and he’d find the craziest solution that would majority of the time work out in his favor. I liked that he always won, even though he had been a lil’ bit mischievous.
10# What’s next for you?
Along with the team at Dare Arts Society we are working on content across the board, film, TV, and music. As I mentioned, there are 3 other children’s books in the works and I am working on several pilots & screenplays. I’m also planning to hit the screen/stage myself, later this year. Really hopeful to realise this dream of being a Jack of many trades and a master of some.
You can purchase your copy of The Curious Mr. Gahdzooks and his Cautionary Tales for Naughty Children here.