HOW it started: Getting good marks at Kilmurry National School for an essay about a wolf in the snow. How it’s going: Pretty well, actually, for Paul Coomey, now based in England and celebrating the launch of his first children’s book.
Admittedly, the celebrations surrounding the release of Stick Boy might not have gone exactly the way he had initially envisaged, as the author-illustrator was at the time isolating at his London home after testing positive for Covid-19.
“It’s not the book launch I would have imagined when I started work on Stick Boy two years ago, but it’s still incredibly exciting to see it come to life,” said Coomey, who has been engaging in virtual book tours and online appearances while isolating.
Stick Boy came about as a result of Coomey’s work in the last 15 years as an art director and book designer in children’s publishing. Having completed a masters in English and publishing at NUIG, he worked as a lighting designer for theatre productions before moving to London to pursue his career in publishing.
“My work as a grown-up has mostly been about presenting stories in a visual way — whether that’s on a stage, on a book cover, or in a picture book. Writing those stories allows me to push the visual side of my storytelling even further,” he said.
His creative talents, though, have their roots in his childhood days in Bandon and Crookstown, and particularly at Kilmurry National School, where his writing was nurtured and where he claims he was “the only student to ever achieve a mark of 9/10 for an essay” from headmaster Der Hartnett, “for a story about a wolf in the snow”. Coomey, who cites Green Eggs And Ham by Dr Seuss as the first book to engage him and who hasn’t stopped reading since, found the inspiration for Stick Boy in the familiar childhood experience of wanting to fit in.
“Feeling different as a child and figuring out where you fit in is different for everyone and can be tricky,” he said.
“Sometimes we hide our tricky feelings from other people, even people we love.
“I wondered what the world would be like for someone who wasn’t able to hide their feelings from everyone else — what would that mean for them?”
His cartoon creation, Stick Boy, being comprised of linear limbs and a circle for a head, certainly feels different as he attempts to settle in at yet another new school.
The world he encounters is populated by bullies, not only among his fellow pupils, but on the school staff, and prejudice is rife against someone who appears different.
In Stick Boy’s case, the differences are real as well as perceived, and he has some rather special abilities which allow him to pick locks, change shape, fall apart, and put himself back together again.
These powers succeed in impressing his small circle of friends, and come in handy too when the group members find themselves in the thick of a mystery involving the opening of the town’s new ‘Mega Mall’ and the deeply suspicious ‘HomeBots’ being given away free to its customers.
No one has bought one of the bots, yet every home has one, and the friends deduce that the silent guests are listening in to conversations, and even breaking other gadgets so that people have to buy new ones from... the Mega Mall.
An evil criminal mastermind, a sadistic schoolteacher, and mean-girl bullies are all stacked up against a boy with slightly strange superpowers, and his little gaggle of pals. Coomey weaves a plot web full of spying, technological control, and attempted theft on a grand scale, where all conspiracy theories are proved right. It makes for a gripping cartoon adventure for ages eight to 12, of likely appeal to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates.
Stick Boy, by Paul Coomey is published by Little Tiger Press, €11.20.