From his origins as one half of the comedy duo that created Little Britain to his fairly prolific output as a newly-minted writer of books for children, you may be surprised to learn that David Walliams is the answer to the question.
With his latest book, The Ice Monster, selling a massive 110,000 books in just five days, he has become not only the natural heir to Roald Dahl but also a serious rival to J K Rowling in terms of how fast his books rise to the top of the bestseller lists. His first four books sold over a million copies in the UK and he sells an average of 20,000 books every week.
Walliams has also branched out into producing picture books for younger readers and many of his works have been turned into successful films for TV and into audio CDs.
So What’s His Secret?
Walliams clearly has a gift. He knows exactly what children like to read and especially what they find funny. His young readers love fart jokes, adventure, strange monsters and above all they love a loveable character. His second book, Mr Stink features as its main character a smelly old tramp (‘the stinkiest stinker who ever lived’) who lives on a park bench with his equally stinky dog and is befriended by a little girl who determines to help him when the townsfolk turn against him. Above all, many of his books feature as the main tenet of the story the old standby of ‘good against evil’ where the baddie always gets his or her comeuppance at the end.
There is no doubt his success is partly down to his instinctive grasp of characterisation. He knows just how to write characters and situations that we can all, no matter how old we are, instantly recognise and understand.
The Boy in the Dress
Walliams’s first book was The Boy in the Dress and showed the author’s keen eye for the zeitgeist. The story featured a young boy who is a football fan and who is also a cross-dresser. Walliams produced a sensitive story which celebrated differences and diversity which, in the words of illustrator Quentin Blake was not only very funny but was also very good.
The Joy of Reading
With sales so far totalling around £13 million and counting it seems that David Walliams has found the Holy Grail that eludes so many aspiring authors and that is how to write books that children actually want to read. From The World’s Worst Children through Awful Auntie to Billionaire Boy, he has, together with illustrators who are at the peak of their profession put together a cast of characters that can scare readers witless – in a good way – or make them laugh. Some parents have even credited Walliams with encouraging their children to eat up all their vegetables which is no mean feat. Most of all he has become one of those rare modern authors who has sparked in children the sheer joy of reading.