We love the fold out concept of the “What on Earth?” books. Can you tell us a little about how this came about?
Well, after writing my first world history book What on Earth Happened? (Bloomsbury, 2008) I found myself giving a lot of lectures in schools. The book, which ran to 180,000 words, wasn’t really geared for younger readers so it was frustrating not to be able to follow up my talks with something that kids could take away and easily digest. I also happened to be shown a giant fold-out timeline of world history originally drawn in the late nineteenth century. The combination of these led me to wonder if a modern ‘big history’ narrative could be designed as a wallchart. I stuck 8 pieces of A3 paper together and spent 3 months with pencil and rubber working out how to take all the main moments featured in What on Earth Happened? and plotting them on a timeline.
Making the scale fit was the hardest part. But I also discovered all kinds of gaps in my knowledge, which I didn’t know were previously there because with a timeline you can’t get away with any blank spaces. It was a fascinating process. Then my great friend and illustrative genius Andy Forshaw redrew every image to make our first Big History Timeline Wallbook. That was in 2010 and at the same time we decided to form a new children’s non-fiction publishing company What on Earth Books to bring these titles to market. The brand has since developed a lot and it’s really about trying to help children see different perspectives, be it holistic history or real–life stories from points of view they have never previously considered. That way we can hope to encourage empathy in young people, and that’s really become the core vision / objective across all the titles in our list.
How did you decide what to include in your latest children’s book “Absolutely Everything!: A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention”?
Deciding what NOT to include was the really hard part because the extent had to be contained to around 60,000 words and we wanted to produce the book in a really easy-to-read font and with lots of images, maps and pictures. Getting the balance right between text and images is so essential. Above all, I wanted this book to be a narrative read – a really good story – not just a dip in and out reference book / encyclopaedia. This book is about making connections and celebrating reading about the real world – far more amazing than anything you can make up! I wanted to make sure that all the main events and people you would expect to find in an overview of all history are included, plus various perspectives and moments that aren’t so familiar and traditionally get lost. That was the challenge and I hope we have risen to it – but that’s really up to the reader to decide!
Which do you enjoy most; the research/writing of your books or the live events?
Golly that’s hard. I have multiple personalities in my head (I think we all do, actually, if we are honest) and my research side loves finding out things in libraries and museums and by talking to experts but my performance side loves meeting new people and telling them stories that make them go WOW!. I love to see the expression on their faces and every event is different as the audience is very much involved with the storytelling, too. That’s the joy of being a storyteller – it’s a great job!
Do you use your “coat of many pockets” for all of your events?
Most of the time –because it’s just as much fun for adult audiences as it is with kids. But not always – I often do day long workshops for educators on how to connect knowledge better and create strategies for cross curricular learning. The coat is just one strategy – there are plenty of others, so usually it’s just there in the background at those kind of events.
What is the most unusual question you have been asked?
Well it was in Wales and concerns a 10-year-old girl called Hannah. I remember it well. I was talking about Alan Shepherd being the first man to play golf on the moon, and asking the kids if they thought the ball would have gone further or not so far compared to if he was playing on the Earth. Then Hannah raised her hand and said – “Excuse me, Chris – but did he go and pick it up?” I thought that was so fabulous – so lateral – and so interesting. I had no idea. But since then we have found out and I believe that golf ball is still up there on the moon somewhere! It was a wonderful moment. I think humans reach peak curiosity at about the age of 10 – Hannah’s story certainly suggests so. I can’t imagine many adults asking the same question!
Finally, what can we look forward to from you next?
Oh, all kinds of projects are simmering in the pot but the sequel to Absolutely Everything! will be Absolutely Everyone! This will take us on another giant sweep through human history looking at the key individuals who have had the biggest impact on planet, life and people. But my goal with this book is that you will find many people you have heard of, but equally you will find many you have not heard of – so I am trying to uncover lost, forgotten or never told stories of people who aren’t celebrated today but who have really made a big difference. History is said to be written by the winners – I want to highlight others who have made valuable contributions that need to be remembered.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
It’s a great pleasure!
CHRISTOPHER LLOYD began his career as a journalist with the Sunday Times newspaper. Then, while camping with his family, he had a critical realization: Even with a double first in history from Cambridge University and experience as a science writer, there was so much about the world he didn’t know. So, he set out to write books that zoom out and tell the big stories, opening readers’ eyes to how seemingly unrelated events fit together and showing them multiple perspectives on the world, all in highly engaging prose and matched with lively illustration and photography.
He now divides his time between writing books for adults and children and delivering lectures and workshops to schools, literary festivals, and a wide range of other venues around the world.
ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention was published by What on Earth Books on 4th October 2018 and is available to buy as a single copy on the Just Imagine website.