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'Moone Boy' author Chris O'Dowd talks new book based on Hulu series

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David M. Benett/Getty Images, Macmillan

Alert your imaginary friends—and maybe your real ones, too. Moone Boy: The Blunder Years, an illustrated middle-grade book by Chris O’Dowd and Nick V. Murphy just landed on U.S. shelves. (Moone Boy came out last October in the U.K.) The stateside release is just in time for the season 3 premiere of the show by the same name on Hulu on May 13. Moone Boy follows Martin Moon, an 11-year-old fed up with being the only boy in a family of girls. So Martin takes his good friend Padraic’s advice and decides to get an imaginary friend (a.k.a. IF). Enter Sean “Caution” Murphy, an imaginary office clerk who steps into the role as Martin’s IF. Here, O’Dowd talks about turning a sitcom into a book and facing his harshest critic. 

Which came first, the idea for Moone Boy, the show, or Moone Boy, the book?

The show first. We did a couple of seasons of the show and while we were doing it, we discovered it would be really fun to get into the imaginary world of the kid a little bit more and to explore his imagination without having the cumbersome follow-up of having to film them. Things could be a bit more surreal and whatnot. I guess that was probably the order. But I like to think that the way that it’s worked out, it’s almost as if the TV show is adapted from the book. We wrote them the wrong way around.

What was your initial inspiration for Moone Boy?

They do a thing on Christmas every year here in the U.K. where they do short stories that comedians can remember from around Christmastime. And I wrote a story with my mate about when I was terrified of Santa Claus. We had such fun time doing it, and it was obviously autobiographical. So we had done a short story about my childhood, and it did really well. The network asked if I would be willing to do an entire show. And we just didn’t have any ideas other than mining my childhood further.

Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?

I didn’t, actually. That’s one part of the story that’s not really true. I talked to myself a lot as a kid. But I was the youngest of five, and I like to think that there just wasn’t room in the house for an imaginary friend.

So where do you come up with the ideas for the different IFs?

I guess we just think of the most terrifying people that could be in our heads. For me, that would be a fairy godmother. [Laughs] Someone who’s constantly judging me. Wrestlers and whatnot. Things that are iconic and we were both two wrestling fans growing up. That’s where Crunchie came from and that’s where the other guys came from. But I think the Sean character, ironically, the main imaginary friend is almost like a personification of how Martin sees himself in 20 years time, which is a mid-level insurance salesman. He’s not the most ambitious kid.

The show itself is pretty family friendly, but why did you decide to go the middle-grade route with this book?

We thought it would be really fun to write a book almost specifically for the lead character in the show. And the character in the show, I guess, is 11. We kind of got into a, “I wonder what he reads?” one day. We thought it would be really fun to actually write a book almost for him. As it turned out, the kid who plays the main kid in the show [David Rawle] is a very avid reader. So when we were doing early drafts of the book, we would send him chapters. Because I don’t know that many 12 year olds. He would give me notes.

Where they good notes?

They were far more brutal than I’d hoped.

Kids are honest.

Yes. Far too honest! I don’t know where I gave him the impression that I wanted anything other than affirmation. [Laughs] He really enjoyed it. And I liked that he was the first one to read it. It’s definitely a sense of humor that plays well to the middle grade. It’s silly and surreal, but it’s grounded in reality that I think a lot of pre-teenagers can understand of being sat upon by your sisters and bullies.

This is supposed to be a series, right? How many books are you planning?

We’re writing the second one at the moment. I hope we’ll do more. I like the idea [of writing] until he’s a very old man. We’ve actually been thinking about that lately. At the moment, the second book is set a couple of months after the first book ends. I do like the idea that he does keep aging. We’re trying to decide like when he turns 16, 17, and 18 and it gets weirder that he has an imaginary friend. I don’t know whether it’s too tragic or if I just say, “Oh, he has a disorder!” [Laughs] It’s no longer acceptable at that age, but we have to accept it because it’s tragic. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.

What’s the process like for you and Nick writing the book instead of writing for the show?

They are similar in the very basic sense. We sit down together in a room and outline everything very specifically. We’ll know exactly how long each scene should take, and how long each chapter should take. And then we’ll split up. I’ll write a chapter and he’ll write a chapter. Then we’ll swap and edit each other’s stuff and keep going until we’re finished eventually.

Talk about the illustrations for the book. [Ed. note: Moone Boy is Illustrated by Walter Giampaglia.]

I love them. We have some animation in the show and they’re made by the same guy. It’s a company, the producer of which I grew up with. So it all kind of stays close to home. And they’ve gone on to Cartoon Saloon. And they were actually nominated for an Oscar this year for their film A Song of the Sea. It’s exciting that we all started doing this thing together and things have gone so well for everybody. But they’re really fun illustrations. It brings it to life.

Anything else you want to add?

It came out in the U.K. a few months ago. Kids have gone crazy for it. It’s the perfect book if you’ve got a niece or a nephew and you want to corrupt them.