“Mankind has gone. There is now a fierce Duck Army that is determined to take over the world…”
That’s the pitch for a new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott.
In fact, Ryan Hasler-Stott is two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and Darren Hasler-Stott, of whom more below.
So I talked to them…
ME: Why did you write a children’s book? Because it’s commercial?
JOHN RYAN: No, because we’re both big kids.
ME (TO JOHN RYAN): I talked to you for a blog in July 2021 and you were just about to publish A Mission Most Fowl back then. That was over a year ago.
JOHN RYAN: I think we got a bit distracted. We built an extension. Covid Lockdown happened. My work went. Darren’s work went. He’s an electrician. I wanted to get a new bathroom. Darren is the go-to guy with ideas.
ME: You wanted an electric bathroom?
JOHN RYAN: We got carried away. It started with the bathroom and spiralled. Before we knew it, we were driving diggers round the back garden, digging holes.
ME: Hold on! He’s an electrician; you wanted a bathroom. Electricity and water… Not compatible.
JOHN RYAN: Electricity and water both involve currents.
ME: You have a point.
JOHN RYAN: We wanted to publish a book and build an extension. What I’m saying is we’re not limited by imagination.
ME: This doesn’t explain the year-long gap in publishing the book.
JOHN RYAN: Darren likes to do things properly.
ME: It was just going to be called A Mission Most Fowl. Why is it now called Tag Tinsel: A Mission Most Fowl? What does that even mean?
DARREN: The main character used to have a label attached to him – a tag. Tinsel was the name they gave him. You just put the two together.
ME: The two of you met on a writing course in 1999. Why did you need a writing course? It’s just going to teach you bad rules. There are no rules.
DARREN: I think it taught us everything we did NOT want to be or do really.
ME: It taught you what you did not want to write?
JOHN RYAN: There were a lot of people there who wrote traditional stories. Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; there’s a misunderstanding; it all comes right in the end. Whereas Darren’s story…
DARREN: I did a short story. Basically about a guy on the run who’s being pursued by a bloke who’s dressed as a magician. A bloke who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia for hearing voices. But basically he’s house-bound and the neighbour had a dog and, to keep the dog from getting bored, he played the radio all day – talk radio. So he’s driven mad by talk radio in isolation.
ME: But again: Why did you need a writing course?
JOHN RYAN: I was working for the Council and I wanted to write and someone said: “No-one’s gonna buy your writing if you work for the Council.” He said: “If you do stand-up comedy, you get to perform on TV. I didn’t want to do stand-up comedy; I just wanted to write for kids. So, literally for my birthday, I signed up to a Writing For Kids course,
I couldn’t attend the first week because my daughter was going to be born any day. So what did they have next? They had a Creative Writing course. So I did that and met Darren. He supported me getting into stand-up. He came to all my early gigs. He’s got a great sense of humour.
ME: Whose is it?
JOHN RYAN: Terry Pratchett. Very much.
ME: So what’s your own sense of humour?
JOHN RYAN: More Billy Connolly.
ME: So Ryan’s a fantasist and you are an anecdotalist?
JOHN RYAN: Well, I have an observational eye. So, consequently, the Mission Most Fowl story then evolved from a traditional Good v Evil set-up and, along the way, Darren’s kind of Pratchettesque brain came up with ideas that my brain doesn’t even consider. There are a lot of weapons made from unusual objects.
DARREN: Organic weaponry. Exploding fruit, an organic supercomputer called MAD – Mission Accessory Device – a MAD computer.
ME: You and Darren met 22 years ago and it’s taken you this long to decide you wanted to write together?
JOHN RYAN: Well, no, over the years, when I’ve had ideas for stand-up, I’d run the ideas past him. So we spent a lot of time building an extension, laughing and going: “Here’s an idea!”
ME: And the plot is…?
JOHN RYAN: Basically, there is a mighty duck army who want to take over the planet. The humans have left Earth. And the only thing between them and all the technology that Man left behind is our team of superheroes who live in a cave. So, to draw them out the cave, the ducks do outrageous things. The team will come out of the cave. And then the ducks will capture them get the technology and all will be well.
But it never quite works out like that.
ME: They “do outrageous things”?
JOHN RYAN: Yes. So they set up incidents around the forest. They’ve got two brothers who love to dig holes. So they dig holes and set traps. But they can never remember where the holes are. Yeah, they love to dig holes. It’s what they do best.
ME: When people write books, they’re usually based on their own lives or minds.
JOHN RYAN: I do get worried for him sometimes.
DARREN: (LAUGHS LOUDLY)
JOHN RYAN: We see this very much as a kind of Harry Potter for the 21st century.
ME: …with ducks…
JOHN RYAN: With ducks, yeah. And, along the way, other animals… There are badgers.
DARREN: The premise of the story is that The Darkness arrives and changes the world. The Darkness arrives. Humanity goes: “That’s it. We’ve had enough. We’re off.” So they leave the planet and the planet then returns to its default position.
ME: Its default position?
DARREN: All the continents around the world come back together so you have one big super continent…
JOHN RYAN: Pangaea. Some animals perish in The Darkness and others go underground. Once The Darkness clears, the ducks – because there’s more of them than anything else – are gonna be in charge…
ME: You could get sued by The Darkness music group for defamation.
DARREN: We could.
JOHN RYAN: …but, prior to The Darkness, the animals were genetically engineered to work in the military by the humans. So, when the humans went, the animals that had been genetically modified bred and formed their own little cultures.
ME: CIA dolphins with bombs on their backs I can understand. How were the ducks used militarily?
JOHN RYAN: The ducks were a byproduct of it all because some birds were released that had been trained – interbred with other birds – to perform different tasks. So for example, you’d have birds that were hunters or security.
In our superhero team the cat is a psychic cat and she is an empath. The dog is a guard dog but he can breathe underwater so he patrols the rivers. The Aqua Dogs patrol the rivers. The battle chickens were bred for fighting.
ME: And the ducks…
JOHN RYAN: I’ve always had a slight fear of ducks.
JOHN RYAN: They’ve got faces, ain’t they?
ME: Frenchmen have got faces.
JOHN RYAN: Yeah, but they don’t live near me. You know when you used to go feed the ducks? I never liked ’em come too close to me. Never trusted ‘em. Also sexually they’re very violent.
ME: Have you had personal experience of this?
JOHN RYAN: I have been to Fairlop Waters. And I’ve seen duck orgies.
ME: There are definitely no CIA dolphins with mines on their backs in the book?
JOHN RYAN: No.They might be in a further book. We have to get past the Yetis first. There’s a whole world of animals that…
DARREN: That’s another book…
ME: Not Yetis…
DARREN: Each book will be a mission that the team go on. A series of missions.
ME: There’s movie potential here. Casting?
JOHN RYAN: Dawn French as a duck. There’s a bee and we see Ardal O’Hanlon playing that part.
ME: Is there a serious point too any of this? Are you sneaking philosophy into a children’s book?
JOHN RYAN: Yes. Heroes may change, but being heroic stays the same…
(… CONTINUED HERE …)