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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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Meet Ireland's Lonely Beast who teaches children their 123s

The last app was featured on an Apple TV ad – and now the Lonely Beast is back.

http://youtu.be/dJLS4rEvIxY

(Lonely Beast Apps/YouTube)

HE’S A LONG-limbed, mouthless hairy beast; he sometimes dresses like James Joyce; he farts in the bath… and children love him.

This curious figure is the Lonely Beast, and he has gathered quite an international fanbase since artist Chris Judge first dreamed him up.

Now, following on from a series of books, the beast is back with his second iPhone and iPad app, Lonely Beast 123, which teaches children how to count.

It went straight to number one in the Kids and Education categories in the Irish app store on launch week, and named as a best new app by Apple, building on the existing success of the Lonely Beast items.

The Lonely Beast team

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James Kelleher is one of the three men behind the Lonely Beast app team, alongside Chris, the creator and designer of the Lonely Beast, and Simon Judge, who creates all of the music and sound effects.

The latest app was four months in the making. “Generally the way it happens is we will sit down and we’ll have an initial meeting where we throw some ideas around,” explained Kelleher.

After they settle on a theme, they each go and work on their own parts: Chris does the sketches, Simon creates the music and sound effects, and James the coding. From this, a prototype emerges.

To give this latest app a gentle narrative, they situated it in the Lonely Beast’s house, where children can follow him around and learn about numbers through his everyday activities.

The trio rely a lot on intuition. “We go on what we hope kids will like – and we’ve been relatively lucky.”

People have been amazing. We get emails from people in Japan who notice tiny little details that we sweated over in the making of the app and we assume 99 per cent of people won’t notice.

Why do children love the Lonely Beast – who, on the face of it, should be quite terrifying – so much?

“I think kids kind of identify with him. They like lots of bird pooping for starters, and fart noises,” deadpanned Kelleher.

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The “silly stuff” on this educational app makes it feel like a game rather than a chore. “If they don’t notice they’re learning, that’s brilliant,” said Kelleher. “They can focus on numbers and counting and the ABC.”

We drop a lot of  things in for parents as well. I don’t think a huge amount of our age group that read our app will recognise the beast is dressed up as James Joyce. But it might lead to conversations with the kids.

They launched the first app “out of disgust that there was nothing very good in that particular area”, but since then the level of quality of children’s apps has “soared”.

On their first venture they were told that an Irish accent would have a negative impact on the Lonely Beast’s success. “The opposite was true,” recalled Kelleher. “We were really stubborn about it. It’s Chris’s voice, his is an Irish accent. People have responded to it really well, particularly in the US.”

The app has been downloaded as far away as Mali, Nigeria, and New Zealand, showing that an Irish brogue is no impediment to international success.

Though Kelleher describes their success as “a mixture of stubbornness and luck”, there’s clearly much more to it than that.

For a “tiny operation” that is based in a shed, the Lonely Beast team are able to tap into what makes kids tick.

There’s no formula – “it’s all very much in flux” – but that’s what makes the job so exciting. Kelleher learned to code two years ago, which perhaps adds to the newness of it all.

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As for the Lonely Beast himself, he’s the mysterious lumbering figure who keeps drawing people back to the books and apps.

“I think you can project an awful lot of personality onto what is essentially a very simple shape of beast,” mused Kelleher.

“You wonder what’s going on in his head. I think there’s an air of melancholy there, which has always been a feature of the best kids books I’ve loved.”

Read: Irish ‘Lonely Beast’ app featured on US Apple TV ad>

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