Thursday, 29 January 2015

Danny Dreadnought Saves the World • Early Reader

I have a new early reader book coming out next week!

Danny Dreadnought Saves the World is illustrated by Martin Chatterton and is and my first book for Egmont's Bananas series.

Little Danny Dreadnought is fearless. So much so that his parents are worried about him and decide that he must learn to be afraid. But no matter what they try – skydiving, swimming with sharks, spending the night in a haunted house – Danny remains unshaken. Fortunately, when Earth is invaded by the fearsome Bugulons, Danny's fearlessness saves the day.

The story was inspired by the German folktale The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, which was included in the collections of the Brothers Grimm. In that story a fearless youth sets out to learn how to shudder. After various adventures the youth spends three nights in a haunted castle and drives out its evil occupants, earning himself great riches and a princess’s hand in marriage. At the end of the story the princess finally makes the youth shudder by pouring a bucket of cold water, filled with fishes, over him.

Richard Wagner reinterpreted the story in Siegfried, his operatic retelling of the Norse myth of Sygurd, but gave it a far more satisfying ending. In Wagner’s opera, Siegfried finally learns what fear is when he mistakenly thinks that his sweetheart Brünnhilde is dead. And a similar ending was used by scriptwriter Anthony Minghella for Fearnot a 1988 TV adaptation of the Grimm’s tale for Jim Henson’s excellent Storyteller series. The Storyteller is one my family's favourite TV series. If you've never seen it, here's a clip.

I thought the plot could make a great picture book and set about adapting it to into a contemporary setting with the youth’s role being taken by a little girl, Daisy Dreadnought. My early drafts of the story were quite close to the Grimm original, with Daisy spending the night in a creepy castle, haunted by a trio of spiteful aristocratic spooks. The romantic Wagnerian ending wasn’t appropriate for such a young heroine, but I wanted an ending that felt similarly satisfying so, after banishing the ghosts from the castle, Daisy returns home to find her parents aren’t there. Thinking they’ve abandoned her, Daisy finally feels afraid, before her parents return home and allay her fears.

I sent this draft to several picture book publishers, but none were interested. One editor commented that the haunted house setting made it seem like a Halloween story, which would limit its appeal for the rest of the year. I still felt the story had potential so I did another draft. Bearing in mind the Halloween comment, I replaced the family of ghosts with an army of alien invaders – the fearsome Bugulons. I showed this revised version to publishers and, while none wanted it as a picture book, Egmont took it as a first reader for their Bananas series.

Adapting the story into a first reader was relatively easy. One of the nice things about the Bananas series is that, like picture books, they have full colour illustrations on every page. And, while the pages are smaller than those of a picture book, there are twice as many to tell the story in. One thing I had to change was Daisy’s gender. Editor Hannah Sandford explained to me that there were already lots of Bananas books featuring plucky heroines, so it would be nice to have a story with a plucky hero for a change – so Daisy became Danny!

A crestfallen Bugulon
Although the story features many scary situations, it’s meant to be funny, so I was keen that it should be illustrated by someone with a comical flair. I often suggest possible illustrators for my books and Martin Chatterton was one of the illustrators I suggested for Danny Dreadnought; I’ve always liked Martin’s style and knew that he’d already illustrated some Bananas books. So I was pleased that Egmont agreed that he’d be a good choice and delighted when Martin agreed to illustrate the book. Martin’s illustrations have exactly the whacky comic book feel that I was hoping for and I’m particularly pleased with the way he’s drawn the Bugulons, the intergalactic bullies who try to take over the Earth. His illustration of the Huge Scary Spaceship is magnificently menacing and I love the way he’s captured the Bugulon’s sense of disappointment and defeat at the end of the story.

Martin is also illustrating another story that I’ve written for the Bananas series, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with that.

Here's a trailer for the book.

And if you're feeling particularly daring, you might like to try your hand at Danny's Scare Search puzzle.

Click the image to download the puzzle

find your local bookshop Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

National Libraries Day Event - Beeston Library, Saturday 7th February 2015

Saturday 7th February 2015 is National Libraries Day!

The aim of the day is to encourage people to use their local libraries and find out about the services they have to offer. There are events going on in libraries all over the United Kingdom. You can find out if there's an event in a library near you using the map on the National Libraries Day web site.

This year, I'm delighted to be doing an event at my local library in Beeston, Nottingham. I'll be reading my brand new picture book A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, along with The Princess and the Pig, illustrated By Poly Bernatene, which is my most borrowed book from UK libraries.

Here's a book trailer for A Spot of Bother.

I'm hoping my complexion will be a little clearer on the day!

Between stories, we'll be making these pop-up pig masks.

TICKETS ARE FREE and available from the library, but there are a limited number so please request them in advance. The event is suitable for children aged three and over. 


Saturday 7th February

2.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Beeston Library

Foster Avenue

Tel: 0115 925 5168/5084

Visit my web site to find out more about A SPOT OF BOTHER 

Visit the National Libraries Day web site

Thursday, 22 January 2015

THE PRINCESS AND THE PIG is still my most borrowed book

The Princess and the Pig
was my most borrowed book
This week I received last year's UK library loans figures for my books, courtesy of the Public Lending Right (PLR) organisation.

The Princess and the Pig illustrated by Poly Bernatene, retains its crown as my most borrowed book, having been borrowed over 23 thousand times. A Secret Worth Sharing, The Pig's Knickers and Bringing Down the Moon, all illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, also stay in the top 5. And Someone Bigger illustrated by Adrian Reynolds, (which topped my chart for seven years between 2005 and 2011) returns to the top 5 after dropping out last year.

The PLR figures show that my books were borrowed from UK libraries a total of 167,799 times last year.

Here are my top 5 most borrowed books.

Position Title Nº of loans Relative Position
1 The Princess and the Pig 23,573
2 A Secret Worth Sharing 12,902
3 The Pig’s Knickers 11,452
4 Bringing Down the Moon 9,549
5 Someone Bigger 9,307

A big THANK YOU to everyone that borrowed my books, the wonderful librarians that made them available and the PLR organisation for helping authors like me to earn a living.

Monday, 12 January 2015

In Memory of Vanessa Cabban

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den.

I have a new picture book, A Spot of Bother, coming out next month. Having a book published is usually a cause for celebration, but the publication of this particular book is tinged with sadness as it will be my last with illustrator Vanessa Cabban, who passed away shortly before Christmas.

People often assume that picture book authors and illustrators work closely together, but it’s not unusual for the author and illustrator to have no direct contact, with the book’s creation being co-ordinated by the publisher. This was the case with Bringing Down the Moon, which was the first book that Vanessa and I created together.

One of Vanessa's beautiful illustrations for Bringing Down the Moon

Vanessa and I in Amsterdam
A couple of years after Bringing Down the Moon was published, the book won the Kiekeboekprijs, a Dutch book award, and Vanessa and I went to Amsterdam to accept it. Although we’d now done a second picture book together and Vanessa was about to start illustrating a third, it was the first time we’d met or even spoken to each other. Vanessa turned out to be stylish, funny and refreshingly frank and forthright in her opinions – we spent a lot of our visit in good-natured argument! By the end of our short stay we were firm friends. We resolved to keep in touch and did so regularly through many emails and lengthy phone calls over the following years. We both shared a mischievous sense of humour and our conversations were nearly always punctuated by laughter. 

In addition to the seven books we did together, Vanessa illustrated many other picture books, written by Alan Durrant, Giles Andreae and several other authors. And she both wrote and illustrated two Bertie and Small picture books about an adventurous toddler and his toy rabbit. Vanessa had no children of her own, but was very fond of her niece and nephew and was a much-loved aunt, sister and daughter.

Vanessa artistic talents extended beyond illustration into fine art and her paintings, prints and sculptures were exhibited and sold in various galleries around the UK. She was also an accomplished knitter, posting photos of her handiwork on her "Do you mind if I knit" blog.

Two of Vanessa's sculptures.

One of the pleasures of creating a picture book with another person is that one can draw on their strengths as well as one's own. Vanessa brought her own distinctive charm, warmth and humour to all the books that we created together.

She was a good friend and a wonderful, inspiring person to work with. I will miss her dearly.

In memory of Vanessa, her family have set up a Just Giving page where you can make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Coming to a bookshop or library near you in 2015!

Some coming attractions

2014 was a quiet year for me publishing-wise. Although several of my previously published books came out in new editions, I only had one new book published, which was Skyboy and other Stupendous Science Stories.

I'm pleased to say that next year will be somewhat busier and I have five (or possibly four and two-thirds) brand new books coming out in 2015. Here's a preview of each of them.


A Spot of Bother was illustrated by my longtime collaborator Vanessa Cabban and published by Walker Books. It's a follow up to The Pig’s Knickers and features the same cast of characters including the rather self-centred Pig. In this story Pig is horrified to discover that his spotless appearance has been spoiled by a cherry stain. His friends try to help, but the more they try to clean the spot, the bigger it gets.

This is the seventh book that Vanessa and I did together and I'm extremely sad to say that it will be our last as Vanessa passed away shortly before Christmas. She was a wonderful person, funny, mischievous and forthright, and a terrific illustrator to work with and I will miss her greatly.
Preorder this book on Amazon UK or Amazon US

Published on the same day as A Spot of Bother, Danny Dreadnought Saves the World is illustrated by Martin Chatterton and is and my first book for Egmont's Bananas first reader series. Little Danny Dreadnought is fearless. So much so that his parents are worried about him and decide that he must learn to be afraid. But no matter what they try – skydiving, swimming with sharks, spending the night in a haunted house – Danny remains unshaken. Fortunately, when Earth is invaded by the fearsome Bugulons, Danny's fearlessness saves the day. This story was inspired by the Grimm's tale The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.
Preorder this book on Amazon UK or Amazon US

Next up is The Clockwork Dragon. This book might only be described as two-thirds new because it’s a reworking of Tom’s Clockwork Dragon which was published in 2008. Unfortunately that book quickly went out of print quite quickly but Oxford University Press decided that the story deserved a second chance and asked me to write another draft which has been illustrated by Weasels and Nuts in Space creator Elys Dolan. Elys has a great flair for whimsical detail and, as well as completely reinventing the dragon, has populated the book’s illustrations with a supporting cast of wonderfully wacky characters. I've already written a second story featuring the book's young heroes Max and Lizzie so, if this book proves popular, they could be back with more clever clockwork contraptions.
Preorder this book on Amazon UK or Amazon US


Fast and Furry Racers; The Silver Serpent Cup is also published by Oxford University Press. This book is illustrated by Ed Eaves and the story was inspired by a set of souped-up vehicle models that Ed made for his college degree show several years ago. Ed sent me some photos of the models and suggested that they might plant the seed for a story – which they did. The Silver Serpent Cup is about a no-holds-barred race between a motley assortment of animals in an equally motley assortment of vehicles; cars, planes, boats, submarines – there’s even a tiger racing in a train. We’re hoping it will be the first of a series of Fast and Furry Racers books.
Preorder this book on Amazon UK 


And my second book for Egmont's Bananas series, The Emperor's New Clones, should be published some time in Autumn 2015. This story, which is also illustrated by Martin Chatterton, is set in the distant future. Rodney Remus's dream of becoming a professional blasterball player falls apart when young Rodney is chosen as the new Galactic Emperor. Instead of scoring goals on the blasterball court, Rodney has to spend his days at tedious ceremonies and on endless official visits. But then Rodney meets the brilliant scientist Professor Parton whose clever cloning machine offers a way back to blasterball.

I'll be telling you lots more about all of these books on this blog. So watch this space for more details!