Thursday, 5 February 2015


They say 'good things come in threes'. Well, I have three books coming out today! Joining A Spot of Bother and Danny Dreadnought Saves the World is The Clockwork Dragon illustrated by Elys Dolan and published by Oxford Univeristy Press.

The Kingdom of Rodney is being terrorised by Flamethrottle the dragon. Fortunately Max, a young toymaker, and Lizzie, an armourer, are more than a match for this man-eating monster and the two of them come up with a clever plan to drive it away.

Here are a couple of spreads from the book.

And here's a trailer I made.

In the story, Max and Lizzie make their clockwork dragon out of recycled arms and armour and the story itself has also been recycled, not once, but twice!

The first version of the story was for a pop-up book, called Scraposaurus Wrecks, which I wrote, paper-engineered and illustrated. The Scraposaurus was a dinosaur made from scrap metal and the story ended with it being converted into a school bus after the old bus is wrecked as a result of the dad-driven-dinosaur’s exhibitionist antics. The book was never published, but the idea of driving around inside a huge metal creature was hugely appealing and I hoped to salvage it one day.

My cover art for Scraposaurus Wrecks,
a forerunner of The Clockwork Dragon.

A few years later, I was able to do that in a picture book called Tom’s Clockwork Dragon illustrated by Mark Oliver. Like Scraposaurus Wrecks, the story was about a giant reptile made from recycled metal, but this book had a different plot featuring two resourceful children who come up with a clever plan to rid their kingdom of a man-eating dragon.

One of Mark Oliver's illustrations for the original clockwork dragon book.

Unfortunately the book didn’t sell well and went out of print a couple of years after publication. Fortunately Oxford University Press decided to give the story a second chance by publishing a reworked version with a new illustrator. It’s very rare for a story to be recycled in this way and I’m very grateful to OUP editor Peter Marley for giving it a new lease of life.

As well as being re-illustrated, the story has been redrafted. If you’re familiar with the first version, you might notice that the scene with the king has been cut and a new scene added, where Flamethrottle (the man-eating dragon) wakes up in his cave. Another conspicuous change is that Tom, the young toymaker, has been renamed Max.

Although I’m still very fond of Mark Oliver’s illustrations for the original book, it made sense to find an illustrator with a distinctly different style for the new version. We considered several illustrators before settling on Elys Dolan, whose first picture book, the wonderful Weasels, had recently been published.

Elys has put a fresh new spin on the story, and her illustrations have greatly expanded upon the world in which it's set. You can find a map of this world - The Kingdom of Rodney – and portraits of some of it's colourful characters on the book's endpapers. Elys asked me for some names for the places she'd drawn and some local facts to go with them and these are included these, along with a smashing full colour version of Elys's map, in a Kingdom of Rodney Visitor's guide which you can download (for free!) here.

The Kindom of Rodney Visitor's Guide. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

If the town and castle in Elys's illustrations look familiar, that might be because they were inspired by her visit to Neuschwanstein, the home of Baron Bomburst in the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Elys didn't know this when she first drew the roughs, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one of my all-time favourite films and has been a big influence on many of my stories, including The Clockwork Dragon, so I love this reference.

The architecture of Castle Crackpot and Cranktown were inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle
and the village of Hohenschwangau in Bavaria

I’m delighted with this new version of the story and I’m hoping that Elys and I will get to recycle the characters yet again in a second Max and Lizzie adventure. We already have a story in mind and if you study the last spread of the book (shown below) you might spot a clue to what it’s about.

This machine maze activity sheet is
also available as a free download.

Visit THE CLOCKWORK DRAGON'S page on my web site

find your local bookshopBuy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Spot of Bother • Picture Book

I have a new picture book coming out this Thursday!

A Spot of Bother is illustrated by my longtime collaborator Vanessa Cabban and published by Walker Books. The story is 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.

I knew as I was writing The Pig’s Knickers that I would want to revisit the characters, but my original intention was that each of the subsequent stories would be centred on a different animal. So the first follow-up story I wrote was about Sheep rather than Pig. However my publishers at Walker books didn’t feel that the Sheep story was quite right, so I wrote another story, this time with Goat as the central character. Once again Walker felt that the story fell short of the mark. So for the third attempt I returned to Pig and fortunately it turned out to be third time lucky!

Pig’s behaviour is as over-the-top as ever in this second story. When a squashed cherry leaves a bright red stain on his backside, he declares it to be a “monstrous misfortune”. But things go from really-not-that-bad to genuinely awful as Goat, Cow and Sheep try to help Pig rid himself of the ever spreading spot.

Here's a trailer for the book.

Vanessa did another great job on the book's illustrations, deftly capturing Pig’s emotions as he goes from satisfaction to despair and back again. Here are a couple of spreads.

I thought that the perfect activity sheet for this book would be a Spot to Spot.

Click image to download activity sheet

This is the seventh book that Vanessa Cabban 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 good friend and a terrific illustrator to work with and I will miss her greatly.