The year is whizzing by in a rather startling way and I’m very behind with my blog. I could blame my disorganisation or I could blame this guy, who happens to be my namesake:
This is Dave the Unicorn who, along with his BFF Mira, is the star of The Naughtiest Unicorn, a series of books written by Pip Bird that I’m currently illustrating. Dave and Mira meet at Unicorn School and have a bunch of silly adventures, mostly involving glitter, doughnuts and trouble!
There’s an interview with Mira and Dave here! Dave spends most of his time scowling, eating and farting. I’ve no idea why I was given this illustration job…
There are SEVEN books in the series, and they’re all out in the next year or so – that means lots of drawings of unicorns and rainbows which is keeping me very busy indeed! The first and second books are out already and the third appears in shops in September – you can’t miss them as they’ve all got very shiny covers. Perfect early reads for unicorn fans aged 6 and upwards.
But what’s happening in Dundoodle?
Meanwhile, The Dentist of Darkness had been out in the world for a few of months and appears to be going down well. I did some launch events at a few schools in north London, that coincided with World Book Day, that were exhausting but a lot of fun.
The story centres around Unquiet Night which happens to be very soon (the first Tuesday of the school holidays, as every Dundoodledonian knows)! It’s the night when tree-spooks, bog-people and other wyrdi-folk appear and dance their wyrdi-dance through the darkness of the forest.
Everyone in the town will be baking Gingerbread Dragons, amongst other goodies, to celebrate in the Unquiet Night festival held in Dundoodle’s main square. And they’ll have their own dance around the streets, as so brilliantly illustrated by Claire Powell:
You can make your own Gingerbread Dragons with the recipe from my DoD activity pack, available to download from here. As well as the recipe, there are puzzles and story-making ideas – ideal for keeping bored minds busy during the school holidays. If you need more things to do the CFG activity pack is here. I’m going to expand on the activities section of my website, to include more creative writing advice, so keep an eye on that if you know any budding writers.
I’ve also had to do some travelling and events back in May, thanks to the award nominations that The Chocolate Factory Ghost has received. I didn’t win anything (apart from the runner-up sparkly glass thing that’s the size of an egg from the Leeds Book Awards!) but it was great to meet all the children from the local schools who’d participated and sign all their books. I got more reviews than anyone else on the Leeds Book Awards website (not all of them good, mind you – young reviewers have very firm ideas about what they like!) and it was wonderful to know that my story had got into the hands of so many enthusiastic readers. Here’s a couple of photos taken at the ceremony:
Then in Surrey, I went on some school visits for the Surrey Children’s Book Awards, as well as popping into the wonderful brand new library at Horley:
Finally, the third Dundoodle Mystery is on the long road to publication – the text was signed off back in April and the illustrations are underway. And I can reveal its title: The Revenge of the Invisible Giant! Ta-daaa! Here’s the official blurb:
When a batch of his experimental sweets goes wrong at the McBudge Confectionery Company, Archie needs a distraction. And when he hears about a book of magical wisdom lost in a tunnel beneath the mountains, Archie is determined to find it. It’s DEFINITELY so he can be the best magical guardian of Dundoodle that he can be and DEFINITELY NOT so he can turn tree branches into flying surfboards. Only trouble is, the key to open the tunnel was broken into four pieces hundreds of years ago and hidden.
Archie, Fliss and Billy set out to find the pieces of the key, but why was the tunnel sealed off in the first place? And what is the deep, sinister, MOUNTAINOUS voice Archie keeps hearing on the wind?
This is a fast-paced, action-packed story that I’ve stuffed with magic and fun, and has a huge cast of mermaids, selkies, warlocks, golems, gods, druids and, of course, giants. It’s not out until next April but it’s already available for pre-order now from the usual places, but please do use your local bookshop if you have one. All the info on ROTIG can be found here, which I’ll keep updated as best as I can.
I’ll finish with the bittersweet news that this will be the last of the Dundoodle Mysteries books, but…. it’s not the last of the tales of Dundoodle! I’m not allowed to say more just yet – something tantalising for the future…
The second book of The Dundoodle Mysteries finally came out in Thursday – World Book Day in the UK! Once again, it feels like I’ve been talking about a book for ages and then, suddenly, it’s actually in shops and in people’s hands. It’s always exciting when a new book comes out, and this was no exception.
The trouble with talking about the same book over and over again is that it’s difficult to find something new to say each time. But I don’t think I’ve written before that I think The Dentist of Darkness is my favourite of the the Dundoodle books. It has the fun and sweets and the mystery of The Chocolate Factory Ghost, but it also has a atmosphere of magic and darkness all of its own. It goes deeper into the mythology of the town and Archie’s own family history.
I’ve loved getting lost in the world, and particularly loved creating Unquiet Night, the Dundoodle version of Halloween, as Archie learns from his friends over a hot chocolate in Clootie Dumpling’s cafe:
‘Dundoodle doesn’t have Halloween,’ explained Fliss. ‘Halloween is at the end of October, and in Dundoodle that means icy wind and horizontal rain. The weather’s so miserable even the undead stay in and watch TV! So we have Unquiet Night in the summer instead…’
‘Unquiet Night is when the dead and undead walk, and the spirits and ghouls rise,’ said Billy. ‘Legends say the magical folk come out of hiding for the night and dance the Dance of the Wyrd.’
Archie frowned. ‘That sounds like Halloween to me,’ he said.
From The Dentist of Darkness
Whilst Unquiet Night does sound a lot like Halloween, it has its own special Dundoodle flavour. Festive food such as Coffin Cake, Witchberry Buns, Spellcaster Sugarbeer, Wyrdie-pudding, Spooky Pie and Corpse Rolls are consumed in great quantities. But the favourite treats are Gingerbread Dragons, which prove to be central to the story as Archie discovers more about his magical heritage…
All the info for The Dentist of Darkness can be found here. I’m really looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks about it. I’ve been doing some events as part of the launch for the book, and will post some photos once I get hold of them.
Of course, World Book Day also means people dressing up as their favourite book characters. There’s a bit of a debate as to whether this is a good thing, as it puts parents under a lot of pressure, but I know that authors are delighted if their characters are chosen, me included. Sarah McIntyre and I regularly see a Jampire out and about:
But I was particularly pleased to see a Joe Shoe from Monster & Chips!
I love the apron – just right for serving some monstrous food. Monster & Chips came out almost exactly six years ago, so it’s great to see it’s still got readers after all this time. Thank you so much for choosing to dress as Joe, Xavier! It’s made for a fantastic week all round.
A busy afternoon for me yesterday, but away from the desk for a change. Firstly, a trip to community arts radio station Resonance FM as a guest of the superb Down The Rabbit Hole show, devoted to children’s books. Sita Brahmachari and I reviewed three very different books, along with our warm and welcoming hosts, journalist Imogen Russell Williams, literary agent Louise Lamont and publisher Melissa Cox – there was lots to talk about and the half-hour flew past. You can listen in to the chat here:
- Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species – adapted by Sabina Radeva
- Charlie Changes into a Chicken – by Sam Copeland, illustrated by Sarah Horne
- The Burning – by Laura Bates
Thank you for having me, DTRH!
Then straight from the studio to Waterstones Covent Garden for the launch of my book buddy Karl Newson‘s new picture book, illustrated by Chiaki Okada. For All the Stars Across the Sky is a beautiful book, perfect for bedtimes. The artwork is stunning, and Karl knows just how to strike the right note with his text. It was so nice to see a launch so well-attended, and it was great to catch up with various other book chums too.
A very belated happy New Year to you! I’m having a catch-up with myself after a busy December and January, and February has been much of the same.
I spent Christmas in Southwold, Suffolk, in a little cottage sat beneath the lighthouse. Even then I was working. I was up at 6am every day – including Christmas Day – to do some writing. However, I stopped at 9am so I could have a proper holiday too.
It made all the difference: I managed to get my first draft of the third Dundoodle mystery completed on time, and the location helped a lot. Southwold is a very atmospheric town with its quaint streets, crab shacks and smokehouses on the wharf, its rolling dunes and flat marshlands. As the book is a sea-themed mystery there was plenty of inspiration. Look out for mermaids, viking boats and underwater chases! First reactions from my editors have been good, so the edits aren’t too taxing, thankfully.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – never mind about Book Three, Book Two is almost upon us!
The Dentist of Darkness
The second book of The Dundoodle Mysteries comes out on March 7th, which just happens to be World Book Day (in the UK). I’d love to know if anyone dresses up as Archie and his friends for WBD – or even Mrs Puddingham-Pye – so do let me know if you see any Dundoodlers out there. I think they’re quite easy outfits to make…
I’ve already been sent my advance copies, and I’m so pleased with it! Side by side with The Chocolate Factory Ghost, it looks very handsome indeed, thanks to Claire Powell‘s cover. And her illustrations inside are phenomenal. There’s a darkness to this book that’s she’s captured perfectly.
And you can see this for yourself: my publisher has just put the first four chapters online!
I hope that’s given you a taste for more!
All the info for The Dentist of Darkness can be found here, and I’ve just had confirmed that the audio book is in the works too.
Meanwhile, I’ve been creating an activity pack to go with The DoD, containing puzzles and creative writing ideas – you can download the one I created for The CFG here.
One of the activities for the new pack is a recipe for Gingerbread Dragons – they play a important part in the story, but then biscuits are always important. I’d thought I’d better test out the recipe, naturally! They turned out ok, but decorative icing was beyond my abilities – let me know if you do a better job! I can say they’re nice and crisp and great for dunking in tea – the perfect accompaniment for a good book.
It’s been a busy year and lots of good things have happened, though I feel like I’ve been chained to my desk lately. Here’s what’s being going on since the summer.
In August we paid a visit to Fife for a friend’s wedding. It was a chance to visit in person a place I had discovered when writing my first draft of The Chocolate Factory Ghost. When I came up with the story, I only had a vague idea of how the little town of Dundoodle looked. Originally, there was no chocolate factory at all, and Dundoodle was a fishing village, rather than in the Highlands. When searching online for images of Scottish fishing villages, Crail would often pop up. It’s very picturesque and, as it was only a shortish drive from the wedding venue, it wasn’t too difficult to go and visit.
Above is one of my photos, but there are plenty more much better ones online. I love the stepped gables that give the houses a castle-y look. It’s very distinctive of Scotland and I picture Dundoodle with similar look and feel, even though it’s ‘located’ on the other side of the country, and surrounded by mountains. I’ve written before about how a strong sense of place can bring its own magic to a story, and that’s particularly true of the countryside around Fife.
The Dentist of Darkness
In other Dundoodle news, Book 2 of The Dundoodle Mysteries – The Dentist of Darkness – is at the printers. The art by Claire Powell looks a brilliant as ever and I’m pleased to say it’s going to look as spectacular as the first book! Everything is on schedule for publication day next March. Here’s what the cover will look like:
But there’s no rest: book three of The Dundoodle Mysteries is under way, though I’m finding it quite a challenge to write whilst doing other work projects simultaneously. I’m not very good at multi-tasking but I’m hoping it should all be done by January. It’s set in the spring, and has a watery theme – but my publisher has demanded that there are plenty of sweets in it too!
The audiobook of The CFG has been released, with superb reading from award-winning actor Angus King. I think he had quite a bit of fun doing it, judging from some of the character voices. You can listen to a snippet:
The Dutch edition of the The CFG came out at the end of September, translated by Sandra Hessels (who also translated my Monster & Chips series). The book is called The Secret of the Sweet Factory (Het Geheim van de Snoepfabriek). It’s so exciting to see foreign editions. The Dutch version is in hardback which is always nice. The German edition – Das Karamell-Komplott, translated by Leena Flegler – is out in February 2019.
Cheltenham Literary Festival
I really enjoyed taking part in the Super Sleuths panel at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October. Actor and author Andrew Clover chaired, and Lauren St John and Lisa Thompson also took part. It was a lot of fun talking about how we write and what makes for a good detective story, and wonderful as always to meet some of our readers. It was also wonderful to do an event where I just had to sit and chat. If I’d had a mug of tea it could almost have been relaxing. Here’s a fuzzy photo. I’m wearing a cobwebby shirt specially for the occasion.
Finally, some lovely news I received a week or so ago: The CFG has been shortlisted for two book awards! It’s in the running for the 7-11s category of the Leeds Book Awards, and also for the Surrey Libraries Book Award 2019. I’m up against some very strong competition so I don’t think I’m being too modest in saying I haven’t a hope of winning, but it’s still a great honour. However, both awards ceremonies are on the same day so I’ve a tricky choice as to which to go to! A nice problem to have.
I hope you have a great Christmas break and a brilliant 2019!
Along with half the planet, I’m officially melting here at O’Connell HQ – even typing seems to be a huge effort! However, here are some bits of recent news…
- There’s an interview with me over at the Curtis Brown Creative blog, to go with the picture book writing course I created for them. Find out my favourite flavour of jam!
- I had some library posters made after receiving a number of requests. If your school or public library would like one then let me know. They’re size A3 and there’s a space for a message/autograph too.
- In the Autumn, Archie Budge transmogrifies into Arthur McBell in the Dutch version of The Chocolate Factory Ghost (The Secret of the Sweet Factory) – here’s the cover! I’m guessing McBell rhymes with karamel, as there’s no Dutch version of fudge! It’s been translated by Sandra Hessels who also translated Monster & Chips, so I know it’s in safe hands.
That’s all! I’m thinking of having August away from the internet as best I can – I expect I won’t be able to resist popping up on Instagram and Twitter occasionally, and my next newsletter comes out at the end of the month too, but otherwise I’m going to focus on some writing and brushing up my illustration skills. Enjoy the rest of your summer!
If you’ve ever thought about writing or illustrating your own book, then Curtis Brown Creative have launched a series of online courses for aspiring picture book creators. They asked me and my fab friend and Jampires co-author Sarah McIntyre to help come up with content for three courses: one for writing (me), one for illustrating (Sarah) and a combined course offering material from both of us.
When I quit my day job to work in children’s books I spent a long time floundering around: I was completely clueless as to how to go about it. We’re passing on our experience so you don’t have to make the same mistakes and can get on with being creative.
There are detailed notes and accompanying video content, creative exercises and mentoring, all to help you make your picture book idea a reality. The courses start in October, so sign up now at the CBC website.
It was announced back at the beginning of the year but the Summer Reading Challenge has finally launched in England and Wales (Scotland started in June). The challenge is simple but needs a bit of stamina: read as many of these books as you can during the school summer holidays (and The Chocolate Factory Ghost is just one of them)…
The Beano is a sponsor of the challenge – my favourite childhood read – so it’s great to see The CFG on the list.
You can find all the details at the SRC website where you can sign up and find out more about the books, check out the competitions and other activities. Some libraries are running their own events as part of the challenge so make sure you’re a regular visitor so that you don’t miss out.
On the way back home from Bournville, I picked up a copy of The Guardian and was very pleased to see a plug for The CFG in its Best New Children’s Books supplement that launched Independent Bookshop Week, celebrating independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland.
Do make use of your local independent bookshop if you’re lucky enough to have one. Other bookshops are great too, but they’re all facing tough times competing with online retailers and won’t last on our high streets if we choose price over good service: many bookshops run homework clubs or book groups as well, and offer their premises for launches and other community events. It always warms my heart to see a town with its own bookshop – you can find your nearest one here.
Last Saturday, Claire Powell and I went to Bournville, home of Cadbury’s chocolate factory, for a rather fabulous event held at Selly Manor. This Tudor manor house (it actually dates back to at least 1327, but has had alterations since) was transported in the early 20th Century to Bournville from nearby Bournbrook. George Cadbury wanted it to be one of the centrepieces of Bournville village, and in doing so saved it from destruction.
Bournville is an amazing place, a model village built by Cadburys for their workers. It’s very picturesque, with plenty of the Cadbury trademark purple in evidence, and well worth a visit if you’re visiting Cadbury World nearby.
For our event, organised by Sarah Mullen of the Busy Parents Network (who also organise the Bournville BookFest), Selly Manor had been transformed into Honeystone Hall! (You can see the sign over the door way below.) It was just part of a day of chocolate-themed events taking place in the Hall and its gardens.
There were chocolatey cake stalls, a demonstration from a Cadbury chocolatier, a poetry workshop and a treasure hunt trail based on The Chocolate Factory Ghost. Along with our own drawing and story-making session in the adjacent hall, the Minworth Greaves.
The chocolatier in action. He showed how to temper chocolate to make it shiny and smooth for use in cooking. The smell in the hall was amazing!
Birmingham Poet Laureate (and boxer) Matt Windle turned the children into ‘chocolate rappers’ with his poetry workshop. Over lunch he talked about his work in schools and prisons, connecting people with poetry. It was very inspiring to listen to him. Also he divulged the secret to his sculptured moustache: a handy Pritt stick!
Claire led the children in a monster-making session, before I did some interactive story-telling with volunteers from the audience. There was lots of imagination at work.
It was such a beautiful setting for an event, and everyone made us feel very welcome. Thanks so much to Sarah and all the volunteers at the Manor for their hard work, as well as our Bloomsbury publicist Emily Moran who looked after us – a really special day.
Book 2 of the Dundoodle Mysteries has an important role for the villainous Mrs Puddingham-Pye. I thought I’d write about her for my newsletter, The Dundoodle News, as not only is she a favourite of mine (I love a villain!) but she also has a bit of a history. (If you want to read more of this kind of thing before everyone else, as well as other exclusive stuff, you can sign up for the News here.)
Back in 2014, I worked on a picture book with the brilliant Sarah McIntyre, called JAMPIRES, published by David Fickling Books. Sarah had an idea for these cute, little characters that were like vampires. But instead of blood, they loved to eat jam and other sweet things! It took us ages to come up with a story that worked for them, and the book went through many, many revisions before we found a story everyone liked (Psst! Available to purchase here!).
In one early version, I came up with a character called Mrs Puddingham-Pye – I can’t remember if she was meant to be a goodie or a baddie (she was probably both at one point or another). Georgie and Portia were a pair of nasty pets cats originally, rather than nasty twins. I imagined Mrs P-P to look like a deranged Jackie Onassis. Sarah even created this lovely painted study of her, based on one of my sketches.
Mrs P-P didn’t last very long in Jampires, but I liked the character and the pun of her name, so stored her away for future use. There were a number of occasions when I thought I might use her, but the projects I was working on didn’t feel right. Eventually, as I wrote the first draft of The CFG, and needed an antagonist, I knew this was her chance! Several characters in The CFG have food-related names, so it was the perfect fit.
When I’m creating characters, I often draw them to get a feel for their personality. Here’s my design, complete with malevolent handbag, which I recycled as a character for the Inktober daily drawing challenge (a whodunnit) in 2016. It just shows it’s always worth hanging on to ideas you like – you can find a use for them somewhere eventually!
Of course, Claire Powell has created her own fabulous version of Mrs P-P for The CFG, and I was really pleased that she picked up on the deranged Jackie O vibe, without any interference from me!
(This post originally appeared in my newsletter, The Dundoodle News.)
A lovely reader letter arrived the other day that really made me chuckle: Zachary wrote that he and his brother Solly had named one of their kittens Barry after the monster cat from Monster & Chips, much to the amusement of everyone!
Solly also drew a picture of all the Monster & Chips characters (plus Barry Mk.2).
Brilliant! Thank you so much, chaps!
There’s a very short interview with me here on Words for Life. They even put me in quotes on their Twitter feed. I’ve never been in quotes before.
I’ve had to keep this a secret for so long so it’s a relief that the news is finally out: on Monday the new books for Tom Fletcher’s WHSmith Book Club were announced, and The Chocolate Factory Ghost was amongst them! I’m really thrilled and honoured that one of my books has been associated with such a high profile initiative – it’s very exciting!
Illustrator Claire Powell and I travelled to Wilmington Academy near Dartford which was hosting a launch event. We met Tom and all the other authors (above) whose books had been picked (all very pleased and excitable). We each had to do a presentation on our book to an audience of about 400 children: here’s Tom taking a selfie of all of us looking very relieved after the talks! (Photos by our lovely publicist, Lizz Skelly)
Then we went to the school’s lovely library to film some promotional material. Here’s me chatting to Tom about the book just before Claire did some choc-related drawing!
You’ll be able to watch all the videos over on Tom’s Youtube channel over the next couple of months. Tom worked extremely hard all day – he even appeared on ITV London News the next evening, promoting the Club. The CFG was very visible on screen – even getting its own close-up!
The Book Club picks get their own display stand in WHSmiths, where they can be bought as a bundle. There’s information about all the books on the WHSmiths site, including Tom’s thoughts on them. I noticed there are some teaching resources for The CFG there too, which I’ve not seen before.
Thanks so much to Tom and the WHSmiths team for having us and for all their hard work!