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).
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!
It was my pleasure to illustrate this book, which continues the story of Sam’s supernatural misadventures in the world of reality TV – this time on a twisted version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!
Not only is Sam back, but also the villainous Nigel Cruul, and a bunch of annoying celebrities that may or may not resemble some real life characters, but obviously I couldn’t possibly comment on Tom’s intentions…
Tom’s a very witty writer with a great sense of the absurd, and I really hope the book is a big success for him.
Here are a couple more of the interior illos. You can find out more about the series here.
This means a lot to me personally as I know loads of people who have worked on The Phoenix (which is published by Jampires publisher David Fickling).
It’s a great comic filled with serialised stories, jokes and articles (and it’s ad-free too) and is very much recommended if you’ve haven’t tried it already.
It’s available in quite a few places but you can get it on subscription so it’s delivered to your door. (photo by our excellent publicist at Bloomsbury, Lizz Skelly).
2. The CFG has been nominated for an award! It’s on the longlist for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award in the Read Aloud category. I’ve never had a book I’ve written nominated for an award before (Creature Teacher won the Heart of Hawick award for Sam Watkins in 2016) and although I’m under no illusions about it getting any further, I’m very much enjoying the moment.
My lovely publisher Bloomsbury are running a Chocolate Factory Ghost competition over on their Twitter account (@KidsBloomsbury) for this week only! There’s an entire hamper of luxury chocolate from Prestat up for grabs. It’s dead easy to enter, so if you’re on Twitter then hurry over and let them know what your favourite sweet treat is!
Also, clever illustrator Claire Powell has created a book trailer for The CFG – she’s so talented! I particularly love the music.
The second photo is of Claire and I with our with brilliant designer Andrea Kearney (left) and amazing editor Lucy Mackay-Sim (2nd left). Lucy told us that The CFG is already going to be reprinted which is great news!
And this morning, Claire spotted The CFG in WHSmiths children’s chart! It’s so exciting to see our book nestled amongst the celebrities and big name books. Fingers crossed it does well.
Finally – it’s out and in the shops! It’s feels like I’ve been talking about this book for years. It’s great to know people can now actually read The Chocolate Factory Ghost for themselves. Do buy it from your local bookshop if you can.
Huge thanks to my publishers Bloomsbury (editors Ellen Holgate and Lucy Mackay-Sim, publicist Lizz Skelly and team) for guiding the book into the world, and thanks of course to Claire Powellfor the fab illustrations that brought the world of the Dundoodle Mysteries to life.
It’d be great to hear what people think – if you’ve bought the book, a review on Amazon is always helpful.
If you tweet or Instagram a picture of yourself with the book, I’ll send you a nice, shiny signed bookmark. Just tag your pic with #DundoodleMysteries so I can find it.
The Chocolate Factory Ghost is out this week – it’s so exciting!
In this post, I thought I’d introduce the main characters of the story. Presenting the Dundoodlers (artwork by Claire Powell):
We meet Archie McBudge at the start of the story, when he discovers he has inherited not only the McBudge Fudge and Chocolate Company, with its factory and shops, but also the strange old house of Honeystone Hall in Dundoodle. Archie is unsure of his place in the world, and uncertain if he’s up to the challenge of taking on this huge responsibility. He’s quiet and thoughtful, but smart and with a steely side to his character.
Fliss Fairbairn doesn’t understand why Archie should get to inherit everything when he’s a seemingly undeserving stranger, but when Archie needs help she’s the first to come to his aid. Unlike Archie, she’s full of confidence and passion but also has a logical mind that’s great for solving clues.
Fliss introduces Archie to Billy Macabre (real name ‘MacCrabbie’). He’s an expert on all the weird and magical goings on in Dundoodle and the surrounding countryside. He’s slightly disadvantaged by being terrified of anything remotely spooky but his sharp intelligence is invaluable. He’s often the referee between Fliss and Archie’s sometimes antagonistic relationship.
There are lots of other characters too: funny, silly, magical, ghostly and just plain villainous. Meet them all in The Chocolate Factory Ghost.
I met illustrator Claire Powell for the first time yesterday – we had a lovely chat over tea and cake in the café at Foyles. I was so pleased to finally be able to tell her in person how much I loved the illustrations for The Chocolate Factory Ghost!
She’s kindly answered some questions for a mini-interview. There are some sneak peeks of her work below, and you can see more in the online preview of the book.
Where are you from?
I’m a Northerner! Originally from a town called West Kirby on The Wirral, which is a peninsula sandwiched between Liverpool and Wales.
It’s a beautiful place with long coastal walks and spectacular views. It’s extremely peaceful and has a much slower pace of life – when I’m stuck on the tube in rush hour I often wish I was there instead!
My parents and school friends still live there and I visit regularly. My dad has been a printer all his life, though he’s now retired, and I worked for him when I was a teen in his factory. I loved it.
The smell of the ink, the sound of the machinery – sometimes when I buy a new book it has that ‘factory’ smell and it will remind me of that time. It’s no surprise that I’ve ended up in a print based job.
In ’98 I went to uni in Preston and studied graphic design. It was a very traditional course, weighted heavily toward typography and layouts. I lost count of the hours I spent hand drawing typographic layouts! It was an excellent foundation for the work I do now. I spent a few years as a graphic designer in a Preston agency and, moved to London in 2005 to study an MA in motion graphics. At the time, I wanted to work in TV which is what I did for almost ten years. I worked for an agency called Red Bee and I rebranded TV channels – CBBC, BBCThree, Nickelodeon (India), Dreamworks Animation to name a few. I enjoyed my time there but, as the years went on, I knew I didn’t want to do it forever and I started exploring different avenues. I dabbled in animation before signing up for a picture book course which changed the course of my life!
Where do you work?
I work upstairs in my flat in Acton! My commute to work is exactly eleven stairs 🙂
I’m lucky as my flat has a mezzanine level which I use as my little studio. It has big windows and a fairly decent view over west London. I’m so happy whenever I’m in there, it’s my sanctuary. I’m not very good at working in cafés, though I’m trying to be better, I end up watching people and doing no work! There’s a yoga studio close to my house and I go there several times a week in an attempt to do some exercise.
What are your influences?
Goodness, this is always a hard question. With social media, we have exposure to so many great things, it can be overwhelming. I think it’s important to take your influences from a wide range of sources and I often take photos of random things and file them for when I need them. It might be a carpet with interesting colour combinations or a tiled floor with a cool pattern, the other day I screen grabbed a picture of Keira Knightly wearing a fabulous retro dress – that will probably end up somewhere…
At the moment I’m researching interior spaces and I’m being influenced by Tony Duquette, a fantastically flamboyant interior designer. I’m starting to put more pattern and detail into my work and I spend a lot of time on Pinterest looking at fashion and interior design. I’m always pinning things ‘just in case’.
Illustration wise, I love the work of David Roberts – his patterns and attention to detail are stunning and, the fact he does it all in watercolour Blows. My. Mind. My favourite illustrator is Arthur Rackham. His work is so exquisite, I could look at it for hours. I especially like his goblins and elves! I recently discovered the work of Melissa Castrillon and I thought her limited colour palettes were beautiful – I always use too many colours so it’s inspiring to see someone create stunning work with a small palette. I also went to the Tove Jansson exhibition recently and it was magical. I didn’t read her books as a child so it was a real eye opener for me. Such a huge volume of work, a real talent – you can’t fail to be inspired and influenced by people of that calibre.
You’ve worked in animation and graphic design – tell us about some of the projects you worked on.
Well, I wouldn’t class myself as an animator, though I have dabbled in it. It is a craft I have huge respect for. It’s time-consuming and you need to be an excellent draftsman with a lot of patience. I know this because I made a short film a few years ago and I massively underestimated the task! It took me four years to make, all whilst working full-time. There were times I thought it would never be finished but I was determined not to abandon it. It isn’t perfect and, if I did it again (which is unlikely!) I’d do it differently, but I’m proud I made it.
The film is based on true events. Set at the turn of the 20th Century it follows George Edalji, a young man who, after a series of disturbing events, is accused of a ruthless crime. He appeals to Britain’s most famous crime writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for help. He embarks on a passionate campaign to clear George’s name and, well… I won’t give the ending away!
How do those experiences influence your illustration and book work?
Training as a graphic designer has definitely informed my illustration work. I was taught a very traditional approach, tight grids and layouts, lots of typography, often drawn by hand and the simplicity of ideas was drilled into me – it shouldn’t take more than a short sentence to explain your idea. Those things have stuck with me and I see them appearing in my work now.
I think I have a natural aptitude for showing character expression but working in TV taught me how to tell a story in a short amount of time. Storyboarding, sequencing, composition – all directly translate into my illustrations, especially children’s books where I’m telling a narrative over a series of page turns. I often think of my characters moving, I imagine how they would walk or react to a certain situation (sometimes I act it out!) and then I try to capture that in a single illustration. Expression is so important to me and I want it to be at the forefront of my work.
[From Have You Seen My Giraffe? text by Michelle Robinson, Simon & Schuster (July 2017)]
Even working for my dad, in his factory, has been incredibly handy – I understand the print process which helps a lot when you’re making books and delivering files. I never would have thought, when I was fifteen, that what I was learning would turn out to be so useful.
I used to feel disappointed that I was arriving at illustration a bit later in life, but now I see how the years of training in design and TV have been great ground work for where I’m at now.
[From Octopants, text by Suzie Senior, Little Tiger (July 2018)]
How do you approach illustrating a chapter book like The CFG?
It was my first chapter book so I was beyond excited. I’d done samples of the characters and one full-page illustration (the greenhouse) so when I was commissioned I already knew how the characters looked.
Bloomsbury sent me a detailed brief, for the forty interior illustrations and the cover. I enjoyed the process of working to a tight brief. There was heaps of room for me to play with but it made a nice change from working on a picture book where there’s a lot more freedom.
I started by roughing out all the illustrations, doing research as and when I needed to. I even used a monopoly house to help me draw the school from a top view perspective!
The roughs were sent for approval and then I started the finals.
Some illustrations I created as one drawing. Others, the cave and boat drawings for example, I did in layers, drawing the characters and backgrounds on separate bits of paper. I wanted some freedom to experiment with textures so I’d scan everything and then play around in Photoshop.
I used pencil, charcoal and graphite and I found it so enjoyable to be creating by hand, not on the computer.
The cover was a little tricky, but they do tend to be the hardest bit. I did quite a few versions until we settled on the final idea. I wanted to colour it all dark and spooky but Bloomsbury wanted it less Gothic so we settled on a fresher, friendlier colour palette which focuses on introducing the characters.
What else are you working on?
I’m working on two picture books at the moment – both top secret, of course! They’ll be finished in the summer. Then I’ll be working on CFG part deux and I’m scheduled to do another, top secret, picture book starting in October. I’m hoping I might get September off! Shock, horror! It would be nice to spend some time on my own projects, it’s hard to find time for them at the moment, though I’m not complaining.
This is the hardest question…. I’m going with my childhood classic – toffee nut crumble. If you took a Twix, bashed it into pieces and then remoulded it into tiny log shapes you would have toffee nut crumble. It’s delicious. I also like chocolate covered peanuts. Oh, and fudge. And chocolate mice…
There’s less than a month until The Chocolate Factory Ghost is out in the shops, and I’ll be posting some special things here in the run up to its release.
Firstly, how about a preview of the insides of the book? Bloomsbury, my publishers, have put the first four chapters online, including Claire Powell‘s wonderful illustrations, so you can have a sneak peek.
The Chocolate Factory Ghost is published on April 5th (though I expect it will be in shops before then). All the info is here, including some lovely reviews.
Last night, a clutch of slightly apprehensive authors faced the press, librarians, book buyers and bloggers at a comedy club in central London to talk about their new books, and I was privileged to be amongst them, talking about The Chocolate Factory Ghost.
It was a bit nerve-wracking, as we had a five minute time-limit to talk. It felt like were on the Dragons’ Den TV show, but the Bloomsbury Kids’ Fiction Showcase was thankfully filled with friendly, supportive people.
My general aim for these kind of events is ‘don’t look like an imbecile’ and I think I did ok. It was nice chatting to everyone afterwards too.
Here’s a couple more pics from some audience members:
Me with Katherine Rundell, James Campbell, Mark Powers, Laura James, librarian Georgiana Martincu, A.F. Harrold, Sibéal Pounder and Jo Simmons.
Thanks to the good folk at Bloomsbury for organising a fun evening.
The cover of the The CFG is now on display at the Bloomsbury website so I think I’m allowed to show it off in all its glory: isn’t it fab?
Illustrator Claire Powell has done a wonderful job of creating the magical world of Dundoodle, and Archie and his friends, and the cover is the crowning glory. It will stand out very nicely on the bookshop shelves.
And news just in: The Bookseller‘s children’s books editor Fiona Noble has made The CFG one of her Editor’s Choices for April – woohoo! This is a big deal as The Bookseller is the magazine that all the book buyers and reviewers read. Might need a sit down.
I’m collecting all the reviews for the book on its page – there have been some lovely comments, and it seems like people really ‘get it’, which is always a relief.
There are a number of foreign editions in the works too, alonghttp://davidoconnell.uk/my-books/the-dundoodle-mysteries/chocolate-factory-ghost/ with an audiobook, all reassuring when you’re a nervous author about to release a book into the wild.
The Summer Reading Challenge gets three quarters of a million children into libraries to keep up their reading skills and confidence during the long holidays. Here’s what organisers the Reading Agency‘s website says:
The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read six books during the long summer holiday.
There is a different theme each year. Children can read whatever they like – fact books, joke books, picture books, audio books – just as long as they are borrowed from the library.
Children receive special rewards each time they finish a book and there’s a certificate for everyone who completes the Challenge.
The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all primary school aged children and is designed for all reading abilities. Schools work with local libraries and give out information to encourage children to take part, and most libraries run Summer Reading Challenge linked early years activity for pre-schoolers.
This year’s theme is ‘Mischief Makers’ and The Chocolate Factory Ghost is one of seventy titles that children have to choose from. It’s really exciting that lots of readers will get the chance to discover Archie McBudge’s adventures through their local library. You might just be able to make out the book’s cover in the image above, even though it’s not been officially approved!
The full book list for older children can be found here. I’ll be talking about this much more in 2018, and on that cheery note I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
When Monster & Chips first came out, my publisher ran a competition inviting people to send in their ideas for monstrous food. I still get the occasional email about it, although the competition finished a long time ago. It doesn’t matter, as I love to hear from readers and to see what they come up with.
Here’s Amos (aged 9), who read the whole of Monster & Chips in two days, with a bowl of granola and worms! Yum – I hope he (or a monstrous friend) enjoyed it.
I had a lovely parcel from my publisher Bloomsbury today: book proofs!
These are a test print run so that the publisher gets an idea of what the book might look like when it’s printed. The cover and illustrations aren’t completed, but it’s a chance to check for mistakes in the text amongst other things. Copies are sent to reviewers and potential buyers so they can get an advance look. Marketing is everything!
Bloomsbury also sent me a genuine McBudge Fudge bar, made in the Dundoodle Chocolate Factory! Fabulous – it made my day.