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 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!
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.
This brilliant monster is Buddy, created by Jesse Becerra. Buddy’s super-cool, with his tentacles and multiple eyeballs, and also has great taste in pizza. Thanks, Jesse!
I get lots of emails from readers in the Netherlands who have to do book reports for school – it sounds like it’s quite a common thing to do. Students have to find out about the book’s authors as well as telling their classmates about the story. I’m quite happy to answer questions as it’s always nice to know that people like your book enough to tell others about it.
I don’t often get to hear how the book reports go, so was very pleased to hear back from Philippe (aged 8) who was awarded a 9 for his report! I’m not surprised, as he included a monstrous menu of his own making:
Blood Soup with Living Human Eyes
Hamburger with Dead Cricket
Pizza of Darkness (the title of the second Monstersnackbar book)
That is the scariest pizza I’ve seen in quite a while. I think I’d stick to the hamburger.
Philippe also included a menu made by one of his classmates.
Dung Beetles with chips
Frog Legs with chips
Lion’s Eyeballs with (large) chips
Zombie Cupcakes with Icing and chips
Beetles with chips
Very tasty! I love the little illustrations that go with the food, just like the menus in the Monster & Chips (De Monstersnackbar in Dutch) books.
Thanks so much for sending these, Philippe!
Autumn is here already! I’ve lots of news to catch up on but important things first: fan art.
This picture of Barry from Monster & Chips was sent to me by Tycho from the Netherlands. Barry’s looking very jolly here. Thank you, Tycho – he’s brilliant!
I’m particularly proud of the Dutch editions (De Monstersnackbar) as they’re lovely hardbacks, and it’s nice to hear from Dutch readers. Translator Sandra Hessels obviously did a great job.
Argh! Half a year gone and I haven’t achieved nearly enough, including blog posts. Here’s few things that have been going on:
The first book of this series came out in April. It can sometimes be a bit confusing working on a set of books that are being published at relatively short intervals. Whilst book one was appearing in the shops I was working on the illustrations for book two and simultaneously working on the cover for book three! I keep getting the books mixed up in my head. Here’s a rough pencil-version of an illustration from book two, with the CT gang on the hunt for mischievous creature!
Creature Teacher writer Sam Watkins had a very busy launch event at Thomas A Becket School in Worthing in May. She spent the whole day doing short events with children from years 1 and 3 – I think she was losing her voice by the end of it all.
I joined her for the afternoon sessions to do a bit of drawing whilst she read from the book. It was a lot of fun but quite exhausting! It was the first time Sam and I had actually met (she is lovely, thank goodness!). Sam even made some swirly biscuits to match the book cover design. I can personally vouch for how tasty they were.
Here’s a pic of us at the end-of-day signing (we didn’t play the bongos, alas). Not sure who took this photo – apologies for pinching it.
Our visit even made it into the Worthing Herald. Oh, the heady heights of fame. Here’s a clipping from Sam’s Twitter feed:
(You can read the online version here.)
We ran a competition at the school to design a cover for a Creature Teacher book – you can see all the entries at the CT website here. I love how much energy there is in all the drawings, but then it is a very energetic book!
More recently, Sam and I visited Brighton Waterstones for a drawing and reading session. Everyone got to design their own Creature Teachers, drawing or doing a bit of collage. Here’s some photos from Sam’s Twitter:
It’s great doing events with someone else – you get to bounce ideas off each other, as well as providing a bit of support. Sam and I will be doing more events together at some point soon.
Monster & Chips
I was thrilled to see Whitchurch School in Hampshire have been reading Monster and Chips as part of their Year 4 book group. You can read all about it here. The readers have been creating their own monsters and even making up their own ‘delicious’ menu:
- Bashed Beetleburger AND CHIPS
- Slimy Slug Surprise with antennae eyes
- Eyeball soup with slug slime chips
- Bogey burger gravy AND CHIPS
- Smelly cabbage soup with poo plop croutons
- Earwax tart
Poo plop croutons! Tasty. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book – I love seeing people’s reactions to it. Thanks to librarian and book evangelist Jo for the tip-off!
Sarah has been very busy – and successful – with her Pictures Mean Business Campaign, trying to get more recognition for book illustrators in their contribution to a book’s success. You can find out more here, or follow the #PicturesMeanBusiness hashtag on Twitter.
Sarah has a new picture book out in June: Dinosaur Police! I saw the print proofs for it a while back and it’s her best book yet – absolutely brilliant!
Red Alert! How will Dinoville’s police squad catch Trevor the T-Rex, who’s at the pizza factory, gobbling up all the pizzas meant for the town fair? Inspector Sarah Tops and Seargeant Stig O’Saurus are on the case!
This Book is Funny!
I’ve blogged previously about Alex Milway‘s initiative to promote funny books for children. He’s been sending out thousands of stickers to schools and libraries so they can help their readers find the books they love.
Alex has also produced a couple (so far) of podcasts full of comedy sketches, readings and interviews. I’ve written a bit material for him for a future recording featuring Fuzzby and Barry from Monster & Chips. Need a laugh? Then follow Alex’s Soundcloud for guaranteed chuckles.
Out and about
I try to get away from my desk when I can. Whilst in Brighton for the Waterstones shindig I popped along to the Brighton Illustration Fair, part of the town’s fringe festival.
Lots of lovely things to see, but I was very much taken with the drawing activity they had: rotating towers of cardboard boxes that you could draw on in a heads-and-tails fashion. Worth bearing in mind for a future event.
Nunhead Cemetery is an old Victorian graveyard near where I live. It was abandoned for years before the local council took it over and in the intervening years nature completely overran it, turning it into some kind of gothic film set.
Burials still take place there, but the council have wisely left most of the cemetery untouched. I think some bits are ‘managed’ to encourage some bio-diversity. It must be heaven for foxes, judging from the number I’ve seen there. You have to be careful in some parts in case you fall into an ivy-covered tomb!
I’ve been there several times (it’s good for dog-walking) but they had an open day in May, providing tours for those interested. I prefer to wander and soak up the peaceful/melancholy atmosphere (depending on your mood!).
I’ve also made a couple of visits to the recently opened Sky Garden. It’a worth a trip if you’re able, as it’s free (though you have to book) and has one of the best views in London, in my opinion, plus added tree ferns.
If you fancy some spooky fun this forthcoming half term then drop by the Story Museum in Oxford city centre on Tuesday 28th October. I’ll be doing a monster-themed comic workshop in the morning, and then in the afternoon will be joined by Sarah McIntyre for a JAMPIRE JAMBOREE! All the details including tickets can be found at the Story Museum website.
I’m kicking off a new work project today. Here’s a sneaky peek at one of the characters! I’m using a Cintiq 21UX for this job, which I recently bought second-hand. I’m hoping it will make the process faster. Unfortunately it doesn’t make me a better artist!
This is a Cintiq – it’s a touch screen device that plugs into your computer and acts as a second screen (you can click on the photo to see it a bit bigger). With a stylus you can draw on it just like paper.
On the screen you can see a two page spread from the book I’m illustrating, with the text all ready in place.
The grey box is where the book designer wants the illustration to go. She’s also high-lighted some text in blue that is relevant to the picture. Using the Cintiq I can draw the illustration straight into the page, rather than using paper, pencils and ink and then having to scan the whole thing.
I always get a bit nervous about new projects and have to take a couple of days to get my head around the task and try not to panic about what I’m being asked to do. Sometimes you just have to go for a walk to get your thoughts together.
Treacle and I found some gigantic fungi growing in the local park on our walk yesterday. Bigger than cabbages and twice as ugly!
And on a trip to Sainsbury’s I was very pleased to see they were stocking the re-packaged Monster & Chips for their Reading Scheme. It looks very nice next to all the other books and they’re doing a buy-one-get-one-free offer, if you’re interested!
I’ve had a couple of ‘good post’ days recently. Not so long ago the postman brought the Dutch edition of book 2 of Monster & Chips or ‘De Monster-Snackbar‘. The book has been given the sub-title “The Pizza of Darkness” as I guess “Night of the Living Bread” doesn’t translate! As ever, the Dutch publisher and translator Sandra Hessels have done a great job and it’s a prized addition to my personal corner of the bookshelf.
Joining it is a version of book 1 that’s been repackaged by Sainsbury’s for their reading scheme. It’s in hardback and full-colour, and reprints chapter 1, where Joe first meets Fuzzby! It’s part of the scheme’s Ruby Level so ideal for those readers comfortable with reading alone. It’s available in stores from the end of August.
I’ve just come back from a holiday (more about that tomorrow) to find that The Guardian have posted some of the entries to the Monster & Chips competition that ran a while ago.
And here’s the winner: congratulations to Luke Westall! I chose his character, Itsi, as I thought Luke had shown the best imagination in both his drawing and in the things he had written about his character. There was a lot about Itsi’s personality and how he would fit into the world of monsters: I could just see him in a Monster & Chips story. Also, sabre-tooth cats are very cool.
Part of Luke’s prize was a drawing of Itsi by me, so here’s my version:
Huge thanks to The Guardian for hosting the competition! You can see a whole load of other entrants here.
Here’s another bit of Monster & Chips artwork sent to me recently – a great picture of Joe, chips and all, drawn by Tomos Rees. Tomos’ mum and dad are old friends of mine – apparently he likes to draw every night before bedtime. I wish I could be that organised!
I’ll be at the London Film & Comic Convention in a couple of weeks. It’s not an event I’ve been to before and I’m really looking forward to it.
As well as all the comics folks there will be all sorts of film types making personal appearances: Princess Leia, a couple of Doctor Whos and a few of the cast of Games of Thrones that are still alive (and some that are not)!
And there is a YA Literature Convention being run in parallel, curated by the current Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman. Should be a lot of fun!
World Book Day was back in March – it’s a chance for children at schools all over the country to dress up as characters from their favourite books.
I’ve not heard of anyone dressing up as characters from MONSTER & CHIPS so these photos sent to me by a mum yesterday are a first, as far as I know! And they’re brilliant!
Take a look at ‘Joe’. He’s absolutely perfect – even the hair is right! And look at those hand-sewn zombie cupcakes! Spectacular creativity and a lot of hard work too. My day is officially MADE.
Yesterday was a bit of struggle.
Firstly, I had to judge the entrants to the Guardian Children’s Books monster drawing competition.
It was great to see so many exciting and colourful pictures! A lot of thought and hard work had gone into the drawing (and often, the accompanying text) and it looked like the entrants had had a lot fun being creative, which is what I’d hoped. The struggle was in picking a winner. Whenever someone judging a competition says “I wish I could pick them all!” it’s easy to think that they’re not being genuine, but I really, really wish I could. Anyway, a winner has been chosen and will be announced on the Guardian website very soon.
The second struggle of the day was walking my dog Treacle through the rain to get her hair cut (it grows very quickly, probably something to do with her shih tzu ancestry, I’m told) and then back home though the rain again.
Result: one wet, sulky dog and one wet, sulky human.
I think of my dog as being completely daft, but am often surprised by how sensitive she is to body language and mood. She knew ‘Daddy’ was in a bad temper.
And so, instead of trying to clamber onto my lap or root around in the rubbish looking for food scraps as is her usual way, she just sat, still and quiet until the mood passed. Then back to normal.
Dogs are great.
The last struggle of the day, having got myself warm and dry, was to venture out into the rain again (still sniffling from my stupid cold) to attend the opening reception for the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library. Of course, I’m very glad I did. Subtitled ‘Art & Anarchy in the UK’, the exhibition is co-curated by Adrian Edwards, John Harris Dunning and the brilliant Paul Gravett. It looks at the history of British comics and their wide-ranging style and subject matter, with a focus on those works that challenge social, political and sexual boundaries. Fascinating stuff and beautifully designed by Dave McKean, it’s an amazing-looking, eye-opening exhibition.
As usual, I was hopeless at getting any photos but here are a few grabs from Twitter to give an idea of the evening. From the British Library’s own feed:
Jonathan Ross, broadcaster and comics fan, gave the opening speech. Lawless Nelly is the exhibition mascot, designed by Jamie Hewlett, and apparently named by a BL staffer after Charles Dickens’ mistress!
From Bridget Hannigan’s feed:
Woodrow Phoenix‘s one-of-a-kind super-sized comic ‘She Lives’. A huge piece of work in many senses.
From innovative comic-maker Douglas Noble’s feed:
One of the nice things about the exhibition is the inclusion of screens displaying digital comics of various genres. Douglas’ work is particularly interesting and thought-provoking. I’ve being enjoying his current Parakoe series very much.
Lastly, one picture of mine! I was delighted to see the inclusion of ink+PAPER, the comics anthology that I created and edit, amongst the exhibits. It was open at the comic created by Katriona Chapman, detailing her experiences with flat-sharing and the state of the housing market. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and Katriona’s first ever comic, so I’m thrilled it’s being displayed.
Details of the Comics Unmasked exhibition can be found here. There is also a series of events and workshops associated with it – I’m looking forward to seeing a personal hero, Posy Simmonds, chatting with Steve Bell in a couple of months.
It’s been a busy few days with a bit of wandering around but I’m back home and suffering silently (NOT REALLY) with a nasty cold. Here’s what’s been happening:
Also known as the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, it’s a relatively recent addition to the literary festival circuit. However, that hasn’t stopped it being ambitious in its programme as well as beautifully organised – and all in a lovely setting up in the Cotswolds.
I was there as part of the Schools Programme, visiting Kingham and Chadlington Primary Schools for some monster drawing workshops! Here’s a pic of me in action that I’ve stolen from the Twitter feed of the wonderful HarperCollins publicist Becca Palmer (@BeePea91) who was super-efficient in getting me out into the wilds of Oxfordshire and back again, safe and sound.
The children came up with some brilliant ideas (no surprises there, from my experience with these events) but also asked some very direct questions about writing and creating books – some budding authors there, I think. Either way, it was a lot of fun!
Here’s a pic (also stolen from the Twitter feed of @ChipLitFest themselves) of some of the other authors attending the Schools Programme at a superb dinner organised by the festival team at The Chequers:
Thanks so much to everyone behind the scenes at the festival: drivers, selling volunteers, food makers and wonderful bookshop Jaffe & Neale for hosting our lovely Green Room. It all made for a brilliant time!
After the festival I dashed off to Heathrow airport to catch the last flight of the day to Amsterdam. I lived there for a couple of years and absolutely love it. It’s been four years since I’ve been back, but as soon as I stepped off the ‘plane everything felt very familiar and I was very much at home. It was the weekend of the first King’s Day so all the locals were in a party mood, filling the city with a relaxed but convivial atmosphere.
Saturday had the perfect weather for wandering around old haunts, looking for bargains in the tax and licence-free flea-market that’s permitted just for the day, and also for general people-watching. Everyone wears the national colour of orange so the streets and canals have a vibrant and jolly feel to them.
It was also a chance to spot the Dutch edition of Monster & Chips or De Monster-Snackbar, as it’s called, out in the wild. Excitingly, it was on display in the five-storey Scheltema bookshop on Koningsplein.
De Monster-Snackbar looks great in this hardback edition. It’s published by Veltman-Jeugd and translated by Sandra Hessels. There were lots of fabulous picture books on sale, so I picked up a few of those as souvenirs too.
Coincidentally my friend Dirk spotted De Monster-Snackbar in SpeelBoek in Amersfoort at the same time! Thanks, Dirk.
Now it’s time to get back to work, if I can shake off the sniffles! Lots to do. I’m working on some picture books and doing some writing too, for picture books and ‘young fiction’ (ages 7-10).
Added to that, I started a novel a while back and am keen to get it finished in the next year or so – will have to fit that in somewhere.
Some events: I’ve mentioned the Alt Press Takeover in a previous post. I’ve also got myself a table at the MCM Expo at the end of May which is usually pretty crazy. It’s a while since I’ve been to an Expo so I’m really looking forward to that.
Before then, I’m in Oxford at the Bookfeast for more monster shenanigans. See you there?
Excitingly, The Guardian are running a MONSTER & CHIPS competition throughout April where you can win a piece of original art drawn by me!
Get your pencils, pens and crayons together and create your own monster – the winning entry gets their monster drawn into a picture by me, as well as a signed copy of Monster & Chips: Food Fright! There are runners-up prizes of books too. I can’t wait to see what people come up with. All the details can be found over at The Guardian’s website.
For the competition, The Guardian asked me to give my ten top tips for creating monsters. I’ve reproduced them here:
The Monster and Chips series of books have an enormous cast of characters but very few of them are actually human (or “hooman”, as the monsters say). From Fuzzby Bixington, the monster chef, to Uncton Slugglesbutt, his villainous rival, I’ve had to create and draw all kinds of strange and funny creatures to inhabit Monsterworld. The wonderful thing about making monsters is that there are no rules, but here are some things that might help you while working in your own creature laboratory.
- When drawing a monster, start with a simple shape that fits its character: maybe an oval for a fat, blobby monster or a rectangle for tall, strong tree-monster or a triangle for a squat, pointy-headed frog monster. Or combine all three for something really strange… Blobotreefrogasaurus!
- What is the body made of? Is it covered in bright green fur like Fuzzby, the owner of the Monster Diner? Or a hard insect exoskeleton like Gordon, a customer who dissolves his food with acid saliva? Or maybe wobbling blue jelly, like flatulent Mr Jubbins and his see-through tummy?
- How many heads? Just one eye or fifty-three? Four ears or seven antlers? As many legs as a centipede or a one-legged hopping monster? The sky is the limit (especially if the legs are really long). Just remember that drawing twenty-nine tentacles can get boring very quickly if you have to do it over and over again.
- Does your monster wear clothes? Monster apparel is something that is often forgotten. Perhaps King Kong would have been more welcome if he’d worn a smart tie, stripy socks and patent leather shoes. Would people have run screaming from Godzilla if he’d been wearing a woolly cardigan and a bobble hat? Choose your monster’s attire carefully: it’s a fine line between trendy triumph and monster fashion disaster!
- Gross is good: the grosser the better. Everyone likes a fart joke. Even your granny (probably)! Make your monster as disgusting as possible. Sludge-drippingly, mucous-oozingly, slime-burpingly, toilet-stinkingly, cheese-bubblingly, bog-gurglingly, toe-chewingly, bum-scratchingly, tongue-dibblingly disgusting. But make sure you’ve had your dinner first.
- Speaking of dinner, what does your monster like to eat? Everyone loves the monster-sized chips served at Fuzzby’s Diner, but perhaps your monster has a particular favourite food? Stinky Coughy Pudding? Splodgeburgers? CHILDREN ON TOAST? The food it eats can reveal a lot about your monster’s character.
- Where does your monster live? A lovely, tidy monster house with curtains tied back with ribbon? Or a dark, toadstool-infested cave with hot-and-cold running rats? Or maybe UNDER YOUR BED RIGHT NOW? EEEK! In Food Fright, the “hooman” boy Joe discovers a load of monsters are living in the shadowy sewers beneath Fuzzby’s diner. If only he can find his way out…
- Does your monster have a job? All the Bixington family are cooks or chefs. Fuzzby’s cousin Zuffby is an expert monster mega-sandwich maker. Perhaps your monster is a teacher, teaching young monsters rending and writhing? Or a mechanic, like Fuzzby’s friend Petrolla who specialises in machines that explode (sometimes on purpose).
- How does your monster talk? Does it have its own language? Does it roar like a dragon with fiery special effects? Or does it fart Morse code? Does it sound creepy, nice or just plain silly and stupid? In the Monster and Chips books all the monsters sound just like ordinary grown-up humans, as I’ve never heard anything sillier or more stupid than the way ordinary grown-up humans speak.
- Finally, and very importantly, make sure your monster has a name! I like names that tell you something about the monster. Like “Fuzzby” which sounds warm and cuddly. Or “Barry”, which sounds like… um, a cat (luckily there is a cat called Barry in Monster and Chips! Phew!) Alternatively, just throw a load of words together: the audience at a Monster and Chips event at the Edinburgh Book Festival lost year came up with a monster name of Sluggybottom Ninjapants! You can’t get more descriptive than that!
The competition runs until April 29th.