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…
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!
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.)
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!
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 Chocolate Factory Ghost didn’t have an official launch party, but illustrator Claire Powell and I did have some drinks and a social meet-up for some friends last night to mark the occasion. Here’s a couple of pics that my friend and Jampires co-author Sarah McIntyre took:
Congratulations to the fabulous @DavidOConnell & Claire Powell @misspowellpeeps on tonight’s launch for The Chocolate Factory Ghost!😀🍫🏭👻 My review here: https://t.co/v4XH628WJ2 #DundoodleMysteries pic.twitter.com/AX7ClNLMUx
— Sarah McIntyre (@jabberworks) April 11, 2018
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!
By the way, Sarah has a fab new picture out called the The New Neighbours which sees the return of her characters from The DFC comic, Vern & Lettuce. It’s a beautiful book – Sarah’s artwork has never been better – with a great message about prejudice – find out all about it here.
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.
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…
Images © Claire Powell
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.
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, along with an audiobook, all reassuring when you’re a nervous author about to release a book into the wild.
It’s still a bit early to talk about this, but my new fiction series (illustrated by Claire Powell) has made an appearance in Bloomsbury Children’s Books online catalogue for the first half of next year.
[Click on the image for a slightly more readable version of the catalogue.]
I’ll be posting more information when I can (and as usual, the book will have its own page on my website) but for now, I’m keeping my fingers/toes/other bits crossed for October’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where I’m hoping some foreign publishers will be interested in buying rights.