Magic may have gone from the world, but it still resides in children's books

February 11, 2010 by  
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People talk about the rise of fantasy in children’s books relating directly to the increased lack of freedom in the real world. The more society can keep tabs on you – mobile phones or social media – the more children crave a world where they’re allowed to be free and out of contact.

I totally buy this. Books provide that freedom, or at least they allow the reader to experience that freedom from afar. I don’t really know any other medium that can do this.

For a child there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing a world where parents aren’t looking after you, where everything is not plain to see or readily available. And that’s what we children’s writers are trying to do, I think. We’re trying to put the freedom back into a world that’s lost it.

I bought a wood so that our child might grow up to know what it’s like to wander safely, and freely through a wilderness.

The very idea of wilderness, the wild and untamed, really excited me when I was young. There’s a sense of magic in wilderness that you just can’t find in a town or city. And I don’t necessarily mean magic as in Harry Potter. That would be too easy. The magic lies in experiencing things for yourself, discovering things because of what you’ve done, and not looking up the answers to any problems on Google. That magic is often related to not understanding things, and searching for the truth.

For example, there’s that moment when you finally realise what a lyric is to a song, and suddenly the magical aura is gone. It’s not as interesting any more. I’m a solid fan of science and understanding the truth, revealing the magic behind what makes things work, but that’s not to say I want to give my child the answers to everything. That would be daft. I want her to experience the magic in the world, and to do that she needs to be allowed to feel free.

And that’s the strength of children’s books, and the power that we have as children’s writers and illustrators. We are allowed to create a wilderness for children to play in, to imagine themselves in, away from the confines of the enclosed modern world that provides all the answers.

We have a duty to provide beautiful worlds where inquisitive imaginations can grow and go crazy, and we also have a duty to allow kids to feel scared, to feel brave enough to turn the page and face their fears on their own.

The wilderness will make strong minds and strong characters out of children, and I for one applaud children’s books for keeping it alive.

Interviews, yetis and Ponyo

January 18, 2010 by  
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If I’m not suffering from baby-induced sleep deprivation, I’m working or doing other such things, so I apologise for even fewer posts than normal. It’s another of those busy times, and the worst part of being so busy is that ideas always flood in when I’m up to my neck in it. Notebooks are filling up once more, but I have even less time to do anything about it now than ever.

So just a quick few things to bring you up to date! There’s a huge interview with me over at Tall Tales and Short Stories. I’ve also heard that the Mousehunter is now going to be published in Hungary, so I’m totally thrilled! That’s another country I need to visit – Budapest looks lovely!

Oh, and I’ve finally got round to watching Ponyo, the latest Miyazaki film.


I loved it, and all it’s done is make me even more excited for the new Studio Ghibli version of the Borrowers, which is released later in the year, I think.

Right then, life’s full of sea monsters at the minute, so I’d best get back to it.

Win real Mousehunter artwork!

January 7, 2010 by  
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Faber are running an ace competition to win copies of Mousebeard’s Revenge. The star prize is an illustration of a mouse from the book, which is not to be sniffed at if I do say so myself.

So spread the word and maybe even enter the competition. What have you got to lose? Closing date is 1 February, 2010, so you best get cracking!

Mousebeard's Revenge, out now!

January 4, 2010 by  
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It’s official, Mousebeard’s Revenge, the concluding part of the Mousehunter trilogy is now available, and pretty cheap if you buy it through Amazon. So shout about it from the rafters and every rooftop going, and if you’re in a bookshop – even if you don’t want to buy it – go and ask the store assistant if they have Mousebeard’s Revenge in stock.

I’ll love you all forever.

Best Children's Books of 2009

November 9, 2009 by  
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I’ve seen a lot of books this year, and made many new friends in the book world. The more friends you get, the more you books and writers you learn of, and the larger your brain needs to grow to remember them all.

But I’m going to do my best. So here are some of the highlights of the year, in no particular order.

dingsDinkin Dings and the Frightening Things. I love this book. Guy Bass came and did a great spot at the Crystal Palace Children’s Book Festival and this story is just so much fun. Get your Zombalien masks on now!

morris Morris the Mankiest Monster. I really don’t need to say anything about this, just look at how brilliant it is. I love Sarah McIntyre‘s work. She’s got possibly the best line work out there and she’s also incredibly capable of making pictures full of hilarious, manky creatures. And the story’s by the Purple Ronnie guy, so it’s pretty darn perfect too.

rainbowThe Rainbow Orchid. If you like Tintin books, this is the one for you. Garen Ewing manages to cram so much detail into the panels that you get totally wrapped up in his world. It’s awesome, and a fabulous achievement. We’re lucky to have someone so talented making work like this these days.

enemyThe Enemy. Zombies are everywhere, and this book doesn’t need any more free marketing, but it is a goodie. It’s nasty and exciting, and it’s by Charlie Higson, so a win all around. I’d have loved this as a teenage boy. This is exactly what books for teenage boys should be like.

furnaceFurnace. Keeping on the horror theme, these three Furnace books by Alexander Gordon Smith are awesome. If you like the idea of being trapped in an underground prison, more closely resembling hell than Alcatraz, you’ll like these books.

revolverRevolver. As close to an adult’s book as a children’s book can be, the latest story by Marcus Sedgwick is cold, steely and desperately bleak. But he writes so well that you’re just happy to be back in one of his worlds.

And I want to add a few more, but I have a Yeti book to finish. Roll out, hairy soldiers!

Saar, the buddhist yeti

November 5, 2009 by  
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I’ve been so busy of late, finishing off the Mythical 9th Division. This is my first really large scale illustrated novel, so I’m poring over every detail, making sure it looks right. It’s way harder than editing words, I don’t care what anyone says. It’s more time consuming, relies on something much more intuitive and indescribable than mere thought. Gah. It’s tough, but I’m getting there.

The second book will be much easier.

And so onto Saar. This yeti is a true mystic, and you can see him holding his Staff of Ages, the magical staff that’s passed down through generations of yetis.

If you want someone intelligent, who follows the Way of the Yeti, Saar’s your man.

Proofing Mousebeard's Revenge

October 1, 2009 by  
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I’ve finished it. After almost four years in the making, the Mousehunter trilogy came to an end yesterday as I finished proofing the final book, Mousebeard’s Revenge. I took the edited copy to Faber with all the tweaks and changes scribbled in large, and I allowed myself to by a comic/graphic novel to celebrate.

french-milkWhen you enter a massive shop full of things you want, it’s near impossible to pick any one thing. So I didn’t, I bought two. I bought the beautiful Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa and French Milk by Lucy Knisley

I was lucky enough to briefly meet Lucy Knisley a few months ago, and even ended up in one of her gorgeous journals. Needless to say French Milk is wonderful.

And in other news, I wrote about being a nearly-dad, over here on Parentdish. Two months to go till the baby arrives. EEEEK.

Children's author vetting in schools

September 22, 2009 by  
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An interesting turn of events regarding the school vetting issue. The Society of Authors is proclaiming to have made conditions for children’s authors easier regarding the vetting process within schools. The peculiar thing is that it only relates to “old hand” authors, who would be allowed to “put off registering until 2015”.

An “old hand” author is apparently an author who regularly visits a school to the point that they’re one of the teachers. I’d like to see how regularly someone like Philip Pullman visits schools. Maybe a few years ago, before His Dark Materials, but now I imagine a visit from him would be prohibitively expensive for any school.

I still sense that there’s an issue of pride here amongst the celebrity children’s authors, and that should not be a defining factor of who gets to be vetted and who shouldn’t. It’s right the Society of Authors say something for us, that’s their job after all, but ultimately we’re just writers and no different to any other professional folk that might enter a school.

My feelings are that it’s either everyone or no-one. I’ll be quite annoyed if celebrity gets treated any differently here.

Kapt'n Mausbart und der Methusalemfluch

August 29, 2009 by  
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The Curse of Mousebeard is out in Germany very soon, and I’ve just received a copy. I’m so pleased with the cover. Something about it reminds me of all the stories and cartoons I liked to read and watch when I was a boy, and that really excites me.

I can’t wait to see the American version now.

Time for a break

August 13, 2009 by  
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rainIt’s been a long few months and now the sun’s back with us, we’re all gearing up for our annual camper van tour of duty. This year we’re venturing back to Wales, having a few days in the wilderness followed by the yearly trip to the Green Man Festival.

I’m hoping there might still be a touch of writing each morning to keep the second yeti book ticking over. (This is progressing really well at the minute, and I’m loving having Australian Yowies on board. It would be a shame to have a week’s break from it. Holiday schmoliday.

So here’s to a week away in our green fun bus.

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