Dan and the Shard of Ice — cover reveal!

Dan and the Shard of Ice CVR.indd

Here is the final and approved cover design for Dan and the Shard of Ice, the third adventure in a series about a boy who sees ghosts. It will be published by Bloomsbury in May, but I think it can already be, ahem, pre-ordered.

I’m pleased with the cover, and think it’s the strongest yet. It shows me improving my Photoshop technique, I think. I’m pretty pleased with the inside art too, and I’ll share some of that nearer the publication date, along with an extract. As for the writing, I can honestly say this book was the most fun I’ve had on Microsoft Word ever.

Penny Dann

A year after the publication of Too Many Tickles (Macmillan), I am deeply saddened to report the death of Penny Dann, who illustrated it.


I only knew Penny from working with her on this book, though she and I were near neighbours on the south coast. After publication, it was Penny who suggested a tour of local independent bookshops, reading the book to children and their parents (the parents came into their own when the tickle actions began), and drawing scenes and characters from the book. Penny also produced take-home colouring and activity sheets, and the events were noisy (verging on the wild!) and fun-filled. The children especially adored watching Penny draw. To be honest, I’m still struggling to accept that we won’t ever do these events again.

Penny proved to be a genuinely lovely, warm and sparky person. She was also modest about her considerable talent, brushing off my insistence that she was the perfect person to illustrate Too Many Tickles, even though I meant it — she really was. As a former illustrator of picture books myself, now writing books for others to illustrate, it isn’t always easy to accept another person will do the work I used to do. But I was delighted when Penny was chosen — she brought colour and vibrancy to the book, and made it sing. Too Many Tickles is one of my best-selling books, and Penny is a large part of the reason for that.

The last I heard from her was a few weeks ago, when Lisa Riley read Tickles on CBeebies. Penny e-mailed to say she’d seen it, and was pleased — her pictures were obviously prominent on the screen. Although I had been kept informed by our editor, I didn’t know just how ill she was at the time, and she died not long after. I’m so very sorry that we’ll never work on a book together again. Rest in peace, Penny.

Read Penny’s obituary in the Bookseller here, and Julia Eccleshare’s obituary in the Guardian.

Blogging, Slogging and Scarlett Hart

Without in any way meaning too, I have just taken a six month break from blogging. Except, of course, I haven’t really, because I’ve been active all that time on Facebook, Twitter (a bit), and latterly Instagram. Micro-blogging, I think they call this (well, they would, wouldn’t they?). Anyway, whilst trying to blog every day seems terribly 2004 these days, I don’t want to let it go entirely. Maybe once a fortnight is the more twentyteenage thing to do. Or once a month…

SH_sketch_007c The last half-a-year has been a time of ups and downs for me. I won’t bother with an exhaustive list, so I’ll just note that I have a new agent in Kirsty McLachlan at (David Godwin Associates); I have a novel out on submission (though no news yet); the third Dan book is complete and Illustrated (except for the cover), and I am now very much engaged with the art for my joint venture with Marcus Sedgwick – a comic book called Scarlett Hart and the Tentacles of Terror.


Scarlett Hart is a demanding project for me. Not only is it a mountain of sketching, it also involves elements of graphic design I’m not used to. Designing the layout of each page, distributing the action and dialogue evenly across the spread, and keeping the characterisation consistent is just the start of it. Then it has to be inked before being scanned into Photoshop for colouring.


I thought I knew how to use Photoshop. I didn’t. There are functions within functions, and a whole level of cogs and sprockets beyond that. With a project of this scale, even the simplest shortcut can save hours overall. I’ve had help with this, not least from illustrator John Kelly (thanks again, John!).

SH_sketch_011cScarlett hunts monsters in a steampunkish1920s world that’s somewhere between the New England of Lovecraft and the folklore of East Anglia. A third point on the compass is the drawing board of Hergé, but mostly as a guide for tone. All those hours of furtive pencilling also need to be fuelled by a constant stream of suitable mood music, but fortunately the internet is full of weird and wonderful stuff.

So there you are, I’ve written a blog post! Now I just need to keep it up. Except, I have drawing to do…


More Scarlett Hart Sketches

It’s been a while since I shared any pictures from my Scarlett Hart sketchbook. I don’t mind admitting that this project is pushing me to the limit of my drawing, though that can only be a good thing. And unsurprisingly, drawing the girl herself — making her move, speak and leap about as if she’s a real living character — is the greatest challenge of all. As a result, my sketchbook is full of drawings like this:



And of course, she isn’t just a head and shoulders. How can she be, with monsters to fight and a sports car to drive?




My current challenge is getting her into convincing backgrounds. More about that next time.



Dan and the Shard of Ice

Si1With the contract signed and the stars in alignment, I’m delighted to announce that my trenchcoat-wearing teenage psychic detective, Dan, will be back for a third spook-busting instalment sometime next year. With his almost dependable invisible sidekick, Simon, Dan will be facing his greatest trial yet as he goes up against a poltergeist that has taken over London’s mighty new skyscraper, the Shard.

I’d like to say that no fictional representations of expensive construction projects were damaged during the creation of this book, but that wouldn’t be true. There are explosions. Lift shafts become death traps. Lightning and freak weather feature prominently. Of course, Dan takes all this in his stride. Well, almost…


At the end of it all, there’s a 400 hundred-year-old super-charged ghost to contend with. Not to mention a cheesy TV mystic and his film crew, flying kitchen knives and office hardware, a little girl with a terrible destiny, and something uncanny that lurks in the bins. Oh, and there’s a helicopter too. And slugs.

As ever, there will also be drawings, and I’ll be sharing some of them here as I go. In the meantime, I’d better send the first draft in to my editor, slugs and all.

Too Many Tickles


I’m delighted to announce that today is the official publication date of my latest picture book, Too Many Tickles. As several people have already pointed out, the book has actually been popping up around the place for a couple of weeks, but today it’s official. Too Many Tickles is being well backed by UK retailers, and can be found in a number of supermarkets, so it’s having a strong start. I trust I don’t need to tell you what the book’s about.

This is a poignant moment as well, because this is one of the last texts I worked on with my former agent, the late Rosemary Canter. It’s good to see it finally work through the tubes, and hit the shelves. I’m also especially pleased with the illustrations, by the talented Penny Dann, which give the book a fresh and vibrant look for the youngest readers. As I used to illustrate my own picture books, I’m always slightly nervous about someone else handling this side of things now, but Penny’s style is a perfect match.

Anyway, happy book birthday! And if you’re good enough to buy a copy, I hope it makes you smile.

Scarlett Hart – the monsters

It’s time for another sneaky peak into my Scarlett Hart sketchbook, this time looking at a few of the monsters our heroine will have to face. A monster hunter wouldn’t be much without something to hunt, after all. And there’s no doubt that the easiest and most joyful aspect of this project for me will be drawing the beasties. Here are just three, starting with a demon dog from folklore, Black Shuck:

ThomasTaylor -- BlackShuck

With a massive body (modelled on a hyena), fire-red eyes, and coils of steamy breath, we’re about as far from Cruft’s as we can be. He’ll have to be black, obviously. Like a cinder from Hell’s furnace.

But Scarlett doesn’t only face danger on the land. She’ll have to swim with caution in waters infested with this:

ThomasTaylor -- SeaSerpent I’ve given my sea serpent a diluvian, plated face, and an eye out of prehistory. Think Nessie, only without the shortbread.

So, that’s danger on the ground and in the sea, but what’s in the air? Well, gargoyles, that’s what. Lot’s of gargoyles:

ThomasTaylor -- Gargoyles

Made of stone, even in motion, these animated church adornments shatter pleasingly when Scarlett fires her blunderbuss. But don’t be standing too close when they do – being packed with yellow-hot sulphurous fire they are liable to explode like the Devil’s own firecrackers.

Lots more monsters to come soon.


Scarlett Hart – Napoleon

Like all great heroes, Scarlett Hart has a sidekick, though I’m sure Napoleon himself would eschew such a description (as well as use words like ‘eschew’). This faithful manservant of Scarlett’s father is now her guardian – an avuncular yet grave presence in her life, with a role that hovers somewhere between butler, bodyguard and big brother.

In early sketches, I saw Napoleon as a dismal figure, the kind of grim personage who appears — guttering candle in hand — in Hammer Horror films, when the lost lovers pull the bell-cord of ‘the old place in the woods’.


Checking in with Marcus though, it seemed he was writing the character much more warmly than that, and while ‘lugubrious’ and ‘aloof’ where keywords used, so was ‘loveable’. A little mental re-arranging suggested that a combination of Stephen Fry as Jeeves and John Steed from the New Avengers should fit the bill nicely.

ThomasTaylor-Napoleon3 With Marcus happy and Napoleon coming to life, I then had to tackle the thorny problem of drawing Napoleon’s hat. And specifically, drawing it so that it looked like it was really on his head. After Dorothy’s wheels, Napoleon’s homburg is set to be the second most difficult thing to draw in this book (unless Marcus has written a horse into the story and not told me yet).

ThomasTaylor-NapoleonWhite-Homburg Of course, he won’t be wearing the damn thing around the house, so I should get a break from it from time to time.


Napoleon is smartly turned out, old fashioned, protective and dependable. But in keeping with the gothic nature of this project, he can still find a certain dark glee in the work of a monster hunter’s assistant.


Scarlett Hart – Dorothy

I don’t like drawing cars — they’re all straight lines and perspective. And symmetry. I really don’t like drawing symmetry. But Scarlett Hart needs a car (christened ‘Dorothy’ by the author, Marcus Sedgwick) so there’s no way to get away from it.

Here’s the first image I made of Dorothy — based on some photos of typical 1920s cars — which I made back in the initial thrashing out of this project:

 ScarlettCar-Flat copy

It’s okay, but there was something about it that didn’t quite work for me, something that made it clear a lot more development would be needed. I just couldn’t put my finger on what. Before I could look into it, however, there were more practical things to worry about, such as Marcus’s need for Dorothy to have a boot (for monster hunting kit) and occasional third seat.


And it was at this stage that I realised what wasn’t working. Dorothy is supposed to be a sports car, but here was I drawing something rather stately and grand, the kind of automobile Bertie Wooster might roll up to the races in. What Scarlett needed was a set of wheels altogether more dynamic, more ‘animal’. It occurred to me that drawing Scarlett in the driving seat might be inspirational, and I came up with this:


I could see now that I had to ditch the straight lines I dislike so much (I’m stuck with the perspective and symmetry) and create a body shape for Dorothy that cried out power and speed, even in repose — a form that was full of latent force. Think how a Spitfire looks, even on the ground. Normal cars have a chassis and bodywork. What Dorothy needed was fuselage.

ThomasTaylor-NewDorothyThomasTaylor-DorothyBodywork Add to this fatter, lower-slung wheels, a cockpit style windscreen, and rear mudguards, and now we’re in business. This is no aristocrat’s Sunday motor, this is a car Scarlett can chase demon hounds in, a car with a purr that becomes a roar and a cloud of dust, and then nothing. This is Dorothy.

Dorothy5 Next time, Scarlett’s guardian/minder/major-domo, Napoleon.

Scarlett Hart – Character Designs

As promised, here’s the first of a series of posts about sketching my way into my joint venture with Marcus Sedgwick – a comic book called Scarlett Hart.


As you can imagine, the most important character to get right is Scarlett herself, so even though Marcus is only just writing the text now, I’ve been filling a sketchbook with drawings of our beast-busting girl for some time. And this has proved to be largely an exercise in trying to uncover new ground in the small space remaining between Lara Croft, Buffy, and the dozens of more-or-less disposable redhead action heroines that turned up infuriatingly on Google.

Initially Scarlett had black hair, which seemed in keeping with the ‘Gothic Tintin’ strapline pinned to my wall like a totem. But red hair just turned out to be inevitable. What kind of hair, though? There was a pony tail phase…


… but that seemed wrong somehow. Though perhaps not quite as off-beam as the brief Madeleine Bassett mode she went through (well, this is the twenties, after all).


With Scarlett’s hair rapidly becoming an unexpected stumbling block, I decided – in consultation with Marcus — to just make it a shape. A bit like an apostrophe, but with an expressive tail. And while this seems vague, it’s actually just the kind of answer required, since this whole process is about finding a visual shorthand that will allow me to draw Scarlett hundreds of times, over the course of 160+ pages. And that curly tail can flame out during action scenes, or twist up or down with her mood. Scarlett’s answer to Tintin’s quiff.


Apart from being drawable again and again and again, our heroine’s appearance also needs to say ‘smart’, ‘puckish’, and ‘capable’. She should be cute, but only enough to make her appealing and sympathetic – I don’t want to undermine her credibility. There are guns, but only because there are monsters – she can floor some adversaries with verbal dynamite. It’s the twenties, but this sixteen-year-old can’t dress like a flapper to drive fast cars and rocket planes, can she? Clothes, however, haven’t been an issue, not since I found this fabulous photograph of Amelia Earhart (also pinned to my wall).

It’s still early days on this project, but I already feel I’m making progress. Next time: Dorothy – Scarlett’s sports car.