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.

 ThomasTaylor-DorothyBoot

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:

ThomasTaylor-DorothyandScarlett

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.

ScarlettHart-sketches

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…

ScarlettHart-Design4

… 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).

ScarlettHart-Design2

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.

ScarlettHart-Design5

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.

ScarlettHart-Oct2013

Mysterium – The Black Dragon by Julian Sedgwick

51LCpAM70DL._SY445_I was pleased to be able to attend the book launch of my good friend Julian Sedwick’s debut children’s novel on Friday, and a jolly fab evening it was too. The children’s department of Heffers in Cambridge is a great place to launch a book (I should know;-), and the shop was packed with well-wishers, old friends and one very deserving author. Julian made a great speech and signed lots of books, while the circus atmosphere was enhanced by his son, Will, who zoomed about on a unicycle.

I had planned to make a sketch or two, but what with the wine and the chat and everything, it didn’t happen. On the train journey home, I did have a go at a memory drawing of Julian’s speech…

Julian Sedgwick by Thomas Taylor …but that can’t be right, surely.

Anyway, The Black Dragon – Book One in the Mysterium Trilogy – is a fine adventure story for 9-12 and up, and a perfect summer holiday read. Why not find out about it on Amazon before ordering a copy through your local bookshop? Or on Hive.co.uk? Or call Heffers where I believe there are some signed copies?

Congratulations, Julian!

Dan and the Caverns of Bone — Competition Results

SppokyPicA big thanks to all those who entered my ‘spot-the-difference’ competition. There were fewer entrants than last year, I suspect because the difference was sneakier. Twelve people had the screen-resistance, terrier-like tenacity and all-round spark-brained brilliance needed to spot the discrepancy in Dan’s T-shirt. Well done!

But there can only be three winners, and the Hat of Blind Fortune has spoken. The winner of a signed and dedicated copy of Dan and the Caverns of Bone is…

Johnnie Blue

Congratulations, Johnnie! I’m really pleased you won.

And the two people who will have to consol themselves with a signed and sketched-upon postcard are…

Caryl Hart and Frances Rooke

Congratlulations! I’ll be in touch with the three of you for addresses. And I’m sorry for the others — I’d give you all a book if I could, but, well… you know. There will be similar giveaways and competitions coming up for other titles, though, so maybe you’ll have better luck next time. In the meantime, happy reading!

‘Dan and the Caverns of Bone’ is published today!

Dan and the Dead PrizeAnd that’s a big deal for me, so I hope you’ll join in the hoopla by entering this celebratory Spot-the-Difference competition. Just find the tiny (but hopefully low-res friendly) discrepancy between the two images below and your name will be cast into the Hat of Blind Fortune. If I pull it out again a week from today, you will win a signed and dedicated copy of the book. Two runners up will win a signed postcard. Please e-mail your answer to danandthedead@gmail.com. If you have trouble, just ask a child to find it for you.

In the meantime, see my Dan and the Caverns of Bone page to find out more about the book, and get a preview of some of the illustrations. Naturally it would be the most amazing thing if you ordered a copy through Amazon, but don’t forget to consider other on-line options — such as the brilliant hive.co.uk — or simply visit or phone your nearest independent bookshop. And if you do buy a copy (thank you!) and want that signed too, get in touch through the ‘contact‘ form on this site, and we’ll arrange something. But now, back to the competition. Happy spotting!

Dan-SpotDifferenceII

Engn by Simon Kewin – Cover Reveal!

Several years ago I responded to an on-line appeal by the author Simon Kewin for a beta reader. I was looking for critical guidance myself, for an early version of Haunters, so we exchanged texts. I can only hope I was as helpful to Simon as he was to me! And now, I’m delighted to say that Simon’s book – Engn — is due to be published on the 15th of July by the brilliant December House, with this fabulous cover:

I was immediately impressed by Engn, with its richly built world and creative use of language. Imagine Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast) and Scott Westerfield (Leviathan) and  Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines) meeting in a Zeppelin to dream up a steampunk Lord of the Rings, and you’d be some of the way there. I hope the book achieves the success it deserves. Here’s the blurb:

Finn’s childhood in the valley is idyllic, but across the plains lies a threat.

Engn is an ever-growing steam-powered fortress, that needs a never ending supply of workers. Generation after generation have been taken away, escorted into its depths by the mysterious and terrifying Ironclads, never to return.

The Masters of Engn first take Finn’s sister, then his best friend, Connor. He thinks he, at least, is safe – until the day the ironclads come to haul him away too.

Yet all is not lost, Finn has a plan. In the peace of the valley he and Connor made a pact. A promise to join the mythical Wreckers and end Engn’s tyranny from within.

But now on his own, lost and thwarted in the vastness of Engn, Finn begins to have doubts. Is Connor really working to destroy Engn?

Or has he become part of the machine?

Sign up for Simon Kewin’s mailing list to find out more.

Haunters Cover Comparison

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since my debut novel – Haunters – was published. Now the book is beginning to appear in other countries — some with that distinctive British cover, and some with a different cover altogether – I though it would be interesting to compare how different publishers have interpreted the book. Especially as the three covers I’ve seen so far are so very different from each other.

Haunters in the UK (and Australia and New Zealand)

I was impressed by this design the moment I saw it. I felt the designer (the brilliant Steve Wells) had found a striking way to evoke the ghostliness of the story whilst still hinting that something other than a conventional ghost story would be found between the covers. If it’s true that a good cover tells you not just what a story is about but also how a story will feel, then I think this is successful. The acid yellow text in a band down the side wraps the whole thing up nicely, but in a way that’s also unsettling.

I did have some initial concerns that the skull didn’t read very clearly through the boy’s face – it looked more like someone wearing glasses – but I can see that this is about the best that can be done without using some very expensive printing technique.

Haunters in the US

When I first saw this, I was taken aback by just how differently Scholastic had chosen to brand the book. Here we’re firmly into the realms of action, adventure and sci-fi, with strong hints of Back to the Future or the film Jumper. Not that any of this is inappropriate – the book is certainly all these things. This is a great cover image (by the award winning illustrator John Picacio), and one that should play well with the core readership (10+, mostly — though I hope not exclusively — boys). I can’t wait to see a copy of the book in my hands. The best way to account for the wide difference between the US and UK covers is to say that the book draws on a very broad base for its inspiration, with traditional ghost story themes woven into those of time travel and dreamwalking.

I have no real criticisms, but the blue of the title blends into the blue of the background in a way that makes it hard to read. This does have the effect of creating an iconic, textless cover image viewed from a distance, though, which is striking. But personally I would have expected the text at the top to pick up red/orange/pink tones from the colour elements in the bottom part of the image.

Haunters will be published in the US next month, in hardback initially. I’m looking forward to getting feedback from readers there on the cover, as well as the story itself (I’ve already been shown a good Kirkus review). Keep your eye on this blog for a giveaway in the next few weeks.

Haunters (Dromenjagers) in the Netherlands

Here we’re different again, with a cover that is very dark and contrasting. And if the UK version emphasises the ghosts, while the US one the time travel, then the Dutch publisher, The House of Books, have gone straight for the dreamwalking/near-death/out-of-body aspects of the story. And I’m pleased because these were precisely the elements that were strongest in my mind when I wrote Haunters. The fact that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ motif also looks like an unblinking eye (an image used in the book) is a really nice touch.

Using a lot of black does have its risks though, and the Dutch edition certainly isn’t as eye catching as the British or American ones, but once spotted, I believe the cover is more than intriguing enough to draw potential readers to at least read the blurb on the back. Let’s hope they want to read more.

Dromenjagers (love the title in Dutch!) is due out in September.

In conclusion, I have to say that – while I slightly prefer the UK cover overall – I’m delighted to see such strong visuals on my book. When I’ve seen more of the designs for the German and Spanish editions, I’ll update this post. I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime, please let me know what you think, and – of course — which is your favourite.

The Cat Who Came Back

Our cat, Clovis, has come back (long story) to live with us. Now the power to make viral book trailers is mine!

In theory.

Now, I know nothing is less interesting than other people’s pets (except perhaps other people’s breakfasts or children), so I won’t bore you with a long account of how fluffy wuffy ickle Clovis’s tufty wufty head is (num nums). But, since my day-long struggle to scan the damned animal with a very poorly designed microchip cat-flap resulted in a series of bloodstained (though cathartic) and drawings, I thought I could at least share some of those here.

I’ve nothing much to add to this except to say that I’m now in a market for a tranquiliser gun. And a dog. In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Southern England, lock up your hamsters.

And no, he stilled isn’t scanned.

Words versus pictures

As an author/illustrator, people often ask me if I prefer writing or drawing. I usually reply that they are both very different, and that I just enjoy making the change when I’ve been doing one of them for a long time. But the real truth is, I do have a preference. And it has crept up over the years and taken me by surprise.

I have just finished the illustrations for Dan and the Caverns of Bone (see above for a taste of what these look like). I found it difficult in ways I can hardly describe to those who haven’t spent hours squinting close range at wayward ink lines and then transforming them into pixels in order to do it all again digitally. It’s like a war fought between a man and his materials, waged on the scale of a postage stamp, no prisoners taken and the ‘do not disturb’ sign for free. There has got to be another way. Something that involves less squinting, at least.

And yet I do like the finished result. Somehow it’s worth the cramps and eye strain. It’s just that it hasn’t escaped my notice that while writing the word ‘elephant’, say, is the work of a moment, drawing the damn thing takes an hour and forty roughs, plus coffee breaks. When a writer writes ‘then the goblin army swarmed over the hill’, the scene is set and he can move on. The illustrator, on the other hand, has to cancel his social life for a week.

Of course, I know writing isn’t easy. It’s not the word ‘elephant’ that counts, but what the elephant is doing and why. But I hope no one begrudges me my moment of moan as I ease out of ‘illustrator’ gear for one project and shift into ‘writer’ for the next. And shift is the right word. Today I covered more story in words than I can do in a week of pictures. Though so far I’ve managed to avoid throwing in a gratuitous herd of elephants, just because I can.