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.

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.

Dan and the Caverns of Bone – the cover!

Well, I think I can share this now: the cover for the second Dan adventure in all its creepicolour glory!

If it turns out I am being premature, then this post’ll vanish like a puff of ectoplasm on a windy day, and I’ll have to put up a review of pencils or something instead. But assuming that it’s okay, I hope you like it. Needless to say I’m very pleased myself, especially since I nearly abandoned this drawing early on because the line was a bit iffy. But it’s never a good idea to judge something before it’s finished, especially with Photoshop waiting in the wings to work its magic. And it turned out okay, I think. In fact, it rather puts the cover of the first book in the shade. But you didn’t hear me say that…

Anyway, I blogged about this book recently, in case you missed it. It’s due out next year with A&C Black (Bloomsbury), as part of their Quicksilver series for ‘newly confident’ readers, 10+.

The ‘Next Big Thing’, er… Thing

Brilliant YA Thriller writer Rachel Ward has kindly tagged me in the ‘Next Big Thing’ blog meme. You know, the one where you get asked all those questions about your current ‘work in progress’? Well, this was going to be my first chance to talk about my new full-length thriller – ‘The Sketchbook Keeper’ – which is dominating my thoughts at the moment, so hurray! Except…

…except, when it came to it, superstition and caffeine jitters have put me off that idea. I’m only a third of the way through a first draft, after all. So instead, here’s a little more about the sequel to my novella, Dan and the Dead, currently entitled ‘Dan and the Caverns of Bone’.

What is the title of your next book?

Er… Dan and the Caverns of Bone. If someone has something shorter to suggest, please do, as that’s a lot to squeeze onto a cover full of drawing.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I visited the catacombs in Paris a few years ago. Several times. It’s a gloomy and disturbing place, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been there. The things that have been done with the mortal remains of long-dead Parisians no doubt seemed tasteful at the time. Now, though, it’s all pretty creepy-kitsch and ghastly. In a keep-looking-over-your-shoulder sort of way.

But not every visitor to the catacombs is a tourist. There are other ways in, unofficial ways. And under the ground it is always night…

What genre does your book fall under?

Gothicky-comedy with drawings. Obviously.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t know the names of any teenage actors. Whoever plays Dan would have to be very flexible in the eye-brow department. Is there someone who is a cross between Benedict Cumberbatch and the Fonz? Again, let me know.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

“Crapsticks! Unless….”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have an agent – the formidable Jodie Marsh at United Agents. The book will be published in 2013 by A&C Black (Bloomsbury).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Nearly four months, off and on. This sounds short, but the manuscript is only 26,000 words, so it’s actually quite a long time. I had trouble in the middle and rewrote it several times. The crusty Parisian tour-guide with a wooden parrot on a stick is gone. As is the suspiciously generous pastry chef, the swarthy banker and the whole Eiffel Tower…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Anything where the main character can see ghosts, I suppose, only Dan is rather more cynical about it than might usually be the case. Also, there’s a significant twist to the well-known ‘I see dead people’ thing, which takes Dan off into different territory. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is though.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Childhood wonderings about imaginary friends and ghosts, fuelled by seeing grainy re-runs of Randal and Hopkirk (Deceased) at an impressionable age. Rentaghost is in there somewhere too.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m doing the cover and the chapter heading illustrations. Does that count? No? Well, I’ll just have to fall back on the twist I mentioned earlier, then, won’t I? Though there is a girl in it too, with something dark about her. And a gang of goths and emo-kids in a palatial squat in the centre of Paris. And the best paper aircraft ever to feature in children’s literature. And a slow-speed subterranean boat chase over an inky lake filled with white-eyed fish and twisted reflections. And there’s something lurking in the shadows, too. Something that shouldn’t be there, something that shouldn’t even exist.

Something deadly…

But that’s enough of that. Now I have to pass the baton on to some other writers, so here they are:

Simon Kewin – SF/fantasy writer and poet. He blogs well too.

Kate Kelly – thriller writer with a debut novel – Red Rock — due out next year. Congratulations, Kate!

Julian Sedgwick – writer, thinker, and constant friend. He has a book out next year too: Black Dragon (Mysterium). It’s book one of a trilogy and sounds fantastic. Make a note of the name.

I hope you enjoy meeting them, if you haven’t already. Their own ‘Next Big Thing’ posts should be up a week today.

Observations on that Tricky Second Novel

Or rather, novella, because here I’m referring to the sequel to Dan and the Dead, the first draft of which I’ve just sent in to my editor. And this is the first time I’ve ever taken existing characters out for a second outing — an interesting experience, though far from smooth. The working title of Dan 2 is ‘Dan and the Caverns of Bone’. And, since most of the action takes place in the catacombs of Paris, I have a feeling that title might stick. Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few observations:

— In a sequel, it’s okay to follow the same path and do many of the same things, as long as the story is completely different. I worried initially that a second book had to do more than simply break new ground with the same tools, but I see now that if something worked in Book 1, readers will expect it in Book 2. Obviously this suggests a satisfying solution for things that didn’t work in Book 1, too. Not, er, that this applies in my case – Dan and the Dead is perfect in every way and available form all good retailers, etc. Um…

— A second book should probably be slightly longer than the first, in order to avoid looking like a decline. More than slightly longer, though, and that can look like a decline too, only in something else. I will say no more.

— The most important thing to keep constant from one book to the other is tone. There was one point during The Caverns of Bone when I found myself writing 3k word chapters and describing weather. It took nearly a month of revision to realise that the only thing important about the weather in Dan’s eyes is how high he should turn up his lapels.

— Characters who don’t develop are boring. Even if they have been dead for 300 years. But you knew that…

As with the first, the second book has been written very much with reluctant readers in mind. Not that it’ll ever say that on the cover. If I were into shameless plugging and online marketeering, here’s the part where I’d point out that Halloween is a great time to give under-read (un-dead?) kids the gift of ghosts (with a twist, naturally). Okay, so the first book only has one review on Amazon, but it’s a good one and from a teacher on behalf of his/her pupils, so it counts for at least five. I just hope Book 2 doesn’t let it down.