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.

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

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.