Monday, 30 August 2010

Thai tales

I received copies of the Thai editions of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship through the post the other day. They are published by Tawan.

Most foreign editions of the Tales of Terror book have gone with David Roberts' illustrations - both on the cover and inside. The Thai editions are unusual - to say the least - because they have gone with the same images, but have redrawn the illustrations throughout. I was not involved in this process, so I have no idea how or why this happened, but it is certainly very odd.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Mister Creecher

Before I can get on to talking about the cover of Mister Creecher, I need to tell you a little bit about what the book is actually about.You may remember, if you visit this blog regularly, that I wrote a few posts about my interest in Frankenstein and the Shelleys and so on. Authors are regularly asked where their ideas come from and often the answer is necessarily vague - because ideas have a life of their own, and are the result of a lifetimes observing and reading and experience - but occasionally it is possible to point to an actual, specific place. This is one of those occasions.

The idea for Mr Creecher came directly from Chapter 19 of Frankenstein which begins with the words, 'London was our present point of rest.' The 'our' in that sentence refers to Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval. In the novel, Frankenstein and Clerval visit England, going to London and Oxford before heading north to Matlock and Cumbria and eventually heading on to Scotland. Unbeknown to poor, doomed Clerval, Frankenstein has built a huge humanoid creature and he has promised this creature a mate. Although there is no mention of the creature until Frankenstein reaches Orkney (where he will build and destroy the mate), it is clear that he must have been tracking him the whole way.

This fascinated me when I first read it. I loved the fact that the creature had come here, to England - and not only that, he comes in the Regency period, just after the death of Jane Austen and just prior to the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley. He comes to the England of Constable and Turner. John Keats makes a very similar journey in the year that Frankenstein is published, 1818 - heading north with his friend Charles Brown, visiting the Lakes and going on to Scotland where Keats will fall ill.

And so I wondered, might it not be possible for Frankenstein's creature to meet a boy - a damaged, unloved teenage thief - on the streets of London and begin a mutually dependent relationship with him. The creature is huge and terrifying. He can only move at night and even then with difficulty. The boy will be his eyes and ears as he gets him to make sure that Frankenstein is keeping his promise. The boy sees the giant as a powerful ally. Although the relationship will begin as pure expediency, a bond will develop between these two misfits.

So to the cover.

I sent Kate Clarke, the designer at Bloomsbury, a kind of mood board - a whole bunch of images, many of which I had close to hand during the book's writing, pinned to my notice board, or as a rolling set of screensavers. Some of these were contemporary paintings, some were anatomical engravings. One of the latter showed a heart and we explored that avenue for a while. But in the end it proved a dead end and we moved on to portraying the characters in the book.

I produced three roughs. One showing the boy - Billy - and Mister Creecher walking together, one with the two of them standing together and one showing Mister Creecher on his own. The background is a steal from Bride of Frankenstein by the way.

Covers are a committee decision involving sales and marketing as well as editorial and design. I was a little surprised that they went for the one of Mister Creecher on his own, but pleased, because I was concerned that the fact that Mister Creecher was a giant could make the teenage Billy look like a small child and put off older readers.

I then sent a more detailed rough to give an idea of how I saw the finished thing looking. It is a pen drawing scanned in and coloured in Photoshop. They liked it and I raced to get the finished thing done so that Kate had time to get a jacket designed for inclusion in the Bloomsbury catalogue.

That finished image is at the top of this post, but it doesn't quite end there. Kate had mocked up some gravestones in her jacket design and I said that I would draw some so that she could place them around Mister Creecher but also continue them round on the back of the jacket.

So there you have it - the edited highlights in the story of a cover. When Kate has the finished thing sorted out I will of course show you. That's that for the cover of Mister Creecher for now. I now have some rewrites to do on the book before I am reunited with Helen Szirtes whom I am delighted to say is going to be editing for me again on this one. And I also have the edits to do on The Teacher's Tales of Terror, my World Book Day book.

Busy, busy, busy. . .

Friday, 6 August 2010


As I mentioned in the previous post, I had tried to incorporate a month at the end of my writing time to finely tune Mister Creecher, my latest book. I am not the most organised of writers. I have a definite sense that over-planning is not a good thing. I think meticulous planning is OK for non-fiction, but not for fiction. A book needs to be a bit wild. Or the books I want to write (or read) need to be anyway.

But in any case, my dreams of finally producing a book at a calm and measured pace were scuppered by completely unforeseen distractions. . .

The first of these distractions were the additional stories to the reissues of the Tales of Terror books. They are being published in March with new jackets and I agreed to write an additional story for each. Each story needed its own little scene-setter and before I knew where I was I was writing another 13,000 words or so. The cover for the new Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is at the top of the post with the inside cover showing the other two beneath.

And no - it wasn't a Guardian Top 100 Book (I don't even think such a list exists - though there is one for authors) - it is a mistake I hope will be rectified by the time the book actually goes to print.

As if that was not enough, I then discovered - at a rather late date, for reasons I shall not go into - that I was to do a World Book Day flipbook with Philip Reeve. I have sung the praises of Philip Reeve many times in this blog, and so it will come as no surprise to hear that I was delighted, not only by the honour of being asked to provide a book for World Book Day, but also to be sharing that book with an author I admire.

But, delighted though I was, that book still had to be written and written at great speed. It made sense to do another Tales of Terror compilation and so I wrote three more stories with a linking thread. The conceit is that the stories are being told to a group of school children on a Victorian dressing up event for World Book Day - hence, The Teacher's Tales of Terror. A strange supply/substitute teacher arrives and tells them three creepy stories. But the creepiness doesn't end there of course. . .

I was very pleased with all these stories and it was especially nice to return to the original Tales of Terror and to those characters. But I realised when I totted it all up that after writing those additional tales and the World Book Day stories (again about 13000 words), I had effectively written another book - an unplanned 53,000 word book - completely additional to my schedule. So instead of writing one book between April and July, I actually wrote two. The additional stories alone add up to the wordage of any one of the Tales of Terror books.

I do thrive on pressure, though I never used to. At school I hated exams - or even being asked to read. I hated being put on the spot. But after years of working as a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist, I do get a perverse - and it is perverse - pleasure at showing that I can take whatever is thrown at me.

But this was all probably too much. There is an episode of the wonderful Police Squad featuring a boxer who gets pummeled. The ref holds his hand in front of his face and says, 'How many fingers do you see?'. 'Thursday,' says the boxer. That was me I think, by the end of July.

But that wasn't the end of the distractions of course. As I have already mentioned I also had the cover for Mister Creecher to resolve. But I think that needs a post of its own.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Previously. . .

I have been very neglectful of the blog in the last few weeks. I have been in a kind of whirl since the beginning of July and I will now attempt to fill you in on what I've been up to.

Every weekend in July I made my way to my studio for the Cambridge Open Studios. My studio mate, John Clark, and I were exhibiting in a room next to our grotty workspace and we had to be there from 11 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock in the evening. It was a long day enlivened by long philosophical debates, visits from family and friends, as well as a reasonably steady stream of people clutching the Cambridge Open Studio catalogue. We both sold paintings too, which was nice - John doing particularly well. I sold four out of a possible sixteen, so I was reasonably pleased.

As far as sales went, though, we only really needed to be open the first two weekends, because though we still had a steady stream of visitors, they did not buy over those last two weekends. The number of artists coming round seemed to increase, and John and I realised we had made a mistake in not factoring in any time for us to go and see other work around Cambridge.

On the last two weekends I was also trying to get the cover of Mister Creecher done. Although this novel does not come out until October 2011, there was a panic about getting a cover image for the Bloomsbury catalogue. More of that another time.

The German edition of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror also turned up in the post. Onkel Montagues Schauergeschichten has been out in Germany for a while but I hadn't seen an actual copy. It is published by Bloomsbury in Germany, translated by Beatrice Howeg.

On 19 July I went to the House of Commons for the launch of the Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge. We had to stand in blistering sunshine for half an hour waiting to be checked by security, but I'm glad I went. The Summer Reading Challenge is a great scheme here in the UK where children are set the challenge of reading six from a set list of books from their local library. It seems a particularly good cause to support when libraries are under threat everywhere. It was also good to hear Michale Rosen ticking government ministers off about the lack of a stated support for reading for pleasure.

I have been booking myself in for various events up and down the country. I am speaking to the Youth Libraries Group in Cardiff in September and October involves trips to Cheltenham, Dublin, Halifax, Liverpool and Amsterdam. More about all of those nearer the time.

Mainly, though, I have been writing. I had a a July delivery deadline on Mister Creecher and I was determined that I would not go over even if I delivered on the last day of July (which turned out to be the case). I think I had planned my timing on this more meticulously than with any other book I had written, building in a month where I would simply read and re-read it, honing it to perfection. I was even thinking of booking a phone/TV/internet-free cottage somewhere just for that purpose.

But of course it didn't work out like that. I'll talk about why in the next post. . .