You’re very successful as a film and video director, but this is your first children’s book. Have you always wanted to write for children? Why this book now?
I’ve been with my wife for over 18 years and she remembers the first time she visited my home I was sitting at the kitchen table working on a children’s book. Ever since then I’ve been working on all kinds of stories, some I even printed copies off for friends, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt I had a story worth taking to a publisher. The story for The Deadly 7 came along when I wasn’t thinking about children’s books but it fitted together with some pieces of another story I had and I just couldn’t stop thinking about those monsters. My children are a big influence too. Every word I wrote was with them in mind.
The Deadly 7 is full of crazy scenes that would look great on film! Do you think you write in pictures?
What a good question! I can’t really separate the bit of my brain that thinks in pictures from the bit that thinks about story. I wrote pretty much all of the book out by hand first and all of it is accompanied by drawings. I also hear music when I’m writing certain sequences. Some of the songs are mentioned in the book.
Did you find any of the conventions of novel writing – as opposed to film directing – limiting? Or indeed the opposite?
I love the conventions of novel writing. With a film you have actors, music, costumes etc to tell your story. With a book you only have words so you get to use those words in a much more creative way than you would in a screenplay. A screenplay is a very lean form of writing. Every page represents a minute of screen time so you are always looking for the most economical and cinematic way to tell your 90 page story. Even though it was very hard work and frustrating at times, I loved bouncing between writing the book and writing a film. They are so different from each other. And I never had to worry about the cost of what I was writing! If I wanted all hell to break loose in an airport I could – but with a film I would always be thinking, ‘ooh, that might be hard to get permission so we’ll have to build it – and that would be a huge set and the people playing the extras would cost a fortune in catering alone!’ Right now I am working with a hundred people on an animated film. All of my team are like wizards to me and it’s a truly magical process. With the book it was just me until I got to the end and then my editor, Rachel Petty, jumped in and helped me whip it into shape. Movie writing is constantly re-writing. You are always turning the story over and over and throwing a lot of stuff you love away. This way of working served me well for writing the book and the reason I write by hand for as long as I can. I love working messily in sketchbooks until the story feels like it is ready to run off without me. That’s when I get the kettle on and start typing.
What were your favourite books as a child? Have they influenced The Deadly 7?
I loved books and loved nothing more than a fresh new book to get stuck into. Though I read a ton of marvellous books, The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar made one of the biggest impressions on me. It’s not really a great story in the traditional sense but all the ingredients set my brain on fire. I think the idea of magic being so real and achievable was just what I wanted more than anything. You just had to put your mind to it and you really could see without your eyes! That really was wonderful stuff and it was the first time I had thought about turning the pictures in my head into a film. I even tried to make it into a film a few years ago but that’s another story… The Beatles Illustrated Song Book was filled with really strange illustrations that kept me coming back time and time again and I could not keep my eyes off Gerald Scarfe’s drawings even though they completely freaked me out. His animated sequences of hammers marching and children being put through a meat mincer for the music video Another Brick In The Wall by Pink Floyd gave me nightmares for weeks! Star Wars and E.T. had turned me into a sci-fi nut and I gathered up any books I could relating to the genre. My favourite was one called Space Wars Worlds and Weapons, which featured the extraordinary paintings of Boris Vallejo. My dad introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in book form which I absolutely loved. Only after I finished reading it did I find out there was already a radio series and TV show was on the way – bingo!
Which scene in the book is your favourite and why?
Hmmm. Another good question… I would have to say the chapter called CHOOSE YOUR COW but I won’t say why because it will spoil it for new readers!
Insert sketch of van full of monsters; Insert sketch of stunned cows. The book contains some terrific illustration notes – what’s your favourite illustration?
Thank you very much! I really liked drawing Nelson in the library at St Paul’s Cathedral. But I’m also very pleased with Stan’s expression. It took hundreds of sketches to get his expression right.
The book ends happily for everyone, even the baddie characters. Was that important to you?
Shh! Don’t tell anyone! It was very important to me that the story came to a happy and hopeful conclusion. Not just because Nelson and his monsters had earned it, but because I’ll need them again if I get the chance to write the next story.
Will there be a new adventure for Nelson and his monsters?
One of the reasons things end well is because I have plans for another adventure and I’ll need everyone in one piece if I’m going to write it.