Andy Shepherd is de auteur van een ontzettend leuke serie jeugdboeken. Er zijn er inmiddels 4 verschenen en ik heb ze allemaal met plezier (voor FantasyWereld) gelezen. Het zijn ook precies de boeken die mijn kinderen graag lazen toen ze jonger waren. Ze zijn fantasievol, hebben actie en humor en aansprekende personages. Daarnaast staan de boeken vol met prachtige zwart-wit illustraties van Sara Ogilvie.
Ik vind het dan ook ontzettend leuk dat ik Andy Shepherd mocht interviewen voor mijn blog. In het interview vertelt ze onder andere iets over zichzelf en haar boeken. Ze geeft een kijkje in hoe ze werkt en wat haar inspireert. Ook vertelt ze over haar fascinatie voor draken en haar samenwerking met de illustrator van de boeken.
Het is een fijn geschreven en leuk en erg uitgebreid interview geworden waar ik heel blij mee ben!
Andy, thank you very much for this nice interview…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the books about Tomas.
My name is Andy Shepherd and I grew up in East Anglia in England. I always loved stories, reading them and writing them. I spent a lot of time playing outside, making dens, walking in the woods and sailing and I loved making up stories about being in those places. It wasn’t until I had my own children and started telling them stories that I thought about trying to get published though. ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ is the first book I’ve had published and now there are five books in the series. I had so much fun writing them and developing the story and the characters over the series.
Did you intend from the start to write several books about Tomas? And did you have a complete plan / storyline beforehand?
When I first started writing the story of Tomas and his dragon it was a picture book idea. Then I found Tomas’ voice as I began writing the story in the first person, for my two sons. Every day I would write a chapter and they would come home and listen. They demanded more and I wrote more, and thanks to them the first draft of ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ arrived into the world.
When I met my publisher in the UK, I found they were interested in a series so I suggested telling the story over three books. The arc of the first three books is the same arc as I had from the original picture book that I wrote. But I had so much more space to develop the idea and grow the characters. I loved seeding all the clues and foreshadowing what would happen later in the books.
When my publisher asked for even more books I felt a little unsure. It had always been an arc I’d planned over those three books. I didn’t want any further books to feel added on. But when I listened to the audiobook of ‘The Boy Who Flew With Dragons’ I immediately knew what I would want if I was a young reader finishing that book. I would want to spend some time with a fully-grown Flicker! So I started thinking about how the story might grow. And I quickly found there was a lot more story to tell. I am really proud of how the fourth and fifth books have turned out and feel that Aura, Tomas’ new friend, was always there, just waiting for her story to be told. I hope readers will agree. It was certainly very satisfying to bring all those story threads together.
Did you ask Sara Ogilvie yourself to do the illustrations? Is she drawing while you are writing or after the book is finished?
The first thing to say is I love illustrated books. So, when I had my first meeting with my publisher and they told me that they were keen for the books to be highly illustrated I was over the moon. And I have to admit that this was one of the most exciting parts for me.
The team suggested Sara Ogilvie and I was even more excited by that because I love her work. She is one of those illustrators who is equally fabulous illustrating animals and people. Her drawings are quirky and full of character and detail, which I absolutely love. They have such warmth and charm. I wanted ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ to be a story with a warm heart at its centre – in among the exploding poo and chaos. So I knew from the start that Sara was going to be the perfect person to illustrate the books.
When the list of illustrations came through from Sara describing which parts of the book would have a drawing and I saw what she had in mind, it was very clear that the book was in extremely safe hands with her.
I sometimes feel like she has reached into my head and lifted things straight out of my brain. Just little details like Lolli having her hair in tiny sticking out bunches. This is basically what I looked like when I was little – wanting to have long hair but being unable to grow it or having the patience to have it combed.
That’s not to say I wasn’t consulted or allowed to share ideas. I definitely wanted the dragon-fruit tree to be there on the front cover and look recognisable. There were also scenes that I was able to request have an illustration. For example in my very first meeting with my editor, we talked about making more of Liam’s character and the possibility of him ‘getting in on the action’ – not to give too much away. I knew from the start that this plot point was not something I wanted Tomas to be aware of, but I did want the reader to know. So as well as hints in the text I wanted a clearer signal to children that there was more to come. Because of this I had the idea of Liam running out of the book at the end, with a secret. I love the illustration Sara has produced for this. And I love that this has continued throughout the series. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about what little hint for the next book there could be in the final picture.
I love every single one of the illustrations in the books and one of the best bits of this whole process is seeing the book come to life with the pictures. If you are lucky enough to have someone like Sara illustrate your books it’s well worth stepping back and just enjoy watching them work their magic.
Some short questions, for the readers to get to know you a little bit better:
Tea or coffee? Tea
Cat or dog? Dog
Paper books or ebooks? Paper
What is your favorite movie based on a book? I love the Harry Potter and The How To Train Your Dragon films
Chocolate or ice creams? Ice cream
What’s your favorite season? Spring
Bookmark or folding the pages? Bookmark
What is your favorite childhood book? Stig of the Dump by Clive King
How did you get the idea about dragons growing on trees?
It all started when my eldest son was little. We were stuck in traffic and as ever when my sons got grumpy I’d try and distract them with stories. We decided that what we needed was a dragon to lift us out of the traffic jam and fly us to the beach where we were going. So from then on we just had this dragon, who would sometimes appear on our shed roof in the corner of the garden.
Then my youngest son started asking questions about him – Where had he come from? Why did he go away sometimes? Were there any more dragons?
And so the story started growing.
Every day I would walk down the lane past the allotments and I thought about our dragon. What if he had grown in a garden like that one – all overgrown and wild? Maybe there was an egg buried under a patch of nettles. Or maybe he had grown on a special plant. It would need to be a very special plant indeed. And then something popped into my mind. ‘Hold on,’ I thought. ‘Isn’t there a dragon-fruit tree?’
I rushed home and typed it into the computer – just like Tomas does in the story. And when I saw it I knew it deserved to be in a story. Because the dragon-fruit tree looks like it has come straight out of a book. It is the most amazing-looking plant.
I already had my dragon and my main character and the arc from my original picture book – but now I had the missing ingredient. I sat down and wrote the first paragraph of the book just to see what came out. And what came out was Tomas’ voice. It was the first time I had written in first person but I knew this was Tomas.
Is Tomas or one of the other characters in the book based on a real person?
Loosely yes. Tomas’ nana and grandad are very influenced by my mum and dad. There’s Nana’s steamed jam sponge and comforting hugs and Grandad’s sunny disposition and the relationship he has with Tomas, which is something I see with my dad. My kids are always up in his shed scheming something with him.
I wrote the story when my own son was 9 and I obviously spent a lot of time with him and his little band of friends. Watching them and seeing how they played definitely influenced what came out in the story. I knew what made him laugh. Funnily enough Sara’s illustration of Tomas came back and reminded us of our youngest son, even though we’ve never met her. Especially the scatty blonde hair. Lolli is inspired by my friend’s little girl and the relationship between her and Tomas comes from how my son is with her daughter.
Which character was the hardest to write about and why?
I wouldn’t say Liam was hard to write about, but he certainly was a character I put a lot of thought into. I didn’t want him to be a one-dimensional bully but was very keen for us to understand him and see him – and Tomas’s reaction to him – change over the series.
Besides Tomas, who is your favorite character?
I love writing Lolli. She always jumps onto the page and leaps about and makes me laugh. I never quite know what she is going to do next. I remember saying to my son once: ‘Lolli just did the funniest thing.’ And he looked at me and said: ‘You know she’s not real, Mummy?’ The funny thing is your characters can feel so completely real to you it’s easy to forget sometimes!
While you are writing are there people that read along and give feedback? And if so are there also children doing that?
I often read early drafts to my husband and children as I write. I find reading the story aloud hugely important and I can usually tell if a passage is working by how engaged – or not – they are. My husband is very helpful when I get stuck on the plotting side of things. And my boys often come up with great ideas from hearing me read it to them.
on your site I read that you have a house full of dragons. Can you tell something more about that?
I do seem to have attracted rather a lot of dragons! From cuddly dragons, to books about dragons, Lego dragons, paintings of dragons by my favourite children’s illustrators, oh and I also have a six foot dragon-fruit tree that my dad made for my book launch! And of course there is my own dragon Glint, who sits on my shoulder and breathes story ideas into my ear.
What is your fascination with dragons. Did you as a child already love dragons?
I’ve always loved dragons ever since I read Puff the Magic Dragon and watched Pete’s Dragon on TV. There is something so wonderfully appealing about them. As a kid they existed alongside dinosaurs in my head, so it really felt like they might actually have roamed the skies at some point. Most of the dragons I read about were in fantastical worlds, but I really liked the idea of having them in my own back garden. I wanted to bring that magic into my everyday world.
What are your top three dragons in movies and books?
I love Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon, both the one in the films and the original – and very different character – in the books.
Puff – because he was my first dragon
The dragon from The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame – because who can’t fall in love with a dragon who recites poetry!
Do your young readers prefer one of the dragons in the book? If so which one? And do you have a favorite dragon to write about?
Most of them love Flicker the best and I probably do too as he’s basically wish fulfillment on my part! But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing the new dragon that Tomas grows in Book 4, ‘The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons’. He’s a very sparky dragon called Zing, and it takes a little time for Tomas to get used to him – and all the changes that are happening.
How do children react on your books?
I have been incredibly lucky to hear from so many young readers who have enjoyed the books. They love telling me about the dragons they would grow and come up with such brilliant ideas. I’m always so thrilled when I hear that children – and adults – have taken the dragons into their hearts.
Some last short questions
Which authors inspired you? So many! I particularly love David Almond’s books. And Katherine Rundell’s books.
Which author (alive or dead) would you like to meet? Douglas Adams
What is your favorite book ever? Too hard! I have so many favourites and they can change daily. I can’t pick just one, sorry! The books I love often have something magical happening in the ordinary world.
Do you listen to music while writing? No, I find it too distracting
What are you reading now? The Book of Hopes. A collection edited by Katherine Rundell. She has brought over 100 children’s authors together in an amazing anthology with the aim to provide words ‘to comfort, inspire and entertain’ during these difficult times we are all facing. I’m very proud to have a story included in this book.