A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Hello and Happy Book Birthday Elli!
Let’s start with your elevator pitch for The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight …. if you found yourself in an elevator full of dragons!
STOP RIGHT THERE. I’m in a confined space full of dragons. Aaaaaaaargh! Can you at least give me a shield? Please? And a sword maybe? Just in case. Oh, and a fire extinguisher too? You can? Phew! OK, so The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight is the tale of how a young and inexperienced knight and a small dragon come to realize that maybe their enemies aren’t as bad as they’re cracked out to be.
The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight are friends before realizing they are supposed to be enemies! Have you ever been pitted against a friend?
I can’t remember ever being pitted against a friend, but I do remember vividly what happened in primary school when my big sister won first prize in the spring bulb growing competition and I didn’t (we were probably about 8 and 5 years old at the time) Although if I scribbled all over my sister’s prize certificate, I’d never admit it publicly.
Your first children’s books include The Giant of Jum and Woozy the Wizard. What inspires you to write about a world of wizards, knights, giants and dragons?
Picture books, being so short, don’t allow much time for character development. You either have to start with a very strongly portrayed character, or start with a stock figure that readers might think that they know. Note though the emphasis on ‘think’ there. What I love doing with these familiar characters is turning all the stereotypes upside down. So the wizard is rubbish at magic, the child-eating giant is actually quite kind, and the knight and the dragon are both young enough for prejudice not to have fully sunk in. I don’t set out to write messages in my books, but many of them have the underlying message that we need to knock prejudice (in its many guises) firmly on the head.
How many drafts does it take to perfect a rhyming text?
It really varies. The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight is one I wrote very quickly (in about a single day, if that doesn’t sound too annoying), but that was after I’d made numerous attempts to write other knight-themed stories. Probably for every good story I write there are twenty sitting in the trash bin on my laptop. The writing my be quick, but the thinking and playing around with ideas can take ages.
Who is the first to hear your work in progress? Do you get feedback from your own children?
Well my oldest son is nearly 18, and spends all his time either texting his girlfriend or ostentatiously reading classic works of literature so we can see just how sophisticated he is, my teenage daughter spends most of her time with her guinea pig, my nine year-old son can’t be dragged away from coding on his Raspberry Pi and my seven year-old son seems to think he’s a Minion and goes round yelling ‘Banana!’ at every opportunity, so I’ve given them up as lost causes as far as reading my work in progress is concerned. I normally read my stories out loud to my cat (or possibly I read them out loud to myself and my cat just happens to be in the room, but talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, right?)
I love the look of the baby dragon as illustrated by Benji Davies. How much art direction do you tend to give when working with an illustrator?
None whatsoever. Benji is such a complete pro, and he’s backed up by an excellent design team at Macmillan, so I just sit back and let them get on with it. I’m always delighted with the results.
Can you sketch us a baby dragon of your own?!
I did, but the dragon whose portrait I was sketching accidently set the paper on fire. Honest.
Will you be taking The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight on the road?
I’m still finalizing my ideas for Nibblesome Knight events, but it will definitely involve making shields and dressing up. Although I might have to reluctantly draw the line at bringing real swords into the classroom. I’m not sure the teachers would want to clear up the mess.
You wrote a lovely blog about next steps and trying out new types of writing. Has your writing process changed over the last few years, since being published?
I don’t think my verse writing has changed much, although I’m perhaps more conscious now of ensuring that there is less ambiguity in some of my texts. I’ve had to put the prose writing on hold for a bit due to family commitments, but hopefully that’s something I can take up again soon.
Finally, can you tell us about the titles you are working on at the moment?
Yes, but I’d have to kill you straight afterwards. I’ve just finished the final round of edits for the second Swashbuckle Lil book (illustrated by the wonderful Laura Ellen Anderson, out next year), and I’ve recently sent off something to my agent, but the thing I’m actually working on is TOP SECRET for the time being.
At the age of four Elli wrote her first picture book, involving her best friend, a tricycle accident, blood everywhere, and the author emerging as the hero. Several years later she completed an MA in social anthropology, moved out to Thailand, taught herself the language, and has since worked variously as a Thai to English translator, a copywriter for a domestic appliance insurance firm (about as interesting as it sounds) and an assistant editor in academic publishing. She now lives in London where she combines writing with freelance translation work, looking after her four children, butchering nice music on the piano and being dictated to by her deranged cat.