Gnomes, unicorns, and bare-chested, goat-legged men: welcome to Super Happy Magic Forest

Debut picture book author and illustrator Matty Long shares his love of fantasy and bringing brand new magical worlds to life in his first picture book, Super Happy Magic Forest.

Super Happy Magic Forest is a tale of brave heroes, fearsome enemies, epic landscapes and sweet, sweet fig rolls. The idea came about a couple of years ago when I was struggling to think of a project that I could work on and take to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to show to publishers. I began filling sketchbook pages with gnomes, unicorns, and bare-chested, goat-legged men. Or ‘fauns’ as I guess they’re more commonly known. And then I was drawing fairies, bunnies, trees with faces. It wasn’t until I drew the words SUPER HAPPY MAGIC FOREST in a mushroom that I suddenly had a home for these creatures, and the thought that I may actually have an idea worth developing. There were a few times when I dismissed it all as too outlandish and not sensible enough (It isn’t). But that was half the fun! It was useless to resist.

Picture 1

I have always been a huge fan of fantasy. There is unlimited potential in worlds filled with magic, monsters, good and evil. And there are no rules! Penguins can be warriors. Mushrooms can talk. Goblins don’t HAVE to be bad.

Picture 2

One of my favourite parts of making Super Happy Magic Forest was designing the detailed locations that the Heroes have to fight their way through. It is a great opportunity to really make their world come alive. On some of these pages there are prompts to look for certain items or creatures. It’s a device that hopefully acts as another level of engagement while ensuring the reader sticks around a little longer to take in everything that’s going on.

picture 3

I’ve always appreciated detail, and images that reward you for taking the time to really look at them and uncover their secrets – Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally? books are a great example.

As much as I adore fantasy, I can’t deny that there is also a degree of silliness to fairies and unicorns, and in some of the overblown cliché’s within the genre: A dark lord rising. Items of great unimaginable power. Brave heroes of virtue and courage. It’s a lot of fun to play around with these conventions, and while the main worded narrative pays tribute to them, often the pictures tell a slightly different story.

Picture 4

I really hope that Super Happy Magic Forest can introduce readers to the world of fantasy and can give them at least some of the pleasure that I’ve taken from it over the years.

picture 5

Super Happy Magic Forest is out now.

SHMF front cover 300dpi

Matty Long April 2015

Matty Long has a First Class Degree in Illustration from Southampton Solent University and a Master’s Degree in Children’s Book Illustration from Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art). He graduated from Anglia Ruskin in 2011 and has since been working at a bookshop in his home town of Cambridge, developing picture-book ideas in his spare time.

Matty is twenty-seven years old. Super Happy Magic Forest is his debut picture book. He’s currently working on the sequel!

Gorillas, Coltan and Mobile Phones

Gill Lewis, the multi-award-winning author of the amazing animal stories Scarlet Ibis, Moon Bear, Sky Hawk and White Dolphin has been called ‘The principal contemporary writer of animal stories’ by the Telegraph, and her new novel Gorilla Dawn is no exception (‘a thrilling, thought-provoking adventure’ Daily Mail). Here, Gill explains the horrifying reality that inspired her new novel.

Gorilla Dawn was inspired by reading an article that stated in bold letters, your mobile phone is killing gorillas. Unaware of the connection, I read on to discover that needed in the manufacture of nearly every electronic device we use are the minerals; tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. A proportion of these minerals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the forest home of the eastern lowland gorilla. Many of the mines are under the control of armed groups who terrorise communities and destroy the forests, in addition to poaching gorillas for bushmeat. Political instability and world greed perpetuate the violence and the damage to the environment. Five million people have died as a result of the fighting and it is estimated that less than 10% of the gorillas’ original habitat will remain by 2030. It’s bad news for people and gorillas, and ultimately the rest of the world, as the tropical rainforests drive our weather patterns, regulate global climate and sequester vast amounts of carbon, thus combating climate change. The forest are vital for us all.

IMG_1756I felt there was a story wrapped up with gorillas, people and the landscape. As I researched deeper, I listened to and read testimonials of former child soldiers and of their struggle to reintegrate back into society. It was then that Imara’s voice entered my head. Imara, the main character in Gorilla Dawn is a kadogo, a child soldier. Like all child combatants, she must keep her tears inside. Kindness is a weakness and friendship is forbidden. Imara’s story only revealed itself to me as I wrote. Her past only revealed itself to both of us at the end.

As a consumer of electronic devices, knowing the link between gorillas, people and mobile phones makes me feel uncomfortable. It questions each individual’s responsibility to people and animals affected by the mining of raw materials for electronic products. Our continued use of technology causes the problem, but it also provides the answer too. Our mobile phones and laptops give us a voice; a voice to demand that governments pass laws to ensure fair-trade, conflict-free minerals, a voice to tell electronics companies that we won’t buy their products unless they responsibly source their raw materials and a voice to speak out for those who have no voice of their own.

If you would like to find out more about conflict minerals and how you can add you voice, please visit my website page on conflict minerals and the Congo Calling website.

9780192793553_SCARLET IBIS_CVR_MAY13moon bear9780192756244_SKY_HAWK_CVR_JAN129780192756213_WHITE_DOLPHIN_CVR_JAN13

 Gorilla Dawn is out now.



Before she could walk, Gill Lewis was discovered force-feeding bread to a sick hedgehog under the rose bushes. Now her stories reflect her passion for wild animals in wild places. She draws inspiration from many of the people she has had the fortune to meet during her work as a vet, both at home and abroad. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a shed in the garden, in the company of spiders. Visit Gill’s website.


Yippee! The brand new Reeves and McIntyre Production Pugs of the Frozen North is out now! If you’re a fan of Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space, it’s time to get excited. Very excited. Let’s go on an adventure with Philip and Sarah…
Our books are all about different characters and different places, but they all have one thing in common: they are about ADVENTURES. And we have adventures while we’re making them. As you can see below, we’re ready for anything. Our latest outfits are designed for travelling to the Arctic, where the latest book, Pugs of the Frozen North, is set. If you’ll read it, you’ll find that all sorts of adventures lie in wait there, from hungry krakens to tasty snow-noodles which might turn you into a yeti…


Some of Sarah’s relatives have a house in Alaska, in a small town called Seldovia. That inspired the town of Snowdovia, which is the starting point for an extremely adventurous sled-race to the North Pole in Pugs of the Frozen North. The picture in blue below is the one that appears in the finished book, and the others show how Sarah developed it from a very simple sketch, to a rough sketch, and then the finished pen-and-ink drawing.


Sometimes, to save Sarah some time, Philip does the rough drawing and then Sarah finishes it in her own style. Here’s a yeti rough by Sarah, and a kraken rough by Philip. (You can check through the book and see if you can spot the other pages which Philip drew the rough for, but we’re not telling!) Making a book together is quite an adventure in itself.


When we’re not busy writing and drawing we try to have real adventures, too. Sometimes they have to be quite small adventures. When Sarah is working too hard to go off exploring, she stays in her studio and explores strange new flavours by doing the #MYSTERYDRINK CHALLENGE, in which she tastes strange soft drinks so that the rest of us don’t have to. She says that so far, most of them have been Quite Nice. She hasn’t found any that have turned her into a yeti yet, but if one does, we’re prepared.


Sometimes we find time to go on big adventures, too. This summer, Philip’s family went to stay with stay with Sarah’s family in the USA. Here we are hiking in the Cascade Mountains. Who knows what future book ideas that will spark off? (As you can see, the hike was a bit too much for Philip’s son Sam…).


We came back to England to start our next adventure – touring all over the country to tell people about Pugs of the Frozen North. You can find a list of the events we’ll be doing here. And if you want to know how to draw your own pug, here’s Sarah’s step-by-step guide.

Happy adventures!

Pugs of the Frozen North is out now.



Philip Reeve wrote his first story at the tender age of five about spaceman called Spike and his dog Spook. He is now best known for his Mortal Engines quartet but is also a talented illustrator and has illustrated several titles in the Horrible Histories series.

You can find out more about Philip’s books here:

Sarah McIntyre once applied for a job as a ship’s rigger, intending to run away to sea, but instead, she found herself studying illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2007. She has since become a writer and illustrator of children’s books, picture books and comics.

She also blogs prolifically, and aims to post on her blog every day:

Inspiration Station

Christopher Edge tells us about the inspiration behind his new book How to Write Your Best Story Ever! 

A bank-robbing banana being chased by a police pigeon, an accident-prone spy with the nickname Double Oh No!, a crime-fighting baby who googles for clues… These are just a few of the fantastic ideas that children have come up with when I’ve visited schools to talk about writing stories.

How to Write Your Best Story Ever

As a writer of children’s fiction, one of the most common questions I get asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’  The answer is, of course, I go into schools and steal them. (Only joking!) But the creativity that children show when I work with them in writing workshops or chat to them after author events is truly an inspiration to me. When I was at school, I thought that books were made in factories and there weren’t any authors popping in to my classroom to reveal the secrets of the writing life. To me the idea of meeting a writer was as strange and exotic as the idea of meeting an astronaut. (Another childhood ambition, as yet sadly unfulfilled!) 274352_BEST_STORY_EVER_95_FINAL_APPROVED

Nowadays children’s authors such as J.K. Rowling and David Walliams are celebrities and with literary festivals popping up every other minute, the power of stories can be seen everywhere. But sometimes in schools, the pressures of tests and exams can squeeze the pleasure out of reading and writing. So when I go into schools as an author, one of my goals is to help banish the fear of the blank page and put the fun back into writing stories. I want to demystify the creative process and help every child realise that they can be a writer too. From inventing unforgettable characters to creating thrilling plots, I share tips and trade secrets, working with children to write their own action-packed adventures, spooky tales and amazing mash-up stories. 274352_BEST_STORY_EVER_26_64_dupe

And so when Oxford University Press got in touch about creating a book called How to Write Your Best Story Ever! I jumped at the chance of getting involved. Working with the brilliant team there and with illustrations from the fabulous Nathan Reed, we’ve tried to create the ultimate creative writing guide. There’s an avalanche of ideas and advice about writing a story from start to finish and hints and tips about how to write different types of story too, from thrillers and mysteries to animal adventures and comic book scripts. There are ‘Word Webs’ to help children find the right words for their story and inspire their own creative vocabulary, ‘Author says’ tips to help conquer any bad cases of writer’s block, and even a ‘Red Alert’ feature that gives the lowdown on any essential spelling, grammar and punctuation help  that the reader might need.


One of my favourite features in the book, is the ‘Inspiration Station’ where children can read fantastic lines from brilliant authors such as Roald Dahl, Philip Reeve and Jacqueline Wilson to name but a few and use these as fuel for their own writing. Every writer is a reader and every reader can be a writer too. All you need is a book…

How to Write Your Best Story Ever!

Christopher EdgeChristopher Edge is the award-winning author of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, The Black Crow Conspiracy and many more books for children. A former English teacher, Christopher now works as a publishing and education consultant and visits primary and secondary schools across the country to inspire children as readers and writers. His books have been included in the Summer Reading Challenge, Bookbuzz and Read for My School programmes. How to Write Your Best Story Ever! is out now. Find out more about Christopher Edge at

What A Wonderful Song

Tim Hopgood, author and illustrator shares his love of Louis Armstrong’s world-famous song What a Wonderful World and takes us behind the scenes of making it into a picture book and getting it published.

One Father’s Day about five, six years ago my daughter gave me an old vinyl copy of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What A Wonderful World. Before we go any further, I feel I should point out that the song was not actually written by Armstrong, but such is the magic of his recording that people seem to assume the song is his! The words were actually written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.


I first heard the song when I was about six years old; it was played at school during assembly. It made a huge impression on me as a child, such a seemingly simple song, yet so powerful in that it goes straight to the heart with its message of hope and love. Listening to the recording once again, complete with vinyl crackles, I realized the song hadn’t lost any of its charm and it hadn’t dated, that’s the beauty of something so honest and simple. And there’s something about Armstrong’s gravelly voice that stops it being too sentimental, maybe that’s the reason his recording is the one everyone remembers.

So what’s the first song you’d want your new baby to hear? For me it has to be this song. It was for Chris Evans too. I remember he opened his afternoon show on Radio 2 with the song after his first son Noah was born. Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture the joy of that song, probably the most life-affirming song of all time and put it in a book?


Think about it, the lyrics are so visual ‘I see trees of green, Red roses too’ it could work. And as a gift, what better gift book could there be than to give someone what is essentially a love letter to the world? A simple message of hope.


When I first showed the roughs for the idea the initial reaction was that it was going to be too complicated to get permission to use the lyrics. I think I’m right in saying that there are three music companies which own the rights to the song, and they would all have to agree on the concept and the publishing terms. My editor at the time loved the idea, but from a publishing business point of view it wasn’t looking quite so wonderful. As a relative newcomer to the picture book market, having at the time only published two books, the chances of making the figures work looked unlikely. “One to put on the back burner” was the advice from my agent.




So that’s exactly what I did.  And then a few years later, I got a call from the commissioning editor at OUP, Peter Marley. Pete explained he was looking for gift book ideas and wondered if I’d be interested in working with him. I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference was between a picture book and a gift book, so he explained how gift books tended to have higher print production values than an ordinary picture book and that often they were based on classic titles that are given a new lease of life by a contemporary illustrator.


I think it was the word CLASSIC that jumped out at me. Something made me think immediately about my ‘Wonderful World’ idea and so I mentioned to Pete that I did have something he might be interested in, not based on a classic title, but a classic song instead.


When I look at the original roughs now it’s surprising how little has actually changed, surprising in a good way. Others may look at the roughs and see just a few scribbly lines, but to me the content and composition is all there, the journey and the pace of it all is pretty close to the finished book. My roughs are VERY rough, but the essence of what’s happening on the page is there.

I’m not someone who likes to produce very detailed roughs and then colour them in as it were.  For me the process is all much more spontaneous than that with each finished spread influencing the next. And so much of my work is about colour that often it’s hard for people to imagine the power and impact a spread will have until colour is applied.


So for example, my rough drawing for the horses spread, which is probably my favourite spread, doesn’t look that impressive, but in my head I knew it would work. The power of colour never ceases to amaze and excite me. So like the song itself, the composition is kept simple and direct.

p22_unpublishedI guess the main change to come out of the editorial process was the relationship between the boy and the bird. It’s much stronger in the final version, much more deliberate whereas in the original rough it is more incidental.


I hope the book will introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of this song and that it will encourage parents and teachers to share its joy by singing to their little and not-so little ones. The project was a labour of love. A project that came about because all those involved at OUP wanted to make it happen as much as I did. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. Had the book happened earlier in my publishing career it wouldn’t be the book it is­­; by that I mean, it wouldn’t be quite so charming, quite so powerful, quite so wonderful. Thank you to everyone involved.­­­­ ­­­­­

 What a Wonderful World is out now.

What a Wonderful World


Tim worked for twenty years as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator before he began his career writing and drawing for children. He has a deep love of music, often he wears large headphones and blasts Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder while he paints and draws. He works mostly with Derwent sketching pencils, using digital layering methods to create his artworks. He now lives in North Yorkshire with his wife, two children and his cats.

‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

Helen Mortimer, commissioning editor at Oxford Children’s Books takes us behind the scenes of a brand new edition of the classic The Wind in the Willows, retold by Tom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and illustrated by the brilliant David Roberts.

toad cover image

‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

toad 1With these words, Kenneth Grahame first introduced his enduring character in a letter written to his son, Alastair, on May 10th, 1907. During that summer Grahame, who was staying away from his son, continued to send Alastair instalments of the story by letter. The following year Grahame polished the material into a manuscript and the book was published in October 1908 as The Wind in the Willows.

At 55,000 words The Wind in the Willows is normally read to children over many bedtimes. But, for parents and children alike, it is well worth investing the time as it’s a wonderful story with friendship and adventure at its heart. The language is vivid and evocative and is remembered far beyond childhood. Here at Oxford Children’s Books we were delighted when we approached David Roberts to illustrate a glorious new gift edition of the original story and discovered that he shared our enthusiasm for the book.


toad 2


We published a sumptuous gift edition in 2012, packed with over 150 stunning illustrations from David.

willows cover image

David’s illustrations are so bright, appealing, and accessible that we wanted them to reach children even younger than those who would enjoy sharing The Wind in the Willows. We wanted to condense Kenneth Grahame’s original story into a 32-page picture book and focus on the character who started it all back in 1907: Toad himself.

toad 3

There can be few characters in the world of children’s books more entertaining than Toad and even fewer illustrators who have captured his every mood and moment with the verve and panache of David Roberts. So we commissioned acclaimed author Tom Moorhouse to retell the story for a picture book audience. Essentially, Tom has taken Toad’s best bits from The Wind in the Willows to create The Adventures of Mr Toad, in Toad’s own words and songs.

toad 4.

It’s a really engaging picture book that will introduce the youngest children to four of the most lovable characters of children’s literature: Mole, Ratty, Badger, and, of course, Mr Toad!

 The Adventures of Mr Toad is out now.

toad cover image

You can also read the original Oxford Children’s Classic of Wind in the Willows, which now has a gorgeous new cover look and includes the unabridged text, as well as extra material to help you get the most from the story and lots of recommendations for other things you might enjoy.



Have a very happy Halloween with Winnie the Witch!

Everybody’s fiendishly favourite time of year is almost upon us once again. And if you’re looking for inspiration both for party ideas and reading recommendations for younger children, then look no further.

Of course, every child’s favourite is WINNIE THE WITCH by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, and she has everything you need for your Halloween celebration to go off with a whizz, a bang and a pop!

Firstly, you can download your very own Winnie the Witch Party pack which contains drawing and colouring, party game ideas and an interactive storytime. PLUS there are step-by-step instructions to make your own Winnie the Witch hat and wig so you look the part!

Then, of course, no Halloween would be complete without a spooky tale or two – and there are three new Winnie the Witch stories that will fit the bill perfectly:

Winnie’s Big Bad Robot
Winnie has made a robot! Out of cardboard! But when she decides to magic it into a real robot, both she and Wilbur soon discover that this robot is bad…

Winnie’s Amazing Antics

Winnies Amazing Antics

Three favourite Winnie stories in one: Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin, Winnie in Space and Winnie Under the Sea.

Winnie Adds Magic


Four stories for older readers which take Winnie and Wilbur on a crazy journey, full of unexpected twists.

Spooktacular Halloween Wishes!


Thrilling YA fiction

Two unique, thought-provoking posts by two unique YA authors. The first is Night Runner by Carnegie Medal-winning Tim Bowler and the second is Replica by Australian writer Jack Heath.

Writing Night Runner by Tim Bowler

9780192794147_NIGHT_RUNNER_CVR_AUG14Night Runner
is a fast-moving story and it came to me at a sprint. It’s about a fifteen-year-old boy called Zinny and the novel begins with him hiding in his room at home because he has truanted from school. But within just a few pages we discover that his father is abusive, his mother has a dark secret, and there’s a dangerous man trying to break into the house. A few pages later Zinny is running for his life. When I first started writing Night Runner, I had no clear idea of how the story was going to work out. All I knew for certain was that Zinny was in terrible trouble. But I was hooked and desperate to find out what would happen to him. What appealed to me about Zinny, what made me care about him, was his isolation. He has no one to depend on. He’s not just isolated at school, he’s isolated at home too, and even in his head: he’s cut off from his dreams and confused about what he really wants. He doesn’t have friends to help him and his mum and dad have huge problems of their own.

Night Runner is out now.

Should we profit from suffering? by Jack Heath

9780192737663_REPLICA_CVR_AUG14Good writing usually comes from a bad experience. Philip K. Dick couldn’t have written A Scanner Darkly, his novel about a DEA agent hooked on Substance D, if it weren’t for his own crippling drug addiction. The Makedde Vanderwall series by Tara Moss drew heavily on the abuse Moss had suffered as a young model. Bryce Courtenay wrote movingly about his son’s death in April Fool’s Day.

When a character experiences grief or rage the author takes advantage of his or her own experiences with these emotions, even if the circumstances were radically different. I was once violently ill on an aeroplane and found myself temporarily paralysed and unable to remember who I was. In the prologue of my novel Replica, Chloe Zimetski awakens with all her memories erased, trapped in the basement of someone who looks exactly like her. Chloe’s terror is convincing because of my own.
This raises an ethical problem. On the surface Replica is about an android who assumes the identity of her creator in order to investigate a murder. But thematically it’s about what we leave behind when we die. I was compelled to write it after several people close to me passed away.

And now I’m selling it.

Writing can be therapeutic. Sometimes putting trauma into words can help you understand it and let it go. And yet, if a surgeon removes a life-threatening tumour from your abdomen, is it appropriate to put the tumour up for auction? My gut says no, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But this is not a new argument. News sites use tragedy to sell ad space. The advertisers, in turn, profit from universal human feelings of inadequacy. 12 Years A Slave took the plight of African Americans in the 19th century and sold it as entertainment (Django Unchained even more so.) The salaries of police officers depend on the existence of crime. Necessity is the mother of invention, and misfortune is the father of necessity.

If I don’t sell Replica, I can’t afford to write more books. The readers lose. My grief doesn’t get less potent – just less useful. I suffered for nothing.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped asking the question, “Should we profit from pain?” Maybe we should be asking, “Can we afford not to?”

Replica is out now.

About Jack Heath
Jack Heath Ash Peak (2)Jack Heath was born in 1986 and started writing his first novel in high school. It was published when he was 19. He has since written several award-nominated books for teenagers, which are published all over the world. He lives in Canberra with his wife.











About Tim Bowler

Tim Bowler 2012Tim Bowler is one of the UK’s most compelling and original writers for teenagers. He was born in Leigh-on-Sea and after studying Swedish at university he worked in forestry, the timber trade, teaching, and translating before becoming a full-time writer. He lives with his wife in a quiet Devon village and his workroom is a small wooden outhouse known to friends as ‘Tim’s Bolthole’. Tim has written nineteen books and won fifteen awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for River Boy. His books have sold over a million copies worldwide.

See the world of The Boxtrolls come to life!

Kathy Webb, Managing Editor at OUP Children’s Books gives us the inside track on working on the books that accompany the brand new 3D animated adventure film, The Boxtrolls – as well as the book that inspired the film.

Last Saturday I took my family and friends along to the cinema to watch the new movie, The Boxtrolls. It had only just opened in the UK and went on to be the number one film at the box office for that weekend. We all thought the movie was great—an exciting adventure, with some weird and wonderful characters, all brought to life by some truly breath-taking animation. But watching the film was like the end of a crazy and fun-filled journey for me because I had spent the last twelve months involved in putting together a range of film tie-in books to accompany the film.

The Boxtrolls
movie is based on a book published by OUP entitled Here Be Monsters! by the hugely-talented author/illustrator Alan Snow. So when it came to publishing The Boxtrolls books, OUP were asked if they could produce them. Movie tie-in publishing is always great fun—schedules and deadlines go out of the window and all you can do is wait for the film company, Laika, to release the images you need for the books and then embark on a mad dash to put the books together and get them off to print. There’s something very satisfying about producing a book at breakneck speed!


Together with the movie tie-in publications (The Boxtrolls Novelisation and The Boxtrolls: Make Your Own Boxtroll Punch-out Activity Book) we also produced a new edition of the original Here Be Monsters! which, although altogether more straightforward, also had times where we were at the mercy of the film company as we waited for their approval to use The Boxtrolls logo on our new cover, for example. But in the end, like a well-oiled Boxtrolls machine, everything came together in the nick of time and the books published just prior to the film’s release.

GROUP_MEET_BOXTROLLS_LRAs I settled down in the cinema and the film began, I felt proud to have had a small part to play in the huge world of The Boxtrolls. Seeing the characters that you’ve come to know so well, burst into life on a huge screen, is really very exciting.

Working on The Boxtrolls books was a bit like the film itself—fast, furious, dramatic, sometimes scary, but above all else, just great, great fun.

The Boxtrolls is in cinemas now.


A perilous world for children…

Julia Lee, author of  The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth examines the different types of childhoods experienced by the children in the Victorian setting of her new book The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard.

In my latest book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, I got to plunge back into the perilous Victorian world of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth. (I have to take a deep breath even to type those long titles!)

Clemency Wrigglesworth

It’s a world where schooling is not a great priority. That might sound like fun, but in fact most children work for a living instead, as they do in my book. Their families need every penny they earn to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Gully’s family, the Marvels, have links to the theatre and their children are lucky to have jobs that reflect that. Cousin Whitby is a dancer and dance-school assistant. Nine-year-old Impey has acted on the stage and hopes for greater things in future. Gully’s job is more mundane. He’s just a delivery boy, and wishes he had a special talent like his cousins. But they all share rather adult worries about money, whether they might lose their jobs, and how to find another.



Having so much independence and responsibility means that children are out and about all day, unsupervised by parents – so different from now. But that also means plenty of scope in my story for adventures and chance encounters, some exciting, some alarming. Bumping into an old school-mate is the start of a scary rollercoaster of events for Gully.

There’s one character who isn’t allowed out on her own – who isn’t allowed to do very much at all, in fact. Agnes Glass comes from a wealthy family. Although her life is comfortable she’s isolated and lonely. Her over-protective mother fusses about her health. Poor Agnes can only go outside on fine days and then she must be wrapped in blankets in a little pony-cart, led by a groom, going ‘at a sedate pace and only down the quietest streets’. Not much scope for adventure there! Until she decides to do something about it…

I’ve always loved those classic children’s books like Heidi and The Secret Garden where ‘sickly’ children manage to challenge the limitations imposed by illness or disability. So I had great fun helping to prise Agnes out of her narrow world and defy her mother. When she is thrown together with Gully and Impey, there’s quite a gulf between them and lots to discover about each other’s lives. Lots to discover about themselves, too, especially as the perils begin to pile up.

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is out now.


Julia LeeJulia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine.

Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.


Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.




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