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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Super Happy Magic Forest is out now.

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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.

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 Gorilla Dawn is out now.

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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.

ADVENTURES IN THE FROZEN NORTH By Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…).

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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.

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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: http://www.philip-reeve.com/

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: http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/

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