Author and illustrator Thomas Taylor talks to Peters about his new novel, Malamander, which follows Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma and their adventures in the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea. Thomas also discusses his writing process, the book that made him fall in love with reading, and his first professional illustration commission.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I loved books and reading from an early age, and always enjoyed dreaming up my own stories, but I was determined to go to art school and become an illustrator. Writing seemed to be something other people would do, so that I could provide the pictures. However, as time went on, I became more and more attracted to writing the stories myself. First, I wrote picture books, and then as my confidence grew, I began to write longer fiction. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I was 34 years old.
What was it like to see your first book published? Was it a dream come true?
Yes! Although I saw my artwork published first. My first published illustration was the cover art for the then-unknown book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling. This was in 1997. My first writing – a picture book called George and Sophie’s Museum Adventure – was published in 1999, with both words and drawings by me. A magical experience.
Do you have a writing Kryptonite?
Everyday Life is the biggest enemy of writing. It’s important to be disciplined and set time aside because otherwise Everyday Life, which is a monster, will devour your day.
There is another kind of ‘Kryptonite’ though, and that’s the Blank Page. Sitting down in the morning to face a blank page, knowing that you have to spend the next few hours turning nothing into something can be very intimidating.
3 favourite books/authors/illustrators when you were a child and today.
The first real novel I read was The Hobbit by J R R Tolkein. I think I was about 12. I loved it, and it still has a special place on my book shelves. I think I read it about 11 times over the years. I also read as many Three Investigators books (by Robert Arthur) as I could find at home or in the local library. I’d like to read them again someday. I also loved comics, such as The Power Pack (Marvel Comics).
As an adult I read all sorts of things, but I have a particular liking for Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. I also like Mal Peet’s books, as well as the writing of David Almond (Kit’s Wilderness, for example).
Best and worst part of being a writer.
Best part: turning Nothing into Something, and being told that the Something is good.
Worst part: turning Nothing into Something, and finding that the Something isn’t good enough, and needs to be somethinged again. And again! (ugh).
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I would choose a sabre-toothed tiger, because they are ferocious and magnificent and have enormous fangs. However, I would probably be allocated a red panda, because they are lazy and eat a lot.
How did you get the first idea for this book and what did you learn from writing this book?
I’ve always lived near the sea, and I’ve got to know many seaside towns, but it wasn’t until I actually went to live in one, and walked on the beach every day, that I started to imagine writing a story about the mysterious ocean and the people who live beside it. It took several years of walking my dog at low tide and playing with different ideas in daydream before Eerie-on-Sea came into being and its inhabitants began to walk with me.
From writing this book I learned that it’s better to write what you want to write than to write what you think publishers and readers want.
Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you.
I am a constant beachcomber, and have found many of the things Mrs Fossil finds in Malamander, including the bones of prehistoric creatures, and even a couple of pieces of dinosaur poo!
I illustrated the cover of the UK edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and was therefore probably the first professional artist to ever draw Harry Potter.
When I stay in a hotel, I always hide one of my books in the room. I don’t know why I do this, or what happens if and when they are found, but I like the idea that someone will come across the books and perhaps read them.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
Archaeologist or palaeontologist or zoologist.
About Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor has always lived near the sea (though that’s not difficult if you live in the British Isles). He comes from a long line of seafarers, but chose a career as an illustrator because that involves less getting wet and more biscuits.
His first professional illustration commission, straight out of art school, was the cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After this he concentrated on picture books, some of which won actual awards!
Although always aspiring to be a writer, a childhood of being told ‘no, you’re good at drawing – you should be an illustrator instead’ left him nervous to try. But try he did, initially with picture books, but soon with novels. It turns out turning biscuits into books is even more fun when you get to create the story too.
Thomas currently lives on the south coast of England, near the historic town of Hastings, which provided some of the inspiration for Eerie-on-Sea. He is a keen beachcomber, and has in real life found many of the things Mrs Fossil finds in this book. He loves nothing more than walking on the beach with his sons Max and Benjy and his enormous hound Alpha, picking up dinosaur bones and sea glass jewels, and wondering about the stories behind them.
And in case you are curious about the biscuits, the answer is…
Thomas’ new book, Malamander, will be available to order on our schools’ website from 2nd May 2019.