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  • Writer's pictureLaura Cooney

Author Interview- Award Winning John Condon author of The Pirates are Coming.

This blog post is a very exciting one for me as I have a guest author interview to share with you. Timely too as the Edinburgh International Book Festival is underway and so this seems like a fitting time to be welcoming a guest along for the ride on my blog!

John Condon lives in Kent and has written three picture books.

The Wondrous Dinosaurium, The Pirates are Coming and his newest offering The Best Bear Tracker. I can assure you, I've read them. I can assure you, they are worth reading! There's a link at the bottom for his new book. I heartily suggest that you follow it.

He's here as part of his blog tour promoting his new book The Best Bear Tracker and I've had the privilege of asking him a few questions about his past work.

For all of my fellow writers and Kid Lit followers, there are some interesting insights into publishing here and the process of writing picture books that I know will interest you. For my other followers, hiya pals, I hope that your interest in piqued enough to check out this work, everyone knows a child or someone with a child, right?

In any case, enjoy and thanks for tuning in.

Questions for the Pirates Are Coming

1. Obviously the Boy Who Cried Wolf was in your mind when writing this book. Did you have that in mind at the outset or did the themes from the fable evolve with each draft.

Actually, it wasn’t obvious to me at the time. Initially I was just trying to create a coherent structure for the story I was writing. I had no idea it was similar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Picture books were relatively new to me (this was around 2012/13) and I didn't really know how to write one, so I was reading how-to books and utilising tips in them, such as the rule of three, repeated refrains, rising drama and a twist endings. It was only when I completed the second draft that it dawned on me.

Once I realised though, I decided that I should make it work in my favour, so I really leaned into it. I read versions of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, to ensure it tied in even more. I realised that readers familiar with that story would form a conclusion about Tom’s motives and expect the story to progress in the same manner. I hoped that the ending would then come as a huge surprise. The twist had always been in place, but I hoped the surprise would be even greater now. Also, because I hadn't set out to mirror The Boy Who Cried Wolf and wanted this to be a dramatic and satisfying story in its own right, I was still confident that young readers who had never heard of it would really enjoy my story on its own merit.

2. There is a happy twist ending to the tale. Was this ending always the ending you'd planned? Where did the idea for that come from?

I don't begin plotting out a story (because for me, that’s the hardest part) until I have an ending in place that I believe will be worth the struggle to get there. Hopefully not for the reader but almost certainly for me. If I have a concept and an ending that I know I’d love to read, I pull my socks up and try to create a story that can take the reader to that place too. It very rarely comes easily though. I am jealous of those writers who say that they came up with an idea and then wrote the entire first draft in half an hour. For me, it’s like pulling teeth. For this reason, most of my stories take years to get from the initial concept to a draft I can submit to publishers. I often miss the boat, as other stories get published with almost identical plots or characters before I am able to finish mine. I come up with lots of ideas though (I have over 800 of them) and I’ve been told by one of my editors that I have a knack for great twist endings, so even though I have had to drawer lots of stories that I loved because I was too slow to get them over the line, there are always other ideas I can pick up and run with.

But, to answer your question, I had the twist in place very early on. I would never have attempted writing the story until I had an ending that excited me and thankfully the endings often arrive hand in hand with the story idea, or soon after. Not sure why my brain works like that but for good or bad that’s how it works.

As mentioned, I come up with lots of ideas and endings that I like but the texts I generate from them don't always excite me in equal measure. I think that’s to do with how well I join the dots. Sometimes I create an emotional and dramatic story narrative and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it can be very subjective. A text I love can get no love from anyone else and one I thought of as padding for a submission is adored by an editor. I genuinely had a lot of heart for this story (and still do). Thankfully Nosy Crow shared my feelings and really got behind it. So much so that, even though I had a strong twist in place, they wanted to add a second one. At first I pushed back as the story and the ending had a lot of personal meaning for me. My mother and father split up when I was very young and my dad would only occasionally and inconsistently visit. He was the pirate captain in this story for me, which was an (admittedly very romanticised) ode to him. He died when I was 14, and in some way I felt like I was creating an everlasting memorial to him. So when my editor wanted to change the sex of the captain, I was devastated at first. This was such a personal story that the change felt as if my father’s memory was being pushed aside.

I was also developing another story, at the time, that actually had the twist they were asking for in it, so I knew that Nosy Crow would now never publish that other story. However, there was no point in me fighting against it, this was what they wanted, and in hindsight, I’m glad I went along with it. It took so long to develop the other story anyway, that by the time it was finished (in 2021) nobody else was interested. I still liked the character I had created and the effect she had on the world in which she lived. Perhaps there will be a time for her, but not yet, and not in the way I had originally envisaged.

Questions for the Wondrous Dinosaurium...

1. What was your inspiration for writing this book? I get vibes of Dear Zoo from it. Which is obviously a much simpler book.

A few people have said that in reviews. I have never read Dear Zoo. I have read hundreds and hundreds of picture books but mostly in and around the age I write for. I have read some board books (to my son when he was very young) but Dear Zoo wasn’t one of them. To be honest, I have no idea where the inspiration for most of my stories come from. I know that I wanted to write a story that commemorated Dippy, the plaster cast diplodocus skeleton in the Natural History Museum, which I had fond memories of visiting as a child. Funnily enough, I think I sold the Dinosaurium story around the time they were planning to replace Dippy with the blue whale skeleton.

Dippy would be one of the major influences for the very first chapter book story I ever wrote too. That’s another good example of how long I take to complete a text. The chapter book idea has been rolling around in my head for well over a decade now. In that time, Dippy has left the NHM, travelled around the country and is now back in her original home. Only until early 2023 though, so I want to go back to London to see her before she disappears again. Also, in that time, other chapter books involving the same characters I developed have been published. Another shame, as I really liked these characters, and had lots of adventures ready for them to go on.

2. How much research, or how long did you research for, to get the facts correct about your dinosaurs?

Although this was a simple, fun story about dinosaurs, I really wanted the dinosaurs included to be real. So, I read some complicated and confusing articles about dinosaur diets, which were sometimes contradictory. Often that depended on the date of publication, as ‘facts’ are forever being updated and replaced with more accurate ones. I then tried to simplify those into picture book friendly words. I asked the publisher (Maverick Arts) to ensure that the illustrator (Steve Brown) didn't make up any of the other dinosaurs either and thankfully, Steve had no intention of doing that. There is an error in the book though. Very late in the process one of the star dinosaurs was changed from an Allosaurus to a more consumer friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex. The text was changed but the illustrations were not. Steve had, as agreed, illustrated an Allosaurus, which had three fingers. A T-Rex had only two. I wish I had been more on the ball to notice that. I know Steve would have.

I also wish, in hindsight, that we had added a glossary, at the back of the book that included all the dinosaurs, their names and the era in which they lived. There wasn't room though, as (at that time) I tended to write for 14 spreads instead of 12. Looking back, I’m sure I could have trimmed the story to fit it into 12 spreads. That was my introduction into publishing though and there are always things I would have changed, when looking back. It’s a learning curve for sure.

I’m proud of all my stories though, each of which has its own story too.


or if Amazon ain't your thing...

Don't despair!

Its available... everywhere!

A delightful story about a child looking for a treasured cuddly toy. Packed with humour, drawn out by fantastic illustrations. Children are notoriously bad at finding what is right in front of them and this story captures that so well.

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