1. THE FIRST THOUGHTS....
Here's where I wish I could tell you that Jim came to me on a bolt of brilliance. He didn't actually. There was no lightening strike or middle-of-the-night AHA! It was a bit more down to earth than that. I actually sat and thought about it.
I had already written a couple of long stories which were a bit serious and dramatic, and I wanted to write something light, upbeat, comedic. Around that time I was reading something very funny indeed - a book called You're A Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton (who is so funny he makes my tummy hurt) - and my own kids were crazy about Harry Potter, the story of a boy who discovers he is something special. And I just kind of put the two together.
What if rather than a boy finding out HE was something special, I could write a FUNNY story about a boy who found out his DAD was something special. That way, we could have normal life being interrupted by this big secret. I quite liked the idea of staying in the real world. Anyhow, that's how I got to thinking about the situation, and then the characters just seemed to write themselves. They were based on people I knew, mostly. Some were inspired by tv characters. One of them was even based on me (flaxseed and mushroom muffin, anyone?).
*Will's mum, who just can't stop dancing.
*Jim sees a picture of his dad in The Dead End Office.
I made it dark to look extra spooky for you.
2. THEN WHAT HAPPENED?
Once I started writing, I couldn't stop! I ended up writing three different adventures for Jim. Then I self-published them, which means I used a website to make them into books, and my friends and family could buy them online. Back then, the books were titled The Confessions of Jim Reaper. And the stories were Saving Granny Maggot, A Slip of the Hand and Dead impressive. Then one day, a friend said 'You should really try and get these published so they're in real bookshops'. THAT would be so exciting, I agreed. So I looked for an agent, which is a professional booky person who believes in your writing and shows your work to publishers. I found a great agent called Alice. She thought there was something special about Jim. I couldn’t disagree with an expert, could I!
3. THEN WHAT?
Alice showed the stories to a publisher called Piccadilly Press, who – hooray! – decided to make them into a three-book series. They dropped the final story – Dead Impressive – and asked instead if I could write a starter book to set the scene and describe how Jim came to find out what his dad was. That’s how Son of Grim was born. I've always loved Dead Impressive though, and it fact it was probably my favourite story, so I've always thought of it as The Missing Book.
It was quite tricky coming up with an idea for that first starter story and I can’t even remember how I did. But somehow a plot formed – using scooters and snails and a spooky office. My editor, Matilda, said ‘yay’! That’s the short version.
4. MORE CHARACTERS? HOW?
The long version is: she said that she liked it but wanted the story to be longer and include more characters.
That’s how Hetty and Will’s family were born. Originally Jim didn’t have a sister! Imagine that! Now, it’s quite hard just popping in new characters because if they’re going to stand out and add to the story, they need to have a sub-plot – which is another story that runs alongside the main story. Also, I had to undo the jigsaw puzzle of the original story and squeeze in all these new plots and characters. But it was worth it. Inventing Hetty turned out to be one of the best things that happened to Jim. Her deviousness and demands forced me to give the stories more twists and turns, and it also provided an opportunity to make the end of the stories more satisfying. It’s great when lots of different story threads all tie up together at the end of a book.
Another reason I loved Matilda’s decision to add more characters is because characters are great fun to play with. They bring colour and movement – especially so with Will’s mum, who carries a radio around the house with her so she can dance all day.
6. THAT'S IT?
From me, yes! But there's a lot of work that goes on at the publishing house. They need to get it printed, register an IBSN number which means it gets recognised as a proper book all over the world; they need to give it a bar-code so shop scanners can read it. And they need to market it, by talking to bookshops and book reviewers. What you hold in your hands is the result of heaps of work. And it usually takes about 18 months from start to finish. Phew, that's a long time.
But it's all worth it, don't you think?
*These were a couple of the original covers I made when I self-published the books. What a difference! I published them under a different name, too!
*Hetty, performing 'Wind Art'
5. THAT'S A LOT OF WORK!
After the stories were written, Matilda and another editor called Georgia went through the text, deciding what needed to be made better – sometimes a sentence was too complicated. Sometimes there were just too many words. And my spelling was terrible! (you've probably noticed some spelling mistakes on this site - let me know!)
A book rarely leaves a publisher’s hands identical to when it first went in. This is a good thing. Even if you think you’re amazing at writing and your story is brilliant, the chances are you have been staring at it for too long and are forgetting that the person reading it can’t see inside your head and doesn’t know your characters inside out like you do. It has to read easily and make sense!
*the alley cats in Glove of Death. The impossible-to-catch Mr Darcy is on the top bin, the glove around his neck.
7. And those brilliant illustrations?