||Young Merlin and Merlin and the Ring of Power
I’ve always been interested in the Arthurian stories – and for me the character that stands head and shoulders above the rest is Merlin, the original Celtic wizard. We usually think of Merlin as an old man, grizzled and grey and bearded, but I often found myself wondering about his beginnings. In the original Welsh legends there’s a story about his boyhood and how he discovered his magic powers and his destiny in the story of Britain. I thought it would make a powerful story for young people, especially the scene deep underground where Merlin witnesses the great, mythic battle between the red dragon of Wales and the white dragon of the Saxons. There was a natural sequel to Young Merlin, and in Merlin and the Ring of Power I’ve told another story about him – the one in which he builds Stonehenge overnight to defeat a Saxon army. I was then very pleased to hear that the first book was to be translated into Welsh, the language of Merlin’s homeland – and it was great to see a finished copy of Myrddin, y Bachgen Arbennig (‘Merlin, the Special Boy’) – my publisher Barrington Stoke has done a great job on the covers. They have a phrase in Welsh – ‘Cymru am byth!’ – which means ‘Wales forever!’. All I can say is… ‘Myrddin am byth’ – ‘Merlin forever!’
|Is That a Coconut? Yuck!
One day a small round hairy thing falls from a tree. ‘A coconut?’ growls lion. ‘I don’t like coconuts!’ He’s not the only one. All the animals turn up their noses and toss away the small round hairy thing. But Mama Monkey is in hot pursuit of the flying object. Why is she so worried about it? Could it be that the small round hairy thing isn’t a coconut after all, but something – or somebody – Mama Monkey might want to protect? Especially from that large, hungry alligator who seems to have worked out the truth for himself…
I’ve loved picture books ever since my children were small and I spent many a happy hour reading classics such as Peepo! and The Tiger Who Came to Tea and The Elephant and the Bad Baby to them. I’ve also enjoyed writing picture book texts and working with some great illustrators, and I have to say that I think Is That a Coconut? Yuck! is one of the best books I’ve worked on. I wanted to write a funny story which at its heart has the idea of a mum going to extraordinary lengths to protect her baby, and when I sat down to work it out the words just seemed to flow onto the page. I was delighted when my publisher told me that Katherine McEwen had agreed to do the illustrations – I think she’s one of the best illustrators working in children’s books today, and I love the bright, bold, funny and very warm illustrations she has created for the story.
You can find out more about this book and my other Egmont titles at their wonderful website – www.egmont.co.uk
A&C Black are also publishing this non-fiction book for children by Alex Stewart.
|Titanic: Death on the Water
They started to run, but the freezing seawater slowed them down. Soon it was up to their knees and they had to wade. They rounded a corner, and now Billy could see where the water was coming from. A little way ahead a bulkhead door had bulged inwards and water was spraying out round the entire frame, the metal squeaking and groaning as if it were in pain. Suddenly a rivet shot out and hit the opposite wall of the passage with a dull clang.
The boys looked at each other and pushed on – for a second Billy thought they were safe. Then there was an almighty bang, and he was thumped in the back by a freezing torrent. The door had been blown off completely. Billy was washed along by the force of the unleashed water. He tried to hold on to Anya but he was slammed into a bulkhead and she was torn from his grasp. He grabbed another door frame and it took all his strength to get his head up for a great, gulping breath. There was less than a foot of air between the corridor’s ceiling and the flood, and the water was rising relentlessly… (from chapter 10 of Titanic: Death on the Water)
I have to confess I was never that interested in the story of the Titanic. I remember seeing A Night to Remember (the 1958 film about the sinking) when I was young, and it didn’t have a great deal of impact on me. I was rather more taken with James Cameron’s epic version – when his film Titanic came out in 1997 I went to see it twice. But it was still just a movie.
Then my son Tom and I were asked to write this book. We both started to read about the great ship and that awful night in April 1912, and soon I began to realise that the story of what happened can draw you in. There’s something about it that exerts a powerful influence. Maybe it’s the fact that the disaster was a result of a number of small mistakes that added up to a catastrophe. Maybe it’s the inevitability of it all once the iceberg had been struck. Maybe it’s to do with discovering that the big story is made up of the smaller stories of everyone on the ship – although for each person it was a very big event indeed.
At any rate, we wrote a story that has both real and fictional characters in it. The fictional characters are Billy Fleming, a boy from Belfast who gets a job on a the Titanic as a bellboy; George Anderson, a fellow bellboy; and a very young Polish girl called Anya. Their lives become entangled in a way they could never have imagined when they first went on board the great ship that everyone believed was unsinkable. I’m not going to reveal what happens to them – to find that out you’ll have to read the book! However, what happened to the real characters mentioned in the story – Captain Smith, Mr Ismay, the rich and the poor passengers – is a matter of historical record. You can find pictures of Titanic’s officers on the internet, and in the back row of one is Chief Purser McElroy. We thought he had a friendly face, so in our story he became a friend to Billy and George. On BBC i-player you can even hear an interview with another officer appears briefly in our story, Mr Lightoller. It was recorded in the 1930s and his eye-witness account is very moving indeed.
Ultimately, though, Titanic: Death on the Water is our version of what might have happened that night. We hope you are as gripped and fascinated by our re-imagining of this terrible event as we were when we wrote it. For however many times it’s told, it was and always will be a Titanic story.
A group of survivors have been living on a large boat since the undead apocalypse began. No one has been ashore and supplies are fast running out. Teenagers Jake and Lucy lead a small group into the city to hunt for food and medicine and look for other survivors … and desperately try to stay alive in a city swarming with zombies. As the zombie attacks intensify, the group is cut off from the boat. Killing zombies is one thing. But sooner or later, one of the survivors will be bitten. What then?
Father and son team bring you zombies…
A couple of years ago I discovered Pearson Education had produced a great series of novels and plays for secondary schools with the excellent Frank Cottrell Boyce as series editor. The series is called HEROES you can find out about it here.
Then I found out something else that made me sit up and take even more notice. Pearson were looking for someone to write a zombie apocalypse play. It seemed very specific, but when I got in touch with Pearson editor Louise Morris she confirmed that was what they wanted. So I said – look no further than the expert writing team of Bradman and Son – we are the zombie apocalypse experts! Within days Tom and I were having lunch with Louise and her colleague Ben Hulme-Cross, and we clearly dazzled them with our deep knowledge of the genre, from Dawn of the Dead to 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead. At any rate, they surrendered and commissioned us to write the play.
Although if I’m going to be totally honest, it’s Tom who is the real expert. I’ve always been fascinated by post-apocalyptic stories, but at the same time I’m something of a wimp (You’re a total wimp, Dad!). So I tend to watch zombie films and TV shows from between my fingers, or even wait until Tom comes home so that we can watch them together, which is a bit awkward at the moment, as he’s teaching English in China. Anyway, I like to think I bring something to every project, and for this one I came up with the original plot. (Come on Dad, tell the truth!). OK, I’ll admit it – I stole the plot, but the author I stole it from died a very long time ago, so it’s allowed.
I was lucky enough to do classics at school, and at one point we read some extracts from a book called The Anabasis (it means ‘The March Up-Country) by a famous Greek soldier and politician called Xenophon. He was part of a group of Greek mercenaries who had been hired by a pretender to the throne of the Persian Empire. Unfortunately for the Greeks, their employer was assassinated by his main opponent, along with most of their generals. That meant they were stuck in the middle of Persia, surrounded by hostile forces that wanted to wipe them out and a very long way from home. Xenophon wrote the story of how they fought their way to safety, arguing with each other all the way, and I had always been fascinated by it – there’s a famous scene where they finally reach the sea, a possible way home. Xenophon is at the back of the column and hears the men at the front shouting ‘Thalassa! Thalassa!’ (‘The sea! The sea!’).
So when we sat down to try and come up with a plot for a zombie play, I thought of a small group trapped in a city full of zombies who want to kill and eat them, a fate which they of course would quite like to avoid. To do that they have to cross the city and reach the sea where they can be picked up, and as usual with any group, there are plenty of arguments and disagreements – as well as some terrific fight scenes! Who lives and who dies is in the balance throughout the story, and there are plenty of surprises along the way.
Already Dead ( I think it’s a great title – Tom came up with it!) was a lot of fun to wrote, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with. I also think it would make a terrific film. Not one that I could watch, obviously, not on my own, anyway…
|An excerpt from Sam and Ruby’s Olympic Adventure
Sam took his seat in the time machine and Ruby stood behind him. He tapped at his keyboard and the chair’s engines began to hum. Soon it was spinning faster and faster and blue lines of power crackled from the metal.
“Wait a second,” said Ruby. “Where are we going to go?”
“Don’t stress,” said Sam. “I’ve programmed the laptop to take us on a tour of all the Olympics from the start up to the present day. But you’d better hold on tight – it could be a bumpy ride …”
Just then there was a loud BANG! and several flashes. The chair took off into the air like a rocket. It belched out flames, and around them the sky changed from dark to light, over and over again.
“This is wicked!” yelled Sam. “Are you OK, Ruby?”
“I think so!” screamed Ruby. “When will it stop?”
“NOW!” shouted Sam, just before they landed with a BUMP! in a grove of trees beside a field. There were mountains in the distance, and the sun shone down from a clear blue sky. It was very hot. A huge statue of a god with a lightning bolt in his hand stood over a line of white buildings.
“I’d better check exactly where we are …” said Sam, and started to tap at his laptop.
“Forget it,” said Ruby. “Any idiot could see this is Ancient Greece.”
|STOP PRESS – Sam and Ruby’s Olympic Adventure wins the Hackney Short Novel Award!
I was really pleased when Sam and Ruby’s Olympic Adventure was shortlisted for the Hackney Short Novel Award – and delighted when it won! I had a great day at Hackney Town Hall with the kids who did the voting, as you can see. They were a tough bunch of critics, though – one group said they liked the book but only gave it four out of five ‘because the beginning was a bit boring’! I’ll have to try harder – who knows what I might achieve if I can get them to give me five out of five…
|Tony with the kids of Hackney|