David Fickling Books website
Jeremy de Quidt
Posted on Tuesday�8th�June

I have been very neglectful of these pages this last month, and the truth of it is that I am hiding myself away, answering no telephones and reading no mails, trying very hard to finish the book I have in hand. I'm working on the principle that if something is important I will get to hear about it soon enough, and the rest can wait. I only hope I'm right. In several respects though, I'm finding it rather a relief.

That is not to say that I haven't been out of the house at all. We went to a village fete the other day and Jack and Alice decided upon a game. They are dangerous when they gang up like that. The object of the game was to get to wear a complete stranger's sunglasses for ten seconds. The only rules were that the glasses had to be loaned and not yanked from an unsuspecting nose. We were not allowed to say that we wanted them for a bet or a game, and we weren't allowed to repeat a method anyone else had successfully used. When that version of the game proved to be a huge success we branched out into hats. This was just as much fun as it was a hot day and village fetes tend to be full of extraordinary hats. I heard Alice shamelessly accosting a friendly faced woman with the words �What a lovely hat! I've always wondered if that sort would suit me? Could I try it on?�

Last week was half term, and I miss everyone very much when school starts again. It is bad enough finding myself in an empty house again after the usual weekends, but Mondays after a week of everyone being round comes like a stone into my heart. This half term Alice asked if she could paint a large map of the world on a wall. We took a look to see what wall we could spare and decided on the kitchen. It hasn't seen lick of paint for years so it can only be an improvement. Drawing the grid so that we could enlarge a smaller version proved to be easier said than done, but we managed it in the end, and here is Alice ready to embark. I will keep you posted every now and then as to how the masterpiece progresses.

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But for now, it's back on with the book. There's only one way to get a story written and that's actually to write it.

Posted on Monday�10th�May

I went up to London the other day. Never mind that I had to set off early and didn't arrive back until the small hours of the next morning, I like days out. I like the unexpected stuff that happens � like the pigeon on the tube in February � and the certainty that if I do something different and stop thinking about one thing for long enough, I can guarantee that I will think about it in a different light when I come back to it again.

The unexpected stuff this time was the two lads carrying the huge purple elephant on Willesden Junction train station, and the other was walking around Kew Gardens, completely deserted, just before they closed for the day. I have no explanation for the elephant, but it was too good a picture to miss.

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I aimed to turn up early to the place I was going to, and a good job I did, because I got out at completely the wrong train station. Which is how I came to be wandering round Kew Gardens at the end of the day. If you have ever wondered what it must feel like to find the world suddenly deserted, then go to Kew in the last minutes before it closes. It was the most peculiar sensation. All the lawns and flowerbeds neatly trimmed and tended, the paths raked and tidy, but not a soul to be seen. I don't mean only a few people, I mean none. It was as though the world had stopped. There wasn't even so much as a breeze. For one brief moment I could hear a couple talking as they walked the other side to me of a high hedge, but I never saw them and for all I know, had I looked over they might not have even been there at all. I sat on the steps in front of the great glass Palm House, and day dreamed about what kind of calamity could do a thing like this? I couldn't help thinking of The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. If you haven't read it, it is a good read and you will see what I mean.

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As to the thinking about things differently stuff, the bit that struck home this time was this - if you have written it, you can change it. Don't worry about things not going exactly how you had in mind, if you need to, you can change them.

The difficult thing with that advice, even to myself, is that sometimes it's hard to see what needs to be changed, and the temptation is to leave in the bit I like most or I'm most pleased with, when actually that is the bit that needs to go.

If you get stuck with what you are writing, take out what looks like the bit you most want to keep and see what it all looks like without it. Sometimes it will look a whole lot better. You needn't lose that good bit, put it to one side and maybe you can use it somewhere else. I have a file on my desktop called 'Lost the Plot' and it is filled with all the bits like that I have taken out. Some I do use again, but it's funny, when I look at most of them again, they don't look anywhere near as good as I thought they were the first time, and taking them out was exactly the right thing to do.

Posted on Wednesday�14th�April

I read a Victorian morality tale once, about a Bishop who'd lost his gold and diamond signet ring. Convinced it had been stolen, he roundly cursed the thief so that nothing but misfortune and unhappiness would fall on him until the ring was returned. No one came forward for several days then at last, a single wretched, miserable, blind and exhausted magpie walked into the Bishop's palace and dropped the ring from its beak onto the ground by the Bishop's purple slippered foot.

I must have been about eight when I read that, and even then the moral of it struck me as a bit suspect. But if I taught me one thing (and it probably wasn't the one that the author had in mind) it was that magpies stole gold and diamond rings. Leastways, bright and sparkly things. Jackdaws are supposed to do the same thing too. So it was this week that I stuck our longest extending ladder up against the hawthorn tree in the garden, and with more than disinterested gold and diamond curiosity set off towards the nest a pair of magpies had built right in the top of the tree last summer.

I like going up high things. It scares the living daylights out of me, but maybe that's why I do it. Anyone I know who has had scaffolding up round their house (and over the years several people that I didn't know either) have had me knocking on their doors asking if I could climb to the top and have a look. Even familiar places look quite different when seen from above.

I'd watched the magpies all last summer, and even though I know that people don't generally leave gold and diamond rings lying about, I couldn't help wondering whether they might just not have picked up something and left it there in the nest. What if there was? The magpies haven't come back this spring, so I thought I'd have a look before anything else moved in.

I almost didn't mind that there was nothing there when I finally got to the top of the ladder - having to stand precariously on the very last rung and hang on to a branch in order to see into the nest made up for that. But there could have been something, and it might not have been what I'd expected. Story there if you wanted to write it.

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Another thing about high places is that people hardly ever look up. They can pass right beneath you and not even notice that you are there � just like my daughter Alice did. I was watching her from a high wall the other day as she ran beneath me. I tried to take a picture of her as she ran past, but I was too slow and all I got was a photo her shadow.

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But that was interesting in itself. It made me think again of that school photo from last week, of the ghost child in the picture. What if you took a picture and there, where there wasn't actually a person at all, was the shadow of a girl. And in the next picture you took, there she was again. There's a whole heap of story to be had there, scary as you want to make it too. Why don't you give it a go?

Posted on Wednesday�31st�March

I've come a bit unstuck this fortnight. There was a quiet voice whispering in the back of my head that something I'd written just didn't stand up to scrutiny, and before I knew it, there I was pulling at the lose threads and watching a whole chapter unravel in my hand. This time though, pulling at the threads was the right thing to do, and though I haven't quite got it all knitted together again, I have a vague idea of what needs to be done, even if the doing of it is going to be quite another matter.

But it has not all been gloom. This last week was redeemed by a visit to the Royal High School in Bath to talk to years 7 & 8. Like most writers I spend a lot of time on my own - if I'm seeing people I'm not writing, and if I'm writing I don't get to see people - so going out to a school is a real treat, and the Royal High were very enthusiastic and good fun which says a great deal for them as my visit was last thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon. But more than that, going out and doing something else broke the chain of thought I'd got myself into, and I had different ideas by the time I sat back down and started again. Which just goes to show that sometimes the best thing to do is just stop for a while.

Visiting the school made me think of school photos, not class ones or ones where it is just you, but the ones where the whole year or the whole school are stood up on benches and the camera pans round. I'm not sure if it is still possible, but with the old motor driven cameras if you were quick enough it was said to be possible to let the camera pan past you then jump down off the bench, leg it along the back of the row and climb back into shot further down before the camera got there. Someone once told me they'd managed to get into the same school photo three times in three different places. I really hope it was true.

But I thought about the school photo because the Royal High has a wonderfully old gothic building, and my train of thought went along the lines of 'what if there was a whole school picture here, except when you looked at the final photograph there was a strange pale faced child standing next to you in the picture. Only the strange child was just in your copy of the photo and not in anyone else's, and was dressed in Victorian clothes?' Good start for a ghost story in an old gothic school building. Why not have a go at writing it?

I love old photographs. I can spend ages looking at books of them. I'll often take one down while I'm having my lunch. Last week I dug out a book of pictures of London taken from along the Thames. The photos date right from the early 1850's up to the 1960's. Oh, for the chance to step back into one of them and look around even if only for a day.

Here is just the sort of picture I like. It comes from the house of friends of mine. They don't know what it is about, which is a shame because it is such an interesting photograph.

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The picture has been taken in the garden of a house, but it is not a grand house at all. It is summer. The style of the fancy dress and the crown on the top of the decorated poles makes me think that maybe it was part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria's jubilee, with Britannia at the top and people representing the Empire below her. I say 'her', but they are all men. So who were they, and where was this taken? The sun is almost overhead by the looks of the shadows, so it must have been midday or thereabouts. And as with all pictures, I can't help wondering what happened in the moments before it was taken and the moments after. And if you look at the house behind them, one of the windows at the top is open. So, what was that room like, and what would you have seen if you'd stood at the window watching and listening to the scene below? What then, if you'd turned round and walked out of the room and down the stairs?

Oh, how I would love to know.

Posted on Friday�12th�March

This has been a good fortnight, I'm happy with what I've written, and the sun has shone. In fact the only blot in any of it was the water coming through the bathroom ceiling this morning. I'm usually very good at hearing when the bath has filled almost to the top - the sound changes. It must be something to do with there being less room for it to resonate � and that change generally works its way into my head what ever I'm doing, and I go and turn off the water. But today I was completely fixed on something, and it was only as I heard the water cascading through the ceiling into the room below that I realized what was what.

But these things happen. More often it seems in my house than in others. In fact, we are as a family so bad at letting baths overflow, that I don't even bother putting the plaster back in the ceiling anymore. Now, like a river finding its old channel, when one of us forgets, the water simply drops through the hole and onto the floor below, which is very old linoleum and doesn't seem to mind too much.

But the reason I was distracted this morning was because I was looking at this.

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This is the cover to the German version of The Toymaker. It has been drawn by a German illustrator called Betina Gotzen-Beek. The title has been changed too. It will be called Finster Herz over there, which I think means 'Dark Heart'. I'm very excited about it coming out in Germany. I've never been there, and maybe now I should go.

The book comes out in America too, in August, and they will have a different cover again, but this one was drawn by a British illustrator called Jim Kay. I like his work very much. This is what his cover looks like, you won't find it in the shops over here, but you can see other examples of his work on his website.

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In looking at Jim's website again just now, I see that he has drawn a number of Alice in Wonderland characters, which puts me in mind of the ticket. Actually, the ticket has been in my mind for a number of days, what with the new film version of Alice coming out.

'What ticket?' You ask?

Why, this ticket.

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On Boxing Day, Christmas 1888, someone went to the theatre. It was a Wednesday. Maybe it was a Christmas present or a Christmas treat, but they took their seat and the gaslights went down (no electricity then) and from the darkness the orchestra struck up and the play began. Alice in Wonderland. Not the original version, this was a later restaging of it, but I think this Boxing Day performance was the first night of the new show.

And this very ticket was in that person�s pocket those one hundred and twenty one odd years ago. Or their wallet, or their purse, or wherever they kept things like that. This ticket heard every word, every note of music, every gasp and laugh of the audience, and at the end of it all, it heard the applause too.

Wouldn�t it be a fine thing if you could just hold the ticket and go back. See the show.

But there would already be someone sitting in your seat in the stalls � because remember, they would have exactly the same ticket too. So what would you do then? What would you do if you dropped your ticket in the theatre and couldn�t get back. And what if it was dark and the streets were foggy outside, and you walked out into the dark of the gaslit street with the carriages and horses half seen in the fog and you got lost.

What would you do?

There is, as they say, a story in that ticket. And if you have read these pages before, you will know exactly what I am going to say next.

So why don�t you?

Posted on Friday�26th�February

There is a horrible kind of panic that descends on our house when it dawns on someone that the homework they'd put off for a couple of weeks, is actually due in tomorrow.

So it was last night.

Between the hours of five and ten we managed to make a motte and bailey castle, Bea and me on cardboard and plastercast, Alice on paint and hairdryer.

Why do we always leave things to the very last minute?

But we got it done, and out of the house this morning in a pelting hail storm. Actually, I can't complain. I like making things. If you have ever struggled to make something, here is my tip � plastercast. The same stuff they wrap round your leg if you break it. It's brilliant. You just make the sort of shape you want from wire, or card and gaffer tape, then cover the thing over with plastercast and paint it. Bingo. It's cheap, easy and you can make just about anything. Every other Christmas I make a crown out of it for Jack Alice and Bea. We've had Christmas puddings, Roman helmets, the Snow Queen's crown from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. This is a galleon for Jack from a couple of years ago.

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This year the snow got in the way of everything. The paint I ordered through the post (makes things look like real gold) didn't get here until after Christmas because the delivery warehouse was snowed in. So, I have yet to finish the big bowl of fruit for Alice, the bell tower for Bea or the tree for Jack. This is how far the bowl of fruit crown has got.

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I could get them done if I just got on with it, but it's that thing of leaving it all to the last minute again. Besides, and perhaps more importantly, I am trying to get on with the story I am writing now. I had 40,000 words of it done by the beginning of December (that is about two thirds), and then somehow it started to unravel. That is a dangerous time for a writer, when you start pulling apart something that you should really leave alone, and like some thread hanging out of your jumper, you pull at it and before you know what you have done, the whole thing is coming apart in your hands. It is a writing lesson hard in the learning and I can't give any advice other than, there are times when you need to pull something apart and start again, and there are others when you need to leave well alone and keep going. The difficult thing is recognizing which is which, and that only comes from having sometimes got it wrong and sometimes having got it right.

This time, I put everything down and have only just really picked it up again. But during the time of leaving it alone, it has been quietly working away in the back of my mind. And by sheer coincidence I found in a book I was given for Christmas, a whole chapter on a nineteenth century debate that makes a complete backdrop to my story. So the crowns will have to wait a little longer as I wind all that new stuff in. Not that it will make any sense to you now, but I have just rewritten the bit where Markus realises that Professor Karolus knows who the dead man on the dissecting table is.

The thing about having a house as untidy as mine is that I lose things around it, and then find them again when I've stopped looking. This one wasn't lost, just got covered up.

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It is a nineteenth century ginger jar from China. But the thing about this particular ginger jar is that it has never been opened.


It was one of two that I found in a junk shop, maybe fifteen years ago. The other one was just the same, only broken. The inside of it was filled with a hard ooze that smelt wonderful, not like ginger at all, more like syrup and vanilla, but ginger it was. I can close my eyes now and smell it still. The two jars had come from the house of an old lady whose husband, long dead, had been a tea merchant.

Curious as to how old the jars were, I took them to The British Museum. They told me about them, how they had been made in a province of China in about 1860, and I gave the broken one to them to keep. I couldn't quite bring myself to part with the unopened one.

So it still sits in my house, and inside that jar is the dark, unopened quiet memory of the day more than a hundred years ago when it was sealed shut - the strange sounds of the voices of the people talking as they did it, the daylight that was outside.

And I can't help asking myself, is it really just ginger that's in it? Or is there something else waiting inside?

There is, as they say, a story there - 'The Ginger Jar'.

Why don't you write it?

Posted on Monday�15th�February

Not all things you hope for, happen.

Sitting on a castle loo proved to be one of them.

The sky was iron grey and the rain was going sideways and the very kind person taking care of me for the day looked out of the car window at the torrent and then looked at me, and her face was saying 'Please, no. Not the castle.'

How could I?

So we didn't.

But I had a good day all the same, and I enjoyed visiting Chepstow School and St John's-on-the-Hill School.

Last Wednesday saw the announcement of the winner of the Waterstone's Children's Book of the Year prize. I went up to London for the ceremony and stood heart thumping in my chest as they got to the bit where they announced the winner, but sadly I didn't win. There are some great stories on the shortlist. If you haven't seen them yet, have a look for them. You are bound to find one that you like the sound of.

Have you ever done something like that - stood in a line waiting to be picked for something you really want to do, or want to happen to you? Inside you are going 'pick me, pick me, please pick me.'

And then they don't.

Well, that was a bit how it felt for me too, but no one is ever disappointed for very long, especially if a pigeon gets on the train you are on, travels one stop, and then gets off at the next station.

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But that business of standing in a line, wanting to be picked makes me think of two things:

There were times when the people who ran factories, and organized docks, only needed to hire their workmen by the day. There were always more men than jobs, and each and every one of those men desperately needed that day's work because they had families to keep. If they weren't picked, they and their family didn't eat. So they must have got to the factory gates early as they could and stood in line trying to make themselves stand out as much as they could, praying that they were going to be picked that day. Sometimes, they'd even fight each other for the chance to stand closer to the front. What do you do if you weren't picked?

Then, there were other lines more sinister than those, where people stood and prayed that they or their family weren't one of the ones who were going to be chosen, trying to make themselves as small as possible, invisible, because everyone knew that the ones who were chosen were the ones who were going to die. What on earth would you do then?

There are, as ever, stories to be written about both of those. Why don't you give it a try?

Posted on Friday�29th�January

Tomorrow I am going to visit a couple of schools in Chepstow, South Wales.

Which reminds me that when I was small I used to stand on my bed and lift both legs up at the same time. I'd seen them do it in cartoons. In cartoons they'd lift both legs up and then stay in the air for a moment before they dropped. Same as running out over the edge of a cliff. They could carry on running and only when they realized they were in thin air would they stop, hang in the air for a moment and then drop. Sometimes they could even run back onto the cliff. If them, why not me? My plan was to lift one leg and then very slowly and carefully lift the other until I'd got it right and stayed there poised in mid air. But somehow it never worked out. I tried doing it slowly, quickly, eyes shut, eyes open. Same result. Sometimes I thought I nearly had it, but I never did.

It was the same with doors, especially old ones. Just like a carpet walked on all the time gets thin and threadbare, I thought that might be true about the space between the door posts � all those people day after day, year after year going backwards and forwards through the same patch of air. Stood to reason. So I would swing back and forward through the door trying to wear it even thinner so that I could see through to whatever was there when you wore air away to nothing. That didn't work either.

But I've never forgotten trying, and sometimes I just wish it were true, especially the bit about the space in between doors wearing so thin you can see through to what used to be there a long time ago. I still do think about it when I am in an old house, or in a castle.

Which is why going to Chepstow tomorrow reminded me about standing on one leg and swinging through doors. Chepstow has an old castle. I know a fair bit about castles, I studied them once. I know about the architecture, the defences, who did what and where, what all the bits are called, and you know which is my favourite? The battlements? The keep? The moat?


The loos.

Not the ones by in the caf� or in the gift shop that sells little wooden swords. No. The real ones, somewhere up in the walls near the top. Usually it is a simple bare ragged hole in the stonework and a great thumping drop down to the ground below.

And I like them because someone sat on that same place six hundred odd years ago and did exactly what we do each day now. Off he or she went and did their business. And I can't help wondering what were they thinking, apart from the obvious? What were they going to do next, what was going through their mind? All that everydayness of their lives, all gone, and the only thing left of it is the hole in the stone. Somehow sitting on it is like touching the past.

So, tomorrow if I get time, in between going to the schools I'm going to go to the castle and find the loo.

And then I'm going to sit on it.

Posted on Friday�22nd�January

As you can see, the snow has gone.

As you can see, the snow has gone.

This last week has been unsettling. Thursday came and with it the shortlist for the Waterstone's Children's Book of the Year Award 2010. The Toymaker is one of the nine books chosen for the shortlist. That is a very big thing to have happen. I went into my local Waterstone's who are a good lot and have had posters of the book up since the day it was launched, and we all grinned at each other and took a picture. This is Helen.

This is Helen.

The winner is announced at an award ceremony in London on the 10th Feb.

But, back to other things. Namely, that diary of Lizzy Ashbond. The more I look at it the more interesting it becomes. I had wondered why an unused diary might have hung about for so long before it came to Lizzy, but having looked at it more carefully, it dawns on me that it had been used before. There are several pages cut out � you can see the snip- snip-snip line made by small scissors along the paper's edge. I thought that maybe Lizzy had done that, taken out things she regretted writing, but then I found one small entry in pencil, in another hand, reminding the person who wrote it to talk to someone about something.

Of course, it had been used before.

Someone gave the diary to Lizzy for her to use, maybe her Mistress � an old diary no use to her anymore � and what would she have done before handing it over, she would have cut out the pages where things had already been written. Couldn't have Lizzy reading them, could she?


So here is a new life to the diary, quite different from it having been unused. That life has in it a conversation between Lizzy and whoever gave the book to her, and it has the scissors and the snipping out of the pages � and I can't help wondering what was written on them?

There is, as they say, a story there. You could write it.

I have a lovely old pocket watch. It is silver, and was made in London in 1788. The inside is a wonder of engraving, minute wheels and cogs. I have taken it into a couple of schools I have visited, wound it up and held it to each person's ear so that they could hear what it would have sounded like ticking away on that day in 1788 when it was first bought, and the new owner put the key in and wound it.

It was only when I took Lizzy's diary off my shelf that I realized that the watch was made in the same year as the diary

And I have a silver shilling of 1787.

Why had I never thought of that before? So I put them all down together, and it felt most odd to do it � these three separate things from another time � all gathered together now. Where was that coin the day the watch was sold, brand new, to some London gentleman? And where was he, on the 1st of January 1788 when the diary began?

Where was that coin the day the watch was sold, brand new, to some London gentleman?

Which made me think of my own pocket book and where that might be in 300 years. Most writers keep a book to jot ideas in. In fact, if you've ever had a writer in your school I bet they said you should keep a book to put ideas in.

This is mine. It is battered, falling apart and so nearly full that I will have to get another one in a few days. The first page is open on a bit about The Toymaker, notes I took when I met my editor, Bella Pearson, in a tearoom at Stourhead. It shows what an editor does. They don't tell a writer what to write, but they see the story with a fresh, critical pair of eyes and suggest where it seems weak to them and why. Then the writer goes off, thinks about it, and might rewrite or change some bits. That's what I did after that meeting.

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The second page is just the sort of stuff it also gets filled with. One part explains how to get several wolves and geese across a river in one boat without them eating each other in the boat, or on the river bank. It is a very old puzzle and I was so pleased with myself after I had worked it out using little bits of paper that I wrote the solution down. Then there is a shopping list made in a Spanish supermarket, and notes on that amazing firework display at the start of the 2008 Olympics � the huge burning footsteps in the sky.

I shall miss this book. I use it all the time, it goes everywhere with me, which is why it is so beaten up now. I'm forever looking back through it and reminding myself of things I'd forgotten. Looking at it now I found this, which I had forgotten � we were driving back from that holiday in Spain last year. My son Jack said �I think Dad is just looking forward to going back to a country where he understands what is going on.� To which my dangerous daughter, Alice, replied �Which country is that then?'�

They are like that to me.

Posted on Friday�15th�January

This was the view from my window when I woke up this morning, but this is probably the last of our snow. I"m not sorry. I have always been a reckless sort of person when it comes to sledges and things like that, and if this latest snow has taught me anything (and I never learn), it is that running flat out across a snowy field after a sledge is both a foolish and painful mistake.

This was the view from my window when I woke up this morning

But it puts me in mind of two things, and both are to do with writing.

I like old, curious things. One of the small curiosities on my shelf waiting for the time to be looked at properly is a little, red leather bound diary. It looks a little like a thin purse. It"s a diary for the New Year beginning January 1788. What made me think of it now, is that I remembered that it contains a page of useful advice on walking London streets including the following -

In frofty weather it is advifable to walk in the coach-ways which are not as flippery as the foot-paths: and to bind a piece of cloth around one of your fhoes.

Had I bound a piece of cloth around one of my shoes I might not be walking with as painful a limp as I am at the moment. But here is the writing bit, the first is about getting hurt.

In The Toymaker, and in the book I"m writing at the moment, characters get badly hurt. Getting hurt changes things. There I was running across a field and the next moment I was barely able to walk. Now, for me that wasn"t and isn"t a problem, but it isn"t hard to imagine a place where it would be. Say you had to get away. And then your Dad, or your Mum, or you, gets hurt. Some simple, stupid, accident, something that takes only a moment to happen, but changes everything. Now, instead of being able to run, you can barely even walk. What do you do? What do the people round you do? It isn"t just the stuff of stories, that same thing must have happened for real a thousand times over the years. Sometimes it would have cost someone their life, or worse still cost someone they loved their life.

So, what would you do?

Second thing is that little red diary itself. At some point in its history it was given to a servant girl called Lizzy Ashbond and on 29th October 1831 she started writing in it. She begins -

I left home for the first time in the year 1828 my first starting from home came fifty miles from home and I lived in my place for three years.

Things like this little book are as good as time machines. I"m thinking about trying to put together a radio programme about it - following the girl and the places, setting the historical background to it. There are even two threads to the story, the one is Lizzy"s, and the other all the diary reveals about life in that new year of 1788.

Things like this little book are as good as time machines. I

Next time, I"ll find some things from it for you.

Posted on Sunday�7th�June

This is where I write. I get home from taking my children to school, clear away the breakfast things then start. I sit at the dinner table looking out of the windows and at the garden. My laptop is bottom right in the photo.

This is where I write.

The thing at the other end of the table is our dog"s lead. If you look carefully at the mess on the mantelpiece you can see the top part of a proof of the cover to The Toymaker. It must have come in the day or so before I took this photo. I took it to send to an American writer friend as we were arguing about whose house was the messiest.

The table belonged to my Grandma. It survived the London Blitz. She used to keep things on the little shelves beneath it, and I remember being very small, sitting under the table and taking all the things out to look at them. My own children used to put a blanket over it and make a cave. Now I write at it.

The Toymaker is my first book. I was asked to go into Wells Central Junior School and tell a story to fill in two of their slots each week. I began a story about a bear to show them what they could do, and then the next week a new one that began 'Do you know Fraussistrasse?' I had no idea where the story was going, it was just fun to tell the class a new chapter each week. That story became The Toymaker. By a wonderful and very roundabout route DFB came to hear of it and it was published.

I love going into schools and reading to a live audience. There is a quality of quiet when people are really listening.

I didn't plan the Toymaker at all. I just wrote each chapter as I went along, and after a while it had a life of its own. There is a secret in the story, I hadn"t any idea what that was going to be either, I just hoped that something would dawn on me by the time I needed to explain what it was. I think the advantage of not planning is that I have complete freedom to change the story and go off in any direction I want, when I want. If I plan, then I feel shoehorned into sticking to that plan, which to be honest I find a bit of a dull thing to do.

I tried doing that for the story I am writing now. I spent several months sticking to a plan then finally realised that I just can't do it that way. So I scrapped that story completely, sat down at my laptop and wrote the first thing that came into my head and now I'm happy. I go into The Blue School in Wells every Tuesday and read the new chapter as I write it. It is simply what I like doing best. I take a two hundred year old dictionary with me as well and we pick four new eighteenth century words each week that everyone has to use in everyday conversation.

Gary Blythe illustrated The Toymaker for me. He was very patient when I asked for something he had drawn to be changed. He even had to change finished artwork, which he did so cleverly that unless you know what you are looking for, you won't even know he did it. But look carefully at Valter and Koenig fighting and you might just see something.

I live old, curious things. Old photographs are amongst my favourite. It is the everyday detail in the background that is best. I keep a magnifying glass in my pocket so that I can see it.

And I love snatches of overheard conversations. Here are a few I wrote down � real ones.

'But what are we going to do with the wig?'

'Of course, you'd need a really big snorkel.'

'I don't use it much, but when I do use it�'

I am always listening, always watching. Always thinking.

It is what writers do.


The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt
Leave a message for Jeremy de Quidt.

jeremy de Quidt
Happy Birthday to you too, Jenny!!!

We shall have to start a 28th September club.



Jeremy de Quidt
Hello Martha. The Toymaker is an adventure story, but one in which dark, bleak things do happen. In so far as is possible in a tale where the central conceit is an impossibility, I wrote not what I thought deliberately inappropriate or gratuitously violent but what I thought plausible in the given circumstance - what would this particular character do in this particular situation. Often, as with life, it is not nice.

This appears to be a story that provokes polarised views across a very wide range of ages and in that it is proof of the old adage that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Age banding of books is a current and in places hotly debated issue. My own view is that if a story survives the test of time it will settle into its own range of readership perhaps contrary to the somewhat artificial range into which it was originally banded. That your library placed it in one section where you are firmly of the view that it should be in another is surely part of that process.

Jeremy de Quidt

Martha Cole
This book should NOT be in the juvenile section of library where I found it. Inappropriately gruesome, dark, graphic gratuitous violence, depressing, likely to cause nightmares in kids under 11. No problem with it if filed under Horror Fiction. How much misery can one protagonist endure?? How many of his co-protagonists can one maim or kill off? No pun intended, but this was overkill. I read to see how it would go but was disappointed at the misery visited throughout without much hope except on the last page. Bleak, bleak, bleak.
Jeremy de quidt
Hello Melanie. At the moment I really like having left all those questions unanswered. The ones that I am most interested in concern Katta. Will she grow old? Will she and Mathias stay together? What would happen to her if she broke? I think I am going to leave all that going quietly around in my head, and see what happens in due course. And there is always Valter - what has become of all the cogs and wheels that filled him?

The story I am writing at the moment feels just as exciting as The Toymaker did. I hope it turns out that way. There will be a girl and boy in that one too. The girl is called Liesel and the boy Klaus, but the person you really, really won't want to meet is the boarding house owner, Frau Liesen. I hope you enjoy that one as well when it comes out. Best wishes, Jeremy
melanie sanchez
I loved this book and found it hard to put it down. it's full of suspense ans suprises which i like.

I am wondering if you are going to develope the book further into a series, it has fantastic characters in the book that i would want to find out more, is mathias's friend the girl ever going to change back into a human, is the man that helped mathias going to stay alive? there are many quetions that need answers. the last page was the page that intrigued me the most i didn't expect such ending and felt that there was more to come from this book in the future.

from your book fan

Mandy Rutter
Hello Jeremy,

I am unable to locate a contact email for you so hoping this will reach you soon.

I am the organiser of the Southern Schools Book Award and I am happy to tell you that The Toymaker has been short listed for the 2010 award.

Other books in the short list are Bloodchild by Tim Bowler, Grass Cathy McPhail, Saving Rafael Leslie Wilson and Stolen Lucy Christopher.

I hope to hear from you soon and I will give you more details about the SSBA and the presentation evening. I would also be grateful if you could let me have a contact name and email for David Fickling |Books so that I can let them know too.

Many thanks

jeremy de Quidt
Thank you, Clare. What heart warming things to be told. We have a map of the world on the wall upstairs, and I stood there this morning looking at Australia and thinking of the story having arrived there.

I hope very much that you enjoy the next one just as much as you did The Toymaker.
What a fantastic read is The Toymaker! I found it incredibly hard to put down, and read it in just a couple of sessions, which is rare for me. Quite a page-turner. Such a wonderfully constrained and concise use of language. The writing was so good it became invisible! Only the story remained, alive and vibrant and haunting.

You are a wonderfully gifted writer, and I very much look forward to reading your future work.

Regards and many thanks, from an adult reader in Australia.
Hello Janet. I was wondering about that choice of words! I'm very glad you liked the story, and thank you for spreading the word. The best part of writing is being able to leave a new story and all its characters in other people's heads - the more heads the better!
Hmm - I'm not sure enchanting is the right word, actually. Gripping might be more apt!
I have just finished The Toymaker. What an utterly enchanting book! I've posted about it on www.bookclubforum in the hope that I can spread the word!


Janet (age 43 and three quarters!)