Friday, 23 March 2012


Scribble City Central's fourth #FantabFri A-Z comes to us from Tony Bradman, author of the bestselling Dilly the Dinosaur series.  I first met Tony in the early 1980s, when he was working on his very first book, A Kiss on the Nose.  Since then, he's been a judge for the Smarties and Teenage Booktrust prizes and has reviewed a myriad children's books (as well as written a myriad more).  This year he has several titles coming out, two of which (the very topical Sam and Ruby’s Olympic Adventure and Titanic: Death on the Water) were written with his son Tom. He's also edited Under the Weather, an anthology of stories about climate change which has just come out in paperback.

However, the thing I am really excited about is that Tony's first-ever novel is coming from Walker.  Viking Boy (which I haven't yet managed to get my hands on) will appear in September, and from the description it sounds like a feast of non-stop adventure, (and I can't wait to meet the mythical flying wolves).  This will definitely be one to look out for.

Talking of wolves, one of the things Tony has been involved with (and which he mentions below) is the Happy Ever After series, in which he imagines what might happen after the fairytale ends.  Mr Wolf Bounces Back turns the traditional image of the Big Bad Wolf carefully on its head, and I wish it was still in print, because it's simply brilliant.  I'm absolutely delighted that Tony has agreed to do B for Big Bad Wolf for SCC - the BBW is such an archetypal fairytale figure, and lurks in all our subconsciousnesses, even if we don't always realise it.  Over to you, Tony - scare us all silly!
B for Big Bad Wolf
The First Scary Monster

TB:  Like most of us, I probably first met the Big Bad Wolf in fairy tales, particularly the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. In the originals, the wolf would have been a figure of terror, a predator who pounced on the weak and vulnerable. But a long process of bowdlerisation had turned him into a figure of fun, a fool who thinks he’s clever but who is defeated by the young.

Later on, when I began to read proper novels, I discovered an altogether different kind of wolf. After my Tolkien phase (between the ages of 11-13) I moved on to the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, in which wolves often featured. These were real wolves, though, the kind of lean, dark killers who howled in the woods and hunted in packs, who took sheep and left blood behind. The kind of animals who scarily stared with their cold green eyes at humans from the edge of the forest, the place Rosemary Sutcliff described in one of my all-time favourite phrases, ‘the wood-shore’. There’s a whole Rosemary Sutcliff novel that centres on wolves, the amazing Warrior Scarlet. The book’s hero is Drem, a Bronze Age Celtic boy who was born with a withered arm. But in his tribe each boy must kill a wolf to prove himself a man, and Drem fails at his first attempt. The plot is gripping, the writing extraordinary, but it’s the wolves that will stay in your mind.

From there I moved on to another great writer of wolf stories, Jack London. I was (and still am) a big fan of Call of the Wild and White Fang. I have no idea if they’re accurate depictions of the life and habits of wolves in North America, but they’re great action/adventure stories. Above all, they leave you feeling that to be a wolf would be very cool indeed. I mean, wolves look cool and they seem to do cool stuff. No wonder we talk admiringly about men who are lone wolves.

So how did all this affect my own work? Well, in my early career I did several re-tellings of fairy tales, including Look Out, he’s Behind You! (Frances Lincoln, brilliantly illustrated by the excellent Margaret Chamberlain) a lift-the-flap- version of Little Red Riding Hood with the wolf hiding behind the flaps inside. It was first published in 1987, and has been one of my bestsellers. I still read it (or rather, I perform it!) on school visits. Kids love looking for the comical wolf who gets his comeuppance – although not before I drag the ending out, telling them that the Big Bad Wolf might jump out of the book and eat... a teacher or two. They know I’m joking, but there are always some nervous expressions in the room – and not just from the children, either.

I’ve also written a whole series of fairy tale sequels, the Happy Ever After books (Orchard, illustrated by Sarah Warburton) in one of which – Mr Wolf Bounces Back – the Big Bad Wolf has to admit (after failing to catch Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs) that he can’t bring home the bacon like he used to. So to feed his own little wolf cubs, he has to get a job – and ends up as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ acting as a security guard for... the Three Little Pigs. But then who else would know just what kind of threats they might face?

Last but not least, there’s a part of me that still takes wolves very seriously indeed. I’ve written a Viking story that will be published in September this year. Viking Boy (Walker Books) is the story of Gunnar, a boy whose father is killed in a raid on their steading, and whose body is then taken to Valhalla – the home of all Viking warriors who die with a sword in their hand – by Odin’s Valkyries, the ‘Chooser of the Fallen’ (Valhalla itself means ‘Hall of the Fallen’). In my early drafts of the story, I felt unhappy about the way I’d portrayed the Valkyries – I’d simply adopted the Wagnerian image of big girls with pig-tails and horned helmets. So I did some more research and discovered that in the original stories the Valkyries were described as wearing black chainmail and helmets... and they rode giant winged wolves through the sky. Now how cool is that? So of course that’s what my Valkyries do now. Part of me would love to have a winged wolf to ride on. Scary, but incredibly exciting at the same time – which is what wolves have always been, and always will be.

SCC: Thank you so much, Tony - informative and illuminating as ever, and I hope everyone who hasn't read the wonderful Warrior Scarlet will now be encouraged to do so.  You've also taught me something I didn't know before - I had no idea about those Valkyries and their wolfy links. 

Next week: Gillian Philip, author of the Rebel Angels series (and wrangler of my favourite faerie boy, Seth MacGregor) talks about B for Blue Men of the Minch.


catdownunder said...

Joan Aiken makes good use of wolves too - especially in "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase". Scary!

Stroppy Author said...

My kids *loved* that lift the flap book! (So did I, and was very happy when that was what they wanted me to read.) Wolves of Willoughby Chase - yes, Cat! I loved that, too.

Thank you, Lucy, for letting Tony choose the Big Bad Wolf who I think definitely counts as large enough to be a figure of myth. As a small child, I had a book my father brought back from Russia and it had a page on how to recognise a wolf - it was the scariest thing ever. And I became too scared to go outside to get the firewood (which was rather convenient). So the BBW has lost none of his power.

Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Before the First Snow kit by Lorie Davison