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Tom Percival studied Graphic Design in South Wales. His illustration career has seen him design Halloween merchandise for a major supermarket, create the character 'Hector' for an Aardman-animated road safety campaign and his book illustration work includes the artwork for the phenomenally successful Skulduggery Pleasant series. As well as illustrating fiction covers, Tom has also written and illustrated three picture books: Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book, A Home for Mr Tipps and Jack’s Amazing Shadow. Herman’s Letter is Tom’s first picture book for Bloomsbury..
He lives in Stroud with his partner and their two sons.
Q&A WITH TOM PERCIVAL
What are your 5 favourite books, and why?
The Magic Toyshop. Angela Carter.
The magical yet unsettling atmosphere that Angela Carter creates in this book is just incredible - so rich and involving. I love the way that the magical suggestions flit in and out of the everyday events of the story.
The Dark is Rising. Susan Cooper.
Once again it’s the magical atmosphere that got me so excited about this book. It’s the first time that Will Stanton finds himself waking up in an empty house hundreds of years before his time that REALLY excites me about this book. I used to often go walking in the woods near my home hoping that when I got back it would be hundreds of years in to the past. Luckily it never happened, I’d probably have been accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake.
The Devil on the Road. Robert Westall
Guess what? This story has a bizarre time-slip in it and also features suggestions of magical occurrences that are not explicitly stated. As you can see I’m a bit of a one trick pony reading-wise! This is what would now be published as a Y/A book, but when I read it aged eight or nine, it was just published as a ‘children’s book’. I re-read it last year to see if it was as good as I had remembered, and luckily It was, but it’s funny how many things I hadn’t picked up on as a child!
Anything by Mary Wesley.
Perhaps an odd choice as a teenager, but I went through a stage of reading as many Mary Wesley books as I could get my hands on. She just seemed to be so skilled at portraying people of all ages and walks of life. As a teenager I marvelled at the fact that she could so clearly write about what it felt like to be that age, being as she had her first novel published aged 71. Of course now that I’m 35 and can still remember EXACTLY what it felt like to be 16 it doesn’t seem that unlikely anymore – ah, the follies of youth.
It was never really the ‘stories’ as such that engrossed me so much in her books as the portraits of her characters that were all so vivid and alive I would often think about something that one of them had done and think that it was someone I actually KNEW who had done it.
Bird by Bird. Anne Lamott.
I’ve never really been one for reading ‘how to write’ books, which is exactly why I love this book. It’s more like a series of essays on the sorts of thing that you might want to consider if you are trying to write any sort of long form fiction (as I am!). It doesn’t deal with any actual ‘step-by-step’ breakdowns of what to do, but reminds you of key principles, such as being emotionally honest. It’s also hugely entertaining and revealing in its own right.
Who are your 5 favourite authors/illustrators, and why?
Arthur Rackham. He was the first illustrator who’s work I feel in love with as a child. I won a copy of Rip-Van Winkle at primary school and used to love poring over the images – so detailed and rich, you could really BE there in this strange fairy tale world.
Mary Wesley. See above.
Jon Klassen. I have a huge amount of time for Jon Klassen’s hyper-minimal style, it’s SO stark and yet so full of character and humour. Very impressive.
Oliver Jeffers. For very similar reasons to Jon Klassen, I really admire Oliver Jeffers’ ability to communicate a huge amount of emotion or mood with the bare minimum of marks. I always seem to end up going with the illustrative equivalent of the ‘Wall of Sound’ in music production!
Dave McKean was a huge inspiration on me and my development as an illustrator. I loved his ‘anything goes’ attitude. IN any one image he might paint on top of film negatives and then scan that in, print it out, paint on it again and then maybe scratch his drawing in to the resulting chaos. Utterly compelling work and a fantastic imagination as well.
What was your favourite book when you were a child? Tim and Tobias is the first book in the ‘Flight Path to Reading’ reading scheme and was written by Sheila K. McCullagh. It was the first book that I remember loving and was (guess what) atmospheric, magical and slightly dark.
Who is your favourite hero in a book? This might get a few eye rolls, because it’s from a series that I illustrate, but as far as Children’s book hero’s go, you can’t get much better than Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. He’s just everything that you would want a hero to be, immensely powerful, over confident, full of humour, and immaculately dressed.
If you could be a character from a book who would you be? Anyone who is lucky enough to live in a magical world and /or is enabled to travel back in time.
If you could recommend just one book for everyone to read what would it be? Bad Blood by Lorna Sage. It’s an incredibly vivid account of her past, and a great reminder that life doesn’t follow any set patterns - you just NEVER know where it’s going to go. I also love the way that the author deals with any negative or bleak aspects of her past with such humour and grace. A valuable lesson for anyone to learn.
What book do you wish you had written? ‘How I came up with the meaning of life – A true story’ by Tom Percival. Because then I’d have nothing to keep me up at night!
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer? I just love making up stories and drawing pictures – it was inevitable. Not that I’d get published of course, but even if I hadn’t got published I’d still sit there coming up with ideas and writing them down. It’s just what I do.
What inspired you to write your latest book? The book Herman’s Letter first popped into my head when my girlfriend gave me a limited edition screen print by an illustrator called Simon Tozer of a bear holding a letter. The picture is called ‘The Last Post’ and I just loved the bear’s melancholy expression and wondered what he was doing carrying the letter and who it was for. My brain set to work on it and eventually came up with Herman’s Letter. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my brain sometimes - it really is remarkably useful.
What's the best thing you've ever written? A poem I wrote about a badger when I was six. It included the phrase, ‘He dragged his lumbering frame across the leaves’ which I MUST have stolen from a book I’d read that day. Sadly it was never photocopied and is now lost FOREVER. I even drew a scratchy pen and ink picture of the said Badger – we learnt to write with italic metal nibbed pens at my frankly archaic primary school.
When did you start writing? As soon as I could.
If someone wanted to be a writer what would be your number one tip for them?
Keep doing it and one day you might actually be as good as you think you are.
Is there any particular routine involved in your writing process?
Normally it involves a long train journey, because that’s the only time that I’m not having to do some of my other work, or look after the kids, or do the washing up, or tidying up the house, or chopping logs for the fire, or putting out the rubbish or any one of the myriad things I have to do in my actual house on a day-to-day basis
Do you have any abandoned stories in you ‘bottom drawer’ that you would like to revisit? Yes. I have a very well stocked bottom drawer that I look forward to plundering when I inevitably run out of new ideas and become crippled with writer’s block in a few years time.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2019 | Temper tantrums are brilliantly visualised in this witty story about how Ravi deals with his. Poor Ravi! The youngest and smallest in the family he is always the slowest and the shortest and the last one to get what he wants. It makes him feel terrible! And when Ravi feels terrible he ROARS. His face goes red, he grows two furry ears, sharp teeth and a stripey tail. Now he can get what he wants but there is a price to pay: will anyone want to play with him? Tom Percival’s illustrations keep the message light hearted without trivialising it.
When Sofia loses her beloved teddy after a day at the beach, she is heartbroken. But the sea saw it all, and maybe, just maybe, it can bring Sofia and her teddy back together. However long it may take... Exquisite collage artwork is paired with an assured, moving text in this very special picture book.
Everyone could learn from Ruby. She’s a perfectly happy little girl, until she discovers a worry. The worry – depicted as a scribbly yellow shape – is hardly noticeable at first, but starts to grow and soon it’s with her all the time, stopping her from doing the things she loved. As Ruby worries about her worry – the worst thing you can do – it gets bigger still until it takes up the whole row at the cinema. The problem is solved when Ruby finds someone else with a worry; as they talk about them, something amazing happens – their worries disappear. Readers will recognise Ruby’s problems and see their own lives reflected in hers. Sensitive and very reassuring this clever book raises lots of opportunities for children to talk about their worries.
Strikingly illustrated this is a tale which inspires children to dare to be different and have the courage to stand out.
Hansel and Gretel, The Three Bears, Jack the Giant Killer and many more favourite characters are all jumbled together in this roller coaster adventure stuffed full of goodies and baddies. The Story Tree in Tale Town can only be trimmed with magical shears. When the shears fall into the wrong hands all kinds of trouble begins. Young readers will enjoy spotting the confusions about fairy tale characters they love.
Spells and enchantments of all kinds are flying around in the latest instalment of Tom Percival’s sparky series Little Legends, which cleverly creates new adventures for favourite fairy-tale characters. Rapunzel finds herself in trouble when she accidentally upsets a genie, then makes matters worse by blaming her friend Ella. In fact it’s Ella who helps her sort things out, resulting in Rapunzel realising just how selfish she’s been, and that maybe there’s more to life than having lovely hair. There’s lots for young readers to enjoy in this series and the short chapters, frequent illustrations and lively storylines will keep the pages turning. Great fun! ~ Andrea Reece
It’s four years since the National Trust challenged young children to get off their sofas and do something more exciting outside, and this handy guide/scrapbook is just the thing to encourage exactly that this summer. Most of the fifty things can be accomplished close to home in gardens or parks, though they’re no less rewarding for that, and as each one is accomplished, children can record it in the book with a date and signature. There are tips and extra suggestions on every page and the inclusion of three characters created by illustrator Tom Percival make it all seem more friendly and fun. Sturdy enough to withstand being taken on expeditions, this is a very good buy as the summer holidays approach. ~ Andrea Reece The Editor at Nosy Crow says: “This handy little book has everything you could want to see you through the holidays, a sunny weekend, or even a rainy day in the house. And with plenty of pages to personalise and memories to make, it’s a book you’re sure to treasure for years to come.”
This easy to read new series is set in Tale Town, a magical place inhabited by fairy tale characters. It stars Red, Anansi, Rapunzel and Jack, a distinctive, pint-sized gang of superheroes. The plot in this adventure concerns Anansi’s mum, unfortunately turned into a troll, who has been shipwrecked on nearby Squirrel-Nose Island. When the gang go to rescue her, they fall into the clutches of a very nasty witch and end up locked in her dungeons with an assorted band of prisoners and guards, all of whom are under the witch’s spell. Of course, they manage to defeat the witch, through working together and trusting themselves. It’s a fun, satisfying story, the author’s illustrations adding to the enjoyment, and readers will be eager for more Tale Town stories. Newly confident readers will also enjoy Angie Sage’s Araminta Spook stories, or Lucy Coats’s Beasts of Olympus series, which take myths instead of fairy tales as inspiration. ~ Andrea Reece
October 2013 Book of the Month | October 2013 Book of the Month Friendship and its importance lie at the heart of this touching story of how Herman and Henry keep in touch after Henry moves home. Herman loves getting Henry’s letters but they also make him jealous; Henry seems to be managing just fine without him! How can Herman reply without giving away just how very, very lonely he is? Luckily, Henry says how much he is missing his friend and Herman determines to do something very dramatic about it.
A wonderful exploration of friendship, Jack and his amazing magical shadow are the VERY best of friends. But sometimes even best-friends fall out...A lively story that's perfect for anyone who's ever wondered what their shadow gets up to when they're not looking. The new title from this talented picture book writer and illustrator of A Home for Mr Tipps and Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book
A touching story about a special friendship between a boy and the cat he finds. Mr Tipps is a frightened stray cat. He is timid and lonely until, one day he finds a lovely bowl of milk put out for him. Who has done it? Returning day after day, Mr Timms makes friends with a lonely boy. Together they see off all kinds of fears, happy in each other’s company. But, one day, there is no bowl of milk. Mr Tipps becomes fearful again and the boy is lonely. Luckily, the two are reunited and all ends happily. A beautifully atmospheric story celebrating the power of friendship, from the creator of Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book.