Tom Scatterhorn FAQsHere is a selection of questions I often get asked about the Tom Scatterhorn trilogy. If there’s a question you’d like to ask that isn’t listed you may ask me a question here and the answer may end up here …
What inspired you to write Tom Scatterhorn?
I have always loved creepy old museums, and particularly collections of strange objects. And I have always wanted to be a time-traveller, go to an ice fair, take part in a tiger hunt, collect rare insects, meet extraordinary people...a whole heap of things inspired me to write these books.
How long did it take you to write them?
The first book to four months to write, the third book took three times as long. I did a lot of planning and thinking with all of them, not only working out the story but also imagining the characters and the places they went. I wanted it to be as unexpected and visual as possible. I made a lot of sketches which you can see here.
How did you choose your characters names?
I have lists of names from all over the place and I lose them constantly. I use old dictionaries, shop signs: maps are also good as some villages have very peculiar names. I also like names that are two words put together, like Rainbird...Scatterhorn, even. I was wracking my brains to find an appropriate name for Sir Henry, a famous big game hunter, and I imagined a herd of gazelles bolting towards the horizon the moment they saw him. Scatter...horn- it seemed appropriate. I was just about to congratulate myself on how brilliant this was I discovered Scatterhorn is actually name already. And very good name it is too, I think.
Who is your favourite character from your books?
Of course I love them all, which is no kind of answer. If pressed, I would say I have always been very fond of August and Sir Henry, who are the lynchpins of the series, and the Australian eagle. But then there’s Tom, and Lotus, and Pearl Smoot, Arlo, Ern Rainbird, the mice, the dodo, the mammoth...not to mention Don Gervase Askary: how could you not love a man who can turn into a beetle?
Where did you get your ideas from for the series?
All over the place. I like odd facts, and if I read something, see something, go somewhere that gives me an idea I make a note about it, or maybe draw a doodle in a small black notebook that I carry around. Like a lot of people I often have ideas when I am doing something else entirely, and if I don’t write it down very soon afterwards its gone forever.
Is the Scatterhorn Museum based on a real museum?
Not one single museum, but the Ipswich Museum has always been an inspiration. No, though its inspired by lots of museum’s I have visited. For me of course, the Scatterhorn Museum is a real place now. I know exactly what it looks like, what it contains, I have drawn plans and elevations...Someone could (and should) go and build one, complete with time holes...
Do you like beetles?
Good question. Not particularly. I don’t hate them. If a beetle crawled onto my hand I wouldn’t mind. I suppose I find them very mysterious. On summer evenings we sometimes see stag beetles flying around and they look very ungainly, almost as if they’re not supposed to be in the air at all. I like the fact that there are so many beetles. And that they can metamorphose from one form to another in the different stages of their life. I wonder whether that is something we would all secretly like to be able to do...
Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to tell stories. Writing them down was harder.
What was your very first story about?
When did you write it?
I wish I had a really good answer to this question. I used to write a lot of stories and they’ve all been thrown away. When I was eight I made a magazine called Moony that I painstakingly hand coloured in felt tip. It told the continuing adventures of Fungus the Bogeyman (by Raymond Briggs). I was a huge fan of Fungus at the time.
What was your favourite children’s book when you were growing up?
Apart from Fungus the Bogeyman? I read a lot of BB, Joan Aitken, Diana Wynne Jones. One book that I read countless times was The Spell of Sleep by Nina Bawden. I think I enjoyed being terrified by the idea of never being able to wake up. I’d had a similar sensation myself once.
If there was one children’s book you wish you had written what would it be?
Probably Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It has only three hundred words, brilliant pictures, and a single great idea. It has almost certainly been read hundreds of millions of times...