Friday, 14 February 2014
In a dragon's eye
They got a rude awakening. Boys did want to read books, and tomboys too - just not the books the publishers had been churning out. They wanted blood, guts, gore, mayhem, violence, and gutsy action. And most of all they wanted to be the hero.
The younger generation of editors understood this. Philippa Dickinson was twenty-six years old when she commissioned The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A few years later, when she was publishing the Dragon Warriors series, Oliver Johnson and I were keen to stress that the covers should not give the sense of being "you know, for kids" and Philippa agreed about that. Dubious as she may have been about the buxom babes in the Alan Craddock paintings we showed her, she got that boys at that age (they were, let's face it, most of them boys, our readers back then) didn't see themselves as little kids any more. As this post by @burnedfx puts it: "Which cover would appeal to kids and which one is grandma going to pick up for little Bobby?"
Before Dragon Warriors, Oliver and I had been published by Grafton Books. I appreciated our editors there - Angela Sheehan and Gillian Appleby - but they definitely belonged to the old school of kids' publishing. I managed to get artwork by Russ Nicholson for one book, The Eye of the Dragon, and we were mostly lucky with Bruno Elletori's cover paintings, but I've ranted about that puppyish dragon logo before. And don't even get me started on the covers we were given by Pacer Books in the USA. "For young adults," said their logo (and that wasn't a term you heard much in the mid-'80s) but look at that painting in the middle! A boy in a frigging skirt. Wearing tennis shoes. Holding a little blue ball. By Azathoth, why? Especially when you consider that the rest of the image is fine, and if only little Bobby wasn't there in his pretty little dress then it could have worked.
Now compare my two covers to what Ian Livingstone got for his own Eye of the Dragon book. Okay, his came out twenty years after the Golden Dragon series, but even so. The salt in the wound is that I bet his cover cost a lot less too. As so often, less is more.
Mrs Giggles, the aforementioned burnedfx, and on Demian Katz's site point out some serious flaws in the book. Most egregious of all, it seems that the big finale depends on a one-in-three guess. Ulp.
If that's really true, I owe an apology to an entire generation, as a random choice like that would be hard to justify right at the start of a book, but is criminally wrong at the end. And while I'm checking that, and fixing it if need be, I might as well tinker with the magic system and make a bit more of the protagonist's unusual background. So The Eye of the Dragon will probably come out later this year in quite a different form. And now that there's a Fighting Fantasy book of that name, I think I'll change the title to something more interesting too. And ditch the Dungeons and Dragons brand of fantasy setting while I'm at it. And...
On reflection, it could be next year.