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Sunday 1 January 2017

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I'm mostly famous, insofar as I am famous, for writing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books back in the early '90s. Because of them I was the bestselling author in the UK. I had the fan mail to prove it - cartloads of letters every week from all over the world. If you wrote and didn't get a reply, apologies. I set aside a day a week for writing to readers back then, but it wasn't enough to clear the backlog of TMNT mail.

My editor was the marvellous Philippa Dickinson, who also published Dragon Warriors. When a new TMNT book was being commissioned (the publisher usually contracted for two or even four at a time) I first of all had to produce a treatment (they're not just for movie scripts, whatever Wiki says) outlining the story. This one, Get That Ghost!, never got used - but if you're interested in the process of creating a franchise book, this is step one. Oh, and happy New Year!


After an arduous night training exercise in Central Park, Splinter agrees that he needs to lighten up his ninja teaching and make it more fun. He sets the Turtles on a very unusual scavenger hunt to test their initiative.

The last item on the list to be scavenged is “a spook”, and the Turtles all independently wind up at a reputedly haunted house near the park around midnight. They get inside and are nervously exploring when an eerie sound makes them all jump—

“—And just a glimpse of a shadowy figure at the top of the stairs – particularly because the moonlight was visible right through it – sent us running like startled rats,” Leonardo breathlessly explains to his master when they reach home.

Splinter winces. “I believe you will find the proper expression is ‘startled cat’, Leonardo,” he says quietly. “Now, there are no such things as ghosts, my sons,” he tells them.

“Then what do you call those creepy, wispy things that glide around haunted houses scaring the pants off innocent turtles, master?” retorts Raphael.

“It was doubtless a trick of the moonlight, Raphael – perhaps reflected in a mirror. A good ninja does not hastily jump to extreme conclusions. Also, none of you wears pants.”

“I don’t get it,” says Michaelangelo. “Didn’t your list say for us to find a ‘spook’, Master Splinter?”

Splinter looks a touch embarrassed. “My handwriting is not always very readable, I know,” he admits. “I’d actually written ‘spoon’.”

Raphael instantly grabs a spoon from the sink. “I win the scavenger hunt!” he announces.

However, when the Turtles tell April about their weird experience the next day, she isn’t so skeptical as Splinter. “A reporter has to keep an open mind. My boss would say I’m crazy, but I say, if ghosts do exist then we ought to find out about it. Who’s for a return visit to that house tonight?”

The Turtles are none too keen at first, but they can’t let April down. They show her back to the house and take her to where they saw the apparition. Suddenly a ghostly figure walks right out of the wall beside April, and they all beat a hasty retreat. April keeps hold of her video camera, though, and when she later plays the tape back they get a closer look at the ‘ghost’. The face stirs a hazy memory with April, who checks the files at Channel 6 and comes up with a file on a Professor Crankel, who was a brilliant but eccentric scientist. The file says he died many years ago when a ray-gun that he’d developed backfired on him.

“So he must be a ghost!” cries Michaelangelo.

“Maybe, maybe not,” says April. “Would a ghost show up on video tape? I really think we’d better go for another visit.” She looks at their none-too-keen expressions and laughs. “Is this my intrepid band of heroes? You’re never afraid to face a hundred of Shredder’s soldiers. Surely one little bitty ghost doesn’t scare you?”

“Of course not,” snorts Leonardo. “A ninja is never afraid.”

“I’m a turtle, not a chicken,” says Raphael.

“Count me in,” adds Donatello.

“Uh, guys...” says Michaelangelo. “I’d love to come, but I don’t want to miss the midnight horror movie.”

“Relax,” April tells them. “We’re not going at midnight. There’s no time like the present.”

“Three o’clock in the afternoon?” says Donatello. “Aren’t ghosts usually asleep then?”

“Don’t argue with her, you dope,” whispers Raphael as they follow April out. “Do you want to be there when it’s awake?”

They return to house, but this time sneak in and manage to surprise the ‘ghost’. In fact Professor Crankel turns out not to be a ghost at all. He explains to them how the accident with his ray-projector years ago partly transferred him to another dimension, so that ever since he has been ghost-like and unable to touch anything solid.

“Like the ray-projector that Krang uses to teleport troops from Dimension X,” says Michaelangelo. “It must be a hard life.”

“That’s why I live as a recluse in this old house,” says the professor. “I can’t mix with normal people anymore. I can’t touch anything. I can’t even put on any clothes apart from what I was wearing when the ray struck me.”

The Turtles are sorry for him, but then they have a lucky accident. While Leonardo is making some tea, Michaelangelo starts playing with the ray-projector and inadvertently fires it at the teapot. That, too, turns intangible and none of them can pick it up – until the professor saunters in and absent-mindedly pours himself a cup.

“You can touch anything else that’s been treated with the ray!” Donatello realizes. “All you have to do is turn it on anything that you’re going to use, and then you’re okay.”

As the Turtles and April leave, the professor thanks them for their help. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything the first couple of times you came round, but I was so startled and you ran off before I had a chance. I hope I didn’t scare you fellas too much.”

“No way,” replies Raphael. “There’s only one thing that scares us, and that’s missing our dinner. See you around, Prof!”


  1. I had no idea you wrote TMNT books. Wrong age group I guess. You'll always be the bloke who co-wrote Dragon Warriors and made the world a better place for it. :)

    1. DW can go on my headstone. TMNT not so much :)

  2. Out of interest, how many words would the final book have been?

    1. IIRC those books were around 12,000 to 15,000 words each.

  3. It's interesting what people get famous for compared to what they find challenging or what they are proud of. I remember seeing Andrew Sachs in an interview about how it felt to make Fawlty Towers. He replied by saying that it was just a 3 month job to him (paraphrase). Compared to what you are most famous for, what are you most proud of or thought you got the most out of?

    1. The period in my career that I most enjoyed was as lead designer at Demis Hassabis's game company Elixir Studios. Demis later asked me to join his AI startup and my one regret in life is that I was tied up with other commitments at the time so wasn't able to do so.

      The work I'm personally most proud of is my ongoing graphic novel Mirabilis. I've never actually made a penny from it -- everything has gone on paying artists or buying Wacom tablets -- but it's creatively fulfilling.

      I'm also very pleased with the enormous numbers of people whose imaginations I've been able to help stimulate with my books, and especially with my Dragon Warriors RPG. I feel gratified that some little part of them will always have been shaped by something I created, the way that Stan Lee, Gerry Anderson, Terry Nation and Gene Roddenberry shaped me.

      The lesson there, I guess, is to "follow your bliss" as money can't buy the kind of happiness you get from a job well done.

  4. Very insightful and interesting response Dave. Dragon Warriors has certainly had an impact on me. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Gavin. My gaming group continues to adventure in Legend to this day (we had a fabulous confrontation with Krarthian magi-cultists just before Christmas) so that was definitely time well spent!

  5. You also recommended Chambord in Champagne, which was a big hit... which is why I support Mirabilis on Patreon :)

    1. That proved very popular at New Year, as a matter of fact :-)

  6. As much as I consider The Eye Of The Dragon an inspirational classic, I still can't quite bring myself to purchase TMNT to help complete the Morris oeuvre!

    1. I know what you mean, Andy. I loved The Shield but I've never felt the urge to watch Shawn Ryan's follow-up Last Resort. Mind you, Timeless sounds interesting...