Having begun his career as an illustrator whose debut project was the cover art for the immensely popular Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Thomas Taylor showcased his writing prowess through his first novel Malamander. Malamander, the first book in the The Eerie-on-Sea Mysteries, was an instant hit with kids, parents, teachers and librarians who loved the quirky characters and intriguing plot-twists. There are now three books in the series, with the fourth, Festergrimm, due to follow in 2022, concluding with Mermedusa in 2023.
Nevertheless, his passion for illustrating continues to bleed into his writing. He talked about the header illustrations he created for every chapter of Malamander: “I believe, as an illustrator, you’re supposed to evoke an atmosphere in the story when you draw the pictures. That, however, doesn’t mean drawing everything that’s there in the text.” He added how technology has induced a shift in the expression of art, but his roots are still intact.
“I come from a time when digital media hadn’t quite taken off,so we used to rely on more traditional ways such as paint and paper. In fact, I still rely on this method before converting it to, say, Photoshop.”
Characterisation is an important part of any story. Most of Thomas’ characters have a mind of their own, and were derived from his personal experiences. He has also credited objects he chanced upon while beachcombing as sources of inspiration. He realizes how his life has shaped the course of this story, with the likes of a boy called Herbert Lemon, the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, and his curious friend Violet Parma. And with them came Lady Kraken, Mrs Fossil, Dr Thalassi, and all the quirky residents of a mysterious town called Eerie-on-Sea.
“Well, this one character, Lady Kraken, is based on my landlady from when I was a student. I used to live in this shared space and she lived in the basement. Whenever anybody came in, she’d hear us and give us strange jobs to do, tell us off or have weird conversations. It was a bit strange and eccentric, and I have always remembered that. And she became Lady Kraken.”
On being asked about his early days of working in a bookshop, he added, “I’ve always loved books, bookshops and libraries and I always feel very comfortable when I’m surrounded by books and I’ve always fantasized about writing a story set in a bookshop”. But it wasn’t always this easy for Thomas, he has been vocal about his struggles with reading. “I loved Star Wars, so my teacher got hold of a Star Wars book and gave it to me and said you can borrow my book. He understood that if you get a fear of reading, you feel it’s a difficult thing to do, you tend to avoid it. But once I’d seen that I could read, that broke the barrier.”
Thomas also spoke about the way pictures can dynamically change and add weight to the words that you read, especially when it comes to a younger audience.
“I started out as an illustrator who was trying to write and I slowly became a writer who also illustrates and in fact, now I see myself as more of a writer. I think that pictures have great power and they can convey a story on their own, but you can’t quite beat writing when you have picked the right words, and maybe it rhymes and maybe you have managed to create a structure to sort of balance that sentence. I think the best combination is when the words convey the meaning and the drawings convey an atmosphere and a feeling to go with that meaning.”