Below are links to some bonus material for Simon and the Birthday Wish.
Larger version of cover image (wraparound cover for the paperback edition).
Deleted scene - A longer introduction to Miss Elliott.
Video of me drawing the illustration for chapter one (5 minutes 26 seconds).
Video of me reading chapter 2, where Simon discovers that Zac (the teddy bear) is alive and can do magic (7 minutes 54 seconds).
A page of the storyboard. A storyboard is a series of simple sketches (and they really are simple in this case!) that let me work out which characters and locations I would need to design. (Not every character and location that's mentioned in the story appears in an illustration.) Each character has a letter in their head to remind me of who they're supposed to be. Each picture has "Ch" (for "chapter") and a number at the bottom right to remind me which chapter it belongs in. I decided fairly early on that each chapter would have one illustration, except for the last, which has two as it's quite long.
Sketches for the design of Simon, Zac and Yasmin. These aren't intended to be accurate, but rather to remind me of what distinguishes one character from the others.
Sketches for the cover and chapter one. The composition and most of the details remained the same in the finished pictures, though I had to do a lot of editing on the cover in the computer when I realised I'd drawn the children too tall. Yasmin changed the most - I kept changing my mind about her hairstyle, and her shoes in the sketch became sandals in the finished picture. (It's summer, and she needs to keep cool.)
Like many of my stories, the idea for Simon and the Birthday Wish came in two pieces. The first piece came in 2011, when I saw someone on a writers' forum ask for ideas for a children's book. This particular forum has a lot of posts like that. Mostly I ignore them, or tell the poster not to be so lazy and stupid. (I usually put it more elegantly than that, for example, "Write because you have a story to tell, not because you want to have told a story.")
On this day, though, I was feeling more generous than usual towards people who think that writing consists of asking other people to do all the work. So I pointed out that when an adult meets a child for the first time, the adult often asks, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" That could be the basis of a story, either funny or serious. Maybe a child finds a magic lamp, like Aladdin's, except that the genie can only grant wishes based on the child's answer to that question. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong, and the child (possibly with the help of other children or adults) then has to put things right.
I thought this might actually make a good story, so I wrote it down in the big file where I keep everything that might one day go into a story. I jotted down a few more ideas. I was leaning towards the story being funny rather than serious, so I decided the genie would change the children's lives and their surroundings according to what they thought their grown-up jobs were like, not what they were really like. The only example I could think of was that one of the children wants to be a policeman, and so there are suddenly a lot more burglaries in the neighbourhood. This is because that child thinks that a policeman does nothing but catch burglars all day, so there need to be a lot of burglars for him to catch.
And there the progress on the story stopped. I had a premise for the story, and a problem for the characters to solve, but I didn't know how they were going to solve it. I had plenty of other stories to keep me busy, so this one just went into the idea file.
And it might have stayed in the idea file, but for a chance remark in 2016 from fellow writer Lorraine Reed. The annual fundraiser for BBC Children in Need was fast approaching, and she thought it would be good for our local writers' group to do something for it. She suggested an anthology of stories and poems that we could sell to raise money for the charity.
That set me thinking about the half-finished idea that I had, and I thought it might be nice to connect it (if only loosely) to the charity and its goals. So the genie became Zac, a teddy bear (like the charity's mascot). I thought the main character (Simon) would be from a poor family, though maybe not so poor that they need help from a charity. I thought perhaps part of the reason they're poor is that Simon has only one parent to look after him (his father). His father can't work very much, because he has to look after Simon when Simon isn't at school. This creates a problem that Zac can try to solve. But the problem from Simon's point of view isn't that his family is poor, it's that his father can't spend as much time with him as either of them would like. This, plus the fact that Zac's magic is powered by children's imagination, gave me an unusual way for Zac to try to help Simon - and some unusual ways for it to go wrong. What are they? You'll have to read the book to find out...
(And in case you're wondering, we haven't got around to creating the anthology for BBC Children in Need. One day...)
Last update: 8/12/2019 11:33