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Today we feature a Q&A with Steve Cole, co-author with Ben Fogle of the MR DOG series (see our review of the first book in the series here). Here we find out more about the books and what it was like to work with explorer and broadcaster Ben Fogle to create the series.
with Steve Cole, co-author of Mr Dog and the Hedge Called Hog (available here)
Can you tell us a little about how you came to work with Ben Fogle on the Mr Dog series and what the process was like?
Ben and I are represented by the same literary agency, so when Ben started developing some ideas for children around the time I announced interest in a new challenge, my agent suggested we meet up and talk. Ben had a ton of ideas and wanted to bring some of the stories he’s discovered through his own life and adventures to a child audience. I’ve written a lot of fantastical series fiction, but what attracted me to working with Ben was the notion of tackling real environmental issues that affect real animals in books for younger readers with a writer and broadcaster who has such a wealth of experience in the natural world and conservation. We both love dogs and of course a travelling dog can reach many different environments and interact with many different animals, so Mr Dog became the hero. Ben would suggest some story ideas that have affected him and I would suggest how we could turn that into a ten-thousand word quest adventure for Mr Dog, then we’d think of the characters and dangers and resolutions and so on.
2. Did you do any research for the series and did you find out anything interesting/surprising?
Obviously a lot of the research has been done by Ben in the course of his work not only presenting, but as patron for many environmental charities. But I wanted to be clued up too so I could add other angles. With Mr Dog and the Rabbit Habit I was surprised at how the rabbit is the arch-nemesis of archaeologists, their burrows disturbing the strata of remains built up over centuries… and in Mr Dog and a Hedge Called Hog I was amazed by how agile hedgehogs are – they can swim and climb and even jump!
How did you get published?
I used to be a full-time editor of children’s magazines at the BBC. As budgets were low, I often wrote poems or stories myself. One of the illustrators I used suggested I send some off to a publisher she’d worked for called Levinson’s (later bought up by Hachette!) and to my shock they immediately offered me four little poem pop-up books to write, which were published in 1997. After that I used to write in my spare time while considering myself an editor until the balance switched in the early 2000s and I became a full-time writer editing in his spare time.
Where and how do you write?
I’m not really wedded to one place. Anywhere that’s quiet and warm: my office, the sofa, a hotel room if I’m out visiting schools or on tour. I prefer to type into a computer. I had RSI problems with my hands a few years back, which meant I had to use dictation software and write longhand and it was such a frustrating struggle – so I’m just grateful I can click away on the keys again, wherever I am.
You have written a lot of books – do you have a favourite book/series that you have worked on?
I always love the book I happen to be working on the most – I throw myself at it with full enthusiasm. Of course I will always have a special spot for the Astrosaurs series, because its success opened many doors for me, and I’m delighted children are still discovering it nearly 15 years after the first books were published.
When you aren’t writing, what are your favourite things to do?
I sing and play bass in an indie pop band called Faces Fall, I love writing songs. You can find us at www.facesfall.com.
And finally, do you have or have you had any pets? Any that inspired the animals in the stories?
Both Ben and I have dogs so I think we both bring behaviours we know and love in our own animals to the character of Mr Dog! I have the pleasure of being pet human to Clara, a rescue mongrel who is just the cleverest and kindest pooch – and with the biggest ears – I’ve ever met. And I live close to Tiggywinkles and Ben is patron to another hedgehog charity, so we’ve had plenty of hedgehog experience to draw on for this book!
Mr Dog and a Hedge Called Hog by Ben Fogle and Steve Cole, illustrated by Nikolas Ilic
out now in paperback (£5.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Thank you to author Steve Cole for answering these questions.
You can order Mr Dog and a Hedge Called Hog online or from your local bookshop or library. You can also see our review of the first book in this series here.