Too duel for school: Five Questions with Elys Dolan and her glossy steed

On Friday June 23, we welcomed Elys Dolan to Abingdon, and to Thomas Reade Primary School, where she spent the day talking detective seagulls, glossy steeds and rubbish dragons called Dave with some very enthusiastic - and riveted - children throughout the whole school

Elys had travelled over from Cambridge (on an epic UK tour which saw her in Newcastle and Brighton in the same week).

On her website her interests were declared as 'growing cacti, collecting pocket watches and eating fondant fancies' but it's obvious that what she loves more than anything is to draw.

During each session, the children called out characters to draw, and were enthralled as she brought their suggestions to life on paper in front of them. We had robber squid, a knight with cactus armour - and another knight riding a snow leopard.


Her latest book is called 'Knighthood for Beginners', and is all about Dave, a truly terrible dragon. (That's 'terrible' as in 'rubbish').

Dave is hopeless at dragony things, so when he finds a book called Knighthood for Beginners he decides to learn how to be a knight instead. Dave sets out on a quest with his trusty steed, Albrecht the goat (who scores highly on the 'glossy' stakes), to be brave, chivalrous, and knightly, even up against Sir Gnasty, who scoffs at the idea of a very small, strangely green knight.

Duels are fought, quests are begun...and some fetching knitwear is created...

Here is one of the groups learning to draw 'Steven Seagull', the maverick gull and ex-cop called back to the force to crack a particularly perplexing beach mystery.

This was also the first school event with new owner Sarah Dennis is attendance. It was a lovely event to mark the transition!

Whilst we knew that Elys works predominantly with ink, newfangled digital technology and coloured pencils (of which she is the proud owner of 178) we didn't know much else. Cue five questions to discover more...

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently working on a sequel to 'Knighthood for Beginners'. It's another adventure with Dave and Albrecht, onyl this time involving magic and titled 'Wizarding for Beginners'. Cue lots of talking animals and bears. I'm also doing a picture book, similar to 'Mr Bunny's Chocolate Factory' only involving Santa and his workshop. I'm also working on something else - but I can't tell you 'cos it's a secret!

2.    What is the best writing (or drawing) tip you’ve ever been given?

I can give you a tip for drawing: draw things from life. Even if the final picture you end up with isn't realistic, it teaches you to draw what you are seeing, and teaches you to really look at things and observe. And sometimes the details you see end up being what you put into the stories.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

The best is definitely that writing for children gives you a licence to write about anything, be as silly as you like. The sheer amount of pants in stories might be something frowned upon if writing for adults! The worst is colouring the spreads. For a picture book, at about 3, things are fine but by the time you get to spread twelve or thirteen you are thinking "why is this taking so long?!"

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?

(Thinks) I'm a big fan of snacks, definitely. And you can't go wrong with a cup of tea. But to be honest, give me a paper and pencil and I can pretty much work anywhere.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

When I first started to write picture books, I spent a lot of time putting in elements that I felt should be in a picture book, and the result was a bit of a Frankenstein's Monster. Once I started to have the confidence to develop my own style, and make stuff that I liked and wanted, it turned out that other people liked that as well!

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