THE STORIES BEHIND THE SIBLEY BOOKS
What small (if sometimes tragic) events can shape our destinies!
So it has been with me ever since an unforgettable day in childhood when I was taken to a newsreel-theatre where I saw my first Mickey Mouse cartoon. It was entitled The Brave Little Tailor and was made in 1938 - although I hasten to add that was not when I saw it.
At first I was mesmerized, then so terrified by a scene in which a giant pursued Mickey that I screamed the place down and had to be forcibly removed!
The Mouse & I
That one visit to the cinema turn out to be a fulcrum in my life: since I seem to have spent the subsequent fifty years conducting a love-hate relationship with Walt Disney: from seeing Pinocchio six times in one week, as a child, to writing, broadcasting and lecturing about Walt and his works since (as you might laughingly put it) I grew up!
The first book I ever wrote was Disneydust, a full-scale biographical analysis of the Man and the Mouse - a daring project not just because it was written 'on spec' but because books on the American icon had previously always been written by Americans.
Disneydust (a reference to that sparkling pixie-dust seen in so many Disney films) was announced in a publisher's catalogue, but never made it in print, although odd paragraphs subsequently found their way into The Disney Studio Story,written with my good friend and fellow Disney-fanatic, Richard Holliss.
Continuing to challenge the monopoly of American writers on Disney, Richard and I penned Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs & The Making of the Classic Film,containing much previously unpublished artwork from Disney's ground-breaking first feature and an introduction by the original voice of Snow White, Adriana Caselotti. We then put together Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: His Life and Times,a lively little book in celebration of the Disney Studio's most enduring star.
I also edited an edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,illustrated with fascinating concept art by David Hall for an abandoned Disney film version in the 1930s.
"Cracking books, Gromit!"
More books on animation followed when I wrote about the work of Aardman studio in two books about their famous cheese-loving duo: Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers - Storyboard Collection and, subsequently, A Close Shave - Storyboard Collection.
These two books reproduced the full storyboards drawn by Nick Park for his famous films including scenes and sequences which never made it into production. This was a project clos to my heart as I co-wrote the first treatments for The Wrong Trousers and additional material to the script.
With Peter Lord (the creator of 'Morph' and co-founder of Aardman Animations) I wrote Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation - a volume known, rather dryly, in the USA as Creating 3-D Animation: The Aardman Book of Film-Making! A new, updated edition of this book has recently been published.
I continued my Aardman association with Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie,which can be best described as an in-depth study on how to make a movie featuring hundreds of Plasticine chickens!
Bears and Beer
Some of my books - OK, quite a lot of them! - have long been unavailable, though they can still be found in second-hand bookshops (on-line and in the real world), on eBay and at the occasional boot-sale!
One such is my first-ever published venture: The Pooh Sketchbook,a collection of Ernest Shepard's original pencil sketches for A A Milne's 'Winnie-the-Pooh' and 'Christopher Robin' books drawn from the artist's bequest to the Victoria & Albert Museum.
An exception - a book that got into print and, somehow, managed to stay there - is The Pooh Book of Quotations,an anthology Useful Quotes by Pooh & Co on Weather, Food, Birthdays and many other Important Topics, this little book has even found its way into a variety of foreign languages.
The same is true of my 75th birthday celebration of the Bear of Very Little Brain, Three Cheers for Pooh, which, if you happen to be looking for it in Denmark, goes under the rather jolly title of Hurra for Peter Plys!
Five years on, the book was reprinted as - yes, that's right, an 80th birthday tribute!
Having a father who had worked, both in commercial art and, later, as a draughtsman with a brewery, meant that I wrote The Book of Guinness Advertisingas much for him as for anyone else.
The book overflows with much-loved posters from classic Guinness ad-campaigns including slogans like 'Guinness is Good for You' and art work by, among others, Gilroy, Bateman, Whistler, Hoffnung and Emett.
Like Guinness itself, the book was good for me, though customers are warned not to confuse this brew (bottled by Guinness Books in 1985) with a later - some consider inferior - concoction from the same brewhouse and bearing the same label! Always insist on the original!
My Dad's greatest passion was railways, and he was definitely my model reader for The Thomas the Tank Engine Man, a biography of the Reverend W Awdry, the Church of England clergyman who created Thomas, Gordon, Edward, James and all those other Really Useful Engines on the Island of Sodor.
The book was cursed with a muddly, misch-masch cover design that failed to catch the eye of all those fans of Mr Awdry's books. To my mind (but what does an author ever know about selling their books?!) all it needed was a decent portrait of Mr A and a splash of bright colour such as might have been provided by a little blue tank engine! Inside was, I think, rather better than the outside suggests...
An early infatuation with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol led to a life-long mania with collecting editions of Dickens' remarkable little "ghost story of Christmas". Eventually, I made a radio programme about the book - predictably entitled Humbug! - directed by Glyn Dearman, who, as a child actor, had played Tiny Tim opposite Alastair Sim's Scrooge.
I later wrote A Christmas Carol - The Unsung Story, an account of how (and why) Dickens had come to write his famous story and tracing its subsequent interpretation by illustrators, dramatists, filmmakers and parodists.
My Scrooge-complex is still haunting me and, in recent years, I have been written (revised and rewitten) no less than three versions my own stage dramatisation of what I regard as my all-time favourite book.
I also published a little fable of my own, The Frightful Food Feud, about the monarchs of two adjacent cities, Aralia and Zedonia, who move from being friends and allies to rivals and enemies before mutual difficulties teach them the value of trust and respect... Oh, and it's quite funny!
It began life as a two-part radio play for BBC Schools on the theme, as the sub-title puts it, of "A Little Give and Take" and it ended up as a story-book with delightfully lively, colourful illustrations by Rosslyn Moran.
Beyond the Wardrobe
After reading C S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to climb through the back of my parents' wardrobe. Small wonder, then, that I should have ended up writing about Lewis and his enticing other world of Narnia quite as often as I have.
In addition to my BBC radio dramatisations of the seven books that comprise The Chronicles of Narnia, I wrote The Land of Narnia, which had the bonus of containing a series of wonderful new colour pictures by the book's original illustrator - and now a dear friend - Pauline Baynes.
This book was subsequently transmogrified into A Treasury of Narnia, written with Alison Sage, in an attempt to produce a book for a new generation of Narnia fans. Whether the resultant sea-change was worth it, I'll leave others to decide...
A lifetime ago (or so it seems) I wrote a teleplay that would later become (with a different screenwriter) the TV, stage play and film known as Shadowlands.
Notwithstanding this seeming failure, my 'tie-in' book, Shadowlands: The True Story of C S Lewis and Joy Davidman (based on my original research and script), has remained in print - not just in Britain but also in Japan, Germany and the Unites States, where it goes under the title C S Lewis Through the Shadowlands and where it received the Gold Medallion Book Award.
Alongside writing about C S Lewis, I have also written about Lewis' friend, and fellow fantasy-writer, J R R Tolkien.
Three books with illustrator John Howe, later one of the conceptual artists on the film trilogy, have celebrated the maps created by Tolkien for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.
These publications were later combined into a single volume, The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth, in a cunning slipcase with an open hobbit-hole 'door' and containing an entirely new map of the lost island of Numenor --- of course you can't visit there anymore; but, if you could, this would be just what you needed!
The collaboration with John Howe (together with my work on the BBC's radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings) led to my writing some of the official books accompanying Peter Jackson's phenomenally successful series of films based on Tolkien's epic...
The first of these books were The Lord of the Rings: Official Movie Guide and a little paperback for younger readers with the decidedly unsnappy title The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings - Insiders' Guide.
These titles were followed by the best of the bunch, The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy, which won the 2003 SFX Award for 'Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Related Non-Fiction Book'!
A planned third volume to coincide with The Return of the King was eventually abandoned and replaced (after a couple of sojourns in New Zealand and several years of expectation) by Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey,the official, authorised biography of the Wizard of Wellington recounting his trials and triumphs in bringing Tolkien's book to the cinema screen.
Because Peter Jackson leaped straight into making King Kong, the book took a lot longer to be written and then published than was hoped -- so long, in fact, that the original cover design (above) was no longer appropriate for the radically slimmed-down, new-look PJ!
My experience on writing 'making of...' books has, most recently resulted in The Golden Compass: The Official Illustrated Movie Companionfollowing the making of the fantasy film based on the first volume of Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy; and Mary Poppins: Anything Can Happen If You Let It,a book, written with Michael Lassell, which follows the story of how the world-famous magical nanny made her way from book, to screen and then on to the Broadway stage.
And soon to be published is my retelling of 50 Favourite Bible Stories,illustrated with wonderfully vivid and vibrant pictures by Stephen Waterhouse and narrated on three CDs by Cliff Richard...
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