Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is a children’s novel, written by me D.D. Everest, and beautifully illustrated by James de la Rue. (The book has been short-listed for the National Book Awards, for Children’s Book of the Year.)
It tells the story of a young boy called Archie Greene who receives a mysterious present on his twelfth birthday. Deep within an ancient wooden box he finds an old book, written in a language he doesn’t recognise.
With the book comes a Special Instruction – Archie must return the book to the Flame Keepers of Alexandria – a secret community devoted to finding and preserving magical books.
Set in (and below) the ancient, winding streets of Oxford, the book is very atmospheric. The action takes place at several magical locations – including the Museum of Magical Miscellany; a bookshop called the Aisle of White; and Quill’s Chocolate and Coffee House.
Any book about magical books had better be a bit special, and I was lucky enough to land Faber & Faber as my publisher. Leah Thaxton at Faber Children’s wanted to include line drawings with the book. It was clear to me from the start that this would work well – but only if the illustrator really captured the spirit and mood of the characters.
We worked with a couple of US-based illustrators, but in the end Faber chose the UK illustrator James de la Rue. I knew the moment I saw his drawings that it was the right decision. James immediately captured the quirky, Englishness of the characters, and produced what for me is the defining image of Archie himself.
For an author it is a magical moment when the characters you have created in your head come to life in illustrations. Some authors are fortunate to be blessed with drawing skills that enable them to capture the images from their imagination. Think of JRR Tolkien’s stunning drawings in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for instance.
My drawing isn’t up to that, so I have to rely on someone else doing my characters justice. It could be a big disappointment. But instead, it was a revelation.
By some curious process of creative osmosis, the characters that James has drawn bear a resemblance to my own children who, in turn, influenced the characters in the book. And yet when he produced them James had never seen my children – or even met me.
Reviewers have (rightly) heaped praise on the illustrations. They give the book a magical feel. Everywhere I go to promote the book, the children always ask about the illustrations. Did I draw them myself? If only!
Illustrations by James de la Rue