What was the inspiration for the series?
My main inspiration for the series was all the books and films I devoured growing up where humans develop weird friendships with an alien or a toaster or something. In fact pretty much every film in the eighties was like that from what I can remember: E.T., Flight of the Navigator, Gremlins... er… Predator (Parents – probably best to double check that last one before putting it on for your kids – there’s a decent chance I’m confusing it with Turner and Hooch) But I used to love reading books like The BFG and The Little Vampire and There’s a Dragon in my Dinner! was very much written with those kinds of stories in mind. It basically came from a lifetime of me imagining what it would be like to have a non-human friend that I could talk to. I still don’t know what that would actually be like of course. I’ve tried talking to my kettle, but other than an occasional whistle, I get nothing back, so at least with Pan and Eric I can explore an unusual friendship a bit without my wife having to call the doctor.
Apart from that there are a couple of other influences in some of the books. There’s a Dragon in my Backpack! is basically a heist story – Ocean’s Eleven except with Dragons and not as many people involved, or maybe The Italian Job with golf carts. And of course There’s a Dragon in my Toilet! was heavily inspired by my love of flushing the toilet, which I really think you can get a sense of when you read the book.
I loved your piece for Reading Zone on why children need funny books - and totally agree! What made you want to write a funny book series?
As important as I do think funny books are, my reasons for writing them are mostly selfish. I realized a long time ago that I really don’t enjoy writing when I’m not trying to make myself laugh. I can do it but it’s not fun at all for me. And if you’re going to try to write for a living then I think it’s probably a good idea to actually enjoy the things you’re writing. And what I love most about children’s books is that there’s so much more scope to be funny than there is in adult books. I suspect that’s why you find so many comedians turning to writing kids books because they recognize that there are way more options available to them here than in adult books when it comes to being silly.
Other than your own series, what's one funny book you'd like EVERY child to be given a copy of?
I think every child should read Matilda at least once in their life. It teaches children one of the most important things they can ever learn - that any adult who discourages them from reading is not someone who should be listened to.
Pan gets into some weird and wonderful places - Eric's dinner, his backpack, and now a toilet! But what is the place you'd LEAST like to find a Mini-dragon?
I’d hate to find one living under Donald Trump’s hair. I’d be livid to be perfectly honest.
Sarah Horne illustrates the series. How much input do you have into the illustrations - is it just a case of sending her the text for her to draw from, or do you discuss things and give feedback? What’s it like seeing your story in pictures?
If I have an idea for something I think would be funny I’ll put a suggestion in the text. I also get the chance to provide feedback on draft artwork but I rarely do because Sarah’s usually nailed it by that stage. Anyway my comments would probably be like “Er… needs to be more dragon-y” or something just as useless. It’s definitely one of my favourite moments when I get to see the artwork. The first time I saw her drawings for There’s a Dragon in my Dinner!, after I had stopped laughing I couldn’t get over how perfect she had all the characters. Now when I’m writing a scene it’ll often be at the back of my mind that Sarah will have to draw this madness, which if anything just makes me want to make it even madder to see what she comes up with. It gets me wondering if I can potentially write a scene so mad that she’ll have to reply with just the words ‘Sorry, too mad’. I mean I doubt it, but it’s something to aim for isn’t it?
Your bio on your brilliant website says you're "the man you want on your team in Pointless so long as all the questions are film and TV based." What would be your dream question to get on Pointless? Feel free to give answers to show off your obscure knowledge!
Well I like to think I’d be pretty good if Mini-Dragons came up. I also once got three pointless answers to Ben Affleck films (The Town, Changing Lanes and Chasing Amy I think) which I’m equally proud and ashamed about. Videogames never come up but I’d probably do quite well if they did, especially if it was games released for the ZX Spectrum. My dream question though would be based around Eighties Cartoons. Visionaries, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Silverhawks, trophy, jackpot, done.
Thank you for the awesome interview, Tom! Now, are you ready for this cover?