Before becoming an author, Helen used to teach Spanish and French. She also has an MA in Film and Television Production. Helen has lived and worked in France, Spain, Cuba and Mexico. She now lives in Swansea, Wales, with her husband, the author and illustrator Thomas Docherty, and their two young daughters.
Her first rhyming story, The Snatchabook (illustrated by Thomas Docherty), has been translated into 17 languages. In 2014 it won the Oldham Brilliant Book Award in the UK, voted for by school children. The Snatchabook has been staged as a play and also as an opera (by a school in Canada).
Helen’s other books include Abracazebra, Do you Remember? and Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure, which she co-wrote with Thomas Docherty.
Title: The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight
Author: Helen Docherty (illus. Thomas Docherty)
Tell us about your book:
Leo is a knight, but unlike all his fellow knights he would rather curl up with a good book than fight. His parents, however, have other ideas, and they send him off to tame a dragon, armed with a brand new shield and sword. Leo packs some books as well, and these come in useful when he runs into a griffin and a troll along the way… But will he be able to tame an enormous, fire-breathing dragon with a story?
How long did it take to write the book?
Once I’d got the idea, the first draft took a couple of weeks to write; but then my editor suggested some plot changes (the first version had an extra character), which took a while longer to resolve. Every picture book text I write goes through a series of drafts; it’s all part of the process. For the US version, I had to change a few of the rhymes because of vocabulary differences – it was fun revisiting the text.
What inspired you to write the book?
Tom came up the idea of a knight who meets a succession of creatures, but doesn’t want to fight them. He passed it on to me to develop the story. Being a bookworm, I decided to give our knight a similar passion, and to tame the creatures he meets with stories about themselves (who wouldn’t like to be the main character in a story?). I thought it would be funny to give him pushy parents who weren’t too happy that their only son was into books, rather than more ‘manly’ pursuits. Of course, they would eventually be won over once they saw how effective his strategy was! I think it’s important for kids – especially boys - to see that there are many different ways to be a hero and gain respect.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
I did do some research into mythological creatures before I wrote The Storybook Knight. In the end, I settled on a griffin, as I knew it would look great visually, and a troll, as this meant I could reference the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. And of course, there had to be a dragon too.
I don’t have a writing routine as such. Usually I work during the day while the kids are in school, but recently I started writing a story at midnight! Sometimes you just have to work when the inspiration strikes. The hardest thing about writing is getting a really good idea, or finding a way into a story.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
Firstly, I hope that people enjoy sharing the book and looking at the pictures together, and find the story fun and exciting. I hope that both the story itself, and the experience of reading it, reinforce a love of books and storytelling. And finally, I hope it makes people think about how problems can be resolved without violence or aggression, and how lots of troublemakers just need a bit of love and attention – and a good story, of course.
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