When I was a young scientist I wanted to find a way to teach young children about the wonderful creatures I was studying. To see these creatures you need a good microscope but, once under there, their strangeness and beauty is revealed. But how to portray that to young children? This was not an easy task. I started to think about a story which revolved around a family of dinosaurs. I called the main character Bryony the Brontosaurus. But I am not a writer of children’s books, and there is great skill in writing stories. So I put it all to one side and carried on with my research.
Many years later a friend of mine, who worked at the Natural History Museum, was taking some young relatives around the museum and telling them about his work. He also worked on these tiny microscopic creatures. He knew about my attempts at story writing, to introduce young children to this unusual world, and said that it would have been really good to have had a story to give his young relatives. So I went to my dusty filing cabinet and found the old script.
At the same time I had got to know Rachel Cladingbowl, through our children who were best friends at school. She was writing some poetry and a novel and she showed me some of her work. I began to think that there might be a way of combining her writing skills with my interest in microscopic creatures. One day in the school playground, waiting for our children to come out of class, I asked her if she would look at my efforts and see if she could do something with the story.
It was great fun working on this book. Seeing what had to be allowed for the story to work, while keeping as much of the integrity of the science led to some interesting discussions. Should the horns of Ceratium be able to curl around Aggi? Well we had given him eyes and a mouth, and he could talk, so one more concession should be okay. Rachel and I both agreed that the story came first. The characters must be rich and cause emotions in the reader. There must be accuracy in the science and it must lead to learning, but information about these creatures is discovered through the story. So if changes were made they would be there to enable the story to work.
Rachel turned my old script into the lovely story it is today. But one problem was the name of the main dinosaur character because those who studied dinosaurs had unhelpfully renamed Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus. We liked the alliteration in the name, so needed something beginning with A. She began as Annie, and we were working at the time with an illustrator whose style was slightly cartoon-like and we felt the name matched the drawing. But some things did not work and we were then introduced to the illustrator Charli Vince, and fell in love with her beautiful style. Charli immediately related to the character of the young dinosaur and drew such a lovely little dinosaur with large glasses and a sweet, expressive face, but she was not an Annie. After quite some time we came up with the name Agatha for her, shortened to Aggi. We felt this name reflected her quirky, inquisitive character.
So this story, which, after much deliberation, came to be called Aggi and the Mystic Boots, started its journey about 25 years ago and spent a decade or two in a dusty filing cabinet. It is now ready for young children to enjoy and learn about the wonderful microscopic world which I explored as a young scientist and am still enthralled by. More books are planned and will explore many different characters, but this will always be the one where our journey into children’s publishing began.