Due out next month from Walker Books US, Thomas Taylor’s middle-grade fantasy Malamander launches the Legends of Eerie-on-Sea series, aptly named for the English coastal resort in which it’s set. The town takes on a different identity in winter, when dense mist rolls in and salt spray rattles the windows of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, home to young Herbie Lemon. His life enters rocky waters after plucky Violet Parma arrives at the hotel requesting his help finding her long-lost parents. Their quest involves the legendary Malamander, a part-fish, part-human monster whose egg allegedly makes dreams come true.
Walker US has a 50,000-copy first printing on order for Malamander, and in May 2020 will release the second title in the trilogy, Gargantis, whose cover is revealed here for the first time.
Malamander, which is illustrated by Tom Booth, made a splash from the onset, when Susan Van Metre, executive editorial director of Walker US, and Denise Johnstone-Burt, who holds the same title at Walker UK, acquired world rights to the trilogy in an eight-publisher, six-figure auction shortly before Bologna 2018. At that fair, Walker sold rights to the series in 12 territories. Agent Kirsty McLachlan at London-based DGA Ltd. brokered the book deal, as well as Sony Pictures’ recent acquisition of film rights to Malamander for what the publisher calls a “substantial preempt.”
Taylor has a diverse publishing resume. His credits include creator of Bloomsbury’s original cover for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; author and illustrator of the picture book My Loudest Roar; author of Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake and Too Many Tickles, picture books illustrated by Jill Barton and Penny Dann, respectively; and author of the Dan and the Dead series and Haunters, fiction for older readers. Most recently, Taylor collaborated with Marcus Sedgwick on a graphic novel, Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter.
Stirred by the Sea
Taylor, who lives on the south coast of England, found his inspiration for Malamander on his home shores—over time. “Eerie-on-Sea came to me slowly, over years of walking my dog on the foreshore in all weathers and in all seasons,” he explained. “Living in a seaside town all year round opened my eyes to the peculiarities and secret life of a coastal resort out of season. Who stays in the hotel in the winter? Who walks alone on the beach in a storm? And what is that strange thing she’s just found...?”
The author navigated new creative waters in Malamander, which he describes as “the first book I have written aimed directly at a middle-grade readership. My previous novels were YA, or close to it, and I didn’t feel entirely at ease with the genre. Dan and the Dead was where I worked out a more middle-grade voice and pace, and Malamander is where I first applied it properly.”
Having created books spanning an array of genres, Taylor shared insight into the different challenges that he faces as a picture-book author and illustrator and as a novelist. “Picture books demand a great deal from very little text,” he said. “A good picture book uses few words and relies heavily on illustrations to tell the story. With a novel it’s superficially different—tens of thousands of words and just a few images, and maybe not even that. But I think, in a way, it’s a similar process: there is still a pressure to be efficient with language, and there are still pictures to paint, only this time the canvas is the reader’s mind.”
Van Metre observed that Taylor has found a solid niche in middle grade with Malamander. “I think Thomas is such a great observer, and readers of this age have extraordinary observational powers too,” she said. “I fell in love with the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where there is a sense of the mist from the sea taking over, a perfect reflection of the ocean as a great, mysterious force that hides either sunken treasure or monsters. All the details that Thomas works into his story, and the sense of curiosity and possibility in his writing, really sync with the middle-grade audience.”
Anticipating that Legends of Eerie-on-Sea will extend beyond a trilogy, the author noted, “I have plans to write five books. The three-book contract arose out of the fierce bidding that took place among publishers for Malamander, rather than out of creative intent. But we’ll see how it goes. I’m very strongly motivated to write more adventures for Herbie and Violet, and can think of nothing better than working in this genre. It’s a challenge, but writing children’s literature is an enormous privilege.”
Walker US will bring Taylor to these shores in January, when he will make bookstore and school visits and attend Winter Institute and ALA Midwinter to celebrate the series launch. Asked if he is looking forward to introducing American readers to Herbie, Violet, and the other quirky residents of Eerie-on-Sea, the author replied, “Very much so! I hope the peculiarities of tumbledown British seaside resorts will delight American readers, and yet seem strangely familiar.”
Legends of Eerie-on-Sea: Malamander by Thomas Taylor, illus. by Tom Booth. Walker US, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-5362-0722-4