Alan Durant (1958–) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1958, in Sutton, Surrey, England; Education: Keble College, Oxford, B.A. (English language and literature). Politics: "Leftish." Religion: "Christian."
Writer. Former publicist for Spastics Society (charity; now SCOPE); Walker Books, London, England, senior copywriter, beginning 1986; full-time writer. National Reading Campaign reading champion; lecturer and workshop presenter.
Two-time winner, Kingston Borough/Waterstone's Poetry Competition; Red House Children's Book Award shortlist, 2004, for Dear Tooth Fairy; Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist, 2004, for Always and Forever, illustrated by Debi Gliori; Nottingham and Portsmouth children's book awards, 2004, for Game Boy.
Hamlet, Bananas, and All That Jazz (young adult), Red Fox (London, England), 1991.
Jake's Magic (easy reader), Walker (London, England), 1991.
(Compiler) Little Dracula's Fiendishly Funny Joke Book, Walker (London, England), 1992, revised as Little Dracula's Joke Book, illustrated by Paul Tempest, 2000.
Blood (young adult), Red Fox (London, England), 1992.
Nightmare Rave (young adult), Fantail (London, England), 1994.
The Fantastic Football Fun Book, illustrated by Cathy Gale, Walker (London, England), 1994 published as Football Fun, 1999.
Snake Supper (picture book), illustrated by A. Parker, Walker (London, England), 1994, Western (New York, NY), 1995.
Mouse Party (picture book), illustrated by Sue Heap, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
The Good Book (young adult), Red Fox (London, England), 1995.
Creepe Hall (easy reader), illustrated by Hunt Emerson, Walker (London, England), 1995.
Prince Shufflebottom (picture book), illustrated by Nick Schon, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
Angus Rides the Goods Train (picture book), illustrated by Chris Riddell, Viking (London, England), 1996.
Spider McDrew (easy reader), illustrated by Martin Chatterton, HarperCollins, 1996, illustrated by Philip Hopman, 2002.
Big Fish, Little Fish (picture book), illustrated by A. Parker, Golden Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Hector Sylvester (picture book), illustrated by A. Parker, HarperCollins, 1996.
A Short Stay in Purgatory (young adult), Red Fox (London, England), 1997.
Happy Birthday, Spider McDrew (easy reader), illustrated by Martin Chatterton, HarperCollins, 1997, illustrated by Philip Hopman, 2004.
The Return to Creepe Hall (easy reader), illustrated by Hunt Emerson, Walker (London, England), 1997.
Publish or Die (young-adult mystery), Scholastic, 1998.
(Compiler) The Kingfisher Book of Vampire and Werewolf Stories, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Troll (easy reader), illustrated by Julek Heller, HarperCollins, 1998.
Little Troll and the Big Present (easy reader), illustrated by Julek Heller, HarperCollins, 1999.
A Good Night's Sleep (picture book), Walker (London, England), 1999.
Star Quest: Voyage to the Greylon Galaxy (easy reader), illustrated by Mick Brownfield, Walker (London, England), 1999.
Creepe Hall for Ever! (easy reader), illustrations by Hunt Emerson, Walker (London, England), 1999.
(Compiler) Sports Stories, illustrated by David Kearney, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2000.
Big Bad Bunny (picture book), illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees, Orchard (London, England), 2000, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
The Ring of Truth, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.
Kicking Off (stories), Walker (London, England), 2001.
Leagues Apart (stories), Walker (London, England), 2001.
That's Not Right (easy reader), illustrated by Katharine McEwen, Red Fox (London, England) 2002, Crabtree Publishing (New York, NY), 2004.
Always and Forever (picture book), illustrated by Debi Gliori, David Fickling Books (Oxford, England), 2003, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Brown Bear Gets in Shape (easy reader), illustrated by Annabel Hudson, Kingfisher (London, England), 2003, Kingfisher (Boston, MA), 2004.
Game Boy (story collection), illustrated by Sue Mason, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland) 2003.
Dear Tooth Fairy (picture book), illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, Walker Books (London, England), 2003, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood (picture book), illustrated by Debbie Boon, HarperCollins (London, England), 2004.
Doing the Double (young adult), Evans (London, England), 2004.
(Compiler) Vampire Stories, illustrated by Nick Hardcastle, Kingfisher (Boston, MA), 2004.
Dear Santa Claus (picture book), illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, Candlewich Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005, published as Dear Father Christmas, Walker (London, England), 2005.
Jumping Jack Rabbit (picture book), illustrated by Ant Parker, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.
Bird Flies South (picture book), illustrated by Kath Lucas, Gingham Dog Press (Columbus, OH), 2005.
Burger Boy (picture book), illustrated by Mei Matsouka, Anderson Press (London, England), 2005, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Night of the Dragon (easy reader), illustrated by David Lupton, Ginn (Oxford, England), 2005.
Game Boy Reloaded (story collection), illustrated by Sue Mason, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005.
Stat Man (fact/fiction), illustrated by Brett Hudson, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005.
Contributor of stories to Toddler Time, Centuries of Stories, for HarperCollins; Same Difference, for Egmont; Gary Lineker's Favourite Football Stories, Princess Stories, and More of Gary Lineker's Favourite Football Stories, for Macmillan; Football Shorts and The Animals' Bedtime Storybook, for Orion; Nice One, Santa, On Me 'Ead, Santa, and Thirteen Murder Mysteries, for Scholastic; The Walker Treasury of First Stories; Stories for Me!, for Candlewick; and Lines in the Sand, for Frances Lincoln. Also author of poetry.
Durant's work has been translated into Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Welsh, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.
"LEGGS UNITED" SERIES
The Phantom Footballer, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Fair Play or Foul, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Up for the Cup, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Spot the Ball, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Red Card for the Ref, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Team on Tour, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1998.
Sick as a Parrot, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1999.
Super Sub, illustrated by Chris Smedley, Macmillan (London, England), 1999.
"BAD BOYZ" SERIES
Barmy Army, Walker (London, England), 2002.
K.O. Kings, Walker (London, England), 2002.
Several of Durant's books have been adapted as audiobooks by Chivers North America, including Creepe Hall for Ever!, 2001, and Spider McDrew, 2003.
Work in Progress
Dear Mermaid, The Diary of a Trainee Tooth Fairy, the young-adult novel Flesh and Bones, and the picture books Football Feever, I Love You Little Monkey, and Billy Monster's Daymare.
English writer Alan Durant began his writing career penning teen novels such as Hamlet, Bananas, and All That Jazz and Blood, but while raising his own three children he expanded into picture books, chapter books for young readers, and short stories for children and young adults. "I'm a versatile writer," Durant once told SATA: "As a professional publishing copywriter for many years I had to be; and I like turning my hands to different forms of book[s]. Also, when I first started writing books, they were very much for me, but since I've had children their preoccupations have come to the fore. They are my inspiration." This inspiration has produced such popular picture books as Mouse Party, Snake Supper, and If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood, as well as easy readers and juvenile novels such as Jake's Magic, That's Not Right!, and the "Creepe Hall" and "Leggs United" series.
Born in Surrey, in southern England, Durant was educated at Trinity School in Croydon, which later became the model for the school in his first novel, Hamlet, Bananas, and All That Jazz. "I started writing seriously at the age of fourteen," he explained, "because that was the only way I could express myself. The book that had the most influence on me was J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Reading that book was so inspiring. My first books were novels about the trauma of adolescence and were, I guess, a kind of catharsis. I really didn't enjoy being a teenager at all."
Durant graduated from Keble College, Oxford, with a degree in English. He then lived in Paris for several years, working at a school for spontaneous expression "run by one of the shortest, fattest, most volatile couples the world has seen," as he told SATA. Returning to England, Durant worked as a writer and publicist for the Spastics Society (now SCOPE), married, and in 1986 became a copywriter for Walker Books in London until becoming a full-time writer in 2004.
In 1991 Durant's first novel and his first book for young readers, Jake's Magic, both appeared. In Jake's Magic a young boy desperately wants to keep the stray cat he has found, despite all the logical arguments against the idea, and he finally devises a means to do so. Pam Harwood, reviewing the title in Books for Keeps, called it a "delightfully gentle story" that is "sensitively written." Readers "share Jake's dilemma right up to the unexpected ending," the critic added. In School Librarian, Ann G. Hay wrote that the story's "language is simple enough for the newly independent reader," making Jake's Magic worthy of a "welcome place" in the libraries of beginning readers.
Other beginning readers by Durant include the popular "Creepe Hall" series, as well as the books That's Not Right!, Spider McDrew, and Star Quest. In Creepe Hall, when young Oliver is sent to stay with distant relatives, he discovers that these relatives are ghosts and mummies straight out of a horror film. Calling the characters "chilling monsters of the cinema screen," Julia Marriage wrote in School Librarian that Durant's ghouls are "also friendly characters who can scare the villains of the story when necessary." Oliver soon finds himself allied with the servant, "Mummy," an ancient Egyptian mummy, to save Creepe Hall from poachers. As his new family weans Oliver off television, he in turn gently nudges them into late-twentieth-century technology. Marriage commented that the story "moves rapidly" and that the characters "are larger than life but never improbable or unbelievable," and further noted that this "fun" and "decidedly lively" read will appeal to those children who "do not find reading an enjoyable process." Magpies reviewer Russ Merrin called Creepe Hall "lightweight, but … also lots of fun!" Durant conjures up Oliver and the creature inhabitants of Creepe Hall in two further installments: Return to Creepe Hall and Creepe Hall for Ever!
In That's Not Right! a little girl named Ellie gets a lesson in viewpoint when she writes a story about a lowly bug that gets stepped on, and then hears the same story from a chatty bug's perspective as well as a third version, told by the shoe that did the actually stepping. Another young protagonist appears in the "Spider McDrew" books, which feature what School Library Journal critic Cynthia Grabke described as the most "lovable loser … since Charlie Brown." In Spider McDrew a young boy bumbles goodheartedly through life, forgetting his lines in the school play, inviting friends to a party on the wrong day, and makes a series of other minor muddles that many young readers can identify with, only to prove himself a winner at story's end.
Picture books from Durant include Snake Supper, Mouse Party, Angus Rides the Goods Train, and the playful If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood. In Snake Supper a hungry snake slithers through the forest, swallowing up all the animals in its path until it is stymied by an ingenious elephant. After the snake's undoing, all the animals he has swallowed survive unharmed, and the snake himself slithers away, happily unrepentant. Also featuring a jungle setting, If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood finds two children creeping through a dark forest alive with a unusual assortment of baboons, deer, and other creatures, while forest's tiger population trail behind the unaware children with a mysterious—and ultimately good-hearted—purpose. Writing in Books for Keeps, Liz Waterland called Snake Supper an "entertaining tale" and a "simple and enjoyable book with amusing illustrations," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer predicted that young readers "will likely applaud the solution achieved by an ingenious elephant." Noting the sense of fun in If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood, a Kirkus Reviews writer concluded that Durant's playful picture book will lead storytimers on an adventurous "outing with a toddler-pleasing combination of danger and safety."
Mouse Party tells the story of a mouse who moves into a deserted house and invites all his friends to a party: there is the Owl with a towel and the Hare with a chair, among others. Then an unexpected arrival—the elephant who lives in the house and is returning from vacation—surprises Mouse. "The text will delight those who are doing their first reading," commented a contributor for Kirkus Reviews, the critic adding that Durant's tale is "laced with humor and incident," and gives "new meaning to the phrase 'party animal.'" Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper found the simple text "clever" and the illustrations full of "visual excitement," dubbing Mouse Party an "energetic offering that has Party! written all over it."
Angus Rides the Goods Train tells of a dream train that chugs across the bedclothes after little Angus falls asleep. Entering this dream, the boy is frustrated that the train's driver refuses to stop for hungry people along the train route, and ultimately takes matters into his own small hands. A Junior Bookshelf reviewer called Angus Rides the Goods Train "an unusual picture book," while George Hunt, writing in Books for Keeps, remarked how "refreshing it is to find an imaginatively undidactic picture book … which vigorously and unashamedly celebrates that antiquated notion, the redistribution of wealth."
Durant often shares his love of sports—particularly soccer, which the British call football—with middle-grade readers in books such as The Fantastic Football Fun Book, The Kingfisher Book of Sports Stories, the eight-book series "Leggs United," and the "Bad Boyz" series of readers. "I believe in writing about things you know about," he explained, "and, even more, things that you are passionate about. I'm passionate about sport—and soccer in particular. Like it or loathe it, sport plays a massive role in many children's lives. It's a great subject for fiction, too, because you can address many different issues through it—bullying, self-confidence, friendship, justice."
Among Durant's novels and story collections for young-adult readers are The Good Book, A Short Stay in Purgatory, and Publish or Die. In The Good Book Durant portrays a fifteen-year-old gang leader named Ross who follows his local football team and with his gang members participates in all manner of hooliganism. Ironically, Ross takes inspiration from the Old Testament and also has his own ideas about serious issues ranging from the Gulf War to redemption. Enter a Youth Peace Mission and one of its members, Morgan, to whom Ross is romantically drawn. The teen begins to leave his violent life behind, until his drunken and cruel father returns and ratchets up the violence once more. Steve Rosson, reviewing the novel in Books for Keeps, called The Good Book an "unrelentingly grim read."
The dozen stories collected in A Short Stay in Purgatory "focus on the special hell which only teenage years can bring," according to Val Randall in Books for Keeps. In these tales, Durant focuses on themes from first love to crime, and from homosexuality to an unwanted pregnancy. Randall went on to mention that the "writing is clear and well-focused." A mystery, Publish or Die deals with a new publisher's assistant, young Calico Dance, who is fresh out of school and now encounters the worst sort of writer: a threatening one. An anonymous writer sends chapters of a book with a note that warns, "publish or die." When the publisher refuses such blackmail conditions, it becomes clear that the writer is very serious. Then it is up to Calico to try to stop matters before they turn deadly. "The plot moves at a good pace with plenty of red herrings along the way," noted Felicity Wilkins in School Librarian. Wilkins concluded that Publish or Die "is bound to be enjoyed by … fans in the secondary school."
In addition to writing, Durant is a frequent speaker in schools as a National Reading Campaign reading champion, and also gives writing workshops. Inspired by his love of sports and interest in young people, much of Durant's personal motivation stems from his personal spiritual beliefs. "Religion has been a preoccupation throughout my writing life," the author once told SATA. "I don't come from a religious background, but I started singing in a church choir at the age of nine or ten and most of my closest friends as a teenager were connected with the youth group attached to a number of churches in the area where I grew up. I've always believed in God, but my faith has fluctuated in intensity over the years. Whether or not there's an afterlife and what form it might take is the most persistent thorn in my flesh. There's barely a day goes by without me worrying about it. Given this, it's maybe surprising that I don't write about religion more; death, though, pops up quite regularly."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Mouse Party, p. 84; January 1, 1999, p. 857; May 1, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Big Bad Bunny, p. 370; July, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Always and Forever, p. 1847.
Books for Keeps, March, 1993, Pam Harwood, review of Jake's Magic, p. 9; March, 1995, Liz Waterland, review of Snake Supper, p. 9; March, 1996, Steve Rosson, review of The Good Book, p. 13; July, 1996, p. 6; January, 1997, George Hunt, review of Angus Rides the Goods Train, p. 20; September, 1997, Val Randall, review of A Short Stay in Purgatory, p. 29.
Junior Bookshelf, August, 1995, p. 134; December, 1996, review of Angus Rides the Goods Train, p. 230.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1995, review of Mouse Party, p. 1108; June 1, 2005, review of If You Go Walking in Tiger Wood, p. 635.
Magpies, September, 1995, Russ Merrin, review of Creepe Hall, p. 29; March, 1996, p. 27; July, 1996, p. 45; March, 1999, Margaret Phillips, review of Little Troll, pp. 28-29.
Observer (London, England), July 23, 1995, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of Snake Supper, p. 70; July 10, 1995, review of Mouse Party, p. 57; February 5, 1996, p. 90; January 26, 2004, review of Dear Tooth Fairy, p. 253.
School Librarian, February, 1992, Ann G. Hay, review of Jake's Magic, p. 19; August, 1995, Julia Marriage, review of Creepe Hall, p. 108; March, 1998, Felicity Wilkins, review of Publish or Die, p. 156; spring, 2001, review of Sports Stories, p. 46; summer, 2002, review of Leagues Apart and Kicking Off, p. 80.
School Library Journal, September, 1995, Alexandra Marris, review of Snake Supper, p. 169; August, 1998, p. 146; November, 1999, p. 67; November, 2000, Michael McCullough, review of Sports Stories, p. 154; February, 2001, Sue Sherif, review of Big Bad Bunny, p. 99; August, 2001, Nicole A. Cooke, review of Creepe Hall for Ever! (audiobook), p. 89; June, 2004, Rachel G. Payne, review of Always and Forever, p. 106; August, 2004, Christine E. Carr, review of That's Not Right!, p. 85, and Anne Knickerbocker, review of Brown Bear Gets in Shape, p. 86.
Times Educational Supplement, January 29, 1993, p. 10; May 27, 1994, p. 12; March 8, 1996, p. 4158; May 29, 1998, p. 857.
Alan Durant Home Page, http://www.alandurant.co.uk (October 20, 2005).
Jubilee Books Web site, http://www.jubileebooks.co.uk/ (May, 2003) interview with Durant.
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