A new team of spies!
15th Aug 17

A new team of spies!

Look out for a ragdoll, a bear and a robot rabbit - the newest team of spies have arrived! Author MARK POWERS tells us more!

Dan, a super-strong teddy bear; Arabella a ragdoll with serious temper issues; and Flax, a robot rabbit with ace digital skills, are all rejects from the toy factory and the police force. But what failed them as toys makes them super-smart spy toys!

We asked author Mark Powers to tell us what inspired Spy Toys - and what they'll be getting up to next!

Q: Have you always wanted to write books for children?

A: I've created radio adverts and audio for telephone systems, but I've always been a writer too. I sold my first bit of professional writing when I was 17 - some comedy material to a show on Radio 4.

Many of the peculiar ideas I have seem to work best in the world of children's literature.

Q: We meet some great toys in your new Spy Toys books. What were your favourite childhood toys?

A: I was very keen on Rubik's Cube, which was the must-have toy when I was growing up. I could solve it in about half an hour, which is really rubbish compared to those genius kids who take about fifteen seconds!

Another toy I really liked was called The Game of Jaws and it was based on the Spielberg film. You had this large plastic shark and had to hook all the items of junk it had swallowed from its mouth. If you weren't careful the jaws would snap shut and give you a fright.

Q: What inspired your idea for Spy Toys?

A: I'd had an idea for ages about a teddy bear, a rag doll and a rabbit who share a flat and it struck me as funny to take these soft, cuddly toys and make them tough and put them into action-film type stories.

And being a teddy bear who was too strong to give anyone a hug seemed like a delicious problem to give a character.

Q: Are you a James Bond fan or did other spies inspire the toys' career choice?

A: I am a bit of a Bond fan (although my girlfriend is far more of one than me - she even collects old editions of the Ian Fleming novels) but I only really became interested in spy fiction in the past few years, ever since I started writing the Spy Toys books. I've become a big fan of John le Carre. He creates the most marvellous atmospheres in his books and his characters are brilliant, too.

Q: Were the Spy Toys always going to be a rag doll, a bear and a rabbit or did you have other toys in mind?

A: They were but in the original flat-sharing idea, Flax was the only one who was a robot. Once I started writing the first book I realised I didn't want the toys to be alive due to magic so I invented the Snaztacular Ultrafun company who specialise in the manufacture of robotic toys.

Q: Do you have a favourite Spy Toy? Is there one you'd like to bring home with you?

A: Arabella the short-tempered rag doll is my favourite because she's fun to write although she's the last one you'd want to bring home for tea as it would probably end in a huge argument, if not outright violence. Dan would be very handy for moving furniture and opening jars whose lids have stuck. Flax would be able to fix my laptop when it goes wrong.

Q: If you ran your own Snaztacular Ultrafun toy factory making super duper toys that can do incredible things - what toy would you have it make?

A: A life-size board game might be fun. Snakes and ladders with real snakes!

Q: How do you come up with your baddies? (you have one with an elephant's head, another is a giant hedgehog...)

A: A lot of the ideas in the Spy Toys books come from taking things from the world of childhood and exaggerating them into some kind of threat. So Rusty Flumptrunk the half human/half elephant hybrid is a breakfast cereal mascot who's turned dangerous - a sort of psychotic Tony the Tiger!

With Professor Doomprickle the giant hedgehog - kids love to feed hedgehogs that visit their gardens but what people don't always realise is you mustn't give them bread and milk because it makes them ill. So I imagined what would happen if a hedgehog became super-intelligent and wanted to pay back the human race for all those upset tummies...

Q: What next for the Spy Toys trio?

A: Book 3 - Spy Toys: Undercover comes out in February! Our heroes are sent into an ordinary primary school disguised as pupils to investigate the disappearance of a chocolate factory. The first illustrations are starting to come in for it and they're looking fab.

Q: What are your top tips for children's writing action adventure stories?

A: Twists and turns in the action are very important. Just as you think your heroes have solved one problem you need to throw something else at them. And no matter how formidable the setbacks they face, your heroes always have to pick themselves up and soldier on. That's what makes them heroes.

Q: If you could build your own writer's shed, what would it look like and where would it be?

A: I am terrible at DIY so any writer's shed I built would be an absolute death-trap. I'd end up being rescued from it by the fire brigade. If I bought one off the peg it would have to go in the communal garden outside the house where our flat is, which would draw some odd looks from the other residents. And what do you do if it rains?

The nice part about writing in the spare room is that it's a very short and easy commute. I don't relish trudging outside through a downpour to some draughty old shed. Imagine how many Roald Dahl books went unwritten because he peeped through the curtains in the morning, saw snow coming down and thought, "Stuff this, I'm going back to bed".

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