Letters and artwork from a classroom in North Carolina

Posted on March 18, 2013 (Subscribe to Blog)

Each year, Brian Clopper – talented writer and illustrator as well as a good friend and really cool fifth-grade teacher – reads Island of Fog to his class. I'm still wondering how I got so lucky, how a teacher chose MY book over so many other possibles, but Island of Fog seems to have formed part of the Clopper Curriculum at his school in North Carolina. And each year, after reading the book, the students write me letters and show off their fabulous artwork.

I've put together all the questions in no particular order, along with my answers. But let's start with the art...

Letters and Artwork from Jones Dairy Elementary School

Click thumbnails for larger views of artwork!
(reset to original picture)

And now to the questions. I love the diversity of imponderables, and there are a lot of them!

How do you create your ideas?

What I DON'T do is sit down and stare with a perplexed expression at a screen and hope I'll get an idea. I believe that only happens on TV, and it always baffles me. In real life, an author has ideas all the time, just little ones that pop into his head at random times. He then chews on the idea and lets it undulate through his mind for a while. Eventually, if the idea is still nagging at him, he might start fleshing out the details.

Where do your word choices come from?

I just use what I have available in my head. Occasionally I'll look in a Thesaurus. Sometimes I end up using a word more than a few times. Interestingly, you all picked out a few words that I apparently use too many times in Island of Fog, and those words were undulate, perplexed and baffled. However, I counted and found that I'd used undulated only 5 times, perplexed 6 times, and baffled only once. I suspect I must have used the first two words in a short space of time, hence why you noticed them, but I'm baffled about the third since I only used it once!

Actually, there was one word I really had a problem with when I first wrote the book, and that was gloom or gloomy. I had to go through cutting it out, and now there are only 12 uses throughout. However, I used fog a staggering 271 times. But hey, it's a book about fog. What do you expect? :-)

How do you create your names?

Usually I look at websites that have lists of names and run through them finding names I like. I do the same with last names, then mix them all up until I have good, solid names. It's not completely random though, because parents tend to think about the names they give their children. They have to sound good, and roll off the tongue. In my later books, there's a character called Orson. His parents would never have called him Orson if their names were Mr. and Mrs. Cart, you see? That would be unfortunate.

Why does Fenton stay in serpent form?

Some of the children just can't make their transformations work properly. It takes time to learn that stuff, you know.

How do you come up with such brilliant work?

Oh, well... *turns red*

When did you start writing books?

I always liked writing, but started in earnest in 2002 after I moved from England to the United States. I was working from home in a strange land, and had time on my hands. It was just a good time to indulge in something I always enjoyed.

Are there other islands apart from Hal's?

Oh yes. But they're all ordinary, nothing strange about them at all.

Will the shapeshifters ever start an army?

Well, they're sort of an army already. But if you continue reading the series, you'll see such an army in Book 3, Mountain of Whispers.

Did you ever consider having one child turn into an owl to be a messenger?

Have you been watching Harry Potter again?

Is Hal always green as a dragon, or is it just his rash that's green?

He's always green. His rash is actually scaly dragon skin.

What color are Abigail's wings?

They're mostly transparent, much like a dragonfly's.

What do you write on?

My laptop (which mostly stays on my desk).

How long do you write daily?

It depends. I don't bother writing at all unless I can devote at least an hour. Since I work for myself, designing websites at home on my computer, sometimes I just decide to take a day off work and write. Then I can get a lot done!

What software do you use?

I've tried different things but always end up back on Microsoft Word (the old 2000 edition, just because I don't have the newer version).

What encouraged you to write this book?

The thought of being a world-famous author and earning millions of dollars and having a blockbusting movie made.

Does Hal ever fly?

You'll have to read other books in the series to find that out. ;-)

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

Finally getting past Chapter Eight. I wrote those first eight chapters several times and finally got it where I wanted it. I was super-excited when I at last moved on to the next act.

How old are you?

43. Why, does that change your opinion of me? *sob*

Who is your favorite monster in Island of Fog?

I have to go with the manticore here. I just think they're so deliciously sinister.

How long have you been writing?

About twenty minutes. Oh, wait, you mean overall? Since February 2002, so eleven years or thereabouts.

When did you start like writing and know you wanted to be a writer?

I always liked writing. The big question here is when I wanted to be an author. There's a difference between wishing I were an author and knowing I could actually be one. That transition came around November 2008 when I sent the manuscript to a professional editor and she said that, apart from a list of minor typos, it was publishable. I was amazed.

Could you have included a unicorn in the book?

I could have, but didn't. I had a centaur already, and I thought one equine-type was enough. But you'll discover, later in the series, that there are unicorns. One of Miss Simone's friends is one.

Do you like how Britain runs the government?

Uh – wow! Um. Honestly, I live in the USA now and have lost touch. But if you speak to someone who lives there, they'll probably say no, the country is going downhill for various reasons. But you could say that about any country. Everyone has a complaint. I don't remember a time when people walked around beaming and saying, "I just LOVE how the country is run at the moment, don't you?"

Do you have a map of Miss Simone's world?

Great question! I do have a map, although it's not publishable yet. It's something I intend putting together at some point. It includes the island plus all the surrounding area and coastline – in both worlds.

Does Miss Simone's world have a name?

It's simply Earth, as Hal's is. Both are the same place, just different. In retrospect I wish I'd called Miss Simone's world something different so I didn't have to keep saying "Hal's old world" and "Miss Simone's world," but oh well. Live and learn.

How did you decide to make the front cover a manticore?

It just stood out as being an obvious choice. The original cover was just the woods, but since later books had a creature of some kind taking centerstage, I decided I needed to do the same for Island of Fog. And rather than change it too much, I simply added the manticore, thus keeping the same scene of Black Woods in the background.

How long did it take you to write the book and edit it?

About six years in all. But subsequent books in the series have only taken six months. The main difference is that the first book was more of a hobby than anything. Once it was published and I started selling it, I got serious.

Do you like sports?

Um... well, I do like Dragon-Tag. Have you played that? It's just like normal tag, only with dragons. You need some friendly dragons, though; it can get messy when you involve the vicious types. I also like Hide-and-Seek-Dryads, but they always, always win for some reason.

How long have you known Mr. Clopper?

Since March 2010, which was when I received my first batch of letters and artwork for Island of Fog from the class at that time. We and our families eventually met in Asheville, which is about a four-hour drive for each of us, about halfway between his home in North Carolina and mine in Georgia. That was a great weekend break, yet still nowhere near enough time to talk about writing and drawing. Bah!

Do you know any other writers?

I know several, yes – Brian Clopper for a start, and Roger Eschbacher (who has written a lot of Scooby Doo episodes), and numerous others – and of course a best-selling author, Piers Anthony, whose books I read when I was sixteen.

How many books do you think you've read?

Since I learned to read? 1,404,232 and counting.

Do you write during the day or night?

Just whenever I can. It doesn't matter when as long as it's quiet. I write for longer periods during the morning (sometimes 3-4 hours) but I write more often for an hour or so late at night (after everybody else has gone to bed).

Does Mr. Clopper help you use our Word of the Day?

I don't know about your Word of the Day, but he does sometimes introduce me to a word I haven't used before. Like recently he used "tamped" and I decided I needed to make use of that one. It's a funny word. At the time, I said I hadn't heard of it before, but I suppose I had – it's just not one I've ever used. Now I see it everywhere I look!

Why did you make the goblins trustworthy?

And why not? Do you have something against poor goblins? Why should they always be the bad guys? ;-)

How did you come up with the creatures for the kids?

I just used whatever creatures popped into my head. Some were obvious choices, but about half of them were ones I decided on later. I wanted to make sure they were all different. I didn't want to have a manticore as well as a griffin and sphinx, for example, which you might say are similar in that they all take the form of a lion.

How many more IOF books will you write?

I have six in total planned at the moment, plus a prequel. Then I'll be taking a break. But I do plan to return to the series in the future, maybe after a year of doing other things.

Will you make another series?

Yes! I'm looking forward to the challenge of writing not only standalone books, but a new series as well.

How did the sea serpent get to the island in the first place?

The same way it got home at the end of the book.

Who is the sea serpent?

Ah, now, that's an interesting question. As it happens, the sea serpent is just a sea serpent. But when I was writing the book all those years ago, I had ideas about Miss Simone being the sea serpent. In the end it just didn't fit into the plot well enough.

What is Emily?

She's a naga.

What does a naga look like?

Half human, half snake. Take a look here for examples.

What exactly is Fenton?

He's a rare, unnamed monster lizard. At first the children thought of him as a gargoyle because of the way he stuck to walls and spouted water, but he's not that at all, as Graham the Gargoyle will confirm. In a later book, Miss Simone wanted to call the monster an oroborous, which is a giant serpent symbolizing infinity. The creature might be found circling a moat and chewing on its own tail, thus forming a complete circle. But Fenton remains unnamed. He's a creature I made up.

Did you get any of these ideas from childhood experience?

Oh, sure. I was always tangling with dragons and manticores and the like. :-)

Are there any writers who inspired you?

Enid Blyton (an English author who died in 1968, the year before I was born). Her books were fabulous, full of adventure and mystery. Oddly enough, I didn't read fantasy back then, just young detective stories – but these days I don't read crime and mystery, only fantasy and science fiction. Later, in my teens, I read Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and many others.

Who will play Hal in the movie?

That depends on when the movie is made. As you know, children grow up fast, and there's no point speculating about a young actor to play Hal when that actor might be too old by the time the movie is made. Plus of course, it would help if a movie were actually being made in real life instead of just in my head.

What color is Abigail's hair?

Dark brown.

Will Hal and Abigail start dating in other books?

Maybe. ;-)

Well, I hope that answers all the questions successfully! Students, thanks so much for taking the time to write and draw. I hope you enjoyed Island of Fog. The real test is whether you went on to buy any of the other books in the series. But either way, isn't it better to read about shapeshifting children than boring old Shakespeare?

Comment by BRIAN B. on Monday, March 18, 2013...

Ha! What fun it must be to get all that artwork and questions!
I'm delighted that my eight year old girl loves The Famous Five. I have to admit however that she's watching the 1996 TV show video (which is pretty good) with me on my tablet while we hole up inside a 5 foot high TARDIS in her bedroom. I want to buy her the set of original books. Don't worry, when she's older, she'll be reading Island of Fog series!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, March 18, 2013...

You sound EXACTLY like me. No wonder we get along. I also liked the Five Find-Outers and Dog, Barney, the Secret Series, and the Adventure Series, but I do have fond memories of the Famous Five as well, particularly Five Go to Smuggler's Top with Castaway Hill in the middle of the marshes. I recently saw The Woman in Black (most recent movie version) and its house in the marshes reminded me of Smuggler's Top.

And I'm a Doctor Who. Seen every episode dating back to 1963, once owned all the books, etc. I hear the Ice Warriors are returning in the second half of the new season. :-)

But I digress...

Comment by BRIAN B. on Monday, March 18, 2013...

I read all the EB books except for the Five Find-Outers and Barney! I guess we're not that similar after all. Ha!

Smuggler's Top has got to be St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, March 18, 2013...

I always thought the same thing, Brian. In fact I said as much in my review on my Enid Blyton website. (I just noticed that the "marshland" link doesn't work now; must fix that sometime.)

But no, we're obviously nothing alike if you've never read the Five Find-Outers or Barney books. Tsk.

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Monday, March 18, 2013...

Great entry! I'll be sure to have my kids comment on this post tomorrow in computer lab. They will love poring over all your great answers. Thanks for doing this every year!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, March 18, 2013...

Thank YOU, Other Brian. So many Brians in the world... Well, two that matter anyway. Looking forward to the deluge of comments. :-)

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

My students will start posting at 12:55. Posters, start your engines.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

That's great — and since I'll be out for a while (not back until 1:30pm or later) I'll set the comment section to auto-approve so you don't have to wait on me. I'll tidy up any problems when I get back!

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

How fun! Fantastic artwork and some very smart questions from Mr. Clopper's students. (Okay, the answers are pretty good, too!)

Comment by LAILABUGG on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

your books are awesome but How do you get the idea of these mutant kids

Comment by MAXIMUS on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Hello Mr.Robinson im a student from Mr.Cloppers class.I really like your island of the fog books there so awesome.But I havent read your 2nd book of island of the fog.But soon i will!Also how many books have you made in your life time?

Comment by LEAH on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

thank you for anwsering all of our questions and sharing our pictures, we all enjoyed your book

Comment by CAMI on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Hey my name is Cami from Mr. Cloppers class 5th grade, how do you create your names?

Comment by J-DOG on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Thanks for posting the pictures. I think your book was really awsome. I just started the second book. I am on page fourty. I hope over trackout I can go to Barnes and Nobil to get the rest of the books in the series!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by ELIZABETH on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I love Island of Fog but I got a question.Does Hal date Abigail?I know you said maybe,but I just want to know!Also I want to know,How many other writers do you know?

Comment by SCOTT on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Right I am reading your second book.I like the cover of your second book.What does Robbie look like?

Comment by SYDNEY on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Those books that you wrote were fascinating and interesting.Thank you for posting those pictures and writing. I really hope you keep writing books because let me tell you, your pretty good at it !! :)

Comment by MARY on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I loved island of fog. I loved it so much that i am going to read the rest of the series.

Are you going to make another island of fog book?

Comment by GABRIELLE on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I'm getting ready to start your 2nd book I'm super excited.

Comment by GIO B. on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Will there be another Shapeshifter that joins Hal's Posse

Comment by ANDREW on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I am trying to get a hold of Labrynth Of Fire.

Comment by ALEX on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

i seriously like your books but i feel like you should cut down on british words

Comment by JOHN on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Your book is amazing! Can't wait to read the next one!:)

Comment by KAELAN on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Thank you for posting the commentes I really liked your answers. THey were funny=-) is that how you do a smile? D o you think that the guestions weere kind of repeditive? Well any way thanks for posting the questions.

Comment by CAM on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I love Island of Fog,plus i like the british words in it to.Another thing I like is the suspense you make it makes it interesting,and it brings the reader in.One cool thing is if you put youself in as a cool monster. :-)

Comment by JULIAR on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Yo, Mr. R! I hope to start reading the other books soon, because like I said in my letter, youre and AWESOME writer. I don't know how old they get by the end of the series, but it would be cool if Abigail and Hal got to date!!!! :)))

Comment by JULIAR on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...


Comment by O V I E on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I started reading your second book "LABRYTH OF FIRE" its really intresting but somewhere in chapter two it says to boys called abigal and hal freaks why is that because at elsewhere i thought they are all kind of mythical creatures.??!!!

Comment by BRI on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Thanks for posting my picture on your blog :) !!!

Comment by ASHLEY on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Your books are awesome! They have great words, a very nice storyline and amazing different creatures.Thank you for posting our pictures, questions, and comments on the site!

Comment by JESSALYN on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Thank you for posting our letters and drawings on your website. I can't wait to read the next books over track out!! :-D

Comment by MARSHMELLO on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I loved your book, how many books are you up to?

Comment by LYSSABUG on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

hi i have loved your book and enjoyed writing to you about it. Great vocabulary your book was very creative i was still wondering what is it about writing that makes you say this is what i want to do. Basically i am asking what turns you on about writing a bunch of people have a passion for the things they do buti have never seen anything like your stories.In a good way and i didn't forget about you MR.CLOPPER.Great stories.

Comment by FAITH on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Thank you for answering all of are questions and putting are pictures on your blog.

Comment by CLAY on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

You should really start using this. :-I instead of this. ;-). thankjs for the ansewer and remember use this :-I!!!!!!

Comment by MAXIMUS on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Clay you also can use :D

Comment by NOAH on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I am reading all the books in the IOF series.I am on book 4.The books you wrote inspired me to draw all the kids in their mutant form.I have heard about a new IOF series when Miss.Simone was a shapeshifting kid.I look foward to reading them.I am wondering have you read ERAGON?

Comment by ALEX on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Hi,I really like your book.I love the description on your characters.But I gots to know do Abigail and Hal start dating.

Comment by TOBUSCUS on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Mr.keith i am already on your 2nd book but are you going to make a other series about ms. simone? also do you have a wife because you look like you should:)!!!!!

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

Okay, we just spent ten minutes reviewing our grammar mistakes. Boy, there were plenty of them! I guess all of next quarter will have to be about: spelling, periods, apostrophes, homophones, spaces, serial commas, and not pointing out that a person looks like they should have a wife! :-I

Comment by CAM on Tuesday, March 19, 2013...

I made some mistakes when i typed it down,like of how i'm probably making some now. I wish you could come to our school,which would be cool. Plus this is my zombie Rock On face. \m/ :-[] \m/ !!!!

Comment by TOBUSCUS on Wednesday, March 20, 2013...

good morning mr keith i'm srry 2 say we are tracking out 2day i will read your book over the track out do you still have a gobsmackingly vast beard stay cool!

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Thursday, March 28, 2013...

> Do you like how Britain runs the government?

Hah! If only it did! Britain elects MPs from parties that then form a government amongst themselves. They then spend the next five years making easy soft decisions so that voters aren't too upset by the next election. They put themselves before what's right for the country.

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