I grew up in South London in a rambling Victorian house with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 1 little sister, an antique dealer dad and an artist mum. I have always wanted to tell stories, and as a child I found inspiration visiting TV and film sets including James Bond and Postman Pat, where my mum worked as a costume designer.
After studying at art college and film school, I worked as an animator on commercials, pop videos and 2 BAFTA winning children’s TV shows. I wrote and directed several successful short films before I became a children’s writer. I now live in North London with my partner Michael, a fox who visits our garden, and a clutter of house spiders.
- I love reading books and watching films almost as much as I love creating them!
- My favourite children’s book is probably The Witches by Roald Dahl. I love all Roald Dahl books and I think the illustrations by Quentin Blake are as much a part of the story as Roald Dahl’s words.
- I was born and grew up in London.
- I went to two different primary schools, both were down the road from my house.
- I loved comic books as a kid, especially Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Herge’s Tintin and Carl Bark’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck adventure comics. Plus The Beano and The Dandy, which I read every week.
- As a kid I used to draw my own comics and illustrate my own stories. This is a great way to get started writing! I would staple the pages together at the end to make a book.
- I loved many other authors growing up, including: Philip Pullman, Joan Aiken, Terry Pratchett, Eva Ibbotson, Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones, J R Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Enid Blyton. C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll.
- I love lots of contemporary children’s and YA authors too. Including Katherine Rundell, Robin Stevens, Piers Torday, Abi Elphinstone, Katherine Woodfine, Lorraine Gregory, Sophie Anderson, Catherine Johnson, James Nicol, SF Said, Candy Gourlay, Patrice Lawrence, Stewart Foster, Ross Welford, Christopher Edge, Kathryn Evans, MG Leonard, Maz Evans, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Emma Carroll and Lara Williamson. I am glad to have met all of them, and am honoured to call many of them friends.
- Some of my favourite films are: Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Watership Down, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (or any hand-drawn Disney movie!), Kiki’s Delivery Service and Laputa – Castle in the Sky.
- Cogheart was Waterstones Children’s book of the month August 2016. It won the Awesome Book Award, The Dudley Teen Book Award and Sefton Super Reads. It for was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Book Prize and the Branford Boase.
- My animation work on The Secret Show (BBC) and Yoko Jakamoko Toto (ITV) for Collingwood Animation contributed to 4 BAFTAs.
- My short animation film Mind Games was a finalist for Virgin Media Shorts Award (2008) and screened in over 200 UK cinemas.
- I have an MA in Animation from the National Film & Television School.
- I also studied at Alleyn’s School, Chelsea College, Surrey Institute and Central St Martins.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Cogheart Adventure books about?
The Cogheart Adventure books are fantastical action-packed stories for ages 9+ set in an alternative Victorian world. They feature three main characters: Lily, the fiery and quick-witted daughter of two world famous inventors, Robert, a talented and thoughtful clockmaker’s son and Malkin, a scruffy and opinionated mechanical fox. The three heroes must use every ounce of their courage and cunning as they face a series of mysterious life-threatening adventures!
What inspired you to write the Cogheart Adventures?
I was reading about various clockwork robots that existed in the Eighteenth century, before Victorian times. They were called automatons and were incredible pieces of engineering.
Some of them still survive; if you look them up on youtube you will see how amazing they are. Here’s a couple:
Automatons were built to do simple tasks; like write their name or a few lines of poetry; play a musical instrument or do a card trick. Some were even parts of complex clocks and their movements told the time.
Why did you choose clockwork Robots
I wondered what if these automatons got so good that they could do anything and everything? What if, though they were mechanical robots, they became almost human? Could a spark of life exist inside them? Could they think and feel? And what would that mean for their inventors and owners?
Why did you decide to set the stories in a Victorian world?
Having decided to write about automatons I had to find a world they would fit in. I thought – what if I set the story in a time over a hundred years after the invention of the first automaton, in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign, possibly by then, in this fictional world, automatons might have got so good they could do anything.
I also knew I wanted to write a big action adventure story with these fantastical elements in, and I decided I could bring these together more easily in a ‘steampunk’ setting. So it’s a Victorian world with penny-dreadfuls, airships and steam-driven and clockwork machines – rather than merely a factual representation of historical Victorian life.
When did you become an author?
I became an author when my first book Cogheart was published in 2016.
Before I was published, I wrote lots of other things: scripts for short films and features, poetry, short stories. I wrote a YA novel that never was finished, and I even kept a diary for a few years (both as a kid and as an adult).
So although I only recently became a published author, I have always been a writer and storyteller.
I read on google that you were seventy-two years old. Are you?
Do I look seventy-two years old to you?!? The answer is no, I am not seventy-two years old. Yet.
But there is another Peter Bunzl in America who is, and because we have the same name Google keeps getting us mixed up. I spoke to him once and he seems a jolly nice fellow. Apparently, we’re vaguely related, and his son, Todd Philips, directed the Hangover movies, which is cool!
Which of your books is your favourite?
I couldn’t really choose. They’re like individual characters and I love different things about each of them.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
I suppose I should give the same answer. But the real answer is probably Malkin the mechanical fox. He’s the most fun to write as he can be rude and snarky to other people in the story. And he’s able to say things that you wouldn’t be able to in real life and get away with it!
He’s a little bit based on the foxes who used to visit our garden. The Dog and Vixen came back in the summer of 2020, during lockdown, with their family of cubs. You can see a video I took of them here…
Where do you do your writing?
Either at my desk in my office at home, or I go to one of the libraries like the British Library or the local one to do edits because it’s quieter there, or a cafe if I want somewhere a bit noisier.
How long does it take you to write your books?
It took about three years to write Cogheart, and about a year each for Moonlocket, Skycircus and Shadowsea.
Each one went through multiple drafts and edits with my editor, at least five or six, and they changed quite a lot along the way. My editor reads each draft of the book when I have written it and gives lots of advice to help make the story better, either in emails or in notes that she writes on the manuscript.
Can you describe your writing process?
I sit down at a desk with the computer monitor in front of me and try and write for a few hours each day. I use a word processing program called Scrivener, because I love the way you can keep all your documents and chapters together but separate. It lets you see the structure of your novel in one window and jump between different parts.
When I’m not writing I have a notebook for the ideas that come at odd times, and a writing diary where I try and keep track of my word counts and how it’s all going – just a short note for each, so I know if I’m on track or not.
What’s a Synopsis?
I try to write a synopsis before I begin each book. The synopsis is a brief summary of what the story is going to be about. It can be about three pages, or sometimes I will write a longer, more detailed synopsis of ten or twenty pages.
The synopsis is like your roadmap for the journey you’re about to take into the book. It’s there to help you to find a way through to the end, especially when things get dark in the middle and you might not know where you’re going.
What is your drafting process?
For the first and second draft, I like to sometimes detour a bit from the synopsis and experiment with other ways the story might go. This is a good way to discover stronger ideas, because new things come to you as you write.
In later drafts I end up cutting chunks of things that don’t work, especially when I am trying to replace and re-jig the story. I am a bit of an over-writer and I hate to get rid of stuff once it’s written, but sometimes you know it’s wrong and you have to take it out.
What is your final editing process?
For the last couple of draft I try to make key scenes longer and deeper, adding in much needed emotional detail. My editors are very good at flagging these things and bringing them to the fore, and they really help me add lots of depth to the stories and characters through their questions and suggestions.
Your book covers are amazing. Who was responsible for them and did you have any say in the final design?
Thanks, I absolutely love them all and have been chuffed to bits when I saw the final versions of each!
I get to see early drafts and can comment, but they alway look quite different with all the gorgeous illustrations in place.
They were all designed by Kath Millichope who is one of the in-house designers at Usborne, and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. They’ve both captured the adventure, excitement and magic of the books spectacularly. I had great fun animating the covers for promotional purposes and you can see that, and other fun bits and pieces on the page for each book.
What were the first stories you ever wrote?
I started writing when I was about nine or ten years old. I used to write, picture books and comics for my mum and dad and sister. I loved coming up with the different characters and creating adventures for them to go on. I would illustrate my books too and then I would fold the pages together and staple them to make a book to read to my friends or family. That was how I got started writing. Here is one of my early stories…
What advice would you give to writers who are just starting out?
It takes a lot of work and determination to write a book, and a big part of it is being brave enough to begin, so if you’ve done that already you’re off to a good start!
Try to read and write as much as you can. The writing is for practise and the reading so you can get to know how stories and the techniques of writing work. If you can do both things and stick to them and finish the stories you start then you will be well on your way to becoming a writer.
Remember, have fun, be creative, write about the things that bring you joy and interest you.
There are many places online where you can find free writing advice.
I believe you should only take advice that helps you, because no two people have the same way of writing. The rest, feel free to ignore.
Thank you, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this Q and A.
Download some promo pictures…
Picture credit: Michael Hayes