clockwork dragon

Find out about the
new version of this
story, illustrated by
Elys Dolan

As read by
Jonas Armstrong
on the CBeebies
Bedtime Hour

Illustrated by Mark Oliver

When Tom, a young toymaker, offers to rid the kingdom of a ferocious dragon, the king just laughs in his face. But then Tom meets Lizzie, and together they come up with an extraordinary plan.
The two children wind-up in a thrilling adventure in which the dastardly dragon finally meets his match.

"A wonderful tale of knights, dragons and battles ... rich in language and illustration ... this book will be highly successful with lower junior readers."

Gwynneth Bailey, BOOKS FOR KEEPS

"An exciting and appealing story for boys aged four to seven"



UK Hardcover •ISBN-10: 0192763350 • ISBN-13: 9780192763358

UK Paperback • ISBN-10: 0192763369 •ISBN-13: 9780192763365


However you can still buy a signed copy and may be
able to order a remaindered or second-hand copy
through amazon by using the sales links below.
Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US find your local bookshop

Illustrations © 2008 Mark Oliver, reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press

This is one of my own illustrations from an unpublished project that was a forerunner of the clockwork dragon.

The very first book I worked on for a publisher was a pop-up called Scraposaurus Wrecks about a dinosaur made from scrap metal.  Although completed, the book was never published, but I always thought the idea of driving around in a huge metal creature was hugely appealing and hoped to salvage it one day.

A few years later, I was chatting to Lara Hancock, my editor at OUP, and bemoaning the fact that, while there are hundreds of cute-animal/fairy/princess/ballerina picture books that appeal predominantly to little girls, boy-typical tastes are rarely catered for in the same uncompromising manner. Story elements that are typically appealing to boys – scary monsters, evil villains, cool technology, conflict and peril – are often regarded as no-go zones by picture book publishers, so it's little wonder that more boys than girls abandon books and turn to television, comics and video-games, which feature such elements in abundance.  Lara was keen to address this and suggested a loose brief for such a book; a medieval fantasy involving knights1 and mechanical contraptions.

It occurred to me that my big metal creature idea could be adapted to fit this brief, since a dinosaur is very similar to a medieval dragon, and That's how Tom's Clockwork Dragon was born. 

Although I was able to recycle the creature itself, the plot of the original pop-up book was not suitable, so I had to come up with something new.  I started with the image of the mechanical dragon in my mind and worked outwards.  Who would build such a thing and why?  Would it be used for good or evil?  Children usually find stories more engaging if they are centred on a child, so I decided that a child should build the dragon, but what sort of child would know how to build a mechanical animal?  That’s how I came with the central character of Tom, the toymaker’s apprentice, and ‘The Toymaker’s Apprentice’ was the original title for the story2.

Although I set out to write a story that would appeal uncompromisingly to boy-typical tastes, there are girls who share the same enthusiasms3 and I wanted to have a character that they could identify with as well. So while the story features a resourceful hero, there’s a tough heroine in the form of Lizzie the armourer’s daughter too.

Mark’s first dragon design was quite different from the final design.

Lara Hancock left OUP shortly after accepting the text and the book was passed to a new editor, Helen Mortimer, who along with designer, Molly Dallas, set about finding a suitable illustrator.

If you’re trying to create an engaging picture book involving machines, then getting the story right is only half the battle. If the illustrations don’t show the same enthusiasm for technology then the whole project fails.  The key visual element of this book was the clockwork dragon.  If it didn’t look convincing in the illustrations then the book would not have the right appeal.  It needed to have a distinct personality, while being recognisably man-made.  This is a tall order and there are relatively few picture book illustrators who are equal to the task.

Several illustrators prepared sample illustrations, each showing the clockwork dragon, but Mark Oliver’s artwork stood out from the others.  The dragon in Mark’s first sample was still quite a way from what we wanted, but the way Mark had drawn it suggested he had all the right skills.

Once on board, Mark quickly grasped how the dragon needed to look - powerful and sufficiently menacing to scare off a real dragon – and his revised design made it obvious that we had chosen the right illustrator for the job.

Mark’s detailed style and his commitments to other projects meant that the illustrations took two years to complete, but I think that they were well worth the wait.  Although the human characters are drawn very appealingly, I think Flamethrottle and the clockwork dragon are the real stars of the story and I love the dramatic way in which Mark has illustrated their confrontation in the second half of the book.


1: As it turned out, there are no actual knights in my story, as Flamethrottle, the real dragon, has eaten them all before the story starts.

2: People often assume that when the toymaker tells Tom, "You're a useless apprentice and YOU'RE FIRED!", it's a reference to Alan Sugar's catchphrase in The Apprentice TV series. However I wrote the story in February 2004, a couple of years before the first series of the TV show.

3: The last book I’d written specifically with boy-typical tastes in mind was Pigs Might Fly.  Sometimes at the end of a school session, I’d ask the children which of my books they enjoyed the most.  Pigs Might Fly inevitably got ALL of the boys’ votes, but it usually got around a half of the girls’ votes too.

is for


Obediar's Clockwork Dragon

A couple of years after the book came out we asked a local sculptor, Obediar Madziva, to make one of his scrap metal sculptures for us.

Obediar is originally from Zimbabwe and we’d seen an impressive giraffe sculpture he had done and were going to ask him to do something similar. It turned out that Obediar had done several giraffes and would welcome the opportunity to do something different, so I suggested he might do a clockwork dragon instead.

The fabulous result (shown below with Obediar), now sits in the corner of our garden, casting its steely gaze towards the house.

This is a wonderful tale of knights, dragons and battles! A boy and girl work together to rid their land of Flamethrottle the dragon for ever, using both ideas and creativity to make a mechanical dragon. The illustrations are in vibrant colour, full of detail and jokes. Will young readers want to make their own dragon-battler? They will certainly want to read this tale again and again, for tension grows as Flamethrottle almost defeats the clanking, run-down clockwork dragon. At this point, the resolution is held in the balance, providing an ideal opportunity for children to create different story endings. Rich in language and illustration and begging to be dramatised, this book will be highly successful with lower junior readers.

Gwynneth Bailey, BOOKS FOR KEEPS

An exciting and appealing story for boys aged four to seven with artwork by the award-winning illustrator of Robot Dog.


This lively picture book uses fairy tale elements in a new story ... The illustrations are bright and energetic, in full, saturated colour and the narrative is well structured and fluent, with lots of italics for emphasis and drama which will help with reading aloud.