Mastermind behind The Treebobs books
Declan Harney lives in Lancashire, England on the coast. He is best known for his Treebob books. He started writing in 2010 with the first of these books, The Treebobs and the Dizzy Broomsticks, being published that year.
Such was the success of this first book that it was soon followed by The Treebobs and the Runaway Cauldron, The Treebobs and the Giant Mole, The Treebobs Rescue Rotten Rena and The Treebobs Save Christmas. His latest book in the series is The Treebobs and Air Rena which is helping to support Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Charity.
He is also a successful narrator and is currently busy writing The Shop that Sold Wishes and Magic as well as the Treebob series.
SD: You have been described by an audio book store as a highly praised author for your Treebob book series. How did this adulation make you feel?
DH: Surprised and thrilled. I also have a big thank you to Lindsay Abbott for her lovely narration of my stories which really brought them to life.
SD: Can you give us a bit of a history of this mastermind of a series?
DH: Thank you for the compliment. I actually started with the idea by watching squirrels at play in a sycamore tree while sat in a car park ringing various agencies in search of work. I remember watching the squirrels knock the seeds down and I started to dream up the idea of the Treebobs. The Treebobs were then used in a traditional fairy story which has never been published as I was asked to do more stories that featured them and the first story, The Treebobs and the Dizzy Broomsticks, was written.
SD: Who are the Treebobs and why have they been described as the wackiest race?
DH: The wackiest race is actually the witches’ “great egg and cauldron race” in The Treebobs and the Runaway Cauldron which the Treebobs sabotage. The Treebobs are little elves who live on the magic sycamore tree with the tree fairies including Bindweed Belle. They arrived in the Enchanted Forest as refugees from their own land which was destroyed by an environmental disaster and are taken in by the tree fairies on their magic sycamore tree. This is when we meet the good fairy, Bindweed Belle, and of course the wicked witch, Rotten Rena.
SD: Though the stories are written in the fiction/fantasy genres you have a creative gift of making the stories come to life in that, when you read the Treebob series, it is as though you can envision the actual scenes taking place. Was this your vision from the start?
DH: That’s very kind of you to say. When I am outside walking to work or just sat in the park parts of a story often come to me and I do often visualize a scene in the Enchanted Forest which I then try and write about. When I am writing about Rotten Rena, for example, and think about her character, I imagine what her kitchen would be like, where she would hide her magical potions and what sort of junk she would keep under her bed. These details, even if not in the book, all help in the characterization. So, yes, I do often see the scenes in my mind’s eye particularly life on the Treebob tree and Rotten Rena’s antics.
SD: There are two wicked witches in the Treebob series who are villains. One witch is called Rotten Rena and the other is Badlot Barbara who is Rotten Rena’s cousin. Why did you want to add witches to the Treebob series?
DH: I love witches, absolutely love them, and of course they are wonderful as the story book baddie! However, I feel it important to give them a character beyond traditional cackling and all round wickedness. So with Rotten Rena we see the hapless side of her with her often disastrous use of magic that makes her comical. She is easily led by her far more wicked cousin, Badlot Barbara. Now, of course, Rena can be scared by just one person who is her mother, Meddlesome Maud. The one thing that Maud loves to do is meddle in Rena’s affairs. This she often does and we do see a lot more of her in the later stories. So far, we know of Maud through the “Gramagram,” a witches telephone, when she announces to the unsuspecting Rena that she has “grasped the hemlock and squeezed the newt.” She forces Rena to enter the egg and cauldron race, which Rena hasn’t got a hope of winning, or give up her job as wicked witch of the Enchanted Forest.
SD: Rotten Rena is obsessed, if you will, with winning at all costs and concocts plans to see the Treebobs fail. Is it important to write children’s stories about good versus evil? If so, what message are you sending to young children and can they learn from these stories even if they are fictional?
DH: I think it's very important to give a positive message to children and, of course, the theme of good versus evil is the ideal medium to deliver this message. With Rena it’s possible to see the excesses of greed and selfishness and when this is contrasted with the kind and generous Treebobs and tree fairies, a good message is put out especially with Rena’s hapless nature and the fact she isn’t terribly good at magic!
SD: What sort of relationship do the fairies have with the Treebobs?
DH: They have a lovely relationship. They became friends after they arrived as refugees and the fairies saved them from Rotten Rena and invited them to live on the magic sycamore tree. The fairies are represented by Bindweed Belle who helps the Treebobs thwart all the wicked machinations of Rotten Rena and Badlot Barbara and between them they have tremendous fun doing just that.
SD: Mr. McCloud is said to be one of the most magical characters in the series. Tell us about Mr. McCloud and what role does he play?
DH: Mr. McCloud is just pure magic and mystery. He lives in a huge cloud called Sky High Tower which, of course, moves about and sometimes isn’t even there at all and he makes rain clouds through his umbrella. He is the uncle of Treebob Brenda Breezewater who describes him as a cloud-maker and he is a jolly, mischievous character who finds it quite funny to make rain clouds appear without warning to give people a good soaking. In The Treebobs and Air Rena it is his ability to make clouds, together with the Treebobs and the Queen Bee and her swarm, that finally bring Rena’s plans with her airship back down to earth.
SD: The tales of the Treebobs have a great storyline followed by excellent illustrations that flow together very nicely. What was your collaboration like with the illustrator?
DH: The collaboration with Gops (my illustrator) has been tremendous and it’s largely down to him that the printed books are possible. I email him my requirements and he interprets them. For example, I described how I wanted Mr. McCloud to look and what I wanted him to wear and a pencil sketch arrived followed by the colour version and Mr. McCloud was born.
SD: I have listened to you narrate how the Treebobs were birthed and I must admit that the narration was very well done. Have you done narrations for other authors’ books?
DH: Yes, I have, which is tremendous fun. I work for several days on reading the book then send some samples to the author to check they are happy with it and then record it.
SD: I read that the audio for the Treebob series was heard all over the world, an amazing accomplishment might I add, you must be beaming. Do you mind if I ask you in what countries was the audio distributed and what were some of the feedback and reviews like?
DH: Yes, the books have reached Canada, Singapore, Australia, the US etc. The reviews and feedback has in general been wonderful and I have been truly stunned by some of the compliments I have received. Some lovely reviews have actually shown children drawing the witches especially from The Dizzy Broomsticks which I think is just wonderful.
SD: You write under a pseudonym. Is there a reason why?
DH: Well, I have quite a technical job in my other life outside the Enchanted Forest and have managed to write a number of text books in my own name. Having the same name for the Treebob series would have probably proved quite perplexing and so I went for an old family name which is Declan Harney.
SD: How are the Treebob series and the Treebob characters different from other children’s book series that may be similar?
DH: Well, first of all, they have various themes in them which are explored gently such as an environmental theme and working together to achieve an objective etc. They also have magic but some stories introduce with the magic an element of science. For example, in The Treebobs Rescue Rotten Rena we hear how one of Rena’s spells goes wrong when she tries to create a slimming potion based on the spell which says “weight loss potion.” This is because she has confused in her spell book the difference between weight loss and slimming i.e. weight and mass. This results in Rena becoming weightless but not getting any slimmer. It’s a funny story but has messages such as having a positive body image and, of course, the understanding that mass does not necessarily equate with weight.
SD: What’s next for The Treebobs?
DH: Oh, there is a lot due to happen. Rotten Rena’s mother is soon to make a comeback and she is at her very worst with poor old Rena. Things come to a head when she wants to move in with Rotten Rena and once again the Treebobs are needed to save the day. There are also two very strange witches due to make an appearance who again cause mayhem in the forest and a new character, Treebob Gurpreet, is the hero of the day when she flies to the moon.
SD: You and the Treebobs are helping to support Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Charity. Please tell us a bit about Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Charity and your efforts to help and/or support it.
DH: It is a wonderful charity to support and Great Ormond Street does the most amazing work in helping sick children. I feel truly honoured to be helping them in their fund raising efforts with the story of The Treebobs and Air Rena. I am also thrilled that the first five Treebob stories are on the children’s entertainment system at the hospital which is truly amazing when I think that this is the home of Peter Pan. The Treebobs and Air Rena will always give a donation out of the sales to the charity and I am very happy to be doing this.