Hailed as a ‘masterclass in silliness’, Knight Sir Louis and the Dreadful Damsel is the first children’s book by Stratford’s premier creative siblings, the McLeod Brothers. Myles is a screenwriter, author and poet; and Greg is an illustrator, director and animator, and they count the BBC, Aardman, Disney, Dreamworks and the RSC among their clients. They tell Gill Sutherland about the creative path that has led to the galloping genius that is Knight Sir Louis.
Let’s start at the beginning, how was Knight Sir Louis born?
Greg: When my son Louis was aged around four I started drawing these little postcards and sending them to him so they’d be there every morning with the post. One of them was this Knight Sir Louis character, and off the back of that I started doing little strip cartoons. So all the material existed and that was when Myles kind of took it upon him self to develop it into more of a story that he could read to Louis.
What was the next step, did you think ‘let’s write a book’?
Myles: I just really enjoyed the characters that we created. I suppose I always wanted to write books anyway. I had a few that I stopped and started but with this one I knew who it was for. Writing it for an audience of one meant I knew what the tone should be and how silly to make it.
I finished what was the original version quite quickly and Greg read that to Louis. Then it just sat in a drawer for 11 years.
How do you work together, what’s the process?
Greg: With this I came up with a set of characters that were quite weird and Myles kind of took that and wrote it and I then illustrated what he wrote. There are other projects where we come up with ideas sitting down together.
What did you think of it when you revisited it after all those years?
Myles: It was full of very long sentences and vocabulary that was too sophisticated! Since then I’ve read things like Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum and Wimpy Kid to get my head around how it needed to be rewritten.
I think the wonderful thing about it is that it really does take you into that crazy world of childhood imagination. Being brothers is it easier to tap into that?
Myles: Dad bought us two tapes of the Goons when I was around eight and Greg was 12 and we just watched that for years. Obviously there were things like Monty Python and we liked The Mighty Boosh when that came along. That’s all quite silly humour. Even things like The Beatles films and Top Secret [the 1984 film}. We have that shared sense of humour. I sometimes write something and think ‘Greg’s gonna find this really funny’. We’ve known each other forever so that helps!
Greg: As kids we had Lego and we’d get the knights to attack the Star Wars figures, so there’s something of that in it.
Myles: We’re not worried about it being properly medieval – King Bert plays computer games and the Knight has a robot horse. It’s more like a science fiction novel really.
Are your talents interchangeable, are you both good with words and visuals?
Greg: I like doing little strip cartoons and characters saying one-liners but in terms of writing that no way. I couldn’t do that, I’m dyslexic and have always loved drawing. I’ve got a photo of me as a baby with a paintbrush and all the kitchen cabinets are covered in paint. Bless my mum she just let me get on with it. Myles has got a way of drawing that I like.
Myles: I did art at school and I was OK at still life but I never really got a buzz out of it. I was quite introverted at school as well. When you want to express yourself you find that one way, and I liked the privacy that writing has – that time by yourself.
It did turn out to be quite convenient that I write and Greg draws! It’s the same with our younger sister Caroline, she is a ceramics artist and so she needs an illustrator sometimes as well.
Were your parents artist?
Greg: Mum was a hairdresser, she trained with Vidal Sassoon. Dad always says he’s not creative but he is in a business way – he’s had several businesses. Our grandpa drew a little bit and he played the banjo and piano. They just let us get on with it and encouraged us but it was always wrapped around making money from it.
What does Louis think of this finished book of his childhood character?
Greg: Well he’s 17 now, so probably more interested in playing games on his Xbox. One thing he did say was, ‘am I getting any money out of this’, that was his main concern. I think he likes it.
Myles: Louis did influence the rewrite as well because I asked him if there was anything he didn’t like about the book, and so I tweaked it based on his feedback.
Greg: Oh, he’ll definitely want paying then.
Knight Sir Louis and the Dreadful Damsel was published on 1st August by Guppy Books. To celebrate its publication Greg has decorated the window of Stratford Waterstones – where you can also buy a copy of the book of course!