Horrible Histories - a writer’s success story

Alison Fitzjohn in Horrible Histories - Barmy Britain at Buxton Opera House from September 19 to 21.
Alison Fitzjohn in Horrible Histories - Barmy Britain at Buxton Opera House from September 19 to 21.
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Horrible Histories will return to Buxton Opera House next month with a show that is populated with notorious characters in history, from Henry VIII to Guy Fawkes, to Boudicca and Queen Victoria.

The show is based on the best-selling Horrible Histories books for children by Terry

Deary.

Here we talk to the author about the success of the series:
Q. When you wrote your first Horrible Histories did you ever imagine the idea would go on to be so successful?

A. Yes, I think most authors believe their work will be a huge success even though most books disappear from print after a couple of months. It’s that hope that keeps us going. When I wrote my very first fiction book 38 years ago my publisher said, ‘writing is like a sausage machine and you have to keep stuffing in at one end so something comes out the other end – it is like a process’. I kept writing book after book – fifty fiction titles before HH came along - but I never imagined I would have a series which would become first of all iconic and secondly that would still be selling 20 years later...Roald Dahl has managed that, but I can’t think of anyone else who is still selling so well.

Q. What do you believe is behind the popularity of Horrible Histories?

A. Nobody had done anything like them before and they filled a desperate need. There were fact books for children but they tended to be written by experts on the subject. They knew their history but they didn’t have a clue how to write about it for children. I do my research and say ‘you will never guess what I discovered’ and ‘phwoar, this is great’. It is actually a simple answer. I say I am not an expert in history and this is why they work.

Q. Have you ever found any facts which were too horrible to include?

A. The publishers have said so. For example when the Vikings invaded they became settlers and had families here. But these settlers were as vicious as the Vikings and when they invaded a Viking village they would find a Viking child, swing it by its legs and bash its brains out. But when I told the publishers they said ‘we can’t have that’ which is strange as I can’t see it is any worse than some of the other parts which have been included.

Q. So what next for Terry Deary?

A. I have been working on some adult history books in a new series called Dangerous Days. They have a layer of humour and are a bit gruesome. They are more or less Horrible Histories for adults.

Q. After all this research are you now an accidental history expert?

A. Definitely not. I know very little about history because I can’t keep it all in my brain. I often forget what I have written because I can’t hold all those facts.

l Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain at Buxton Opera House from September 19 to 21. To book, call 01298 72190 or visit the website www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk