Horrible Historian's Twisted Tales Bring the Past to Life; Terry Deary Has Made History Enjoyable for Millions of Children with His Books

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Elson

W ITHOUT a doubt, Terry Deary would be a subversive in any age. He's made a small fortune writing Horrible Histories, an alternative history book series for children, but it's not changed his life a jot. How subversive is that?

Very much his own man, he is not prone to doing the expected. He lives in an unpretentious house in an old North East mining village and never travels abroad.What does he do with his dosh?

"I pay for my daughter, Sara, to compete in three-day horse riding events. You're up against the Zara Phillipses of this world," he says.

In other words, this unapologetic anti-establishment figure

bankrolls his daughter's expensive hobby just as The Princess Royal does with her daughter. Is this keeping up with the Royal Family, or just showing the nobs you are just as good without the advantages of blue blood?

I think we can guess Deary's attitude. If his wife, Jenny, and Sara, aged 25, want to travel, he's happy to pay their airline tickets to go shopping in New York.

There is no point going abroad to see scenery when you've already been to Scotland, he thinks. His only self-indulgence is a Porsche sports car and a Sunderland FC season ticket.

His main anxiety is that his books, such as Awesome Egyptians, Rotten Romans, Terrible Tudors and so on, are so phenomenally popular with children that teachers are now using them as texts in the classroom.

"It worries me that my books are used so widely in schools. If teachers use them and they are perceived as establishment text, then kids will stop reading them. And then where will they go for the alternative voice?"

Often described - accurately - as a paid-up member of the awkward squad, Deary's success has allowed him to carry on cantankerously.

He is openly grateful not to have to kow-tow to any boss. His sales ensure that publishers don't push him around.

His astonishing output suggests comedian ErnieWise's fictional playwriting, whereby four finished texts indicated a slow day. Deary reckons he can turn out 8,000 words daily with no diminution in quality.

At 59, his focus is incredible. With a workload currently aimed at audio books, one recent month only yielded eight working days, but was enough to write a book. His 150 or so books have been translated into 28 languages, selling millions of books worldwide and have occupied nine out the top 10 places on libraries' most-borrowed children's books.

"Anyone who says they have writer's block is either not a writer or they are doing something wrong. I'm a natural writer, although it took me a while to find my vocation," he says.

Yet success brings its own pressures. The demand for his cheeky, irreverent humorous take on history means that his publishers now provide the research to speed the process. …