Alphabet Soup - Tim Collins' Long-Distance Collaboration

Alphabet Soup logo by Paul Morton
Nick Cross writes:
I'm pleased to introduce our first guest blog on Alphabet Soup.

Tim Collins is one of the most prolific children's authors I know, with an output that includes such titles as the Diary of a Wimpy Vampire series and Dorkius Maximus, as well as many other adult non-fiction and packaged fiction books. Although lots of Tim's books are highly illustrated, he's never met his regular illustrator, something I asked him to tell us all about...

For the last eight years I’ve collaborated on several books with an illustrator I’ve never met - Andrew Pinder, who lives in Spain and has worked on over eighty books.

We were initially paired by publisher Michael O’Mara Books for an adult humour title, The Northern Monkey Survival Guide. I didn’t even know this book would feature illustrations until the PDF came through, so it was a nice surprise to see Andrew’s cartoons accompanying my ill-informed generalisations on the North-South divide.

I was pleased to find Andrew would be working on the Wimpy Vampire series with me. A lot of mid-grade humour at the time was very highly illustrated, and Andrew provided so many pictures we were able to put one on almost every spread of the 224-page book. This helped make it approachable to less confident readers, who might have been put off by large chunks of unbroken text.

Knowing the books would be highly illustrated also allowed me to cut back on character description, which can sometimes feel contrived in the diary format. After all, why would someone describe their family and friends in a secret diary? It was good to work with an illustrator whose style I knew well, especially as there are so many author-illustrators in the same field.

In his illustrations for this series, Andrew really caught the contrast between comic and supernatural that I was going for:

We collaborated again on the Dorkius Maximus series, which is set in Ancient Rome. This was an ideal subject for Andrew, who worked as an archaeologist before becoming an illustrator.

This time I included descriptions of the illustrations along with the text, so the book could be more of a mixture between prose and cartoons. I knew that Andrew would be able to add a lot of details, and that his versatile style could match the settings:

Dorkius’s trip to Alexandria included illustrations that parodied the art of Ancient Egypt, as when Ptolemy farts in Dorkius’s face:

I love the detail of the sunrays bouncing off Caesar’s bald head on this one:

If you’re an author and you want to describe the illustrations for your text, my advice would be to avoid being too prescriptive. Either give a general overview that leaves plenty of room for the artist, or go into so much detail that they can choose what to include. Alan Moore takes the latter approach in his comic scripts, and they make for fascinating reading. Just remember not to include these passages when calculating the overall word count of your book.

The most recent title we’ve collaborated on is Adventures of a Wimpy Superhero. This one required art that recalled the brooding dark age of DC Comics:

We also included some sequential art, which seemed appropriate for a story that parodies graphic novels:

As with the vampire books, I needed a contrast between the fantastical and the mundane in the illustrations:

Before I was involved in children’s writing, I’d have been surprised to know I could collaborate so closely with someone in a different city, let alone a different country. But over the years, Andrew has produced over 600 illustrations for my books. It’s been great to look back through them for this blog, and I hope we get to do many more in the future.

Tim Collins has been a SCBWI member since 2010.

He has published over 50 books for children and adults, including Wimpy Vampire, Dorkius Maximus, Monstrous Maud and Cosmic Colin. He has won awards in the UK and Germany.

His website is


  1. Love this, Tim! As you know, I'm relatively new to working with an illustrator this way but it is SO much fun!

  2. Thanks! I've been adjusting back to writing something that isn't as highly illustrated this year, and have to keep reminding myself to include more character description.

  3. Now that;s made me want to go and search out these titles that I've not already had the pleasure in reading.


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