I’m Creating a New Antagonist for Detective Mo 3
Anyone who has not read Detective Mo and the Missing Prince by Andrew Ferguson (me😉) is hereby advised that this post contains a major spoiler.
I know I said I wasn’t going to do another Detective Mo book until I had finished something for traditional publishing (and I certainly am working on something for traditional publishing) but Mo came to me in the middle of the night and told me all about this new case and next thing I know, I’ve started outlining Detective Mo 3 (full title TBA).
I don’t want to give too much away about Mo’s newest case, not least of all because it’s still in the very early stages of development and is still subject to major changes, but suffice it to say I have decided to return to giving Mo a proper crime to solve like she had in The Missing Prince , instead of having her following a series of riddles as in The Pirate’s Treasure. After all, it was always my intention that the Detective Mo series should basically be Poirot for pre-schoolers.
Of course, this means creating a new antagonist for Mo and it got me thinking about the role of bad guys in picture books. Common sense says we should water down the bad guys so they aren’t too scary, bizarre or macabre. After all, most adult detective books tend to involve at least one murder, but we can’t have that in a picture book. True, some children’s stories include the threat of death (e.g.: in Hansel and Gretel, the witch threatens to eat Hansel) but I think it’s generally considered inappropriate to include actual murder in a children’s book. I certainly wouldn’t be happy with reading a book like that to my kids.
In a detective story, however, the antagonist does actually have to commit some sort of offence. It doesn’t need to be anything gruesome or shocking (in fact, it shouldn’t be) but a crime has to have been committed or the detective will have nothing to solve. So where does this leave us?
Well, a cursory reading of Julia Donaldson’s The Highway Rat provides an excellent case study of a children’s book which includes theft and extortion. The titular character of this book quite literally threatens innocent travellers at sword-point and demands they give him all their food. As the story reaches its climax, he even threatens to eat (murder!) another character. Theft, extortion and the threat of murder all in one little kids book!
Villainy can also come in funnier forms, something I’m certainly keen to incorporate into Detective Mo. The Mr Men and Little Miss series by Roger Hargreaves (which profoundly influenced Detective Mo) often features antagonists and anti-heroes who do things like replacing tennis racquet strings with spaghetti (Little Miss Bad) or putting jam in peoples hats (Mr. Mischief). Again, some of these misadventures take a darker turn such as the time a giant forced Mr Greedy to eat until he felt sick (Mr. Greedy).
Anyway, all this has given me plenty of food for thought when it comes to creating new antagonists for Detective Mo to thwart. The antagonist in The Missing Prince was a mischievous little boy whose practical joke got out of hand, and of course there was no antagonist in The Pirate’s Treasure. I don’t want to give away too much, but next time you’ll be getting a new antagonist, heavily inspired by the Highway Rat (and strangely enough, the Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) but still with that brightly coloured silliness which will hopefully make it accessible for little kids.