The idea that evolved into The Six Crowns series of books had its birth in France – in a rural part of the region called Normandy. It is a generally flat landscape of fields, farms and small villages, but on approaching the coast, something extraordinary rises above the horizon.
The island of Mont St. Michael (Saint Michael’s Mount) lifts itself out of the countryside like something dropped into the sea from a fantasy world. Topped with the spire of Mont St Michael abbey, it looks both wonderfully medieval, and somehow unreal at the same time, stone buildings clinging to its rugged, towering sides, its feet deep in the swirling tides of the English Channel.
Gary Chalk first spotted the potential of this extraordinarily evocative place several years ago. In his mind, he saw the island floating free in the sky – and surrounded by similar islands. And from there it was only a step to the concept of a world blown apart by some titanic explosion - a world left floating as a myriad chunks in a clear blue sky.
The next step was to populate the world – and Gary envisaged it teeming with talking animals. Now only a hero was needed – and an adventure for the hero to pursue.
Welcome then, Trundle Boldoak, an unassuming young fellow who found himself caught up in a great quest – your typical reluctant hero, dragged from his cosy world by the manic gypsy girl, Esmeralda Lightfoot.
Gary worked on this concept for a while, sketching islands, naming them, inventing names and titles for the different breeds of animal, writing songs – and coming up with a few storylines.
He sent the proposal to Anne McNeil of Hachette in the UK, and she was captivated. But, she thought, what the idea needed was a children’s writer to really bring Gary’s ideas to life…
Allan Frewin Jones, had last worked with Anne McNeil in the nineties; they had met on occasion since that time, and with every encounter, Anne would say: we must work together again.
Allan took this with the usual pinch of salt – until one day out of the blue he received a package from Anne – containing Gary’s Sundered Lands proposal, along with a letter from Anne asking if he would be interested on coming on board to flesh out Gary’s ideas.
A lover of fantasy, Allan leaped at the chance, and it wasn’t long before Gary came over from France and met with Allan and Anne in London to see if an author/illustrator partnership could be set up.
Getting along together from first sight, Gary and Allan quickly threw themselves into this new series. A series story arc was conceived, involving the search for the six lost crowns of the Badger Lords of Old. A working system evolved. Either Allan visited Gary in his remote farmhouse in Normandy, or Gary would visit with Allan in leafy south London, where they would plot the books together – these plottings being written down longhand by Gary and typed up later by Allan. Every detail of the stories was thrashed out, even down to sections of dialogue, and the pair quickly realized that when they were in a room creating together some strange third person seemed to appear: Gallan Chewin, possibly…or Ally Frawlk…
Whatever symbiosis was going on, it became clear that two and two made a great deal more than three when they got in a room together – and so every book was plotted out face to face, amid much uproarious laughter and both protagonists riding on a wave-crest of creative joy.
Then Allan went away and wrote a full-length version of the book in question, while Gary set about doing the illustrations. Gary would show Allan picture roughs for approval, and Allan would show Gary the first draft of the books for his thoughts and suggestions. When both were in full agreement with both words and pictures, the finished book and the finished illustrations would be sent to Hachette – to resounding cheers of approval from everyone who encountered them.
A creative partnership had been born – and The Sundered Lands series is just the start of it!
Gary Chalk Fact File
Born 1952 in Kings Langley Hertfordshire. Then a rural haven of peace, now a slip road for the M25. I went to school in the local primary school and then attended Hemel Hempstead Grammar school where I proved to be pants at nearly everything except art, English and history. I was particularly bad at chemistry, maths and nearly all sports except fencing.
Birthsign Leo, or Dragon, if you prefer the Chinese birth sign thing.
Left Kingston Polytechnic with a degree in design and a bad attitude. Taught for a bit in the school I used to attend, before getting a real job as a graphic designer in Watford. Gradually started to find freelance work as an illustrator and I have been steadily exploited ever since. I illustrated many of the Redwall books and am currently drawing all sorts of fantastic creatures for Templar books.
I have also worked on fantasy games for games Workshop and Rackham Miniatures in Paris.
I live with my wife Yin in rural Normandy where the cheese is mmm oh so good, and no-one can understand a word I say. I have three partially grown-up children, Titus, Victoria and Lucy. I work in a great big attic at the top of my house surrounded by scraps of paper and hundreds of toy soldiers.
If you would like to contact Gary, his email address is
Allan Frewin Jones Fact File
Allan Frewin Jones
Born in South London in 1954, on Walpurgisnacht – the most evil night of the year. Not my fault! At school I was good at art and English, but got thrown out of maths and sciences for being totally useless.
I’m a Taurus or a Wood Horse if you prefer – which is useful as it allows me to have successful personal and professional relationships, apparently.
Began writing at about the age of nine, generally coming up with new adventures for characters in books I had just read. Graduated to inventing my own characters in my teens. Wrote my first book length story for children in my late teens. Sent it off. It got politely rejected and I was told most writers don’t get anything published until their mid thirties.
I left school and did several clerical jobs, whilst writing in my spare time. In my late twenties I went to Middlesex Polytechnic as a “mature” student. I carried on writing, mostly fantasy, sending things off sporadically and getting polite rejections.
Found a Literary Agent and began working towards publication. First children’s book published in 1987 – in my early thirties, so I beat the statistics by a couple of years. But I did learn that it pays to be patient.
Started writing full-time in 1992. I’ve been at it ever since. I live in the ancestral home in South London with my wife Claudia.
If you would like to contact Allan, his email address is
The Six Crowns: First Contact
This was the first contact Allan had with Gary:
Hello there Gary
I'm afraid this e-mail has to start with...you don't know me, but...
...but, a couple of weeks ago, I received a package of stuff by you from Anne - plotlines and background info and some brilliant illustrations for a project you've come up with.
she sent them to me, as a writer you might be interested in collaborating with on this marvellous Sundered Lands project. (I hope you already know she's done this - otherwise OOPS!, RATS! and OH HECK!)
Thing is, I've been trying to make contact with Anne for the past two weeks without luck. I sent an e-mail that either fell into a wormhole in the ether and ended up circling Saturn, or which mutated over the Internet into a squiggly monster-thing that popped out of her computer and ate her up. Either is possible.
The other problem with Anne is that the publisher she works for cannot contact me by telephone. This has benefits, I can tell you! I have a call-blocker to stop people interrupting me mid-sentence to find out if I'd like double-glazing or a holiday home in Florida or cheap online medicaments or...well, you know the score there, I'm sure. Unfortunately, Anne's calls are also blocked by my blocker - as are the calls of a company who sell Indian musical instruments, by the way, so it's taken me six months to get my dilruba box delivered! (It's here now, so don't panic.)
Sorry...where was I? Oh yes - I absolutely adored your illustrations - I'm totally envious of artists...largely because I'm a not-very-good drawer myself so I can appreciate the gap (gulf) between what I can do and what you do, curse it!
The ideas for the books are really charming and delightful and it would be great fun to collaborate with you on turning them into polished little gems...if you're interested at all in working with someone else - having not been able to speak with Anne, I don't know where you are with that concept.
If none of the above makes any sense, please comfort yourself with the concept that I do not exist at all and none of this really happened. I shall count backwards from three to one now, and you will wake up as if from a long, refreshing sleep...three...two...one...
On the other hand, if it turns out that we really do both exist, do drop me a line when you have a moment and perhaps magic will happen.
Also - if you have a method of contacting Anne, do let me in on it, unless it's a total secret, of course. Oh! I just had this image of small bore-holes made by moles under the English Channel - and a series of wires running through them via which messages in little leather pouches go whisking too and fro from Villedieu de les Poeles to the Publisher’s Offices, kind of like those old-fashioned systems they used to use in shops. er...sorry...don't quite know where that came from. again, I shall count backwards...
And this was Gary’s response:
Hi there Allan,
You’ll be glad to know that you have got through to me, even though I'm writing this on my wife's laptop. Some kind soul has sent me a virus and I'm waiting to have it removed from my computer by a highly trained French geek. Unfortunately the geek is on holiday.
You look like someone with all the right credentials, books in the right sort of area, plenty of energy and you've even got a dilruba box, which is more than I have. Quite what to do next, I'm not sure. My agent is in hospital after breaking her arm badly. Try Anne on:
Let me know if you don't get through and I'll have a go.
You can also telephone me, which will prove that I do exist. Provided we don't hate each other on sight, I'm more than happy to take this further. I've been looking for someone to co-operate with like this for years and if you've got any bright ideas yourself, I'm happy to illustrate them. Editors love author/illustrator teams!