On the scent of fun

LIKE many 10-year-olds, Rory and Cassidy go on a lot of fun adventures. Unlike many 10-year-olds, their adventures usually involve solving actual crimes (even if the adults aren’t too keen).

The two – who call each other Deadly Detective and the Cat, respectively – “eat bad guys for breakfast” and “laugh loudly in the face of danger”.

These are the plucky little characters imagined by British actor and author Andrew Clover, in his Rory Branagan Detective series for primary schoolchildren.

His first two titles released this year – Rory Branagan Detective, and Rory Branagan Detective: The Dog Squad – subscribes to a super fun ethos, encouraging children to dream big and laugh silly.

Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that the story was immediately picked up for a series with seven confirmed books in the pipeline. The third adventure, Rory Branagan Detective: The Big Cash Robbery, will be released in bookstores this September.

In a recent email interview, Clover – who once starred in a 2009 BBC children's musical series called My Almost Famous Family – says he knew “detective stories are most popular, and there had to be a way of doing them for kids”.

“The balancing act is getting the tone just right," he adds, "so Rory is fighting real baddies, but it’s still funny, and fun to read.”

Clover likens the young Rory to another fictional character beloved by adults, one with an equally vivid imagination.

“It helps that Rory is a Walter Mitty (from James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) – always seeing things in a crazy light.”

Rory decides to turn detective after a suggestion by the dauntless Cassidy, who tells him it is the only way to get his questions answered.

The one answer Rory most wants to know concerns his father, who disappeared when he was just three. And he feels that adults (mainly his mum) don't tell him things just because he is a child.

While it’s common to think that grown-ups hide or bend the truth when broaching a particularly sensitive topic to children, Clover believes it’s the contrary.

“Actually, I think parents often consult kids too much,” Clover, himself a father of three, says. “But in this case, Rory knows something fishy has happened with his dad.

“It’s only as the series develops do you realise his mum had big reasons for keeping the information from him.”

Drawing a face for Rory and the rest of the books’ quirky characters is illustrator Ralph Lazar of Happiness is … fame, whose detailed depictions of the child detective’s escapades serve as a visual guide to the stories.

“So I write the stories, imagining them drawn by Ralph – and that makes me do mountains, monsters, deep holes, maps … that’s what Ralph draws well,” says Clover, who “adores [Lazar's] pictures” because “they have such charm”.

This includes Wilkins Welkin, Rory’s best friend, “the brave sausage dog”, who gets a more prominent role in The Dog Squad.

Wilkins is a character that Clover enjoyed bringing to life with his writing, adding that “[Rory] loves that dog, is so proud of him, and I get carried along by his enthusiasm”.

With a comprehensive list of good guys, bad guys, and even Wilkins' hedgehog (its favourite toy), it is evident that the British author has an eye for detail, littering unexpected amusing gems in his writing.

However, he acknowledges that “the story comes first”.

With two books out and the third on its way, Clover jumps ahead to the later part of Rory’s adventure in the series, giving his young fans a glimpse of what to expect, notably in book six.

“I wanted the seven books to be a great mythic story, and book six is going to be The Visit to Death.

“How could Rory die, then come back? ‘Bitten by a snake’, I thought, so I invented a scary baddie who keep snakes, and he’s snake-like himself – Ryan ‘The Reptile’ O’Riley.”

On top of being an actor and author, Clover’s passion for working with children extends to his Seven Secrets of Storytelling workshop.

He says: “Doing comedy for kids is so much fun. They’re so playful and generous."

He’s usually invited by schools all around the world, where he spreads the joy of writing through his interactive and hilarious methods.

Yet, as Clover puts it: “I suspect that Rory Branagan may be my biggest contribution to the world. I do everything to make it good (and I’ve spent my life preparing for now)!”