How I came to write Horrid Henry
I got the idea for Horrid Henry by accident. I was chatting to a friend who asked me to write a story about a horrid child. Horrid Henry was born on the spot. I immediately saw an aggressive, impulsive, willful boy, the despair of his well-meaning, but biased parents. I was also interested in writing about sibling rivalry, and families where the parents decide that one child is “good” and the other “bad,” which is how Perfect Peter was born. I adore Perfect Peter, because I’m touched by his desperate need to be good, though Henry is obviously most people’s favourite.
In fact, Horrid Henry almost didn’t happen. My editor at Orion, Judith Elliott, asked me to try my hand at writing a first reader.
I now know a first reader goes something like this:
“Hi!” said Henry.
“Hi!” said Peter.
“Bye,” said Henry.
“Bye,” said Peter.
Instead, I handed Judith the first Horrid Henry story, called Horrid Henry’s Perfect Day, which she, quite rightly, told me was far too difficult for someone just learning to read. Any other editor would have left it at that, and I would have shoved the story in a drawer and forgotten about it. But Judith said she liked the story, and wanted to see if she could find a way to make it work. A few days later, she phoned and asked if I could write three more stories, which Orion could publish as a book for new readers. I was terrified, as I had never “written to order” before, but I said I’d have a go. Judith and Orion stuck with Horrid Henry for 4 years, despite modest sales, until one happy day I got nits, which inspired me to write the first successful book, Horrid Henry’s Nits.
I often describe the Horrid Henry books as westerns for kids. Henry is an outlaw, who behaves dreadfully, yet often triumphs. Just as adults like reading about people who go against convention, so kids get a thrill from a child who always acts on impulse and never worries about the consequences. Henry is pure ego, while Perfect Peter is an exaggerated version of the impeccably behaved child parents think they want.
Children often ask me if the stories come from “real life.” The initial ideas, such as dealing with nits, sabotaging a birthday party, or trying to earn money - in Henry’s case by selling Peter as a slave to Moody Margaret! - are usually sparked by everyday events and then given a “horrid” twist. Henry himself is the imp inside everyone. We all have aspects of Horrid Henry and Perfect Peter - the desire to be good, the urge to rebel - and sometime’s it’s great to let the imp out.