Chimera Book 1 – Compendium #1


As actor, Dan Snelgrove rests his vocal chords and artist, Phil Cooper puts his paint brushes down for a well-deserved break, I wanted to bring everything Chimera-related together in one celebratory compendium.

All in one place then, for your convenience and listening pleasure, we have all first twelve chapters of Chimera Book 1, a rip-roaring romp into an alternate universe of anthropomorphic lost property, populated by sock-snakes, shock-poppies, walking sofas, vanity sparrows, armchair apes, shop window mannequins, and talking teapots! Enjoy the ride.














Dan Snelgrove: Performing Chimera

But it’s one thing to write a children’s book imagining the secret physical and emotional lives of formerly inanimate lost properties, and quite another to bring all those outlandish characters to life. Fortunately, Dan Snelgrove is on hand, a one-man-band of vocal special effects and emotive storytelling, whose energy and imagination brings colour and dynamism to every word of the novel. One of my great pleasures of this collaboration has been catching up with Dan to discuss all the different ways he’s approached developing the book’s various characters and capturing them accordingly in his home-based recording studio. I’ve gathered together our various chats, and also asked Dan for a few words of his own…


Dan Snelgrove recording Chimera Book 1 in his home recording studio.


Dan: He’d asked the wrong guy, but I wasn’t going to tell him.

I first met Phil a year or so after Chimera had been unleashed, Xenomorph-like, from whichever fantastic recess it had burst. I’d been brought in to run acting workshops for the Computer Animation Uni course he headed up, which involved convincing often technically-minded individuals that waving their limbs around and physicalising a slice of bacon in a full-English breakfast was indeed a productive use of their university time. Exploiting a despicable array of tricks I’d picked up in the acting game, I managed this with some degree of success. For some reason, Phil interpreted this skulduggery as evidence I might be the right person to bring his masterwork to the listening masses. I said yes.

Now, never* during this time had any vocal versatility on my part been demonstrated to him, and I would caution you all that simply because someone can cook a good spag bol does not mean they can serve up an edible Baked Alaska Flambé. It is true that the acting classes were barrels of fun, and I do believe that everyone involved got a lot out of the experiences (I certainly did). However, that is an entirely different beast to bringing to life the overwhelmingly (intentionally so) vibrant and all-too-non-humanly populated world that is Chimera; with the power of the voice alone. For me, this presented an unrivalled challenge and opportunity to grow, to focus on an area of my skill-set that had long needed my attention. Phil would have certainly been better off with someone that could actually just do the job.

It is possible I am overplaying the task. My tendency towards a debilitating level of perfectionism undoubtedly acts as a multiplier, and dear reader, I shall leave the judgment in your hands. But as I first read the trilogy (that’s right kids, this is just the beginning!) I quickly realised I would have to employ the merits of a spreadsheet to organise my thoughts on the myriad characters involved. Looking at it now, I can see I got to 49 before abandoning the process. Having now recorded half of the first book, I realise the sheet failed to capture some of the voices needed along the way. To my count, we’re up to 23.

Some actors are naturals when it comes to accents (their resumés claim a ‘good ear’). Others have uploaded them to their internal databases through hard work and professional training with vocal coaches at drama schools and the like. I am neither. To be kind to myself, I could characterise myself as more of a ‘physical’ performer (I was a keen Irish dancer and clown in a cabaret-punk band), and could claim to have historically approached roles from an ‘emotional-truth’ perspective rather than a more ‘technical’ one. However, just as a carpenter needs a toolkit, so does the actor, and it is all our responsibilities to keep our chisels (and tongues) sharp.

So with a bit of forethought and decent run up, an actor with the particular set of skills (Liam Neeson perhaps?) could simply read the chapter out, switching to the appropriate voice as they went, and with the odd retake for mistakes, job’s a good’n.

Enter Dan.

Each and every character requires a good deal of Google and YouTube research time, as I cram like some ill-prepared student on the night before the exam. My search history, amongst other things, includes buffalos, apes, Ben Fogle, a Russian taxi driver, the Secret Lives of 5-Year Olds and Audrey Tautou. Then, to further cheat and allow listeners to imagine distinct characters, I give each of them their own track, often more than one each, and separate them in the stereo field. The last chapter I recorded, for example, comprises 19 different tracks, along with four out-take tracks replete with fierce swearing and self-rebuke. There are lots of outtakes. Lots. What may sound like a seamless track of narrative is in fact a secret patchwork of cross-faded single-word overdubs and inserted silences, with surgically removed accent errors and poorly expressed emotions falling into the track below; into a world of lost words and sounds. A Chimera, if you will. As a further consequence of these nigh on endless repeats, local sales of honey, ginger and lemon have skyrocketed as I try to squeeze out one more soffalo grunt or Atticus rasp between sips of this hot elixir.

My ‘producer’ credit hence rather grandly veils my continuing struggle to obfuscate my vocal shortcomings.

Doing all of this in various states of lockdown and isolation, and living alone in the first place, adds a level of intensity to the quality-control loop, stood as I am in my homemade vocal-booth with nout but my own voice, in its various forms, going around and around in my headphones. Phil has often sensed the danger and sent over emergency packages of chocolate… And then, when it’s finally done (often late) I tap the trackpad and it’s gone, into the void. Phil then has to step in again at that stage to mentally soothe and massage my broken remains, in order to start the process again for the next week.

I know how this sounds, and so please know that I am immensely proud of what has been produced so far. Going for a 10k run means pain, exhaustion and a mental battle, but also a sense relief and achievement. For an actor, this project is the complete challenge involving story-telling, epic-scale character-creation and emotional journeys that deserve digging into the soul for. Just don’t tell Phil he got the wrong bloke…

*save for my limited involvement in a beautiful animation by Jordan Buckner, which Phil produced.



Dan & Phil in conversation, September 21st, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, October 13th, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, November 2nd, 2020


Phil Cooper: Painting Chimera

Not content with roping Dan Snelgrove into this epic undertaking, I also approached Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, asking him if he fancied using the various chapters as jumping-off points for a series of new paintings. Very fortunately for me, Phil agreed, beginning by producing the Chimera podcast cover art, that has since gone on to pepper Red’s Kingdom on a weekly basis. Phil had this to say about his involvement so far:


Phil Cooper hard at work at the art table back in September 2020


Phil Cooper: I found the prospect of making illustrations for Book 1 of Chimera both enormously exciting and rather daunting at the same time. Exciting because I’d loved the book since it was first published as an e-book several years ago, and daunting because I knew that choosing exactly what to depict out of the plethora of imagery and ideas that pour out of every page was going to be a challenge. But then, at the beginning of October, we were off, and with a tight schedule to keep to, there was little time for feelings either way, it just had to get done. The weekly schedule has been a good solid framework to work around, though, even if it’s felt pressurised at times. Now, towards the tail-end of November, I look back and feel a sense of satisfaction at what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time.

The characters and the environments Phil has conjured in Chimera are vivid and imaginative; the main challenge I’ve faced so far is choosing what exactly to depict each week. I’ve decided to steer away from painting the characters and the creatures that inhabit Chimera so far. Most weeks, I’ve chosen an object from the story, usually an important object like the silver locket or the conker on a string that Kyp keeps in his pocket. These objects are sometimes important elements of the story and I wanted to use them in images to contemplate whilst listening to Dan’s tour de force narration. I knew I didn’t want to describe visually what was being described in the words of the book as the writing and Dan’s expressive narration did that very well. And I also knew, I didn’t want the images to somehow be fighting for attention with the experience of listening to the podcast, I wanted them to work in harmony with it; a background to the action going on in the audiobook foreground.

At this halfway point in Book 1, and looking ahead at the chapters coming up, I can see that the approach I’ve taken may well evolve. Things are going to expand very soon in Chimera, in terms of the characters we meet and spend time with, and in terms of our knowledge of how things work in this universe, and who is really working with who. So, with so much about to go off, I think I might start to move away from depicting objects, as totems of the action, and start to explore the characters themselves as we get to know them more deeply. It’s going to be another challenge!

As well as the extraordinary words from Phil’s writing, I’ve also had the benefit of hearing Dan’s awesome narration for extra inspiration each week. The podcasts really do sound terrific. I’ve been listening to fiction podcasts for years now and Chimera is right up there with the very best of what I’ve heard, so a massive hats off to Dan and Phil for doing such a great job. It’s a real pleasure to be part of the adventure!



Andrew Fisher: Scoring Chimera

One of my little pleasures is listening to the thirty seconds or so of theme music beginning each episode of the audio book, composed especially by Andrew Fisher, into which the composer manages to cram a potent mix of magic, mystery, weirdness and melancholy – capturing the world of Chimera perfectly.

Andrew started composing from a young age, developing an interest in musical story-telling, especially musical theatre and film music. Andrew’s most recent musical Girl In a Crisis, starring Olivier winner Lorna Want, was performed to rave reviews in London in 2018. Other composition credits include music for the video games Guardians of Ancora  (which has been translated into five languages and been downloaded 2 million times worldwide), the horror film, Nine Miles Down and the animated comedy-drama short, Lily White.  His additional composition credits for television include the natural history series, Great Barrier Reef (BBC),  and How the Universe Works  (Discovery).


Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera will resume on Sunday, December 13th, with Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit


Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #8

Phil CooperThe Temple Of Miscellany 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

They now arrived in a large, open square surrounded on three of its sides by formal rows of orange feather dusters. In the middle of the square was a large crystalline structure made entirely of glass display cases, some square, some cylindrical, with bell jars on its roof. Lit from within, the building sparkled in hues of ice-green and frosty blue.  Thousands of objects surrounded the building, their Elsewhere Lights combining to create a dazzling display.  Kyp stopped and stared.

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


Things move quickly in Chapter 12; we meet several new important characters and discover new important places. It’s a rather dizzying experience and I can only image that Kyp’s head was spinning by the end of this chapter! For the illustration this week, I’ve gone for the Temple of Miscellany, mainly because it’s really quite different to anything we’ve encountered before. The crystalline glass structure, glowing from within, has a bit of a sci-fi quality to it in my mind’s eye and it made me think of early 20th Century paintings, like Lyonel Feininger, the Italian Futurists and the constructivists, exploring shiny new materials and clean, geometric shapes. As the new characters we meet will be around for a while, I thought I could explore them in later chapters, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to paint the Temple of Miscellany when Kyp first encounters it…

Phil Cooper, November, 2020


Phil Cooper’s The Temple of Miscellany painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, November 2020




Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #7

Phil CooperConcrete Eagle, 40cm x 40cm, mixed media on paper

A dark shape swooped suddenly from above, a concrete eagle, its beak lethal, and its talons out-stretched.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform


“I found Chapter 10 so touching, and Dan’s narration really brought out the emotion in the dialogue between Kyp and Atticus; I was quite teary by the end! Chapter 11 is very moving in parts too, but for the illustration I’ve focused on a scene that has a completely different emotional bandwidth – sheer terror!  There are plenty of scary moments in Chimera, and the scene towards the end of Chapter 11 where the concrete sculptures and garden ornaments come to life is definitely one of them for me.”

Phil Cooper, November, 2020


Phil Cooper’s Concrete Eagle painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, November 2020




Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #6

Phil CooperFossil, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper


Hey,’ said Kyp, and he touched Atticus very lightly with his hand. ‘Back home there’s this museum.  It’s full of great stuff.  It’s got a dressed flea and the horn of a narwhal. It’s got snakes in great big tanks and dinosaur bones and dodos, but there’s nothing like you there.  There’s a circus me and Sprat would go to, Fatty Barnstorm’s.  He’s got a tiger called Pinstripe and there’s Petula, the human projectile.  She gets fired from a cannon.  People ooh and ahh, but if they saw you, Atticus, if they saw you, they wouldn’t believe their eyes.’

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 10 – Caramels & Coconut Cracknell


As usual, with this chapter, I was spoilt for choice with so many vivid images conjured by the words. In the end, I chose to depict a fossilised dinosaur from the museum Kyp describes. I have very fond memories of going to the local museum with my grandmother when I was a little boy. I was completely entranced by the butterflies and insects in glass cases, a giant stuffed lion called Nelson. and the rather dusty, hushed gloom of the galleries. It was a magical place, a place of extraordinary things, like postcards from strange worlds that one day I might visit…

Phil Cooper, November 2020


Phil Cooper’s fossil painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, October 2020




Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #5


‘I knew it was wrong, sneaking into their room and opening the drawer like that, but I was hoping they’d catch me.  They’d have to talk to me then.’

‘What did you find?’ 

‘Nothing much.  Loose change, tubes of face cream, a few photos of me when I was little, and a silver locket.  It looked really old and didn’t have a chain.  It didn’t look like anything much. I tried looking inside, but the hinges wouldn’t open.  I put it inside an old crisp packet and buried it in the garden.’

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 9 – Captain Toothache & The Silver Locket


Chapter 9 of Chimera Book 1 is a very important one to me. I took the decision at the outset of the very first draft of Chimera that the reader’s first experience of the novel should mirror Kyp Finnegan’s – a head-long rush down the rabbit hole, breathless, panicked, sensorially intense – a boy on the run, a boy out-running perils and predators, but also a boy outrunning something else – his shame. But then we get to the ‘locked room’ of Chapter 9, and Kyp and Atticus are forced to confront the secrets they’ve been keeping and we come to understand Kyp is carrying much more weight around with him than just his rag-bag collection of remembering treasures. When I first heard actor Dan Snelgrove’s reading of this chapter just a few hours before it went live, I cried. I couldn’t help it, and if that sounds a bit naff, so be it. I wrote the words obviously, but to hear Kyp going through it in the gloom of the ankle-snatchers’ hoarding cell, to hear Dan pushing all that feeling through it – well, it broke my heart. Bravo, Dan! But I had a similar reaction too when Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, sent through this week’s painting, for there was the old silver locket, moments before being forgotten, all those earthy colours a million miles away from the vivid hues of Chimera. You can even see Kyp’s finger marks in the mud, which gave me a strange thrill. Here is an image beamed from the Elsewhere world, the world from which Kyp Finnegan has so totally lost his way.


Following on from the Chapter 8, where we learnt a bit more about the world of Chimera, in Chapter 9 we learn more about Kyp’s backstory in the mundane world. We find out about why the silver locket is such an important object, possibly the most important object in the book, so I had to paint it. Abandonment comes up again, as well as the idea of burying things, sometimes because they are precious treasures, and sometimes because they are too painful to look at in the light of day; either way, the consequences can be profound!

Phil Cooper, November, 2020


Phil Cooper’s old silver locket painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, October 2020




Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #4


“I encountered a boy lost in the labyrinth.  This was many years ago.  He had a label around his neck and a gas mask in a box.  He’d been sent away from his family for his own protection, only no one came to collect him from the railway station. They were supposed to, but no one did.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 8 – The Moppet-Drover


It’s always exciting when artist, Phil Cooper sends me his new Chimera-themed paintings, not least because Phil has complete freedom in terms of which elements within each chapter he focuses on. For this week’s painting, Phil has chosen an image of the young evacuee mentioned by Atticus Weft, when the sock-serpent explains how he first became a willing accomplice to the dark deeds of villainous Madame Chartreuse. Seeing Phil’s image of this abandoned little boy gave me a little thrill, for while this particular character is but a footnote in Chimera Book 1, he won’t always remain so as Kyp’s adventures in Chimera’s realm of lost properties continue…


“So, this week’s image is terribly sad; a little boy who is alone and frightened. We’re not told much about this boy. He’s just mentioned in a couple of lines by Atticus near the end of chapter 8, but those couple of lines speak volumes. They go to the heart of the book for me; that abandonment, either real or imagined, can be catastrophic for children. We see a lot of stories at the moment of children separated from families due to war and conflict. There must be countless horrors that are happening every day to these children and nobody will ever know. They will be forgotten.”

Phil Cooper, October, 2020


Phil’s ‘evacuee’ painting in development on his art table in his Berlin studio, October 2020




Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #3

Phil Cooper, ‘Bedside Lights Sprouting’, 40cm x 40cm, Acrylic on paper

The tunnel led into a much larger cave, its walls, ceiling and floor formed from old stained mattresses in different prints and patterns. Dim orangey light was given out by an assortment of bedside lights sprouting toadstool-like from the floor and walls.

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 7 – The Bedrock Catacombs


In Chapter 7 of Chimera Book 1, Kyp Finnegan finds himself all alone in the Bedrock Catacombs after narrowly escaping the clutches of Madame Chartreuse and her two henchmen, the Berserker and the Tealeaf. Like everything in the world of Chimera, the Bedrock Catacombs are comprised of abandoned things – in this instance, all those old mattresses you see fly-tipped at the sides of roads.

For his inspiration this week, artist Phil Cooper focuses on one of the bedside light-come-mushrooms that grow out of the floor and walls of the catacombs – a moment of comfort and calm – before events in the chapter take a more sinister turn!


Chapter 7 takes place in the Bedrock Catacombs, a series of caves and tunnels, hollowed out of layers and layers of compressed detritus. The caves are lit by the glow of discarded bedside lamps, growing out of the walls and floors of the Catacombs like fungi. These images, in particular, chimed with me this week, as I’d been out walking in the woods over the weekend and found them alive with mushrooms and toadstools of all kinds. Some, I know, are edible, and others highly toxic; but which is which? I’ve no idea, so I’d never trust myself to take some home to cook. But the shapes and colours of the fungi always fascinate me when I find them each autumn. They just look so weird, straight out of a dark fairytale. So, a toadstool has found its way into the illustration for this chapter of Chimera, in the form of a children’s plastic lamp. There isn’t much time to sit and enjoy the warm cosy glow it casts though – the toe-biters are coming!

Phil Cooper, October, 2020


Some of Phil Cooper’s reference photographs taken in-situ in the Berlin woods, October, 2020


Phil’s ‘Toadstool light’ painting in development on his art table in his Berlin studio, October 2020



Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #2

Phil Cooper, Perdu Peak, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

Pushing their way through the last few Christmas trees, they arrived in a flat, barren space illuminated by strings of bare light bulbs. The bulbs were so far above their heads, they glimmered like constellations. Before them, a crag-topped mountain dominated the horizon, its summit shrouded in purple mist.


As Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera Book 1 continue, so too does Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s adventures in pigment, texture and colour. In addition to painting the audio book’s cover art, Phil is drawing on the other-worldly sights of Chimera’s larger-than-life landscape as the inspiration for an ongoing series of new paintings, which I’ll be sharing here at Red’s Kingdom every week.


“I think I made the decision quite early in the process of developing images for Chimera that I wouldn’t try to depict the wild menagerie of creatures and characters for the illustrations, tempting though that was. They’re so fantastical, I’d prefer them to live in the readers’ minds and not be shaped by my take on things.  I’ve veered towards environment, or the more mundane objects in the story as a counterpoint to the extraordinary beings we encounter in each episode.

So, for Chapter 6 – The Mannequin, we have the looming mountain of Perdu Peak, and a single marble. The marble, for me, conjures the idea of the ‘world within a world’ or the ‘world within a grain of sand’. Kyp has discovered the vast universe of Chimera on his own doorstep, and within that, he’s finding further layers of existence, deeper and deeper.”

Phil Cooper, October 2020


The completed ‘Perdu Peak’ painting on Phil’s desktop in his Berlin studio, October 2020


Phil Cooper, A Single Marble Fell, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

“With a loud clack, a single marble fell from above and rolled towards Madame Chartreuse.”


Phil’s thumbnail sketches for ‘A Single Marble Fell’, October 2020

Phil’s marble painting in development, October 2020



Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #1

Kyp Finnegan’s Conker, Phil Cooper, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on board


It gives me great pleasure to share the first of Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s new paintings inspired by the world of Chimera. As each new episode of the audiobook goes live, a further painting will follow here at Red’s Kingdom. One of the most exciting aspects of collaborating with other creatives is the way in which your own work is vivified by the imagination and talents of other people. To hear actor Dan Snelgrove inhabiting the different characters of Chimera has been an addictive delight for me, and it’s no different each time Phil Cooper sends a new painting my way. I’m asking Phil to contribute a few words as preface to each painting, and so….


In the opening chapter we find ourselves in the mundane world; the back of a car, rain, and a family where there’s a ‘bit of an atmosphere’. Familiar stuff to most of us, probably. But by the end of chapter two we’ve entered another world entirely, we pass through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, the back of the wardrobe. Somehow Kyp has stepped through a portal to another world, a world full of wonders and terrors, a very long way from the back seat of a car in a rainy street.

So with this first image I wanted to get a sense of the portal from one world to another. The portal itself can’t be identified precisely, but once through it, there’s no going back. In the image, Kyp, and the mundane world he is leaving, are represented by the conker in his pocket. The conker is passing through a swirling ‘no-place’, the bridge between the world he was rejecting and the place where his feelings were unintentionally sending him. Colour is heightened, everything is moving, swirling round, being drawn inescapably into the universe of Chimera…




Spotlight #4 Phil Cooper

Berlin-based artist Phil Cooper at work in his studio, September 2020


Regular visitors to Red’s Kingdom may already be familiar with the work of the artist, Phil Cooper, who is a regular participant in the fortnightly creative Kick-Abouts, in which artists based all over the world come together to create new work (or curate existing work) in response to a prompt. So far, Phil has given us beautiful hand-cut, hand-painted tableaux of lycanthropes and enticing portals, short spoken word fiction, maquettes of forlorn-looking buildings bracing themselves against storm and tempest, black and white photography, and one very sexy – if self-absorbed – lighthouse keeper!

When not kicking-about with the rest of us, Phil’s proper job is producing wonderful paintings, drawings and collages, which get snapped up almost-at-once by his followers on Instagram and via his website, phil-cooper.com. Phil also keeps a very beautiful and generous blog – Hedgecrows – which he began all the way back in 2012, and is a rich source of pleasure and inspiration, a veritable treasure trove of dreamy, transportive imagery that offers up a comprehensive insight into Phil’s passions, preoccupations and talents.


The completed Chimera Book One cover art painting on Phil’s suitably untidy table-top.


Given all his existing artistic activity, I was delighted when Phil expressed his interest in working with me to produce my children’s book, Chimera as an episodic podcast – or rather, produce new original artworks in response to the book to accompany the release of the audiobook here on Red’s Kingdom next month.

Our first priority was to start thinking about a ‘book cover’ for the Chimera podcast. Phil and I have been chatting little and often about the project for a number of months, but we caught up for a proper natter just after Phil completed the Chimera cover art and sent it my way, a conversation in which Phil and I explore the provenance of his creative direction. Highlights include Phil discussing Clive Hicks Jenkins winning the V&A 2020 Illustrated Book Award for his work on Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes and two middle-aged men reflecting on the strangeness of growing up in the 1970s!

During the course of our conversation, Phil and I make enthusiastic reference to a number of our mutual childhood touchstones – kitsch Christmas cards, boxes of fireworks and Halloween window displays. Consider the following a visual aid!



Phil Cooper and Phil Gomm in conversation, September 2020


The finished Chimera Book One cover painting by Phil Cooper, September 2020

Details from Phil’s painting for the cover art for Chimera Book One