Monday, 23 September 2013

The Dancing Tiger - from birth to rebirth, by Malachy Doyle

It’s 1996 - two years before I become a published author.  I’m trying to write a series of animal poems.  They’re not particularly brilliant.  I go for a ride on my bike.  I find myself singing a little tune.

There’s a quiet gentle tiger,
in the woods below the hill…

I jump off the bike.  Climb over a gate into a field.  Write it down.  A poem spills out, like a dream.

In time, I get an agent.  Things start to happen.  But not with the animal poems, which have become a picture book idea called ‘Cards from Uncle Joe’.  Each poem is a postcard / birthday card / Christmas card from Joe to his niece, with a little toy animal attached.  It's a nice concept, but never really clicks.

It’s 2003.  I’m having lunch with Simon and Schuster.  I read my editor some scripts.  They’re not quite working.  I pull out my Dancing Tiger poem.  I get to the end, and there's silence.  And then I notice the tears, pouring down her face.  We’re in business.

They take on a top American husband and wife team, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, to illustrate it.  It’s quite, quite beautiful. 

The Dancing Tiger sells to Viking Penguin in the US, to Australia, Korea, Japan, Spain…  Hits shortlists in Ireland, Scotland and America…  It gets amazing reviews.  People read things into it I’d never even thought of. 

I’m invited to the Nestle Children’s Book Award.  It wins Silver.  Would’ve won Gold if some hotshot kid from Belfast (with a penguin in tow) hadn’t appeared on the scene, all of a sudden…  

The Dancing Tiger becomes a firm favourite.  I bring a big cuddly one with me to all my readings.  It’s the final thing I read, to settle everyone down.  Because it's a lullaby, really.  A lullaby to love, and family, and imagination, and the power of story.  Or so they tell me. 

A child comes out and dances with the tiger. 

We skipped in spring through bluebells,
in summer circled slow.
We high-kicked in the autumn leaves
and waltzed in winter snow…

Then, in 2010, the emails start arriving.  ‘I want / need / must have this book, but can’t find it anywhere.’  That’s when I realise it’s out of print.  That I’ve only two copies left.  I’m bereft.

The emails keep coming, from all round the world.  I reply that I’m as sorry as they are, but the publisher has no plans to reprint.  It’s on Kindle, but…

I start forwarding them to Simon and Schuster.  One a month, sometimes one a week.  I tell my editor that I know books go out of print – that's the business we're in – but this one… this one is special. The way people feel about it is special. 

Eventually, to my astonishment, they give in.  ‘I've good news for you, Malachy,' they tell me.  'We’re doing a small reprint.’

It's September 2013, and my tiger is back from the long dark night.  It’s only a thousand copies, but it means the world to me. 

He was lost but now he's found and, for another wee while at least, we’re dancing again.    
Never give up on your dreams!

You can hear me reading it, on World Book Day a few years ago, to a group of children in the offices of the Guardian newspaper, on



  1. Now The Dancing Tiger is a doubly wonderful story. Fullo f admiration for your persistence - and success!

  2. Well done nagging the buggers Malachy ;-) My publisher only cries when looking at my sales figures ;-) then i cry too. . .

  3. It's a lovely book, and I'm really glad that the tiger is dancing again!

  4. Beautiful piece Malachy, and a beautiful book. I'm so glad that this means that more people will get the chance to experience it.

  5. What a beautiful, heart warming story. Congratulations on the re-release of your lovely book.

  6. That's such a lovely story of a book, Malachy. I love the way the refrain popped into your head while you were riding along. It's funny how little ideas come and visit us - the trick is to get them to stick around long enough to become something special. Dance on, tiger!

  7. Just listened to your story, Malachy, and I'm not surprised you've had so many enquiries about it. It's beautiful.

  8. Are you hopeful every time you get onto a bike and set off now?!

  9. Thanks, everyone. You're very kind.
    And you're so right, Abie - picture book ideas are like butterflies. They're all around, yet they're oh so precious. We try to capture the essence of their beauty and simplicity, but they want to fly free.

  10. Great news and so interesting to know it started out as a poem. I'm looking forward to reading the copy I've ordered.
    Must admit, I do get a little (I'm being restrained!) frustrated when some books go out of print so quickly. I've had both extremes - one book just keeps on going, whilst another sold out in less than a year and was allowed to go out of print.

    1. I do agree, Paeony - it's very upsetting the way so many books are killed off at the end of the first paperback print run, seemingly irrespective of how well they've been received.

  11. Long may it remain in print, Malachy.

  12. What a lovely story! Thanks!

  13. Mr Doyle, as a previously childless, business owning, career woman, I used to balk at my at my sister's fevered passion for children’s stories. Subsequently I became a (late) mother of 3 small children, stepped out of the office and straight into the amazing, magical, enriching, sad, happy and enchanting world of children’s books! Then one day I sat down to read The Dancing Tiger to my baby daughter and Boom-emotional stability as I knew it was gone forever.

    Five years and two daughters on and after hundreds of attempts, I am yet to actually finish the story. My noise twitches when I pick it up, it stings on the opening line and the tears are flooding at ‘But now that I am old and grey,”. In my view, no book will ever match or surpass this one. I have discussed this book for hours on end and my sister and I often wonder if you or Steve and Lou can actually comprehend what you have created. I have ten copies ready to pass to my children and my grandchildren. When my children ask (as they often do), do I believe in magic? I think of your book and gently reassure them that yes I do.

    1. What a beautiful comment. It's rare, as a writer, to be told, so clearly, how much your work means to someone. Thank you.
      And I'm sure you're right. There was some sort of magic in the creation of this book, some sort of alchemy, that took it way beyond what any of us was thinking.