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From the Dinosaur Expert’s Mouth

“There is not a giant leap between what Paul is doing and what I am doing,” said Dr MacLeod.

For Dinosaur in Danger, Paul consulted Dr Norman MacLeod, Keeper of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London.

“Paul is drawn to the possibilities that the ancient world opens up. I am intrigued by the way he is able to use a narrative about this ancient world – objects and animals that nobody has or ever will see  - put it in a very modern context  - and tell a story worth telling.”

“I have consulted with authors of serious reference books before, but this is the first time I have worked with a children’s author.”

“Paul wanted to make sure the dinosaur characters he was creating were as scientifically accurate as possible. He didn’t want creatures from different areas or time zones in the same story.”

As both Norman and Paul know – children are the most vehement critics of everything dinosaur-related.

Dr MacLeod described a recent challenge by an 11 year old to Jack Horner, the world’s most recognised palaeontologist. “He asked some pretty specific questions - not just broad theories about their extinction - but challenged him on whether a specific species was really distinct or just a subspecies.”

He thinks people are generally attracted to the field because the fossils and the creatures are visually interesting and aesthetically pleasing.

“Children have a particular affinity because during their individualisation - when they realise they are independent from their parents – palaeontology offers them a perfect tool. As adults feign disinterest in science, children can grab hold of it to distinguish themselves. “That is why there is such an emphasis on knowing how to pronounce the Latin name – not only do you know what a Heterodontosaurus is but you know how to say Heterodontosaurus - whereas your parents don’t!”

Dr MacLeod says there is not a giant leap between what Paul is doing and what he is doing. “Palaeontologists use fiction all the time. We construct backgrounds, scenes and characters because we have to draw people in. We make sure they understand the setting, who is involved, what they might be doing and why they might behave in certain ways.”

Although, according to the Keeper, Paul faces some additional constraints: “Writing a children’s book means you cannot spin out long narratives or have complex character development. You have to tell the story in a very compact, yet still entertaining and engaging way. In fact, you have to engage the audience almost from the first sentence – from the cover even.”

“Paul is really talented at doing this, all his books demonstrate this ability – I am in awe of his writing and artistic skill.”


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Dr Norman MacLeod
Keeper of Palaeontology
Department of Palaeontology,
The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, London
SW7 5BD, U.K.

Research Interests:
Patterns of phenotypic evolution; biostratigraphy; phylogenetic systematics; historical palaeoecology; palaeoceanography; palaeoclimatology; morphometrics; image analysis; and the application of quantitative procedures to the analysis of biological-palaeontological-geological data.

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