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The Amazing Adventures of Curd The Lion and Us! in the Land at the Back of Beyond

Written by Alan Gilliland

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The Amazing Adventures of Curd The Lion and Us! in the Land at the Back of Beyond Review

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Reminiscent of the writing of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, this brilliant debut children's novel is completely unputdownable as well as being almost uncategorisable.  The author has succeeded in delivering on a book that incorporates a terrifically funny yet mysterious story, full of larger-than-life highly improbable characters that I couldn't begin to do justice to by describing them here, other than to say they are wild and wacky and completely original.  He's also delivered a story that is full of tongue-in-cheek humour and skilful word-play. It's staggering to think that it was not picked up by one of the mainstream publishers and has instead been self-published by a very determined author/illustrator.   It's 174 pages of pure unadulterated pleasure and has consistently been one of Lovereading's top titles since it was published back in 2008. This is a book that will be loved by anyone from 7 to 107.  It may not be as widely available nationwide as some books but that's through no fault of the book. 

If you would like to buy a copy direct from the author plus have it signed and/or personalised to someone, then please contact Alan direct at

and more commendation:

Brian Sibley, author & broadcaster, WINNER of BEST ADAPTATION for The History of Titus Groan in the BBC Audio Drama Awards, 2012, and author of the official Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film guides, wrote in his Ex Libris blog (excerpts): “Alan Gilliland’s delightful book for children (their parents and the young at heart in general)... is a heady mix of the tried and trusted format featuring nursery-toys-come-to-life with riddling, punning, nonsense in the style of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear punctuating a twisting, turning roller-coaster adventure story filled with dangers, outlandish encounters and weird and wonderful beings....
There are a mass of subtexts and literary and historical allusions within the story (it is not accidental, for example, that the creature encountered named the ‘Dodongs’ is an anagram of that Carrollian alter ego, ‘Dodgson’) and readers armed with the map below can trace the route of Curd & Co’s adventures in the real location of Brimham Rocks in the Yorkshire Dales. With delightful illustrations by the author, this the perfect read-aloud book for bedtime readers – and their listeners. ...a unique and wonderfully quirky book.” (

In a book regarded as a summation of her life’s work, which won her Author Award from the UK Literacy Association academic Margaret Mallett has featured Curd in her book, Choosing Fiction and Non-Fiction 3-11: A Comprehensive Guide for Teachers and Student Teachers in the over 9 section, which is introduced thus,“… (in) the huge and ever-growing number of books falling within the fantasy category… How does the teacher select from so many? … In a necessarily selective account, I have been concerned to pick out some of the best writers and most memorable titles which have survived over the years and which I think are likely to continue to be read.”

...and this is what she said about the Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion and Us:

Four soft toys go off on a journey to find a stolen brooch. Sounds cosy? It is not. In fact this is an exciting addition to fantasy novels for children from about age seven years, although it is also a most engrossing adventure story. The pencil drawings by the author fit the written text perfectly and add atmosphere and often energy to the story. It is not surprising that this story has been compared to the work of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear: riddles and word play, mysteries and surprises are wonderfully interwoven. The play on names is superb: for example, the four animals are called Curd the Lion, Pilgrim Crow, Sweeney the Heenie (a hyena) and O’Flattery the Snake.  Dialogue is convincing too. When the mother of Henry and Henrietta, the two children in the story, wrongly accuses them of losing her brooch she threatens that if they do not find it soon she will cancel their birthday party. Worst of all she will give their beloved toy animals to the charity shop for Children in Need, adding, ‘You don’t care about them. Look at the way you were treating Curd the Lion just now. Beating him to rags!’

And in an email reply to Alan Gilliland's thanks, she wrote this week: “Dear Alan, Many thanks for getting in touch. In 'Choosing and Using' I wanted to help student teachers know about some of the very best books for children after my lifetime in teaching children and students. Your book about Curd the Lion is hugely original and imagination stretching. My grandchildren are all 4 and under, but I will be getting them each a copy to treasure in the future. I wonder what you are working on now. You deserve every success.
With warmest regards, Margaret.”

A terrific review from one of the top fantasy writers of today, Katherine Langrish:

'This is a really unusual book – with brilliant illustrations, too. Think Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, lots of wordplay and paradoxical fun, and you’ll be there. Not for every child, perhaps, but any budding chess players or crossword puzzle fiends will have a whale of a time. It demands something of the reader, and that’s not a bad thing at all.'

Here are some more reviews from some other inspired readers:

Isabelle Hammersley, age 10:
“I just got back from Waterstone's Guildford. When I bought the book I got it signed by the author and he is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. Anyway on the book I couldn’t put it down ITS AMAZING! Ive read right up to the bit with the Minorbores riddle. I really need to find out what it means. I cant wait till the next book comes out. ITS THE BEST BOOK EVER AND IVE READ HARRY POTTER AND JACKY WILSON BOOKS!!!!!!!!!! LOVE IT AND THE AUTHOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!XXXXXX

And it's not just Lovereading and Isabelle that's been caught by the Curd the Lion bug:

Steven Ryan, aged 46, Fareham:
"I have been an avid reader of Terry Pratchett for many years and find it difficult to pick up books from other authors because few seem to combine imagination with wit and ingenious wordplay.  I have to say, humble pie has never tasted so good. I picked up "The amazing adventures of Curd the lion in the back of beyond" in Waterstone's bookshop in Fareham not realising that the person I was talking to was the author Alan Gilliland.  The artwork on display was very similar to Josh Kirby who does Pratchett's artwork, an instant bonus point. I bought a copy of the book mainly, I have to say, at first for the artwork, but when I got home and read the first few pages I couldn't put the book down.  The story is compelling, as good and in places better than any Pratchett book.  The Minorbores puzzles are my favourite part of the book (still working on the 3rd puzzle). Overall impression? I loved this book and can't wait for the second. Thanks for the chat we had Mr. Gilliland, you've opened my mind to a new realm."

From Emily Sanders, Dorset
"The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion and us is fab. I can’t wait to read the story of The Ineffable Emperor. I read the book in about three hours! It is really tricky to put the book down and I can’t wait to read it again and again and again. I started last night and finshed it this morning! The day is Good Friday the tenth of April 2009. I bought the book from Alan Gilliland himself after he had told me about the amazing story. I couldn’t wait to get home and read it. Also it sounded so fabulous that mum got my best friend called Genevieve one. I absolutely loved it. I know Genevieve will like it. I don’t know of another author that can do really great stories and illustrate their story in such a fantastic way. GET THE BOOK, IT’S GREAT!!!"

From Simone Gilson (student)
"Your book detailing Curd’s adventures I could read again and again! The way in which it crosses the boundaries of childhood and adulthood imagination was truly inspiring – a magical tour de force through the imagination, that reminds you of what it was to dream as a child and to comprehend as an adult!  The illustrations are amazing and all who I have shared the book with have commented likewise. They captured many of the images I had in my head from the days of reading Lewis Carroll and Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree! Plus as someone attempting her own poetry and looking for new ways of reading, the linguistics used within your book were very inspirational. I have also found myself puzzling over and working out the riddles."

From Henry Alden (Burpham, Guildford)
"I am writing to you because I love your book. It was brilliant I have a couple of questions to ask you. Where do you live? And what is your favourite animal? And what your favourite food? My favourite animal in the book is the hyena. And in real life it is a tiger My second favourite animal is a penguin.  I hope you make more books soon."

From Juliette Stuart , aged 11
"I loved your book about Curd the Lion so much!  As soon as I got home I read it and I didn't stop until I had finished.  I think I read it in about 4 hours flat!  My favourite character was Pilgrim Crow and also King Ziggu.  Please do the second book quickly. I can't wait until the second book comes out."

From Emily Tout, aged 9, Hampshire                                                     

“WOW!!! what a book. i couldn't wait to finish it! [and as i finished it in 24hrs you can see how desperate I was!!!] It had a surprise on each page just waiting to delight anybody reading it. The characters were imaginative and funny at the same time; they always spoke nonsense, which made reading it much more enjoyable. The illustrations are fab and made the characters jump out of the pages. It is the best i've ever read and i've read a few… i.e the whole series of harry potter… i would greatly recommend it to anybody of any age.”  

From Nathan Hutchison, aged 8, Surrey   

"I am writing to tell you your book is great.  I love the names, 'Sweeney the Heenie', 'O'Flattery the snake' and 'Pilgrim Crow'.  They're so good."

From Lynne Rothwell, aged 10         

"A very amazing book about an adventure of nonsense and riddles. I liked the fact that you can go on the same adventure after you have read it.  This is the best book I have ever read and I have been inspired to do a book similar (not the same). (Thanks for signing it Alan Gilliland and I will not forget my map, when we go to Yorkshire)

From Tony Benn, longtime Member of Parliament       

"A lovely story book with super illustrations for children of all ages."

For even more praise and passion from all sorts of people, then scroll down this page.




The Amazing Adventures of Curd The Lion and Us! in the Land at the Back of Beyond Synopsis

The Twins, Henry and Henrietta, have two Animals each, given by their favourite Uncle. Henry has Curd the Lion and Pilgrim Crow; Henrietta has Sweeney the Heenie (an hyena) and O’Flattery the Snake.  One day the Twins are having a St. George-and-the-Dragon battle in Mum’s bedroom without permission when they have a dreadful calamity and spill talcum powder all over the bedroom!  When Mum finishes telling them off and clearing up she accidentally leaves Curd the Lion and her favourite inherited jewelled brooch unnoticed beside the bed. A raven spots the brooch glinting, flies in and steals it.

Mum, of course, blames the Twins. She says that, unless the brooch is returned before their birthday in four days’ time, not only will their Party be cancelled but also their four animals will be given away to the Charity Shop!  The Animals realise that, unless they go out, find the Raven and bring the brooch back in time, they will never see the Twins again. Curd the Lion leads the animals out that night, all the way to the Back of Beyond, to find the Great Raven and try to rescue the brooch.

All the creatures they meet along the way give them clues as to how to find the Raven. Meeting first that unfathomable inflatable, Professor Balloonafuss, creatures they encounter include ‘His Majesty King Much of a Muchness’ the magpie-king, Nook and Cranny the mine-goblins, the miserable Talking Signpost, Queen Mumbie-Bumbee and the Dodongs, who has scales instead of feathers because they are magical so that he hides them on the inside.

By the time they enter Holywood, with its Barguest Dog, the Great-and-Terrible Minor-Bore, knightly Sir Rush and his Kalandar, their route has become so riddled with pitfalls and the talk of the beasts so twisted, the animals can hardly tell whether they are coming or going. Reaching at last the Rocks of Brimstone and the Corbie-stone, lair of the Great Raven, the animals discover both friends and foes converging on this pivotal rock.

A great battle ensues…

And that's all we're prepared to tell you... Now you need to read it!

AND ALMOST FINALLY, there's a unique little extra to the book...

The author has included the first three chapters of a second adventure, ‘The Ineffable Emperor, or, Travels in the Land of Nod in the Great Sea of Slumber’, as a kind invitation to readers to ask for more. No illustrations (though there will be of course, in the real book).

AND FINALLY, FINALLY THE MAP & LOCATION  (picture of the Map, p 6))
This is a fantasy you can walk through in real life! Using the three-dimensional map at the beginning, the reader can visit the place where the story is set: Brimham Rocks, a National Trust site in the Yorkshire Dales. It is close to Fountains Abbey, West of Ripon and North of Harrogate.

Starting on the footpath beside the Twin’s house, you can follow the adventures of Curd and his friends, finding the story’s landmarks along the way, including the mine-entrance, the waterfall and footbridge, the cliff, the Minorbore’s twisty tree in the Holywood (hollywood) and so on, all the way to the Rocks themselves, where you can trace the path they took along the ridge, through the great crack in the rock and on up to the great Corbie Stone itself. 

But stick to rights of way, don’t go down mine-tunnels and be very careful climbing on the rocks (children, only under supervision).

The Amazing Adventures of Curd The Lion and Us! in the Land at the Back of Beyond Press Reviews

The Amazing Adventures of Curd the lion and Us is the story of four soft toys who go on an adventure to the Back of Beyond. Once you’ve decided that soft toys do these things, it’s perfectly natural. After all, what is Winnie the Pooh if not a soft toy?  Just the idea of calling a toy lion Curd the Lion requires a sense of humour, and the book is riddled with puns and other playful twists of words and phrases. Most of them will pass over the heads of young readers, but an adult will have fun. (‘What is pondering? It’s what you do by a pond.’) And I reckon that reading this book aloud to a child would be the most fun. It’s quite long, at over 150 pages, and the pages are large to accommodate all the pictures.

Curd belongs to Henry and so does Pilgrim Crow, whereas the hyena Sweeney the Heenie and the snake O’Flattery are Henry’s twin sister Henrietta’s toys. The Mum’s brooch has disappeared and she is angry. If not found, she will take the toys to Oxfam (or similar) and have them sold.

Obviously the toys love their children, so they set out to find the brooch, because Curd actually witnessed it being taken by the Great Raven. They encounter many creatures and many dangers en route to the Back of Beyond, but Curd’s bravery and wisdom gets them there and back. Naturally.

The black and white illustrations are magical, although I have to admit to being slightly scared by the man in the moon on the cover." The Bookwitch

“This is an extraordinary book… The superb black and white illustrations combined with an eminently satisfying story make this one to be valued. The tale is of four soft toy animals who go in search of a stolen brooch that must be recovered to keep them from being discarded.    What Gilliland has done is to lift what might have been another toy story onto a literary gold plate. His ability to play on words as well as to keep the story moving is a rare skill. The result is that the story can be enjoyed as a simple adventure as well as for its tongue-in-cheek word repartee that is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.  I can only hope that the book is taken up by an Australian publisher as I believe it will make inroads into the crowded children’s book market here.”  John Cohen, editor (The journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia)

“Gilliland’s tale, of a bunch of soft toys that go on a fantastic journey to recover a precious brooch nabbed by a raven, is pitched just right for children of a certain age who are bound to ask: "Do they get the brooch back?"   In the wrong hands, a story about a bunch of soft toys going on a great adventure could be sickly sweet, but Gilliland succeeds in making his story funny and mysterious.   He has produced such a distinctive story, both in terms of presentation, and imaginative reach, that I feel convinced he has a hit on his hands.”  Oxford Mail

“His wonderfully crafted debut will enchant children and amuse adults in equal measure.  Improbable characters leap from the page amid a sea of riddles and rhymes as the tale unfolds and, like so many great works of children’s literature, Gilliland wrote it for his own children.  The whimsical story is beautifully illustrated by Gilliland’s own pencil drawings, which hark back to a time when children’s books weren’t part of some huge merchandising drive.” Yorkshire Post

“There’s a hint of Hobbit, a touch of Alice in Wonderland, an echo of Lear and even a nod in the direction of Terry Pratchett in this phantasmagorical fantasy quest which is an epic entertainment for both children and adults alike.  Nonsensical and whimsical – and beautifully illustrated – this story is as delightful on the eye as it is dazzling in the imagination.  Go with the flow and you’re in a magical world in which impossible creatures leap from the pages…” Northern Echo

"Excellent work…” Derek Walcott, Nobel Laureate  

“The best thing to have happened to children’s literature since Alice went through the looking-glass.  Delightful – in the magical tradition of George Macdonald, but with an extra dimension of nonsense and wit of its own.  Gilliland’s mix of upside-down logic and serious whimsy is nonsense of the highest calibre.”  John Gray, philosopher and author of ‘Straw Dogs’.

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780955548611
Publication date: 20/10/2008
Publisher: Raven's Quill Ltd
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780955548611
Publication date: 20th October 2008
Author: Alan Gilliland
Publisher: Raven's Quill Ltd
Format: Hardback
Suitable for: 11+ readers, 7+ readers, 9+ readers
Other Categories: Bookshelf Essentials

About Alan Gilliland

A Potted History: Born in Malaya in 1949 and brought up on a garrisoned rubber plantation during the ‘Emergency’, Alan Gilliland’s first, mountaintop, boarding school was reached by means of a 1930’s American armour-plated car, WWII Dakota aeroplane and Saracen armoured personnel carrier. A year later, aged six, he was transferred to a new school, memories of whose white hot sandy beaches were to remain ingrained upon his psyche long after leaving for this drizzly island we call home. With his departure, Malaysia became independent and its anti-colonialist insurgency lost its rationale. Alan quickly learned ...

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