Unfinished Dick King-Smith book completed by great-granddaughter

An unfinished manuscript by the late children’s author Dick King-Smith that was discovered in his daughter’s loft will be published next year, after it was completed by his great-granddaughter.

Beloved for his stories of talking animals, King-Smith died in 2011 at the age of 88, leaving more than 100 books behind him, from his debut The Fox Busters, published when he was in his 50s, to The Sheep-Pig, which was adapted into the film Babe.

King-Smith’s story of Ambrose, a rabbit with an amazing sense of smell, was discovered in a box that Liz Rose, King-Smith’s middle daughter, had brought home with her from his house in 2011. She only found the partially completed text, which tells the story of the friendship of Ambrose and little girl Biddy, last year.

Josie Rogers today.
‘I’d say it’s near enough a 50-50 split effort between me and Grampa’ … Josie Rogers today. Photograph: Nina Rogers

The manuscript has since been completed by King-Smith’s great-granddaughter and Rose’s granddaughter, Josie Rogers, and will be published next March under the title Ambrose Follows His Nose.

“When the manuscript was discovered the story concept was fairly fleshed out and already featured our two main characters, Ambrose, the rabbit with the sense of smell of a bloodhound and Biddy, the plucky little girl who desperately wants to train and adopt him. However, the plot was only about halfway along so I added around six totally new chapters to complete the story,” said Rogers. “I had to rework and edit earlier chapters to fit in with the new plot arc but I tried to keep as much of Dick’s original text as I could, especially the funny bits.”

Rogers, who currently works as an editor in Glasgow, added several characters to the plot, including Ambrose’s sister Roly, who became a major part of the story. “I knew I wanted to do this from quite early on because she fulfilled certain tropes that feature in lots of Dick’s books – extremely rebellious little girls, and animals who subvert their ‘normal’ lifestyles – that weren’t as obvious in this manuscript,” she said.

“Looking at the original and current word count and accounting for editing, I’d say it’s near enough a 50-50 split effort between me and Grampa, which makes it feel like a real collaboration.”

The book will feature black-and-white illustrations from Steph Laberis, who said that as an animal lover she “jumped at the chance to work on a Dick King-Smith book”. Puffin will publish Ambrose Follows His Nose just ahead of the centenary of King-Smith’s birth on 27 March 2022. The children’s publisher described the story as an “instant classic – full of Dick’s trademark animals, warmth and humour”, with editorial director Kelly Hurst adding that Rogers “clearly has Dick’s storytelling genes”.

“Although Grampa Dick always encouraged me to write I never thought I’d get the chance to collaborate with him,” said Rogers. “The prospect was somewhat daunting but being able to finish the story he started so long ago has been a true joy.”

She said she believed her great-grandfather would have been “proud to see me following in his footsteps”.

“I don’t think it’s exactly what Grampa Dick would have written but I think he’d like it. More importantly, I think it would make him laugh,” she added.

Rogers and her great-grandfather will be narrowly beaten to market by another unfinished manuscript completed by a second author: Ian Rankin spent most of lockdown finishing a handwritten manuscript written by “godfather of tartan noir” William McIlvanney. The Dark Remains, a prequel to McIlvanney’s Glasgow-set detective novels featuring Jack Laidlaw, is out in September this year.

A fourth book in Mervyn Peake’s seminal Gormenghast trilogy, Titus Awakes, was completed by his widow Maeve Gilmore, and published after it was discovered in their attic in south London, while Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grand-nephew, wrote a sequel to Dracula drawing from excised characters and plot lines cut from Stoker’s original. But unfinished manuscripts are not always family affairs: writer David Lagercrantz wrote a sequel to late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium crime trilogy, working with the “the shadowy outline” of 10 books left behind by Lisbeth Salander’s creator, and many writers have had a stab at completing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was left unfinished at the time of Charles Dickens’ death.

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