It is with great sadness that I have to report that the wonderfully talented Val Chivers passed away in June 2023.

Anyone who has read The Last Dragon Chronicles will know that Val was the inspiration for the character of Elizabeth Pennykettle (Liz), whose clay dragons dominated the entire series. My wife, Jay, and I first met Val at a craft fair in Leicestershire, England, one Sunday afternoon. I had already created the character of Liz but was struggling to find an occupation for her, one she could manage from home. Even when we came across Val’s stall and bought the first of the many dragons we would come to possess, I still hadn’t figured out that ‘potter’ might be a good role for Liz Pennykettle. We were halfway home, stopped at traffic lights, when I glanced sideways and saw the love in Jay’s eyes as she cradled the dragon we’d bought for the bargain price of five pounds (because he had a chip out of one of his toes), that the light bulb pinged on. And what an amazing journey it took us all on. Val, by then, already had a thriving business, not just with her clay dragons, but with all kinds of figurines.

It was about to get even better. When The Fire Within came out, we traced Val to her small shop and gave her a copy. “Take note of the mum,” I said. "You were the inspiration for her!” So began a long friendship between us. To my surprise, a few months after that first meeting, Val presented me with a gift of my own: a figure of the writing dragon I’d described in the book, the one and only Gadzooks. It was beautiful, and from the moment I posted his picture on my website it seemed like the whole world wanted a writing dragon or a potions dragon or a wishing dragon, such was the clamour for Val’s models. So they went out, in their cardboard and their bubble wrap, to bring joy to readers and dragon lovers all over the world. Val took immense pleasure from the contacts she made. She was a lovely, easy-going, charitable lady with a huge smile and an infectious laugh. She will be greatly missed, but her legacy will live on through her work and the books.

(The photo was taken outside Browsers Bookshop in Leicester in 2001, shortly after The Fire Within was published)