Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My 'Writing Process' - squeezed between World Book Week and Bologna Book Fair 2014

Thank you Andrew Weale for introducing me and Chitra Soundar into the blog tour called My Writing Process! Andrew is a presenter as well as a writer extraordinaire.  I'll never forget how he entranced a theatre full of schoolchildren and teachers with his antics and stories at our CWISL Shoutsouth festival 2013.

World Book events and deadlines last week had me stumbling  when I should have grabbed the blog baton.  Woke up early this morning thinking it's not too late to stagger into action.
So here are my answers to the Blog tour questions:

1. What am I working on?
I'm working on the endpapers (the inside cover pages, which are sometimes just plain paper) for my 'big' picture book story, Tiz and Ott's Big Draw, due out with Tate Publishing UK next year.  I hope to show the dummy for the book this coming Monday March 24th at my 4pm Showcase  in Bologna (at the SCBWI stand, Hall 26 stand A66 if you're going...)

Tiz, a high-energy scribbler of a cat, and Ott, a low-energy dabbler and donkey (who are both dozing at the top of this blog)  started life in 4 little dummy books I put together.
My first tiny Tiz & Ott dummy books -  7 spreads per book & no bigger than a child's hand
Tiz and Ott remind me as much of my own 'quick, quick, slow' way of working as of my two children.  And I love stories about partnerships. I was fascinated by Ant and Bee as a small child, and much later by  Frog and Toad and George and Martha
Now my two characters, Tiz and Ott, are put to bed for the moment, for the endpapers, I've been using crayons & brush to make all kinds of marks, splodges, splashes, zig zags, scumbles and scribbles  - the sort of things they make - and finding words to label them.   Here's part of one rough for the endpapers just to give you an idea.
rough sketch for endpapers for Tiz & Ott's Big Draw

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well I've two obsessions which both creep into my work.
My first obsession is drawing and painting...so that connects to Tiz and Ott's Big Draw. It might make my work a teeny bit different.  
The other obsession is about communication and foreign languages. Years back, I included a few foreign words in my very first books in a series, Toto's Travels, about a young boy's adventures in other countries.  My next book is a French book called, oddly enough, Bridget's Book of English. Now, that's a 'different' title, especially for a French picture book!

3. Why do I write what I do?
Art and language again.  All my life, I've lived among paintings, not all my own.  I wanted to go to art school but seemed to be good at passing exams so ended up studying at King's College, Cambridge.  There was no art option, though they had a studio we could use in our spare time, and later I discovered that Kate Greenaway medalist Jan Pienkowski went there too.   My two obsessions again.  I studied Chinese for part 1 of my degree and loved memorizing a written language with visual rather than phonetic roots.  I finished my degree studying art history - and connections between late 19th century French painting and poetry. 

Now I could push it and claim that Tiz's crayon and Ott's paintbrush could be traced back to the contest between line and colour in mid 19th century France.  Tiz would have followed Ingres's linear drawing, and Ott would have enjoyed Delacroix's painterliness if they'd been 19th century eccentrics.   And like Tiz and Ott, I  know all too well what it's like to get carried away, and draw or paint yourself into a hole...

Tiz in a hole
pretend 'finished' spread from my sketchbook  - not the final version.
As for language...I mentioned in my previous post, how as a child I once found myself in a French playground surrounded by kids staring at me and saying things I couldn't understand.  I felt like I had just landed from Mars. Besides, my mother was Catalan, from Barcelona and was always asking me and my father, who was an East Londoner, to speak more clearly.  I guess that's why I speak with a Linguaphone  standard accent and why I can relate to kids who are newcomers anywhere. My own children were born of us English parents and raised in France.  They are totally bilingual and in a sense, immigrants in both countries.
I hope kids will feel welcomed by the deliberately non-specific furry family  in Bridget's Book of English (see the cover on my previous post here), and enjoy spotting all the little stories going on in the pictures and under the flaps.  
Really I write with pictures.

4.  How does your writing process work?
I start in a a cheap A4 size sketchbook jotting down text and thumbnails and sometimes I'll pretend to myself it's the finished book, just to keep on track.   Pictures and/ or words emerge together or alternately...rarely entirely separately.
Here's an early spread from first thumbnails thoughts about Tiz & Ott.
detail of a rough plan for what turned out to be Tiz & Ott's Big Draw.

And here's a couple of early ideas for Bridget's Book...
Details of a page of text in my A4 sketchbook for Bridget's Book of English.

Two pages later into the Bridget's book sketches and I'm already pretending I'm doing the final book content...

Detail of the final artwork  - developed from the top left of previous sketch
for Bridget's Book of English, Bayard France September 2014.
Next week I'll pass the baton over to two dear, unique writer-illustrator friends.  
Or are they illustrator-writers?  Wait till next week to find out!

I've a duel with Sally Kindberg next Monday in Bologna at 2:30pm. Our weapons will be pens or charcoal and two easels and we'll draw instant illustrations to a  read-aloud, unknown picture book text.  Sally has written and illustrated many children's books as well as travel features which involved going to Elf School in Iceland among other things.  She has illustrated  a series of comic strip books for Bloomsbury, and is now working on her Draw it! series.  Draw It - London is due out in May.  See her blog here.  

Jane Porter's latest book This Rabbit That Rabbit is out now with Walker Books and she is currently preparing an exhibition of woodcut and collage inspired by the River Thames. See more of her work here.

Look forward to seeing their writing process next!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Bridget's Book of English for the French and World Book Week

Proposed cover for my flap book of first English words for Bayard, France

Barely landed from a wonderfully inspiring and long-saved up for trip to New York than I was off doing workshops with budding authors and illustrators under 10 years old, at the Chelsea Young Writers Group.
Then to talks for World Book Week at the brand new Artizan Street Library in the City, back near my home ground of East London.  What wonderfully attentive kids!

So many children here, in East as well as West London, are recent immigrants.  I can relate to them.  I have an early memory of being in a French playground surrounded by children staring at me (at best looking concerned) because I couldn't understand them.  I think it's that feeling of being different, estranged, that made me want to come up with a book specfically about recognizing words through pictures. And a lift-the-flap book that's fun to play with, rather than a manual. I want the furry family of whatdyoucallems to be welcoming for any kid anywhere.  Can't wait to see the final maquette for this book when I go to the Bologna Book Fair in less than 2 weeks!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Judith Kerr & Shirley Hughes in conversation at the Society of Authors

So glad I braved wet, windy London (streets jam-packed last night due to a tube strike) to see Judith Kerr and Shirley Hughes in conversation at the Society of Authors. Feel I should share some nuggets for those that couldn't make it.  A big thanks to the Society of Authors for making it happen!
left to right Shirley Hughes, host Ann Sebba and Judith Kerr

Born in 1923 and 1927 respectively, with many classic picture books to their names,  these two world famous author-illustrators could be resting on their laurels but far from it.  They are still very much working, excited by future projects.  Such lively, lateral thinkers, such wit and emotional intelligence!  A true inspiration for us all.

I've been to so many talks by prize-winning picture book authors and illustrators at SCBWI conferences and such  Often, and perhaps surprisingly, picture book authors avoid any reference to their child audience in their speeches.  Some even assert that they don't think of kids at all, creating for themselves or for their own child selves. This talk stood out in that both Kerr and Hughes clearly related to their main readership - children - as well as to their own childhood.    

How did they come up with characters?    Shirley Hughes said it all came from sketchbooks. Alfie, the perennial pre-schooler just appeared fully formed in a sketch, and was very anxious to get into a story. She was conscious that Alfie's books are for an age group that can't yet read so a good deal of the story is in the pictures.  His friend Bernard,  she said, is the kind of kid, she said that only a mother could love, the kind who at 16 will get the girl.  They struggle with things that all young children struggle with, doing up laces, leaving their comfort blanket behind to go to a party... Less about her own children, Hughes would  lurk in parks watching and drawing kids move, "how they run and scatter like starlings..."

Judith Kerr
Kerr's characters were first inspired by cat.  She'd longed for a cat as a child and couldn't have one until she had grown up and settled down.  Mog was the first of nine cats she has had, including a truly weird cat who hated heights.
File:The Tiger who came to tea.jpg The Tiger who came to tea was her only book which started with the story.  She told it to her daughter every night long before she wrote it down.  And when she and her daughter went to London Zoo, they didn't think of tigers biting but just marvelled at their orange stripes.  It's good said Kerr to include things you like drawing in stories. Do avoid writing about things you don't enjoy drawing!   Kerr confessed she killed Mog off after 16 books, before she informed her publisher.

What of their experience of war time?  Judith Kerr's novel,  When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit is based on  her own childhood fleeing Germany to Switzerland then France and London during the Blitz. Her life-affirming child's perspective offsets the underlying gloom of her family's situation. When they fled to Paris, Judith told her father that she enjoyed being a refugee.

Shirley Hughes found childhood on Merseyside during the Blitz extremely boring if not frightening at times.  Barbed wire, not much to do.  She escaped into stories.  I look forward to reading Shirley Hughes's novel Hero on a Bicycle. Inspired by a true story, it's set in Florence during WW2.    Hughes is delighted what the internet can do thanks to a site that provides children and anyone interested with more historical background to the story.

What of the business, the process?  Both said they started by analyzing other picture books, copying out and counting out pages, though Judith confessed she counted wrong at first.  Both said how lucky they are to have great editors - how important the partnership is.  Judith Kerr confessed that she dropped her agent when she told her she was "using too much paper" to write a story, and since then has used the Society of Authors legal advisors to check over her contracts. 

Kerr touched a familiar chord in me, talking of the worry when you finish a book - what next?  The casting about for ideas...how to get it right?  It takes a long time.  And unless the story is right, it's hard to draw.  

Shirley Hughes appreciated the Society of Authors for the community it offered in what is an otherwise pretty solitary profession. And when she was on the S of A committee in the 1970s, she had defended illustrators' rights in getting equal payment for library loans from the Public Lending Right - thank you Shirley Hughes!

Back to children. Shirley Hughes read out some priceless letters from children and really appreciated teachers encouraging children to send them.  One boy wrote "Dear Shirley Huge (sic) - I think your books are great but my friend doesn't like them. Are you published wildly (sic) abroad?"
Shirley ended by turning the roomful of us authors into children. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the front row to see her draw to a rhyming ditty about Oswald and Jessie who were terribly messy...


I felt like a kid leaving a party.  And now I'll show off my going-away gifts to myself with signed plates in them by each author.
 Judith Kerr's Creatures starts
"There are drawings and there are illustrations.  I first discovered the difference aged four and a half at my German kindergarten".
Coming up to her 90th birthday  the book is a big treasure trove whic tells the full and amply illustrated story of her life and work from childhood to her 'last years': roughs, manuscripts, photos and illustrations, fabric designs, cat sketches, oils, thumbnails...

And I can't wait to read Shirley Hughes and daughter Clara Vuillaumy's  beautifully designed and illustrated chapter book, Dixie O'Day In the Fast Lane.
 How much fun it has been, Hughes said, to come up with ideas with her daughter Clara.  There are more books to come.
When the young Clara  came home from school, she would use up the discarded watercolour from her mum's palette.  In short she'd provide the tools but leave her to get on with her own thing. My own artist father did the same thing.   Clara's illustrations are very different from her mother's - plus she can draw cars which Shirley Hughes does not like drawing.
Their work and Judith Kerr's too is bursting with vitality, wit, generosity.  Their conversation was testament to that too. Precious ingredients for picture book creators!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Got to dance with Tate Publishing and Bologna and all.

Got to dance, Tiz and Ott!
New contract signed with Tate Publishing UK for Tiz & Ott's Big Draw due Spring 2015.
More to post later...meanwhile just got to dance despite the rain!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Rain, rain - time for a rhyme!

Rain in London, floods out west.  Here are a couple of illustrations I've just done for Storybox magazine for young kids.

A belated "Bonne année!" with a bit of Bridget's Book of English.

Worked hard over the holidays and finished a lift-the-flap word book for young children for Bayard France. Bridget's Book of English is the French title. (Bridget with a French accent sounds like Brid-Jette and I'm told, sounds sweeter to a French ear than Brigitte).
I used coloured pencils for the first time in years. Here's a bit of the classroom scene for anyone who lands here who missed my earlier wishes!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Counting forwards day by day Advent calendar - and backwards month by month...

Whaaaaa!  Was it really June I was last here?   What happened?
Well here's an Advent Calendar game I designed a few years ago.
Let me know if you can't open each day - on the right day.
Children might like to guess what's inside each present before they click on it.  If they jump ahead of the day, they'll get a pop-up which should animate.  I designed it some years ago and though I did not manage to change the old fonts as I'd like, it still works - thanks to my Sidney-based web hoster Simon Specker.  Since the late 1990s he has hosted me at Planet Homepage in exchange for having hosted him years before during his trip around Europe.

There's another advent calendar I helped the SCBWI Words and Pictures team  put together.   This one is new this year.  Have a look at our Society of Children's Book Writer and Illustrators' advent calendar which will grow day by day as a different illustrator is added on until December 25.

I haven't been idle since my last post in June.
And it's brought me two exciting new contracts, one French, one English for two very different picture books that I'm writing as well as am illustrating (more about those soon).

Time now to recapitulate the months I missed on this blog with a highlight or two per month.

July - an inspiring SCBWI Picture Book retreat with Helen Stephens and Gerry Turley in a dream location on the River Avon, alongside other authors and illustrators and visiting publishers from Egmont and Hodder.

August -  alongside the books I was working on a series of paintings for the Time for a Rhyme feature in Bayard's English Storybox Magazine.  Here's a glimpse of the first one for the September issue...
My son and I managed a week off and a long drive from London via Paris to the Lot to sketch scenery around Les Eyzies for another story I'm working on.
Incredible rock formations...quick crayon 
watercolour sketch in the heat

September - a dose of picture book dummy doctoring with fellow author-illustrator, the wonderful Sue Porter for a SCBWI BI illustrator masterclass we hope we gave fellow creators a fresh angle on their projects for picture books texts and images.

October  - A big sorting out and new storage in my home studio -  10 big wide smooth moving draws, and lots more shelf and desk space, built by a brilliant carpenter (contact me if you need a good one in London!)  and no less than 34  big delicious pears on my little Conference pear tree  which I  planted a year and a half ago, in my garden near Brick Lane.

November - work on my books, another commission for Highlights High Five, and a last minute charity sale to set up of SCBWI Showcase illustrator prints, at the SCBWI Winchester conference in aid of the Philippines Typhoon Appeal . An inspiring conference - a lot to take in but I had a moment to relax afterwards on the Eurostar to Paris for a working meeting with Bayard.
I managed to fit in the Grand Palais to see the huge Braque show.
No photos allowed - fortunately I had a few coloured pencils to record a thumbnail of
Braque's 1934 Still Life with Red Tablecloth

The Vallotton exhibition was huge and full of work I didn't know...Somehow the same day I managed an hour at the French kids book fair before the train back to London.

A couple of days later, this weekend, two seasonal fairs in South London with other CWISL authors and illustrators.  I read Mini Racer, at Feast Fair's CWISL stand today. The children coloured in snails on skateboards, and "dotty dog" cars and boy did we make tracks with them!

 There I've caught up with myself - not too late for December 1st and the Advent launch...and  just in time to make dinner - phew!