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PAM ROYDS 1924 - 2016

Pam Royds on Grasmere , 1971 with Sally Christie, children’s author and daughter of Philippa Pearce. I was just twenty two when I fir...

About Me

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My blog is about writing and illustrating children's books which I have been doing since 1974. www.gillianmcclure.com has all my books. I also have another blog: www.paulcoltman.blogspot.com where I publish my father's poems.

Sunday, 28 February 2010


I gave a hands-on, illustrated talk to the Burwell WI this week about writing picture book texts and illustrating.
    Writers and illustrators shouldn't dismiss the WI when planning their calendar of engagements. The audience in Burwell spanned a range of ages - mothers and grandmothers. They were informed, interested and asked many questions. As well as receiving a fee, I was able to sell a lot of my books; the WI taking a small commission - 10% - for their funds.
   Afterwards, two of the audience, a teacher and a school librarian, approached me about possible visits to their respective Primary Schools. The school librarian told me she was on the panel of the Kate Greenaway Award this year.

I've worked with older people on other occasions, during community residencies and found these events rewarding. On one, the inmates of a residential home were given sketch books and encouraged to write and draw in them. Several said they couldn't begin to write but I found they were natural story tellers when asked about their WW2 childhoods. Their vivid tales and anecdotes were recorded and later shared with some year 2 pupils.

All this makes me recall I'm a granny too - an overseas granny who only sees her grandchildren twice a year; missing, in between, all the little milestones of their development - first laugh, first mouthful of solid food, first steps, first sentence.
However, I'm compensating for this absence by creating new picture book stories with them very much in mind. Maybe if I were with them all the time I wouldn't feel the need to do this or I'd find there wasn't the time.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


When a friend told me she had bought a narrow boat and was thinking of turning it into a story boat for children, I was reminded of the Summer Story Boat in Hertfordshire and a story telling event I did alongside Jan Mark back in the late 1980s. It was the first time I'd met Jan, though I knew her books. We both had sons with us. It was a sunny day and there were large audiences of young children on the banks by the boat. Jan's son Alex, was very helpful during her workshops, I remember. But my son, who was much younger, started to develop a fever and my final workshop of the day had to be curtailed so I could rush him off to a doctor.

This memory is tinged with sadness as Jan died in 2006 in her prime. Here's a link to another of Chris Stephenson's Carousel articles: 

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Never take a Ryanair flight the evening before your Carousel interview. Here's a cautionary tale:

A couple of years ago I was sitting having a late afternoon drink in the lovely Piazza Maggiori with some other illustrators after the last day of meetings at the Bologna Book Fair. Two of us had to get to Forli airport that evening, an hour's drive away, to catch a Ryanair flight home.

I was beginning to worry about the Carousel interview with Chris Stephenson the next day. I'd once done an interview for radio with a warm up chat while a light shone red. When the light changed to green, we were on air. Mesmerized by the colour of the light, I became tongue tied. I was hoping the interview the next day wasn't going to end up like that.

Time for one last drink in the Piazza before dragging our cases of books and portfolios of artwork off to the station - strange there was no airport bus running that evening...
When we arrived at Forli we found there was no transport from the station to the airport. We waited the best part of an hour at a bus stop and eventually a Sicilian soldier joined us. In pidgin English, he started acting gallantly towards to my fellow illustrator who responded in pidgin Italian and, when an empty bus turned up, going somewhere other than the airport, he indicated she should get on it with him. I followed. It all felt very foolish. We were heading off into the dark - and had no idea where. Eventually the bus stopped in a housing estate and the driver made the three of us get off. We saw another bus was waiting. It was going to the airport - huge relief. At the airport the Sicilian soldier parted company chivalrously in pidgin English.

Forli airport was uncannily quiet - just a handful of book fair people like us looking in vain for the Ryanair flight to Stansted. But there was no flight that night - nothing until 10.20 am the following day. Ryanair had changed its schedule. We'd all had the email several months before informing us of the change. None of us had registered or believed Ryanair could do something so outrageous as moving a flight back by twelve hours. It wasn't just illustrators who had made the mistake; there was a publisher - male - there too. He looked so shame-faced he wouldn't speak to the rest of us. As we tried to decide what to do, the prices of the seats on the next Ryanair flight the following morning were going up by the minute. My friend decided to return to Bologna and hang out until the prices returned to normal but I couldn't do that. Chris Stephenson would be standing on my doorstep the next morning. How could I get in touch with him to tell him where I was? I didn't have his phone number. Who would know it? I found I had Jill Paton-Walsh and John Rowe Townsend's number and phoned them. They were in and still up but didn't know Chris' number. However, Jill rose to the challenge and, despite the hour, phoned all the authors she thought might know it -Ann Thwaite - Clive King - goodness knows who else - and finally got it.

Meanwhile, Forli airport closed for the night and all stranded passengers were packed off to a grizzly motel that did a roaring trade thanks to Ryanair’s schedule changes.

Spent a very uneasy night sharing a room with a packager. At breakfast, the publisher sat at a table on his own, unable to look anyone in the eye.

I think Chris thought I'd devised a clever plan for getting out of the interview because he immediately fixed up another time. When it did eventually happen some weeks later, I needn't have worried. Chris had no red or green light, no dictaphone, not even a note pad. When he interviews authors and illustrators he simply engages them in a friendly conversation about what they like talking about most - themselves and their work. He then cleverly writes the article from memory. Here's a link to mine:

Carousel Article

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Looking again at Fly Home McDoo I've been reminded of how obsessed I was, back in the 1970s, with the Glasgow slums. Maybe it was because I had to live in Glasgow for three years.

I spent a lot of my time in the Gorbals and Maryhill sketching. Today, these Victorian tenements have all had their nineteenth century grime removed and are restored to beautiful pink and yellow sandstone but back then they were grey. In places, Glasgow looked like a bomb site with piles of rubble and rubbish and gaping gable ends exposing interior walls and intimate glimpses into what was once someone's home -patterned wall paper and old fireplaces.
What appealed to me as an artist were the small patches of colour in this dirty grey setting of boarded-up shops and tenement back courts. I found the Glaswegians an exceptionally warm and good humoured people and I was always trying to slip the the place into stories but my editor, Pam Royds, was firm - no picture book stories set in slums -

somehow she missed the one in Fly Home McDoo.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


It's an annoying thing, but it can happen, that other authors have exactly the same idea as you at exactly the same time. They call it zeitgeist.
I had a bad case of zeitgeist in 1979 with my third picture book, Fly Home McDoo, a story about a racing pigeon.  Within a week or so of publication two other racing pigeon stories had appeared: Mr Potter's Pigeon illustrated by Reg Cartwright

and Bertha and the Racing Pigeon written and illustrated by Pam Ayres. Needless to say, McDoo lost the race.
There's not much you can do about zeitgeist - when an idea is 'in the air' we're all tapping into it.

 It was donkeys not pigeons in 1993. I did The Christmas Donkey embellished with gold

and Jan Ormerod illustrated Father Christmas and the Donkey embellished with silver.

That bit of zeitgeist worked to both Jan's and my advantage when, in December 1999, I was unable to give a Christmas Donkey talk to some librarians because I had to go into hospital. At short notice Jan kindly gave the talk for me and was able to give the librarians value for money by adding an extra bit on her Christmas donkey book and selling lots of copies of both.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Here's a picture book published in 1971 that my sons enjoyed when they were little; the girly title belies the content.  It's a story set in Russia about a little girl, Natasha, who loses her way in a forest and is captured by a witch. It's Natasha's doll - no ordinary doll - that helps her escape from the witch.

An even more scary witch story is Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman. Published in  1977 and illustrated by Michael Foreman, it was my youngest son's favourite picture book.

Here's a passage from it that is quite as terrifying as Michael Foreman's pictures of the witch:
'The moon shone down on that knobby white fence. Was it a wooden fence? No. It was made of bones -leg bones and arm bones, little people bones. Teeny-Tiny stared at the fence...'

I've always been concerned this story might have had some lasting ill-effect on my son but he reassured me not long ago saying, as a six-year-old,  he identified with Teeny-Tiny, the youngest of the three brothers, who is never taken in by the witch's cunning and is clever enough to help his brothers escape. 

He remembers his father reading him this story and feeling protected because his father's arms were around him making him feel safe.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


Heffers Children's Bookshop, when it existed, hosted some great book launches for my Bloomsbury and Frances Lincoln books. I remember Bloomsbury had a cat cake specially made for the Tom Finger launch. A lot of books were sold on these occasions and it was a good opportunity to get to know the book reps.

Earlier book launches were often hosted by a school, following a term's residency. The launch of Tog the Ribber was at Great Chesterford Primary and again there was cake - a chocolate skeleton cake. The children had made shadow puppets and put on a magical show for that launch. 

I had one disaster - the launch of Witch Watch at a Primary School in Saffron Walden in 1989 when the vicar completely stole the show:

 "A few years ago I would have thought it was all innocent fun but the climate is different now," he told the press. "There is an increase in involvement in the occult in this area and I have had reports of witches coverns and black magic practices..."

Well, the advent of Harry Potter has changed all that. Let's hope the vicar is no longer troubled by the occult and his parishioners have been able to put away their broomsticks and settle down to a good read.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A Wolf in the School

Publishers like their authors and illustrators to do as many school visits and library and festival events as they possibly can. Helen Mortimer, the OUP picture book editor, talking at the SCBWI meeting last week, stressed the importance of us all doing this to publicise our books. 
A whole new set of skills, totally different to writing or illustrating, suddenly has to come into play to avoid boring the audience to tears or overexciting them and causing havoc in the classroom.
Back in the 1980s I got away with dressing up as the wolf in my book 'What's the Time Rory Wolf?' and telling the story in a growly voice; ending up with the suggestion we all play a riotous game of What's the Time Mr Wolf? The teachers always looked alarmed at this point... Later the book was included on the National Curriculum List for Seven Year Old Tests.
Now, things have to be a little more sedate. Here children paint lucky pebbles and make wish books in family workshops at the Ely Eel Festival and the 2009 Cambridge Wordfest.

This workshop was inspired by 'The Wishing Eel', a story I wrote and Year 2 pupils at Trumpington Primary School illustrated during a community residency.

Oh well, times change - those wolf sessions were a lot of fun, but it was hot under that wolf mask and the growling took its toll on my voice in the end. Anyway, I'm a granny now and grannies don't dress up as wolves. In fact - it's wolves that dress up as grannies...

Gustave Dore: Red Riding Hood