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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.

Friday, 16 December 2011


I really enjoyed reading John Rowe Townsend's The Xanadu Manuscript both for its Cambridge setting and also for it's clever time travel story. It  was first published in 1977 and has been re issued by Oleander Press, a small publisher of books with a Cambridge interest. The Xanadu Manuscript, however, will interest young readers far beyond Cambridge as it has such a popular and universal theme.
    John is a very good friend, living close by and I'm delighted to see his book back in print again with its new, eye-catching cover.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


For most of my life I kept a diary. I used to like to compare my own day, especially if it had been a bad one, with the days of other diarists in The Faber Book of Diaries edited by Simon Brett.  Now the blog has replaced the diary with posts that are not quite as personal as diary entries. Here are the entries of  The Reverend John Skinner, Jane Welsh Carlyle , George Gissing and Joan Wyndham for 4 December in 1823, 1855, 1893 and 1940 respectively:

And here's my own for 2011:
Woke at 10.30 after a bad night relieved it was Sunday and not Monday.  The last few days have been manic; trying to get Zoë’s Boat off to China for printing with the worry the huge files are still stuck somewhere out in cyberspace - hopefully nearer to Hong Kong than Cambridge.
     It was all so old fashioned and easy last year when Lavenham Press printed The Little White Sprite and the printer drove over to collect everything from my house; staying for tea and cake. But all that costs money and, now we’re in 'a time of economic crisis', costs have to be kept down. Though yesterday, 'the economic crisis story' didn’t ring very true at Hitchin Waterstones – or for that matter the ‘death of the book story.’ I’ve never seen so many people in a bookshop before and I’ve never had such a good signing session before – 47 copies sold.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Commas, full stops, colons, semi-colons, hyphens and dashes are like the bones of a skeleton lying beneath the meaning of a sentence.
    As a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, I have to help students at Essex University with their writing. Last week, a very able student from Pakistan brought along a close reading of an excerpt by Dickens from Sketches by Boz. It would have been a first class essay except the student had not looked closely enough at the length of Dickens’s sentences nor thought about the way those sentences were punctuated. 
  On my non RLF days, I’m proof reading Zoë’s Boat before it goes to press. Looking at my own writing is somehow a much harder task than looking at someone else’s - all those punctuation marks and how they affect the rhythm of the page, not to mention the wider punctuation of the page turns in a picture book when you have to imagine the reader, a Mum or Dad, reading aloud to a child and turning those pages; quickly or slowly or deliberately holding back the page turn where there’s a cliff hanger.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Last night was bonfire night and we watched the fireworks reflected in the river Cam at the bottom of my garden. Despite austerity times, Cambridge didn't skimp on its firework display or its bonfire; the explosions of colour were as bright as ever, the bangs were as big as ever and the smallest children were as scared as ever  - just as they would be reading this poem:  Please to Remember. Small children on 5 November

Sunday, 30 October 2011


'The sea is big and angry. It's taking away my things.'  From Zoë’s Boat.

For weeks I've been painting that sea. I thought it would get easier and I'd get the hang of it. But I never got the hang of it - right up until the final spread it kept changing. And now it's all done. The illustrations for Zoë’s Boat are complete leaving that washed-up feeling one always has at the end of a project.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


I’ve been doing quite a few Saturday signings in Waterstones stores recently and I'm still learning the ropes. Unless you’re an author with celebrity status, these sessions amount to hand selling over a period of 4- 6 hours. Independent bookshops seem less keen on this active type of signing session – maybe because their floor space is smaller than that of most Waterstones shops and the author is rubbing shoulders with the bookseller, or maybe because they don’t want loyal customers upset by over zealous or inept selling. You tread a fine line between being intrusive and a nuisance and being unobtrusive and going unnoticed. With the gentlest of nudges and some eye catching artwork you have to be able to point a customer towards a book they weren’t originally looking for and convince them that it was just what they were looking for.
    Six hours sounds an awfully long time but I find it passes quickly and there’s plenty to observe and learn about a bookshop when not actually signing. There’s an ebb and flow rhythm to the day; a flurry of customers entering the shop with all the book sellers at the tills, then a lull when books are replaced on shelves, stickers taken off past offers and time for a chat.
   You have to bring something to eat discreetly in one of these lulls or you won't survive the day and as for the toilet - it's usually somewhere very inaccessible in the back area of the shop, up winding staircases, past  store rooms and boxes that send a chill down an author’s spine: returns, on-going returns, confirmed returns.
   I usually sell 30 copies in a day but occasionally events beyond my control upset this. On the Saturday of the great October heat wave I sold only half that number of books. Children just didn’t come into the shop and I spent most of the day shivering under a very efficient air conditioning vent, looking out at the wonderful heat wave and all the three and four year olds tripping past on their way, no doubt, to the paddling pool in the park.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Zoë’s Boat has been designed as a read aloud picture book for very young children in graphic novel style. Now, the coloured artwork is nearly complete, I have handed over to typographic designer, Lisa Kirkham, to ponder the style of the text frames – should there be a frame with an outline, just a faded rectangle or  simply text on image? I think I prefer the faded rectangle used here as it integrates enough with the picture frames and stylized trees and water yet isn’t over emphatic.  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


The Boss by Patrice Aggs and John Aggs

I went to the CWIG meeting on graphic novels and comics last Tuesday evening when a panel of illustrators plus Lizzie Spratt from Walker Books showed images of their work and talked about issues relating to this genre.   My latest book Zoë’s Boat, to be published in March 2012, is a picture book in graphic novel form for very young children. This is what brought me to the meeting.  It's aimed at children who cannot read so the story needs a satisfying read-aloud text. Children as young as 4 years old are very adept at reading a sequence of images even when they are unable to read text but most of what was discussed by the panel was aimed at 8years and older – children who would be reading speech bubbles and text silently themselves. The emphasis of the evening was very much more on the graphics than the style of writing.
     Philip Pullman who has a great interest in the graphic novel said in his Pearce Memorial Lecture that they should be written in the present tense as pictures always sit in the present. I can see this with the older graphic novels and comics where there’s an immediacy created by all the speech bubbles, but with younger children it begs the question – shouldn’t this rule apply to all picture book texts? I’m still mulling it over – trying to decide whether a shift to the present tense would add impact to my story in graphic novel form.
   I was interested to see that the illustrators working in this field were very young;  a graphic novel is much more work than a picture book as I've discovered working on Zoë’s Boat - all those image frames – it needs a young pair of eyes!
   The next generation was very much in evidence on panel last Tuesday – Will Fickling  - resurrecting, in the  form of the aptly named Phoenix The Phoenix. The Weekly Story Comic his father David Fickling’s DFC comic which folded in 2009 after 53 issues. And there was Patrice Aggs’ son John Aggs doing an exciting new graphic novel for Hachette as well as working on books with his mother. I once did an author visit to John's prep school, Dorset House, where my sister was his teacher. He looks very different now from the little boy in grey flannel shorts and blazor!
    It was a good evening and I went home inspired to do more books for younger children in this format despite tired eyes.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Last Thursday was the fifth Pearce Memorial Lecture held in Cambridge. Philip Pullman gave an great talk, entitled Both Perhaps Present (TS Eliot’s Four Quartets – Burnt Norton). He explored the classical tone of narration in Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, the character of the narrator and the different points of view as well as talking about the present tense narration popular in contemporary novels and the oral tone of voice in fairy tales. You can watch the video: Both Perhaps Present
He’s pictured here with Philippa’s daughter Sally and grandson Nat.

The photographer was Jill Paton Walsh.
After the lecture there was a wine reception. This lecture series is excellent value as it's free. Next year Malorie Blackman will be the speaker and the year after, Kevin Crossley-Holland. Pearce Lecture

Sunday, 4 September 2011


The slow summer days are nearly over - lying in the sun and swimming in rivers.
This year we found the old Victorian bathing pool in the river Stour near Sudbury.

other years we swam in the Cam.  The Weir on the Cam

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Our family dogs were of the long-suffering breed; they were much loved rescue dogs that would invariably appear in a book. Here’s Marcus Agrippa – Gripper for short -who took the leading role in one of my childhood books.

And here’s Digby - half sheepdog half wolf hound -who is the Dear Old Dog in my next book, Zoë’s Boat.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


There was one day this week that was so dark and wet, I had to work all day with a daylight bulb on, in order to see my page properly. The rain lifted in the evening and I was able to get out of Cambridge to the higher ground above Wimpole. There were still storm clouds about, a tone or so darker than the undulating fields which were all mauve - planted with vetch - presumably as set-aside. Six beehives sheltered up against the edge of the woods, facing the sweet-scented mauve fields and in the middle of one field stood an mobile hen barn with gentle roosting sounds coming from it.
   Mauve, more muted than purple, is a safe, quiet colour, peaceful to the eye - so the sudden cry of a fox in the woods came as a shock - a harsh deadly sound hurled at the barn, isolated in the middle of the mauve landscape.
My father described  that sound as 'a scream of blood' in his poem 'Fox'

Sunday, 7 August 2011


As I attempt to meet a summer deadline for the illustrations of Zoe's Boat, I find it best not to look too far ahead but work by the day in bite-size bits. Otherwise the end feels too far out of sight and I'll never get beyond unwrapping the boat.

Sunday, 31 July 2011


This boat in Thaxted church  inspired the boat in the story I'm working on at the moment; a boat so unseaworthy that only great belief and faith could keep it afloat.  Perhaps that's why it's there in Thaxted church; I can see no other reason.
Meanwhile, as I work on the boat in my story, more seaworthy boats pass on the river at the end of my garden and I catch a glimpse of those onboard sipping wine as they sail on by through August.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Here are the four prize winners of the first Elsworth School Writing Competition; they were taken to Patisserie Valerie for tea last Wednesday. Booksellers at Heffers judged the entries and I handed out the prizes at school the day before.  I was very impressed by the standard of writing coming out of this small village school. The link between good writing and the love of reading was evident, especially in the style of William Wisson-Burton's story Turning the Page. William was the overall winner and his name was engraved on a cup  - hopefully the first of many names to be engraved. Elsworth School will be looking for another children's author to hand out the prizes next year. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Last week I went to Birmingham for a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship meeting for returning fellows. This is the scheme that places writers in universities for two days a week to help students with their essay writing. I did it back in 2005-7 at Kent University and, in September,will do it again at Essex University alongside crime writer, Martyn Waites.
   The day in Birmingham wasn't arduous - there was a short brief from Steve Cook, the Fellowship Officer, a leisurely meal followed by petits fours and coffee, lots of chat with other writers who'd come from all over the country and a goodie bag (above) containing two mugs and a lot of pens to take away.
    A sprinkling of children's writers were present - as there should be - because it's Winnie the Pooh who is funding this scheme: that 'bear of very little brain' but a very big honey pot of riches thanks to Walt Disney .

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I've just returned from Vancouver.
While there, I visited an independent children's bookshop, Kidsbooks and met the bookseller, Phyllis Simon. What struck me first about her shop was its size and then after a long browse its huge range of books.    
    "Business thrives," Phyllis told me, " because parents in Vancouver are very concerned about their children's literacy and they support the bookshop".
     Phyllis, who has a library background, is an Anglophile and is enthusiastic about our children's literary tradition. She wanted to talk about Philippa Pearce and Minnow on the Say, Lucy Boston and the Green Knowe stories, Anne Fine and Helen Oxenbury. However, there was a note of disappointment when she described the range of books she saw in a large London bookshop when she was recently in the UK. Whereas the best of the UK's children's books get into bookshops in Canada and the US she didn't see it happening so much the other way round and, as a result, thought the UK was missing a lot of good books originating in North America. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Last Thursday I went to Midge Gillies' launch of her book The Barbed -Wire University in Ely. Her father had been a wartime POW and early on in the writing of this book Midge had taken an interested in my friend, Frank Brook's experiences as a Polish POW (see DUNKIRK & CALAIS 16 June 2010 post). 
     At the launch, Midge gave a slide talk in St Peter's Church which probably hadn't seen a congregation that size for decades. Mr Toppings of Toppings bookshop was there pouring wine and selling more copies of the £25 hardback than he believed possible. In the end he ran out of them.
There was something so positive about the initiative and creativity of these POWs during their captivity. An Australian named Griffin, in a Japanese camp, interested me because he wrote a children's book The Happiness Box as a Christmas present for the interned children held with their mothers at Changi Gaol.
     'The Happiness Box tells the tale of three characters, a monkey called Martin, Wobbley the frog and the wise little lizard Winston, who live together in a house in the jungle. But even in this children's story the POW's preoccupation with food is obvious. The trio live off the north, south, east and west winds that Winston catches in a trap he has set in the very highest tree and which Wobbley serves up with rice and vegetables. But the wind trap is the only one in the jungle and they are forced to share their meals with hundreds of other creatures that turn up at their door. Their happy existence is rocked when Wobbley finds a strange wooden box in a rice field...'
At the last minute this book was banned. Griffin had made a mistake giving his lizard the name 'Winston'. The Japanese assumed it referred to the British prime minister and there were coded messages in the story and ordered the book to be destroyed but somehow it escaped.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Sketching goats can be unpredicable. While I was trying to capture these kids being bottle fed, their mother had found my handbag and was chewing up my cheque book.

Goats always bring to mind Heidi - one of my favourite books when I was a child. But the goat eating the contents of my hand bag had yellow eyes and a knowing expression. My father's poem, Goat, paints a darker picture of this animal

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Last Saturday was the typography workshop that Lisa Kirkham and I ran for SCBWI members. After a hairy drive through central London, when my Tom Tom lost the plot at a critical moment, sending  me the wrong way up various one-way streets and landing me in a bus lane - we arrived at a very peaceful venue in a secluded church building. The group was a talented one and we had a great discussion about the typographic design of the books we'd all brought along  - admiring Charlotte's Voake's hand done typeface and the way Emily Gravett's  hand written text in Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears was very much part of the illustration.
There's a lot of typographic fun and games going on in picture books today. We loved the girly type whenever 'girl pirates' were mentioned in The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright

and it was interesting seeing things from a professional typographer's point of view. Lisa is always thinking in terms of the movement of the reading eye; she spotted that 'Up, up up' on this page was in fact going down the page despite the decreasing size of each 'up' creating the perspective of going up.
   We found some books where the typographic design was over - the -top and didn't appear to have evolved with the image and text instead was arbitarily placed on the page.
   The workshop ended with a hands -on activity and then looking at the dummies people had brought along where a lot of thought had gone into the placement of text and image and the creative use of typeface .  

Sunday, 15 May 2011


After reading The Little White Sprite, a little boy in Canada is searching for sprite holes in Stanley Park. He thought he spotted two sprites on the day this photo was taken.

When I realised that children are fascinated by holes in trees and what lives inside them, I had this one made which I use with puppet characters in the workshops I give in schools and bookshops. There's going to be a Sprite workshop in Cambridge at Heffers Bookshop at 3 -4.30pm on 4 June.

Saturday, 7 May 2011


I'm soon to have a new next-door neighbour which has made me think of all the next-door neighbours I've had going back over the years to my childhood in West Sussex. Here's one I remember well, described in my father's poem Neighbour
and here's another who lived in a nearby chicken house:

Thursday, 21 April 2011


In his article 'Led Creatively by the Book' in the Carousel Guide, Chris Stephenson writes: 'The body and soul of a picture book - illustrations, text, type design - should all evolve together.’
This is exactly what I wanted to do when I started working with typographic designer Lisa Kirkham,
and The Little White Sprite, with the tree dominating the page lent itself to the close interlacing of twigs, typeface and story.
    Starting with a rough like the one above, where the text was all in a block, we would work together positioning it into a more organic shape –
We were coming from different directions and that was exciting. Whereas I was used to thinking broadly about the picture book’s overall rhythms – the punctuation of page turns to create pause and suspense in a story, Lisa’s decisions were informed by the reading movement of the eye.  The placement of text and type design was like a form of visual intonation with spaces for breaths.  
    For example, words in a sentence singled out and moved to another line, like ‘a hole’, catch the eye and are given emphasis. We had to decide whether the emphasis was appropriate for that bit of the story.  
Whereas I might find a particular pattern of text, like that on the right hand page above, pleasing to the eye, I was having to learn to use my ears as well as my eyes when it came to very precise placing of text. There was something too staccato about the line separation of the words ‘tugging’ and ‘at me’ and, in the end, we put them on the same line to lessen the effect.  
This is all very subtle and probably passes unnoticed by the reader, but if it contributes unconsciously to a harmony in the book between eye and ear, then it’s worth doing.
Lisa and I are giving a workshop, Creative Use of Typography in the Children’s Book on 21 May 2011 as part of the SCBWI Illustrator Master Class series -

And finally, Chris in his article mentions all the people who have helped Plaister Press come about. I’d like to add his name to that list with a big 'thank you' for his unwavering belief in the success of our venture. 

Sunday, 10 April 2011


This year I flew out to the Bologna Book Fair on the Sunday, giving myself half a day's sightseeing. I wanted to climb up to the Basilica Di San Luca that stands on a hill overlooking the city. Taking a number 20 bus, I travelled to the place where I thought the walk started but soon discovered I'd got off too soon and was climbing the wrong hill. It didn't seem to matter much - the sun was shining, I had a picnic with me and the whole afternoon ahead of me.
    I was soon overtaken by a young man in jogging gear who turned out to be a New York publisher's scout attending the Fair. He was also going to the basilica and was also on the wrong hill. We asked an Italian the way and were shown a road  that would eventually end up there. The publisher’s scout jogged off.
    A road with passing cars was not how I’d envisaged my afternoon walk, so when I saw a party of Germans (undoubtably publishers) emerging from woodland, I asked if the path they'd been on could possibly be a short cut to the basilica. They thought so, and I rashly left the road and headed off into the woods. But I'd been led astry; the path soon became an animal track descending into a steep gorge with a stream at the bottom. For over an hour I scrambled down one side of the gorge and then up the other, clinging to roots when the slope became sheer. All around me were the most beautiful flowers – but I was unable to appreciate their scent and colour. I finally pulled myself over the lip of a cliff and collapsed in a meadow just below the basilica.     
   After lying exhausted in the grass, I tried tidying myself up before looking for the road to the basilica. There was a track across the meadow - I  followed it - and came to a gate standing ajar and beyond, the grounds of a very large house. I could see no way past this house. So I entered the grounds and walked down the drive, hoping to let myself out onto the road without being spotted. But the front gate, set in a great ornate portico, was locked. I was going to have to find the owners of the house and play the humiliating role of a hopelessly lost, hot-and-bothered English lady who had wandered by accident into their garden, if I was to avoid being taken for an intruder. 
   The family were on the terrace drinking tea, guarded by a vicious mastiff. Quickly, they restrained the beast. Then, politely overcoming their surprise that someone had managed to enter their grounds from the gorge, they graciously offered me refreshment, before unlocking the gate and pointing the way to the basilica.
    I sat for a long time in the cool baroque building recovering from my adventure before setting off back to Bologna the correct way, down through the covered arcade. And there I bumped into the publisher’s scout, just arriving, having jogged a huge detour by road over two hills. He was surprised to find I’d arrived before him. As I started to describe my route, the desperate scramble down into the gorge and up again became ‘a little bit of a climb through beautiful woodland carpeted with wild flowers' and the humiliating end to the adventure turned into 'a welcome encounter with some hospitable Italians and their dog'.

The next two days were taken up with the Fair. And it was a good  Fair for me this year because I'd switched caps - I'd changed my story - I was now a publisher rather than an illustrator, selling rights not projects. And those magic words seemed to open all sorts of doors leading to all sorts of bright new ways ahead...

Friday, 25 March 2011


 Plaister Press is now launched and the website Plaister Press has finally gone public after delays caused by the poor web builder being caught up in the Christ Church earthquake. Thankfully he wasn't hurt.
There was a piece in the Bookseller Bookseller Article last week that gave rise to some interesting discussions. One agent thought there would be many authors in the future wanting to bring their out-of-print books back into print and stressed how important it was to get publishers to revert the rights to make this possible. I'd like to think we would be known as 'author publishers'.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Haunted by the grotesque and terrifying images of the debris left behind by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami this week, I revisited the sketches I'd done during my only visit to Japan back in the late 1980's when I'd glimpsed something of their landscape, history, art, religion and everyday life. I thought I'd post a few up in sympathy for the Japanese people at this time: