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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, 9 December 2012


In this post Susan Price is telling me more about her book The Ghost Drum which won the Carnegie Medal in 1987.

GM:  Having been drawn to your book, The Ghost Drum, by the fascinating imagery of the witches’ houses on chicken-legs, there’s so much more I’d love to know about the story. The Ghost Drum precedes Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials by a decade yet it equals it in magic and suspension of disbelief. How did you research it?

SP:  I’ve been reading fairy-tales, folk-lore and mythology since I was nine. My head is crammed full of images and motifs. I’d read about Lappish witches and their drums – the Vikings were quite scared of Lappish witches!
    The Ghost World books no doubt grew out of this mulch of folk-lore, but the idea arrived in one blow. It was as if I’d been given a postcard with a picture on it, and told – no, ordered – to ‘write about that.’ The picture showed a snowfield below a dark sky filled with stars. In the middle was a great Russian palace, with many towers and domes, all with those bright, jewel-coloured tiles.
    So the story arrived with its atmosphere set. It had to be in darkness and intense cold, but splashed with colour. I knew that it was a Russia of the imagination: the Russia of fairy-tale. I knew that the story was to have magic and witches, and was to be as frightening as it was beautiful. I also knew that the story was to be about someone who had been born in the room at the top of one of those domed towers, and had never left it.
    I did research it, to an extent. Suzanne Massie’s book, ‘Land of the Firebird’ was invaluable to me. In it I found the details about the palace windows being made of thin, painted mica. But much of the book was simply made up, using motifs from legends and fairy-tale.
    It took me something like three years to write Ghost Drum. I broke off and wrote other things to pay the bills while I worked on it. I became so worn out with it that I decided it was no good, and not worth wasting the postage to submit it. I put it away in a drawer and forgot about it for months. Then I came across it, read it, and thought it was the greatest thing written since writing was invented.
    The truth was somewhere between these two extremes! However, I rewrote it again, submitted it, and it was accepted by Faber in the UK, and Farrar-Strauss in the US, almost by return of post.

GM: So it started as a powerful visual image. That must be the artist in you.
Was it difficult to write about travelling to other worlds?

SP: It was, at first. Two things helped me. One was the account of a Viking funeral, given by an Arab trader. He said a gate was erected to represent the entrance to the other world. A slave-girl (who was later killed to accompany her dead master) was lifted up so she could see over the gate, and she said she saw her master waiting for her on the other side. (She’d been drugged.) This plain image of a gate worked for me as a passage from one world to another. I wanted something solid and easy to imagine.
    The other thing that helped me was thinking about the very vivid, real dreams I’ve always had. I’ve never had a dream where I knew I was dreaming. No matter how bizarre, my dreams are always 3-D solid, with full colour and sound.
    I thought of various folk-lore ideas – such as the one that says you shouldn’t wake someone suddenly, because their soul goes wandering in other worlds while they’re asleep, and will be lost if they’re jerked awake. And then there’s a Bushman saying I copied out and kept in mind while working on the Ghost World books: ‘Somewhere there is a dreamer dreaming us.’
    This helped me imagine the shifting from one world to another, because I know what dreaming is like – and if the apparently real worlds we visit in our dreams are actually other worlds, then it’s not so strange!

GM: That explains it so well and likening it to the idea of dreaming makes it all so convincing in your story.
Finally, I really liked the cat narrator. Was that your own invention or does he relate to a bit of folk-lore you absorbed when you were a child?

SP: The cat... Well, first, I love cats... And then I saw a Bilibin woodcut called 'Sir Cat the Wise' and saw references to this cat in folk-tale.
Then I've always been interested in traditional ways of starting stories. We have only, 'Once upon a time...' but originally there were many ways of starting and ending a story. 'Once upon a time, when dogs drank wine, and monkey chewed tobacca...' or 'I went to the garden to pick a bit of thyme: I've told my tale, now thee tell thine!'
I came across a couple of traditional Russian beginnings. One I've used elsewhere - the stone squirrel who runs up and down a tree, and for every nut he cracks, he tells a story. (Very like Norse Myth, and, of course, the Russian city of Kiev was founded by Vikings.)
The other beginning was about the cat tethered to a tree, and as he walks one way, he sings songs, etc.
    I originally put this at the start of the book because I loved the image, and I like such odd ways of starting stories. To me, it was like the painting on a Russian lacquered box - a dream like image and intense colours.
    But then I found the story becoming quite complicated, and thought it would be useful for younger readers (or listeners) if the cat began each section, reminding them what had happened, commenting on the action, and preparing them for what was to come. That's as deeply as I thought about it, but apparently, it means that the book has three narrators (?) and is quite Meta!
    Years after I wrote the Ghost Drum books, the beautiful Biffo came to live with me.

 If he wasn't a Norwegian Forest Cat, then he could certainly pass for one, and he was definitely wise. He could have walked on as the Cat Who Walks Round the Tree without rehearsal - except that no one would ever have got him to wear a collar and chain, not even a gold one! 

GM: I love the fact that there’s a practical reason for having the cat narrator as well as it adding a traditional resonance. And Biffo is indeed a most beautiful, wise–looking cat.




Sunday, 2 December 2012


The witch, Baba Yaga, lived in a house on chicken-legs and I used this image in Witch Watch, a picture book I did with my father Paul Coltman in 1989.
There are witches’ houses on chicken-legs, I discovered, in Susan Price’ book The Ghost Drum, first published two years earlier in 1987 and I was fascinated by her descriptions of them.

Here’s the passage where we first encounter a house on chicken-legs in The Ghost Drum:

‘Out in the night, in the snow, stood another house. It stood on two giant chicken-legs. It was a little house –a hut- but it had its double windows and its double doors to keep in the warmth of its stove, and it had good thick walls and a roof of pine-shingles. The witch came running over the snow, and the house bent its chicken-legs and lowered its door to the ground. The double doors opened, in went the witch, and the doors banged shut, one after the other.
    The chicken- legs straightened again and lifted the house into the air. The legs began to move. First they paced up and down on the spot, the talons on their toes raking through the crusted snow with splintering sounds of broken ice. Then the legs took a few quick, jerky steps, sprang, and began to run. Away over the snow ran the little house on its chicken-legs.’

Susan’s brother Andrew did this image for the e-book cover of The Ghost Drum: 

These houses can be a bit unpredictable:
‘Safa ran after the hut – which had wandered away, scratching the ground, on its chicken-legs.’

And they can make a racket. Here, one of them sounds the alarm:

The hut on chicken-legs began to stamp its taloned feet, and to make strange cackling, crackling noises like a chicken, or like a fire.’

   I discovered that other witches had houses ‘that ran upon goose-feet or cat’s paws…’
‘From every part of the world came huts walking on ducks’ feet, bears’ feet, donkeys’ feet, bringing witches and apprentices to congratulate the old witch on her pupil’s success.’

It's such a great image;  I like to try to imagine them running about among  the‘legless houses’ of our own towns and cities.

Monday, 26 November 2012


It was worth braving rain, wind and floods to get to the SCBWI Mass Book Launch party last Saturday evening. I so nearly didn't  make it. It was a great party, held in Winchester Guildhall. Here are some friends: Candy Gourlay taking the photos, 
Anne-Marie Perks organising the illustrators exhibition 
John Shelly launching his latest book  Halloween Forest - with its wonderfully bold and haunting images. 
Then there was the bookshop P&G Wells Ltd. The owner of this brilliant Independent bookshop is David Simpkin, (not in this photo) who was taught by my father, Paul Coltman  at Steyning Grammar. David told me that, while he was at Steyning Grammar, he won the Ted Walker Poetry prize. Ted Walker was also taught by my father and they remained close friends for many years. 
The book I was launching was Zoe's Boat. There's a piece about it's graphic form in
Lin Oliver was the host at the actual Book Launch. She made it all a lot of fun, getting each participating author and illustrator describe their book in just three words. That really put us all on the spot. I came up with 'feisty, girl, adventure' for Zoe's Boat.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


The NAWE conference for writers in education was held in York last weekend. I'd not been to York before and, bathed in November sunshine, it looked glorious. This was the view from my room at the Park Inn where the conference was held. 
   I was sharing a session on self-publishing with Anthony Haynes, publisher and author. In his talk, Anthony gave a great deal of sound advice on self- publishing and I followed it with my own experiences - good and bad- of running my own publishing company, Plaister Press. In the audience, there were many authors who were also self-publishing and they too contributed to the session. 
    At the end, Anthony published the following post on his Monographer's blog: Self-publishing-why-not-and-how
which is full of useful tips for anyone thinking of going down this route.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Guest blogger, Joyce Dunbar tells me about her latest picture book Puss Jekyll, Cat Hyde:

Puss Jekyll, Cat Hyde, (illustrated by Jill Barton, published by Frances Lincoln), is a cat with nine lives.

    I wrote it 15 years ago. My then agent, Gina Pollinger, said the text was 'like a fine wine.' But while publishers admired it, they said it would not make a picture book for children. I made some clumsy alterations, adding a child dreamer, but that didn't work, so it sat on my file for another 11 years.
    Then one day, circa 2008, I bundled up a few cat pieces and sent them to my new agent. She picked this one out, and to my surprise, Puffin took it on for their new 'Picture Book Boutique.' We had a lovely dinner in the Strand so that I could meet the illustrator, Jill Barton, to discuss possibilities - a rare enough encounter in itself since publishers on the whole prefer to keep the two species apart.
    Jill, like me, has had an enjoyable run of bears, ducks, rabbits, and so on, but was longing to do something darker. I wondered how she would handle the text. When the bold, graphite images arrived, I danced around the house with excitement. It was so clean, clear and bold, and so different.
    Puffin was equally enthusiastic - but then came the 2009 recession. Not only our book, but quite a few of the boutique books bit the dust. The Americans were no longer buying. There was a half hearted attempt to format it as a cute Mother's Day gift book, with sugar almond background colours and a smaller format. Jill was horrified. I thought it was better than nothing. Even so, 3 months before publication, compelled by market forces, Puffin pulled the plug completely.
    To their great credit, Jill's agent and mine sped round in a taxi together to protest, but to no avail. I showed it to Henry Layte, publisher and owner of our new independent Book shop, and he rewarded me with words of great praise. I didn't expect them to make a difference. But then, wonder of  wonders, within a few months, Frances Lincoln picked it up.
    Working with the first basic layouts they wrought a subtle transformation: Maurice Lyon, the editor, coaxed me into working on the punctuation, which ended up as supremely elegant as our cat, and Jill revisited some of the spreads, doing two complete new ones. The whole thing was watched over by Judith Escreet, the art editor. There was a bit of a fracas about an elusive vole, but finally the finished copies were in our tremulous, thankful hands.
    On Thursday 25th at the Book Hive, we had a wonderful launch. The shop was filled with well wishers and the book was a sell out. It also coincided perfectly with Hallowe'en, when 'good things of day begin to droop and drowse, and night's dark agents to their preys do rouse.' Spot on!
    So we are now feeling very chuffed and purry. It has been a long and difficult journey, but what a gloriously happy ending - so far.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


When Gillian kindly asked me to write about some of my experiences with illustrators, I was surprised to find that I'd never really written about this subject before. I've had some wonderful artists providing images for my work over the many years that I've been published. There was a super cover by Anthony Brown for my collection of spooky stories, Letters of Fire, and Emma Chichester Clark painted most beautiful images for the original three volumes of the Egerton Hall trilogy: The Tower Room, Watching the Roses and Pictures of the Night. My collection of stories from the opera (The Orchard Book of Opera Stories) had a different illustrator for each of the nine stories I was retelling and they were among the best in the land: Emma Chichester Clark again, Jane Ray, Sheila Moxley, Ian Beck, Sarah Field, Sophie Windham, Louise Brierley and Katya Mikhailovsky.

My latest picture book, It's Time for Bed, was published by Piccadilly Press yesterday. It has most delightful pictures by Sophy Williams. I suggested Sophie to my editor but I've never met her, and I've only met Emma Chichester Clark briefly at the launch of the Opera Stories book. I know Jane Ray slightly better but in most cases, I don't meet the person who illustrates my books. This goes right back to the very beginning of my career when almost the first thing I ever wrote, A Thousand Yards of Sea, was given wonderful pictures by Joanna Troughton. I've never met her either but she and I and Emma CC and I now follow one another on Twitter, where I've got to know them somewhat better.

In 2004, Emma Chichester Clark illustrated a whole book of mine, and that was the fulfillment of a long-held wish. She provided the pictures for My First Ballet Stories. and it's one of the loveliest productions you could wish for. There's a full page painting for each of the ballets, and other pages are decorated with pretty borders. There are also smaller vignettes scattered throughout. Here are two of the images, home-scanned, and therefore not doing the originals anything like justice but they will give you some idea of the work. The Swan Lake image I particularly like because it's not the normal cliche of the swans, but highlights instead the sinister Von Rothbart, whom Emma depicts as an owl whose 'wings obscure the moon.'
Those are my words of course, but she was the one who seized on them as being what she chose to illustrate. We had no correspondence about it whatsoever but I was thrilled to bits with the way the book turned out. The second image is from the Firebird, and I chose it for this piece because of the wonderful, vibrant green and gold in it. Again, it's not at its best in my scan, but in the book, that green sings from the page.

Sleeping Beauty,  illustrated by Christian Birmingham 'glows with light and magic.' So says one of the reviewers on Amazon and she is quite right. 
This book came about in a rather unusual way. Christian fell in love with a French château and wanted to do a version of the Sleeping Beauty story set there and specifically in the early seventeenth century. He looked about, through the publishers, for someone to write the story and chose me, for which I am very grateful. We did meet to discuss this venture but only once, and then I didn't see him again till the exhibition of his artwork just when the book was launched. Here are two images from the story: the moment when the Wicked Fairy, (who is called Skura in my version) curses the young princess Aurora in her cradle and the moment just before Prince Florian kisses her awake. Once again, the images you can see do not do justice to what you will find in the book.

I'd finish by saying that whether I know them or not, I'm immensely grateful for what so many wonderful artists have done for me and I would like to thank them all. If any of my books can be called beautiful, it's thanks to them. We have the best illustrators of children's books in the world, and they add immeasurably to the joy of the reading experience.

Sunday, 28 October 2012


In this post I’m in conversation with children’s author, Pippa Goodhart, pictured above. She invited me to a lovely lunch at her house a couple of weeks ago and it was at that lunch that I met her dog.
Gillian McClure: I was very taken with your dog Winnie now renamed ‘Winnie the Trifle Licker’ after her small indiscretion at your lunch party the other week.  But where does the name Winnie come from? Though  I think I can guess.
Pippa Goodhart:  My husband, three daughters and I went to Manchester to see eight puppies, all of them wonderful fat wriggly half-collie half-spaniels.  After much agonising, we chose the one that they were calling Splash, because of the shape of the marking across her face.  My youngest daughter suggested on the journey home that we might call her Winnie instead; Winnie the female-canine, named after the Winnie the Witch.  I’d just started working on Winnie the Witch stories and Winnie stories paid for her. 
Gillian: Well that explains all her doggy mischief. I’d love to know how you came to write the stories about Winnie the Witch and why you write them under a pseudonym.

Pippa: Australian author Valerie Thomas wrote the first, very simple and clever, story twenty-five years ago. Korky Paul illustrated it in his brilliantly mad, energetic, funny and inventive style, and Winnie the Witch came to picture book life. In the quarter century since then, a number of other Winnie picture books have come out. But, about four years ago, OUP decided that they wanted some longer story books about Winnie, aimed at a slightly older age group. There would be four stories in a book, illustrated in black and white. Valerie Thomas didn’t want to write them, but she agreed that I could write the stories so long as the invented name of Laura Owen was used on all the book covers.
Gillian: Was Laura Owen your name or Valerie’s?

Pippa: The choice of ‘Laura Owen’ was entirely Valerie’s. I suggested just putting Korky’s name on the cover, and leaving the author out altogether but she insisted on the Laura name.
I’ve written sixty-four stories about Winnie and her cat Wilbur … and in one of them there’s a clue that I’m the ghost writer of the those stories!
Gillian: I’d love to know which one.

Pippa: The story that gives a clue to me being the ghost writer is ‘Winnie And The Ghost In The Post’ (it comes in Mini Winnie). Winnie, who is no good at reading or writing, decides to use a ghost writer to help her enter a poetry competition. She sends off for a ghost, which she calls Post Ghost, or PG for short .... ie my initials. I’m sure nobody ever notices it, but it pleased me to sneak myself in there!

Gillian: Fascinating. But was it hard being a ghost writer? What sort of problems did you encounter?
Pippa: It was odd taking on a fictional character who already existed, and I wasn’t sure how that would work. So I began rather tentatively, feeling my way. But I soon realised that my stories were only going to work if I made Winnie and Wilbur my own characters. Winnie needed to be a more complex character than she is in the picture books because the stories are a lot more involved. Winnie is a strange mix of adult and child, along with the ability to do magic…but that magic must be used sparingly, or everything could be too easily solved, and you’d have no stories! Meanwhile Wilbur the cat is much cleverer than Winnie, but he can’t do magic, and he is a cat who can’t talk beyond a meow. The two of them, loving and bickering, make a fun pair to play with.
I also play with language in the Winnie stories, and that’s something that people seem to either love or hate (see the Amazon reviews!). Winnie exclaims in ways that sound dangerously as if they might be rude, but actually aren’t (“Thank knitted noodles for that!”) and she does eat some disgusting things. So, for example, having finished making a sandcastle at the seaside, Winnie says to Wilbur,
“There! That’s as pretty as a ferret in fairy wings. I reckon we’ve earned ourselves a nice lice lolly.”

Gillian: I think children love that sort of thing and also it’s good for making them think creatively about words. Finally, what about the collaboration with the illustrator Korky Paul? I’m interested to hear about that.
Pippa: As you can imagine, writing with Korky Paul illustrations in mind is a treat because he likes things the madder the better! I can leave gaps that I know that he will enjoy filling. I can put something like, ‘For breakfast Winnie had one of these … some of those…and a few of them’, and Korky will invent the most wonderful things on plates and in packets and creeping out of pockets!

Gillian: I bet Korky would have done a really funny drawing of Winnie licking the trifle.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Following on from Winnie’s small indiscretion with the pudding last week at the literary lunch, here are two more misbehaving dogs:

Marcus Agrippa (Gripper for short) recorded here stealing the Christmas turkey.(I was about ten at the time.) The remains of the bird were cleverly garnished with something delicious and served up as if nothing had happened.

And the dog who manages to wreck the dam in ‘We’re Going to Build a Dam.’ (To be published in March 2013).

Saturday, 13 October 2012


What could be nicer than a literary lunch on a glorious October day at a beautiful location in Grantchester: 
 … “would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester!”
-except for an unseen menace, 
“[ in] the lovely hamlet Grantchester”.  
- a dog who smelt a pudding in a bag and got to it before being spotted. 
Here are Adele Geras, Anne Roony and Pippa Goodhart inspecting lick marks on the pudding.

Here they are again deciding the unlicked parts could still be eaten...

And so, with the dog (whose name was Winnie,) banished out of earshot, out of sight, lunch was restored.
“… Grantchester! Ah Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there…”


“Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?”

Quotes from 'The Old Vicarage, Grantchester' by Rupert Brooke 1912

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Friday, 28 September 2012


When an email came from Companies House inviting me to a free Information Day in my home town, I decided to go because filing company returns and accounts hold the same terrors as submitting VAT and tax returns,with big fines if you muck up.

   The smiling faces of the Companies House staff, offering refreshments on arrival, immediately dispelled all my fears. This is a non-profit making orgsanisation; their prices are coming down this year when everywhere else prices are going up. As for the fines, they don’t go into Companies House coffers but into those of the Treasury. The point of the Information Day was to help new directors avoid giving money to the Treasury and offering some clever tips on avoiding trouble.

  As well as all the practical information, it was an entertaining afternoon too. We all loved hearing about the tricks people get up to when forming a company – like making their dog the director in order to avoid  fines . Or their two-year-old son, arguing, “But that’s all he ever wanted for his birthday – to become a company director!"

    So if you’re an author running a publishing company and get an invitation to go to one of these  Information Days - go.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012


‘Self publishing’ kept cropping up at the CWIG Conference, Joined Up Reading, last weekend.

On Saturday, the tone of the sessions was gloomy.  Everyone knew there were big changes afoot in the publishing industry yet nobody had a clear idea about where it was all leading. As the weekend wore on, I ran across a few less gloomy authors who had embarked on self publishing ventures and others who were thinking about it; getting back the rights of their out-of-print books and then publishing them as e-books on Amazon or spotting a niche market and publishing small print runs of their own physical books.
The self publishing session, run by Susan Price, Martin West and myself, was first thing on Sunday morning and a good number of authors got out of bed for it.

Susan got things going, talking about Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? publishing e-books. She was witty and made people laugh which meant they were a bit more awake when it was my turn to talk about Plaister Press publishing physical picture books and the problems of being so small in an industry geared to big. My only attempt at wit was this drawing of cartons of books left on a palette in a lay-by when the delivery lorry couldn’t get down my street. 
Finally, Martin, being a publisher, gave the audience some salutary advice about venturing into self publishing physical books before introducing his new organisation, Authorisation! which helps authors publishing independently with warehousing, distribution and sales.

The audience looked as though they were starting to feel positive again as they saw a choice of self publishing routes that could lead them out of the gloom.

Then came a surprise; a session on The State of the Industry followed ours and during it Philippa Dickinson, Managing Director of Random House Children’s Books said that she would be venturing into self publishing herself – bringing back into print her father’s books. She’s the daughter of the highly acclaimed children’s author, Peter Dickinson - now in his eighties and with all his books out-of-print. It seemed a paradox that the MD of Random House is moving from big to small and choosing the self publishing route to bring her father’s books back into print.
 There's a full account of the content of this self publishing session on Susan Price's 25 September blog post for  Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? 

Saturday, 8 September 2012


The 5th Pearce Memorial Lecture was held at Homerton College, Cambridge last Thursday and Malorie Blackman was the speaker. The title of her talk was: 21st Century Storytelling: Will the advent of new technology create a paradigm shift in the writing and reading of children's literature?
Here she is with Jill Paton Walsh
 and with Philppa Pearce’s daughter, Sally and grandchildren Nat and Will.

Malorie opened up a big discussion about the merits of both the physical book and the enhanced e-book. I guess that anyone attending this lecture series would be a lover of the physical book but possibly open minded about the merits of interactive links to stories and on-line reviews by young bloggers. So it was good to hear one book form could compliment the other and there would still be a place for the quality book to treasure, touch and hand on down to grandchildren.

It was interesting, also, to hear that Julia Donaldson was against The Gruffalo becoming an e-book.

All the lectures can be downloaded from the website:

The Pearce Lecture

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Well, the coloured typeface in We're Going to build as Dam did all change – for two reasons: coloured font presents problems for overseas translation if it’s part of the colour plate and if it’s going to have to be printed separately then that’s extra cost. The other reason was aesthetic – the black font looks good with the black line. It’s all a bit stronger. Now I have to decide whether the boys voices are going to be differentiated in tones of black – the more emphatic character in bold possibly. However, the more I read the story on its own without pictures, the more I’m in favour of leaving them undifferentiated. They are simply two boys – anonymous.
     The two boys who inspired them both happened to be called Calum – or more often ‘the two Calums’ - as if they were one. Here’s a photo of them having just made their dam on Kiloran beach. On a rare sunny day all those years ago!

Friday, 17 August 2012


I’ve Lisa Kirkham's delicate typeface, Nara, in both The Little White Sprite and Zoe’s Boat. The new book, We’re Going to Build a Dam -very much a boy book - needs something different.

In the story the boys are nameless –just ‘two boys.' The narrative is mainly in dialogue and the boys’ voices need to be differentiated. We thought of using different fonts, playing around with bold and italic and size of font. In the end we decided to use a just the one font, Compendio, in Roman. Compendio has a broken line and fits the way I’ve drawn the two scruffy boys using a scratchy black ink line.

The boy’s voices are differentiated by colour; the more dreamy and imaginative boy has an orangey red font and the other who is more practical and drives the dam building forward has a browny red font. At the moment the narrative is a blue font rather than black making the typeface merge with the palette of the pictures. That might change.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


After all the recent bad press about open ended Saturday signings in Waterstones, I thought I’d interrupt my sequence of posts on getting started on a new picture book to list a few positives about these signing events.
    But first I must add that I totally agree with the complaint that sparked the controversy - authors should not be over-zealous in their selling, pursuing around the shop, customers who have come in for a quiet browse. Nor should self published authors be selling poor quality material. However, to ban these signings because a minority have broken the rules is short sighted. Authors give up their Saturdays to help boost Waterstones sales. We sell a lot of books over time and get rewarded in all sorts of ways - like, in my case, meeting a customer who as a child had to learn by heart my picture book What’s the Time Rory Wolf? because it was one of the books on the National Curriculum list for the 7 year old tests. I guess she passed the test as here she was buying books for her own children, not to test them but to instil a love of reading.          
Then there were the two little girls who recognised Selkie. It turned out they owned an earlier edition that I’d signed for them after a visit to their school a few years ago. Even though they were now too old for picture books, they persuaded their mother to buy Zoe’s Boat and then peered keenly at my signature to make sure it was the same as the one in their copy of Selkie.
   Perhaps the nicest moment of all in an open ended Waterstones Saturday signing was when a sales assistant called me over to the phone to speak to a customer who had bought a copy of Zoe’s Boat earlier in the day. It wasn’t a complaint –  instead the customer told me she had read the story to her two year old daughter as soon as they got home and she was phoning because she wanted me to know it was the very first book her daughter had listened to from start to finish.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


The beach that inspired my new story We’re Going to Build a Dam is Kiloran Bay on the Isle of Colonsay. Here are some sketches done long ago on family holidays.

Having worked a lot on the layouts of this book, my focus is now on the colour and texture of its beach setting. I’m doing colour roughs in watercolour on Arches NOT, a french water colour paper which gives a bit of texture but what I really want is that flecked, print-making look. Not being a print maker, I have to replicate it with wax resistance and random patterns of masking fluid.

   A visit to Old Hunstanton Beach, after a Waterstones signing at Kings Lynn last Saturday, helped me with beach details: the sky reflected in ripple patterns on the wet sand – a raw umber colour – the debris: scattered scraps of seaweed, driftwood, pebbles and shells in sharp relief on the long stretches of dry sand – catching the light and casting shadows.

    Each book, unless it’s going to be a sequel to the last, demands a new look which is always a challenge. I’ve decided with this one to emphasise light and shadow, using a black pen and ink line, instead of my usual softer line. Here’s a colour rough.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Alongside doing the character thumbnails of the new book, I’m now working on the page layouts. I have the text in first-draft form but the moment I start to place images alongside words, the text moves into a second draft; I see words that can be removed and sentences that can be improved to fit in with what’s going on visually around them.

    I like this part of getting started - thinking spatially in broad sweeps - and the hours start to go by quickly. I’ve always liked working to Radio 3 rather than Radio 4 where the talking distracts me but I’m finding these days there’s more and more chat creeping into Radio 3, with its ‘brain teasers’ and invited guests. Strange to think, that in order to create words we need to be in a space where there are no words.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Getting started on a new picture book seems to take more effort and more will power than ever before. After the rush of school visits, bookshop events, RLF work, not to mention all the Plaister Press work,  there’s now just the blank sheet of paper, the slow tick of the clock and the endless rain on the roof.
In the first few days of the first week, I never got anywhere near working a full morning – fleeing the drawing board long before lunch break to check emails and anything else on-line that could distract me from a feeling of isolation from the real world. But gradually, day by day, there would be one drawing out of all the discarded ones that would lead me on to another until suddenly I knew what the dog in my subplot, and the boys in my main plot were going to look like...

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Here are some pages from the picture books done by children who came to a weekly art class held in my house when they were primary school age. Now they are grown up and two have just graduated from art college. Here's  Alice Maughan

So it was a great pleasure to have one of them back again last week doing two day's work-experience for Plaister Press. On the Thursday, she sat in on a meeting with typographical designer, Lisa Kirkham, where we looked at fonts for the new Plasiter Press book and discussed some page layouts using the typeface as illustration - this was all great fun. Then the next day, she helped me tackle all those nitty gritty matters pertaining to publishing: giving a new book an ISBN, adding that book to the Nielsen data base, dealing with orders from Gardners and Bertrams, updating the accounts and VAT records and finally filing the annual company return. This left me in need of a stiff drink or cold swim but my work experience student was all fired up and wanting to carry on.
She belongs to a generation just stepping out into the world with enormous energy and huge talent - all just waiting to be tapped into...