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.
The CWIG AGM followed by a talk on Non Fiction. I remember the very first time I went to one of these meetings at Drayton Gardens, back in the late nineteen eighties. Clive King was on the committee and was looking after the new members. I felt very over-awed at meeting the author of Stig of the Dump. Tonight Caroline Royds of Walker Books, daughter of my first editor, Pam Royds, was one of the speakers talking about the high production trade non fiction books that are being marketed to schools.
A First Book of Nature written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Mark Hearld was an example held up.
Before the meeting I’d visited the House of Illustration which is conveniently close to Kings Cross station. The illustrator whose work I’d wanted to see, Laura Carlin, wasn’t showing but I saw the EH Shepard’s wartime cartoons and Lauren Child’s Dolls House. 4 November
This evening there was a social of the local SCBWI group in the Norfolk Café. An
opportunity to meet local authors and illustrators.
A school visit with a water theme. Today it was a big junior school in Norfolk and quite a challenge to keep the attention of a year group of over eighty pupils in a school hall. I have several books with a water theme but this school wanted Selkie. I suppose because the Norfolk coast and seals are nearby. I did workshops where the pupils used puppets to help create their own watery seal story.
Today I did a
Waterstones signing in Bury St Edmunds. I had a display of artwork for customers
to look at which works well and I sold 27 of my picture books.
A visit to an Infant
school. I was able to do four different workshops for the different age groups with
a signing at the end of the day.
Another school visit
- my last this autumn. It was another junior school linked to the one I’d
visited on 13 November but not so large. This one also wanted a water theme, so
I repeated my Selkie workshops and it was all a bit easier today as the numbers
were more manageable.
The SCBWI Winchester conference.
I took part in a two hour panel,‘Top Tips for Self
Publishing’ alongside Larisa Villar Hauser and Sarah Towle. I’d met Sarah at
the 2014 Booksellers conference when she’d told me about her crowd- funded Time Traveler Tours. I always enjoy taking part in this conference as
there’s such a friendly atmosphere.
A party at the House of Commons to celebrate the 10 year Anniversary of Seven Stories, the wonderful children's book centre in Newcastle.
I traveled there with Sally Christie, Helen Craig and Adele Geras who had all donated work to the Seven Stories archive. We arrived early and were shown to the Jubilee Room which was quite small. There was time to leave our coats and bags and go into the Strangers Gallery of the House of Lords and watch a bit of the EU debate.
Here are the authors: Ivan Bunn, Paul Heiney, Brian Scovell, myself and Tasha O’Neill.
A quiet month is great for work on a new picture book but there’s
not much to be said. It’s too soon to give away too much about this book and when
I’m pushing on, head down, all day and every day, at my desk, not wanting to be
distracted by anything else, it means a quiet month on the blog front. November
will be different. I will have the roughs of my new book done and will be
out and about again; hopefully with a little more to write about.
This week the UKLA Book awards announced their long list and
Flood was included in the 3-7 years category.
Copies had to be sent to the twenty teacher judges.
Since its publication, I’ve used Flood a lot in
schools with nursery and foundation. I bring along original artwork for the children to look at and spot
how many little creatures, besides the three main characters, are afloat on
debris in the flood.
I also have colouring sheets where
each creature can be matched with the object it is sitting on in the book.
With slightly older children, we make up new characters and
start a group story about a flood. Here they are insect characters to fit in
with the class’ bug theme.
Then there's an opportunity to act out with puppets the
orientation part of the story: ‘to the right and to the left’ when the ox, fox
and hen cling on to each other’s tails and steer their way through the water.
We end with a discussion
about friendship. The characters at the start of the story are not nice to each other; the ox
wants to kick the fox and the fox wants eat the hen. But they all have to cooperate
and work as a team if they are going to survive the flood. By the end a change
has occurred and they have become friends.
‘…they had to squash up close. Then the rain stopped and Old
Slodger the Ox thought “Maybe, after all I won’t kick the fox.” And the Hungry
Fox thought, “Maybe, after all, I won’t eat the hen. And Fussy Hen stopped
squawking, and stopped looking this way and that, and was peaceful and quiet.’
But the big question is - will they remain friends once the
flood draws back and there are fields again - when life returns to normal?
On 16 September, at Heffers Bookshop Cambridge, a panel of three authors, a publisher and an agent will be talking about writing for children.
I’m one of the authors along with Pippa Goodhart and Rosemary Hayes. We each have a new book out. The three books fall into three different age categories:
Rosemary Hayes’s The Mark is a young adult novel. It is edgy and fast moving; a story about a girl Rachel who is rescued from a sex gang by a mysterious boy, Jack. Realism is combined with fantasy in a masterly way. While on one level the book deals with topics relevant to today’s teenagers - the grooming of young girls, traffickers, homelessness and kids on the run - on another level it explores deeper matters. Only very gradually does the reader start to sense something uncanny underlying the developing friendship between Rachel and Jack. Rachel is Jack’s ‘mark’; despite her failings, she has a talent and is worth saving but all is not what it appears with Jack and a startling bittersweet revelation occurs at the end. Rosemary Hayes spins a great story. She structures it in such a way that the past lives of the two protagonists are told in a series of flashbacks that follow each chapter, leaving the narrative free to move at a wonderfully fast pace.
Pippa Goodhart’s A Dog Called Flow, is a chapter book for 8-12 year olds with black and white illustrations by Anthony Lewis. Although this story deals with a child’s dyslexia – Oliver is laughed at and bullied by the other children because of his learning difficulties at school– it was not written as an issue book. Instead it’s a very moving story with a gripping adventure set in a very convincing landscape. I discovered that the places that form the backdrop to the story - the waterfall, the dog show and the farm - all exist. They are in Eskdale, Cumbria where Pippa Goodhart’s family have a house.
The story starts
with Oliver longing for a dog that will ‘love him loyally and uncritically.’
Against his parent’s wishes, Oliver gets a puppy which he saves from being put
down. He names it Flow. Flow is blind in one eye and deaf in one ear and his disabilities
and the troubles they cause subtly echo those of Oliver.
Called Flow was Pippa’s first book; runner up in the 2004 Katherine Fidler
Award and short listed for the 2005 Smarties award . It is now reissued by
My own book, Mouse in the House, is at the younger
end of the picture book category. Here’s a review of it by Catriona Nicholson:
From the front cover bird’s-eye view of a wooden house on a
hill and its four local inhabitants (hawk, squirrel, cat and dog) we are held
in a spell of page turns as this gentle bedtime story moves us through
exquisitely illustrated spreads towards the final image of a sleeping baby, arm
cradling a cloth mouse. And throughout the pages, in question and answer
format, the text speaks of a mystery: who has heard, seen, smelled, touched
that, as yet unseen, mouse that lives in the house on this hill? Each of the
creatures, in turn and through rhyme, claims some sensual knowledge until, at
last, the revelation page shows us the ‘soft, toy mouse with a squeak in its
tail’. The visual journey takes us from the lofty heights of the hawk,
downwards through the squirrel’s tree, into the dog’s garden, past the cat at
the threshold until we are alongside the baby.
An accomplished ability to orchestrate this delicate play of rhyme,
rhythm, perspective, pattern, shape, colour and light defines this picture book
for the very young that offers delight at each re-reading.
Parents with their toddlers in push chairs arrived at the gazebo in the middle of Orchard School Primary School playing field where I had a display of artwork and some props as part of an event promoting family learning. First I read the story and we looked at the pictures. Then came an activity linked to the senses.
'Touching' was the easiest. Babies all seem to have grown up with touchy, feely books and the babies at my workshop solemnly fingered the different textures I had brought with me. ‘Seeing’ was a little trickier but we were able to play a modified game of ‘I spy’ without using any letters. ‘I spy my Mum’s eye, my Dad’s nose, etc.’ ‘Hearing’ was fun; I had all kinds of things that made noises in my bag. The tots were looking quite alert by now. But 'smell' and sniffing things, was problematic. This sense, like taste, has the potential to disgust or even bring on the sneezes. So I asked the parents to have a sniff of the scents first. In my little sealed jars I had some chocolate powder, a cinnamon stick, mint leaves and a lily flower. The parents decided whether their child would like a particular smell and the sniffling passed without mishap and my workshop ended without tears…until... a great gust of wind hit the gazebo, knocking over the flip chart, scattering pens and pencils and blowing away my artwork.
I dedicated Mouse in the House to Connor, who is eighteen months old and can point to his eyes, ears, nose and fingers. His cousin, Liv, is two years old and starting to link her eyes to ‘seeing,’ her ears to ‘hearing,’ her nose to smelling and her fingers to touching. 'Mouse in the House' is the new Plaister Press book and is aimed at the very young child beginning to become aware of the senses.
Is there a mouse living in this house? Well, the bird has seen it,
the squirrel has heard it,
the dog has smelled it and the cat has even touched it. But this is no ordinary mouse…
This is a simple, question and answer mystery story that I chose to write in the style of a nursery rhyme with the rhyme running over the page turn. I matched this two page rhythm with a parallel rhythm in the pictures. Each animal is first seen on a double spread, followed by a close–up after the page turn where the rhyme falls; like a camera zooming in, on the eye, ear, nose and paw (in the case of the cat.)
It took me a long time to arrive at a style of illustration to match this story. Reading to both Connor and Liv, I realized that they didn’t need flat primary colours to be able to read pictures. So in the end, I settled for large painterly double page spreads in water colour with a scratched texture and simple bold patterns. The technique I used for this was to put down a dark ground colour first, then coat it in white gouache which I scratched with a pen nib at the point of drying. I'd recently seen an exhibition of Winifred and Ben Nicholson's paintings at Kettles Yard and was influenced by their scratchy look.
I took part in the South Shout Festival, again, working over three days with children from South London schools.
At the start, the first ideas were all very much linked to the children’s environment – Tesco’s kept cropping up; their leisure pursuits – horror movies, video games and a lot of knives and murder; and how they were feeling – hungry – chicken and burgers featured large. And then the fire alarm went off; we’d all been told no practice alarms were scheduled for the day so if the fire alarm went off it was for real. Everyone up ended up in the street and although we weren’t meant to take anything with us, all the packed lunches came too. One boy told me he was so afraid when he heard the alarm, his heart started beating hard and fast – later he got that sensation into the climax of his story. Perhaps every creative writing class needs a fire alarm to go off.
When we all reconvened after lunch and it was my turn to nudge ideas along through a bit of drawing, I was relieved to see we were moving beyond Tesco’s,
to other settings,
where the chickens came alive
and horror was pinned down creatively in images and, later, words.
At the end of the three days, the children said that what they liked best about the South Shout Festival was the way the authors and illustrators, who had all volunteered their time, listened to their stories individually.
Well, mine was a lamb – his name was Baa-nim. The only bit
of Baar-nim that had magical comforting powers was his tail which I rubbed
against my nose. Baar-nim’s tail had to be replaced several times during my
childhood and now it is gone for good.
One of my sons didn’t need a
special thing; just sucked his thumb. The other two did; one had a ‘Shawly’ (originally
a beautiful shawl knitted by a Scottish neighbour at his birth) and the other a
‘Bompy;’ a striped football scarf. ‘Shawly’ and ‘Bompy’ survived surreptitiously
all through Primary school; were both smuggled into Cubs camp and hidden at the
bottom of sleeping bags. My sons weren’t the only Cubs with comforters. Hidden in every
sleeping bag in every tent was some sucked, worn, unravelling, but very
precious thing, that mustn't be discovered for fear it would be mocked.
Now there’s money to be made out
of comforters: little creatures designed with dangly bits to suck and stroke that
regularly have to be replaced. This little girl needs at least three at night plus several more replacements in the washing machine. But her army of
bunnies do the trick because with them all around her, she’s happy to go to bed
and doesn’t mind the dark.
When I drew the mouse in my new
book, I decided to turn it into a thing that can comfort with a bit of cloth attached
for rubbing and fingering at bedtime.
I wanted my new book to be for a baby, this baby – Connor – seen
here looking at some of the early roughs. I thought, initially, this would be a
board book but after studying the costing realised there would be a better
return if it were a picture book.
Not all babies chew books and if the book is in real danger of being eaten it can always be put away, out of reach, after being read.
These roughs look as though they could have been eaten too but they weren’t, possibly because Connor had just had a good breakfast.
Notes made while away from my desk doing a month of school visits
Feeling nervous. Have I allowed myself to be over-booked this year in the weeks before and after World Book Day? It’s so tempting to say ‘yes’ to everything. A serious risk of collapsing from exhaustion before I'm through.
Today is my first school visit since the autumn. A jolt to the system after many quiet months at my desk illustrating – suddenly I have to find smart clothes to wear and get out of the house in time for a rush hour drive. It was inevitable I’d forget something vital today - my packed lunch - and as a result was famished by break time (no biscuit tin in the staff room) and £4 wasted on a grizzly school lunch.
Done several schools now in Hampshire and Hertfordshire; have my morning departure down to a fine art – a big note reminding me to bring a packed lunch. Really enjoying working with the children. I encourage them to be illustrators and do a first character sketch. Teachers look anxious as pencils and rubbers are replaced with A3 paper and black felt tips, then are surprised at what the children can do. The key to it all is me doing a very quick messy sketch on the flip chart first. The children know they can match it. You can’t go wrong with a sketch, I tell them, and they don't.
World Book Day – a lot of fun - children and staff in costumes (no serial killers or grey suits) though hard recognizing some of the staff at the end of the day (the balding ones especially) once pirate wigs and whiskers are removed.
Done nine schools, another six to go and a nightmare journey to Bromley today on the M11 and M25 - two traffic jams and a Dartford Crossing congestion charge to remember to pay. But there were high points to the day - opening a new school library and coffee and cakes with the school governors who lingered on most of the morning.
All my journeys now are into Norfolk – much easier journeys, no congestion and delays - just tractors and country lanes. The schools in this county are mostly small rural schools and the names of the children at book signings are easy to spell. As the end of term approaches there is a relaxed atmosphere. One school last week had a bake off and the staff room was awash with chocolate cake. Another school celebrated a teacher’s wedding and there was bubbly at lunch time.
Today I had a tip off from a school librarian who ran a wonderful school library with a story boat, that the beach was only five minutes away.
As I had over an hour to kill before the dinner ladies would be finished in the hall where I was to do my afternoon workshops I went down to the shore and came back greatly revived.
Made it! The last day of term and I’m in Hunstanton. The children, here as everywhere else, have been great. What I love about this work is the way they listen to my stories and roar with laughter at the funny bits and then do inspired drawings of their own.