Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh no! Not again!

Can you believe it? I’ve been tagged again! This time by the prize-winning novelist and environmental writer David Thorpe.

He sneakily asked me to be his friend on MySpace and then tags me whilst I wasn’t looking.

The rules of this game are slightly different, as I have to:

a. Link to the person who tagged me.
b. Post the rules on my blog.
c. Write six random things about myself.
d. Tag six random people at the end of my post by linking to their blogs.
e. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment at their blog.
f. Let your tagger know when my entry is online.

Is that clear? Are you sitting comfortably. Well then, I will begin.

Six Random Things About Me:

  1. I was featured in this month’s Writers’ Forum. There is a nice picture of me at my very tidy desk inside the back cover. My study is so tidy, I was described by one of my friends, as the antithesis to Dave Haslett from
  2. I have entered the Race for Life this year. My race takes place on Sunday 6th July. You can sponsor me if you want.
  3. I got a tattoo on my back just over two weeks ago. It is my first tattoo and I am very proud of it.
  4. You can find my books on Amazon. Go take a look.
  5. I always get annoyed on St George’s Day, because I think it is terrible our saint is not given the recognition he should have in the same way as Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I was once banned from including the word ‘Saint’ in a story about him in case it offended anyone. See my previous posts: St George's Day and Foster a Sense of Pride.
  6. I’m going to London for the SCBWI Professional Series meeting tomorrow to find out about having a Diverse Career.

Now you all remember how difficult it was for me to find five people to tag last time. Well this time, I've got to find SIX. So, I've decided to tag six random, unknown people and hope for the best.

The six people I am tagging are:

Well there you go, I've played yet another game of tag. Now 'baggsie I'm home' and nobody is allowed to tag me again. I've got my fingers crossed and everything.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Words and Images

Jana Novotny Hunter talks about the Relationship of Words and Images in Picture Books

Words and pictures have to support each other and weave together like a musical symphony. Picture books have to be tightly written. If you take one word out the whole page will not work. They are a distillation of ideas and should work on many levels.

Books are no longer the pre-requisite of wealthy children. Writers and illustrators have to be aware of who their readers are. Books provide precious moments of one-to-one with another world, letting images into a child’s mind. No two children will get the same experiences from looking at picture books. They bring their own culture and opinions to the story.

Emotions can be overwhelming but the child always has the option of closing the book. The physicality of the book becomes a reality and is a learning situation, e.g. books read from front to back and left to right. A picture book is a magical happening that grows out of a marriage of words and illustrations. It is an amalgamation of so many different minds.

A picture book is a series of layers:

  • Reader
  • Format
  • Layout
  • Content
  • Construct.
During the last fifty years there has been a breaking down of these layers. Jana demonstrated these changes with the following picture books:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

Goodnight Moon is a short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for and attempting to postpone bedtime. He says goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot, including the ‘quiet old lady whispering hush.’ Clement Hurd's illustrations are simple and effective, alternating between small ink drawings and wide, brightly coloured views of the little rabbit's room.

The text is broken in the middle of a sentence so the reader is forced to turn the page to find the answer to what happens next. The illustrations work in the same way in that the circular rug on the left and the main protagonist is on the right of the page.

The text gently rhymes. Rhythm is very important. You must be able to read all picture books aloud as that is how they are usually received by children. Rhyming is reportedly tough to sell, so sell to the US.
On the third double spread the pictures are bled right out. The layout changes subtly to create a visual game with a story in the images going on in the background to supplement the text. These little changes are not lost on children. They read more into pictures than adults.
Finding all of the items mentioned throughout the book within the pictures is a good bedtime activity. By the end of the rabbit's goodnight poem, the story has quieted to a whisper, and the drawings have darkened with nightfall.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Mickey falls through the dark into the Night Kitchen and is whisked away into a story described by Maurice Sendak as 'a fantasy ten feet deep in reality'. He uses lots of repetition which a small child can join in with.

Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes

In this book Alfie goes to his first birthday party without his Mum. The words tell exactly what is going on in the pictures. The book gets into the language of the children’s world. Adults skim over things and see the bigger picture whereas, children see the little picture.

Shirley Hughes sends a message of complete involvement with her characters. There is always a sense of you are looking at a book. The old-fashioned feel is not accidental and is reflected by the cream colour of the pages and the tone of the language. She addresses the reader.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are has become a children’s classic. The words say something different from the pictures. The text starts in the middle of the story so the story begins where something happens. A lot has happened before the story begins for Max to be sent to his room.

Max puts on a wolf costume and feels mischievous. He breaks some rules and is sent to bed without supper. From there, his imagination takes over, a jungle grows in his bedroom, and he goes on a magical journey of self-discovery.

Children love bad kids as they can be the well behaved one. Each double-spread illustration grows bigger until it crosses the gutter of the book and the fantasy grows to fill the whole double-page. The illustrations use filmatic methods to engage the reader. It is overwhelming. The page with no text is the loudest page in the book.

The wild things are the bad ugly feelings inside Max. He finds them on a personal island where he has to control his emotions and tame his feelings. The child solves the problem not the adults. It is the children who have the power in books. Children need confidence builders. It forms a data-pool from which a child can learn from.

At the end the child knows his mother still loves him no matter what as his dinner is waiting for him when he gets back. It’s a time sequence journey and in max’s imagination the journey has taken two years and two days but, in reality we know it only a few minutes as his dinner is still hot.

Changes by Anthony Browne

Every child goes through the experience of things are not what they seem to be on the surface. In Changes the text becomes secondary to the illustrations so you do not need as many words. There are clues in the illustrations that what is coming is a new baby to the family. The dialogue at the end of the book breaks down all rears and worries as it is just a normal voice. The book explores the child’s feelings as he awaits the return of his parents with their new baby.

Anthony Browne uses diagonals to draw the reader’s eye to where he wants them to look. The diagonal of the shawl goes to the bottom right corner to encourage the reader to turn the page but it is framed by other diagonals that draw the eye to the baby’s face, which is crying.

The oddness of the pictures is juxtaposed with straight forward text to let the child know it is about reality.

When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up by Jana Novotny Hunter and Carol Thompson

Jana Novotny Hunter’s book is about a single parent family but, nowhere in the book does she say this. She leaves it open so the reader can interpret the story in the way they want, or need it to be interpreted.

The text is written in rhyme and the illustrations show two worlds through textures and colours. It takes a lot of working out and roughs to develop just the right method and style. The pages have to balance each other and the illustrator has to consider this. Contrasts help to tell the sub-text. Dad’s journey home is shown in comparison to the child’s day on each double-spread.

The dad drives a big red tanker truck, and he's away on the road a lot. But once in a while, he's near enough to pick up his little boy from preschool. All day as the boy plays at school, the little boy pictures Daddy's truck making its way toward him. Meanwhile, Daddy pushes on, down the highway, over mountains and through tunnels. When a traffic jam slows him down, it’s a race against time to get to his destination. But, the boy’s dad is never far away or out of his mind as shown by the presence of the toy red truck on the child’s pages.

Come Away from the Water Shirley by John Burningham

While Shirley's parents sit on the beach with their knitting and newspapers, Shirley embarks on a fantasy adventure, interrupted only when her parents become over-fussy.

The book portrays the two viewpoints by the illustrations. There is Mum and Dad on the beach sitting in deckchairs not moving, each page the same shown in dull colours. In comparison to Shirley’s pages which are more imaginative with intense colours, showing movement and agility. No text is used on Shirley’s pages.

The illustrations give a subliminal message at the end of the book that things are getting back to normal by taking parts of the normal world and placing it into the fantasy.

True Story of Chicken Licken by Jan Ormerod

There are four distinct stories going on in the illustrations of this book. Each story is portrayed in a different way. The contrasting media work as a whole.

Movement goes to the right hand side to get the reader to turn the page and the baby’s journey goes in the other direction. The book breaks all the rules. It is split into thirds to produce a cohesive image on each double page spread.

The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka and Steve Johnson

The Frog Prince Continued tells the story of what happened after the happy ever after and things don’t seem to be that happy. The adult knowing voice in the book appeals to boys in particular. The language and illustrations are amusing. The immediate impact is a jokey thrill. Roles are being challenged. Evocative verbs are used to create images and hints are added to the illustrations to develop character.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child

This book in particular shows how in picture books today the layers have been broken down.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? finds Herb accidentally falling into a 30-page book of fairytales, where he causes mayhem to the storylines by changing the stories and illustrations. Herb's ‘scribbling and snippering’ creates much humour and children will enjoy recognisable traits as they spot the queen with a moustache in biro and learn that Prince Charming has gone missing as he has been cut out by Herb for a birthday card.

The illustration is both alluring and frenetic, with clever collages made up of ink drawings, colourful fabric samples, wood grain and photographs cut and slotted together. Several typefaces are also employed and the size, shape and orientation of the text vary to complement the twists and turns of the story.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

You what? Tagged?

What's this all about?

Candy left me a message saying I'd been tagged. So, I checked out her latest post, Yikes! I’ve been tagged! to find out what she was talking about.

Seems like I’ve got to find the nearest book to me, open it at page 123, find the fifth sentence then post the next three sentences on my blog. When I’ve done that I have to tag five people and post a comment to Angela's blog.

OK. I think I’ve got that all sussed out. Sounds pretty easy!

Let me see… the nearest book to me is in my handbag under my desk. It is Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I decided to read it again after my son chose the DVD to watch from Blockbusters a few weeks back. The one I'm reading was published by Puffin in 1980, not the latest edition below, which means I got it when I was 15 years old.

The three sentences I have to post are:

“Your friend Leslie is dead, Jesse. You need to understand that.”

Jess slid his hand out from under his father’s. He got up from the
Oh dear… am I allowed to do that? I’ve just written what’s going to happen in the book. I know I like to read the end of the books first but, people do get cross at me when I tell them what’s going to happen.

Maybe, that’s what the experiment is trying to prove that the pivot of the book is on page 123, in the sixth, seventh and eighth sentences. Hang on I’ll just go check it out and see. In the words of my hero: “I’ll be back.”

Find something to amuse yourself for a few minutes.
Right! I’m back.

This is where I tell you I’ve gone wrong already. Instead of leaving a comment on Angela's blog you are supposed to leave a comment on Candy’s blog to say you’ve done it, as she is the one who tagged me. Sorry about that. I hope you read this far before rushing off to do the deed.

I was going to tag Nicky’s Absolute Vanilla blog but, it looks like Jude got to her before me. Nicky’s on her honeymoon too. Lucky thing! Then I tried to tag Jez Layman’s Typeset World and guess what? Jude beat me there too!

Ahh… there’s a problem! I’m not sure I know five people who have blogs that have not already been tagged. I’m off again to research blogs I can tag. This is a lot more complicated than I first thought.

Ever thoughtful, here is a procrastination flowchart to keep you amused this time.

I’m back! ...again. Well, these are the five people I’ve decided to tag whether they like it or not:

Good luck. Hope the instructions on what you have to do are clear. LOL!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Threat and Opportunity

Candy Gourlay talks about engaging your reader through the Internet.

The kite was flown by Hans Christian Anderson to say he wanted to tell a story. People would see it and travel for miles to hear his story.

Nowadays we do not need a kite. We can use the World Wide Web. The Internet is a way of publishing yourself. It is the new reality of children’s publishing. This is the world we live in today. The web is a given. It has to supplement and enhance the book – it is a requirement. We have to be out there. We have no choice.

Publishers can only publish so many books and how is one person going to be heard. Each author is a brand on their own. The young are abandoning television and radio in favour of the Internet. The ‘networked generation’ are reportedly between the ages of 16-24 and they are increasingly turning to the Internet for entertainment and information. More than half of bloggers are under the age of 30.

The attraction of the celebrity book is that it allows the publisher to launch new talent on the back of others who are established. Publishers want big brand names like Katie Price or Madonna. They make money from stars so they can publish new authors. The latest requirements of being a story-teller is you have to be a stand-up comic. You can upload a video to u-tube and then use the code generated on the site to embed the video on your own site or blog.

Yet, many authors are not sure why they have a website and what they are going to do with it.

Need to Know

Candy explained it’s not about you it’s about them. Consider what your readers want to know. They want a way to engage with the author. When designing a website you need to think about who your target audience is going to be. It is important to do your market research. Who do you want to attract?

  • The readers
  • The librarians
  • The booksellers
  • The publishers

Readers will send fan-mail to authors through their websites and blogs. In this way, the readers do not just read - they engage.

Know Thyself

Use your website or blog to create your own brand for yourself. How can you create your own image?

Candy suggested we should all look at what is already out there.

  • Mo Willems uses the pigeon motif as a trademark
  • Neil Gamon’s website does not really reflect the books he writes
  • Meg Cabot aspirational and glamorous look gives a feel for her teen novels
  • Eoin Colfer’s video blog tells us more about him
  • Quentin Blake’s website reflects his personality although it does take a rather long time to load
  • Meg Rosoff gives a lengthy explanation of why she is the world’s most useless blogger
  • Daren King’s website is very simple. The content is hilarious and worth reading. He starts with, “My plan for World domination is almost complete.”

I wrote the web addresses out in full, as I thought it was an interesting point to see the types of domainn names authors were choosing for their sites. Notice they are all .com or addresses. My own site is I am sure I could do more this my site. Please leave me feedback if you have any suggestions.

Initiatives like MySpace TV means you can have your own channel for free. It is yet another way to share and comment. Readers expect multi-media. Remember it is web 2.0, not web too.

It’s just a tool

The Internet can be the main way of procrastination. To prevent yourself from wasting time on the net target what you want to do so you are using the World Wide Web to your advantage. There are many ways to get your self noticed on the Internet.

Blogs are the easiest way to get instant recognition. It is a free tool and you can set up a site in minutes. is one of the easiest and gets a good rating on Google. has the additional function of being able to create more than one page for your blog. Just like a good article, a blog needs an angle. It’s a rollercoaster.

Once your blog is established join the children’s book blog tours. Contact bloggers and offer them an interview for their blog. You can tour the world through blogs and start a craze. Take a look at Anastacia Suen’s site and join her in blogging about a non-fiction book every Monday for Non-Fiction Monday.

The Cybils is a bloggers prize for children’s book writers.

It is possible to see how many people visit your blog by adding a stats counter. There are many free stats counters available, such as Google Analytics. I have used, and on this blog.

However, no matter what you do, the web will not make a bad book better.

Please feel free to add anything I missed on any of my posts, or correct me if I got something wrong. I leave for Ireland in an hour so best go finish the packing now. See you all in a week.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What the Howl?

Here is the first of my posts from the workshops I attended in Bologna. They are in alot more detail than the ones posted on the Bologna forum as I did not have to keep to a word count. I am off to Ireland in the morning for a week (family vacation) so you will have to wait for the other posts. Sorry!!

Paul Zelinsky talks about technique and technology

For both illustrators and writers when you start a project you are facing a blank screen or canvas. The ideas in your mind are out of focus. The whole point is to find the story and fill in the blank squares. The whole story and illustrated scenes have to fill 32 pages. It also doesn’t hurt to think about page turns. The divisions and places you turn the page is where something happens.

Three repetitions and a change is what create the rhythm and underlying music that has to be in the text. Stories are how we make sense of the world and the illustrator’s job is to turn these stories into images. Figuring a way to portray your story is the challenge. Whatever the ideal image is you want to create, there has to be a way to make it happen. There has to be a best way to do it.

There is magic in the stories and a magic in the illustrations. If the text is lively, Paul might decide to use bright colourful illustrations. He keeps track of every colour and every overlay to produce a quality that is magical.

Rumplestiltskin was his first book and The Wheels of the Bus followed that. The latter is a book with moving parts. Even the typography and letter spacing is important to the whole feel and presentation of the book. All hand drawn and hand assembled, as PCs were not available to do it in the 1990’s. He faxed illustrations to a paper engineer, who would Fed-ex a working model from Mexico to US.

For the illustrations for Five Children and It he used his own children and some child models to get the positioning correct. He took photos of the children with a digital camera and put the pictures together in Photoshop. He used the Photoshop enhanced pictures, to draw his own illustrations with the children in the right position. He keeps many versions of his illustrations on PC but it is not until he prints it out that he can tell which is better and which is worse.

Knick-knack Paddywhack was Paul’s second moving parts book. To create this book he used PC animations. But the books are still put together by hand in China.It is the combinations of words that help him to form the images. He does not know what is going to happen. It is like doodling.

This was especially true in the book Doodler Doodling. The original title of the manuscript was People Doing Things but, it was changed to Doodler Doodling, as a result of the way his illustrations emerged.

Paul thought the book was going to be easy because he was using Photoshop technology but it became very complicated. He produced many layers and colours and massive gigabytes files.Even so, Paul has found Photoshop a boom with his illustrations. He is now able to scan in and print out his illustrations to practice on and make things bigger or smaller and adjust pictures to fit the page and format of a specific book. He makes templates from the printout. Also the Internet is useful for illustration research. However, when his printer broke down he had to go digital rather than analogue, which he felt was not so good.

He finds artistic techniques simply appear and technical solutions can be used to solve problems. He has even used some of his illustrations to make animations from the book The Shivers in the Fridge using an animation program.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

It's Spring!

Can you imagine my amazement this morning when I woke up and saw a thick layer of snow covering everything and large snowflakes still flurrying down. I took some photos.

I woke my children and my youngest immediately started chanting, "It's Christmas, It's Christmas." I did try to half-heartedly explain it was actually Spring and it never snows at Christmas in the UK. Then I felt like a kill joy, so text all my friends and family to go out and play in the snow before it melted.

It is hard to believe last week I was in Bologna and the temperature was over 20°C and I was wishing I'd packed my summer clothes. As you can see, I did not insist my children put their coats on.

This is a BIG improvement on the floods last July. To see some photos of the flooding outside my house see: Annual Writer’s Holiday