Monday, 11 November 2019

Writing a Bedtime Book by Abie Longstaff

My son was a brilliant sleeper.  He was such a chilled baby that he could nap anywhere. I used to take him along to art classes in the pram, lay a coat over him and he’d soon be snoring. Then along came my daughter. She was a little ball of anxiety; colicky, wriggling, crying. She wanted constant back-patting, warm reassurance. And, no; she did not like going to sleep.
If I were placing a curse on my worst enemy, I would give them a baby who did not sleep. It’s a hidden problem – you drag yourself around like a zombie and no one knows quite how exhausted you feel: tired to your very bones. If you also have a toddler, add to this the need to be smiley and bouncy and present for your older child. Every day you hope this will be the night the little one sleeps, every evening you do all the right things – the bath, the calm singing, the back patting. But invariably your hopes are crushed as the second you sneak out of the room, the cries start up. It’s tough going. All you can do it ride it out.
As my daughter grew, together we read a big pile of sleepy baby books. They brought great comfort: for me in knowing that mine wasn’t the only child who wanted to stay up and play; for her in seeing her behaviour mirrored in a picture book. She wasn’t naughty, she just wanted adventures or reassurance.
We loved Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown), How do Dinosaurs say Goodnight (Jane Yolan and Mark Teague) and Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book, and our absolute favourite was The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper. 

Of course, my own baby grew up. Then my sister called in a state of utter exhaustion – her little one wouldn’t sleep. It took me back to those tired days, and all the wonderful bedtime books. I decided to create something sleepy and soothing. The result was Who’s going to Bed? (illustrated by Eve Coy).
So, how do you write a good bedtime book?
Of course every picture book needs to be interesting and engaging, but there’s a fine line to walk here – don’t aim for too much excitement. You want to find a comfortable level: a bit of adventure, but in a familiar environment. Think of sleepy feelings: swinging, flying, floating, rocking and try to set your story around these. In Who’s Going to Bed, I chose familiar story characters – teddies, animals, pirates, knights - to create a comfortable, recognisable world.

You need to find a rhythm to your text, something almost lyrical to lull a child to sleep. Repetition, sibilant sounds, soft consonants, long vowels. I’ve included words like ‘sleep’, ‘yawn’, ‘shhhh’, ‘tired’; and increasing their frequency of use toward the end of the book. 

Illustrator Eve Coy has used a limited palette of sleepy blues and greens – there are no loud, sharp colours here. She’s created something soft and gentle and magical. 

The End:
With a bedtime book, you don’t want the end to be too funny or surprising. The aim is to settle and soothe. You want something safe – concepts like home, kiss goodnight, parents, duvet, bed, snuggling, cuddling. And if you can, try to bring the focus onto the reader, rather than the story characters.

I’ve had lovely messages from parents saying their child is yawning at exactly the right moments! I hope the book brings comfort and pleasure. Most of all, I hope the book brings sleep.

Visit Abie's website to find out more about Abie and her wonderful books

Monday, 28 October 2019

Sketchbooking with Mini Grey


Here is my shelf with about 20 years of sketchbooks on it. If you count them you’ll see there’s only about one big one a year. But they are pretty full.
In this post I’m going to look at all the different ways I use sketchbooks and the many different things a sketchbook can be.  

An example of Sketchbook One being investigated by a kitten

Sketchbook One
At the moment I have about 4 different sizes of sketchbook I use most of the time.
Sketchbook One is my main workbook. It’s spiral bound which means it can grow as more stuff gets stuck in, and it also lies flat. This sketchbook’s job is partly to be a bit like a box, a bit like a scrapbook.

Badgery stuff for a Badger Patronus for Booktrust

Pic of one bulging sketchbook
It has different areas.  At the back is the zone for scribbled story ideas, for collected snippets, for useful bits & bobs, a place to collect material.  
Here are some interesting news snippets I found stored at the back in case they come in useful.

Report of a suspicious smell haunting a German classroom

Cats vs mice at the British Museum

I return to the back - to find beginnings, take them into the main part of the next sketchbook and see if I can make something happen.

From the back - the scribbled down beginnings of the Last Wolf
More from the back - ideas for a garden story (which never really worked.)

Sketchbook One is also a reference library – some of the sketches from life I return to again and again.  

Snail Central down the bottom of the garden

At the Natural History Museum

Also this sketchbook is for collecting things that feel in the zone of your book. Here I am collecting my favourite tree illustrations when I was thinking about the last wolf.

Trees by Emma Chichester Clark, Sara Ogilvy, Dave Barrow and David Litchfield

Sketchbook One can also be a workshop or research lab for working things out: trying out character drawings,

Drawings of Mrs Magpie for Money Go Round
Collecting the colours for Money Go Round
Trying to work out Walter Rat for Money Go Round

collecting colour schemes, working out The Rules (every book should have some), trying some paper engineering, working out layouts, trying out colour sketches for spreads.

Colour sketches for The Bad Bunnies Magic Show

Working out a recipe for Red in The Last Wolf

Sketchbook One is also a place for collecting responses, trying out a story splurge – responding to words with pictures or vice-versa; picture brainstorming on a theme.

Collecting ideas about foxes

Messing with a bit more colour and the foxes again

Sometimes a way of collecting is drawing to find things out (draw to explore) Scrap paper is often better than a clean sheet.
Sometimes it’s just drawing what’s just happened, as in this Goldfish Emergency.

The very sad ends of Paul and Lewis

Here are drawings for things that ended up on my blog.

Trouble at the Supermarket with Doris the Hen

Doris discovers the truth about meat

Experimenting with the RestoftheWorldists

And here’s my sketchbook from just a few days ago. You can see I’ve been trying to work out how to tackle ducks and kippers and making a puppet version of AF Harold.

What are the rules?

Sketchbook One usually stays in my studio. But on to more roving sketchbooks. Here are the Out & About Sketchbooks.

Out & About One: The Moleskine
The Moleskine: has a useful pocket and elastic.

Here it is out & about at Oxford Natural History Museum, on holiday, at the zoo.

Oxford Natural History Museum

Oxford Natural History Museum

Grant Museum of Zoology

Acer in a garden

Also, sometimes it is to be found taking notes at talks. Here are some of those:

Katherine Heyhoe talks about Climate in Oxford

John Vernon Lord talking about Alice in Wonderlan

George Monbiot on Capitalism

But I had repeated problems fitting giraffes into the Moleskine, especially the giraffe Skeleton at Oxford Natural History Museum.

Out & About Two: The Little Landscapey One

 So here’s The Turner landscapey sketchbook: its interestingly narrow format forces unexpected things to happen. At last I can fit a giraffe in.

Looking at the contents, some themes emerge; Heads on Columns; Tall Gawky Birds; Drawing Trees when Waiting For Buses; Waiting at Stations in Paris, Pub Gardens.

Stranded in Paris I realised the power of sketching when you’re stuck or waiting – it’s a totally enthralling pursuit which makes time swim by.

 But also the process of looking is captivating. Drawing from life – changes your insight into what you are observing; paying attention to it means you will always notice it when you encounter it again. 

Here are some anenomes and hydrangea – and I know that drawing them has made me feel a bond with anenomes and hydrangeas and notice them too.

Out & About Three: The Teeny One 

Lastly, here is the Teeny Moleskine: it’s one with thin paper so there are lots of pages & it doesn’t matter if you use loads of it or it gets torn out. It’s always in my bag along with a black pen & a magic pencil.
Sketching is a bit like hunting!!! It’s trying to capture something. (Often in restaurants bars and pubs I notice.) Here are people out at the Cazbar on the Cowley Road.

Drawing Together

 The back of the Teeny Sketchbook is where Drawing Together happens. This usually happens as a thing to do in pubs and restaurants with Herbie (now 13).
The rules of Drawing Together: Take turns. Each person tells the other person what to draw next. And you have to accept what you’re given. So to finish, a gallery of characters from Drawing Together with Herbie over the past year….  

The Drawing Together Gallery

Mr Rumnus
Doctor Bockter of the Wastelands
Stringthin Johnson ridin' Cupcake

Rex the Guard Dog

Mr Incatible
Herman Tartiflett the Speed Skier

Edward Spinoquerilus

 ...and I guess what this all ultimately shows is that: as a family, we spend an awfully large amount of time down the pub.

Mini Grey. 
Click here to view Mini's blog, Sketching Weakly.