Monday, 16 September 2019

Getting Side Tracked • Lynne Garner

A week or so ago I came across a video taken by a guy who regularly sets up a trail camera in woods near to where he lives. As I watched I knew I wanted to use it as a basis for a new picture book story. As I watched I took notes but knew I also needed to do a little research. 

A gift a few years ago - fab little book
As my new story will feature animals I know little about, they were my starting point. Although my animals will talk, I believe their lives should bear some resemblance to the real ones. Unfortunately, the issue is when I  research I get side tracked. As per usual I found a couple of facts I needed plus a few I didn’t. For example, did you know a baby racoon is called a kit or a cub? Also, female racoon with her young is called a nursery – I do like collective nouns.

Of course, this side tracked me and I had to find out if nursery was used as a collective noun for other animals. After a while I discovered a nursery is also used for a group of Coati. Happy with this I forced myself back on track and continued to research the topic in hand. 

Fact: a hedge is just bushes, whilst a
hedgerow is a mix of bushes and trees.
Once I’d researched the animals, I needed to research the types of trees my characters would encounter. This was when I stumbled on something very dear to my heart, supporting our environment. Somehow and I have no idea how I moved from trees of the US to the UK. This is when I discovered there are two places you can obtain free trees and hedging kits. Coincidentally I'm 'into' hedges and hedgerows at the moment due the book I’m reading A Natural History of the Hedgerow. 

The first organisation giving away free tree and hedging packs is The Woodlands Trust (click here for more information).  Schools and community groups can apply for their free packs. 
So, if you’re connected to either why not let them know about this great initiative and encourage them to apply.

Also, the government have £10 million put aside to fund the planting of 130,000 trees as part of their Urban Tree Challenge Fund. They are now accepting applications of interest from individuals (like minded neighbours who want to improve their street or local park), local authorities, charities and NGOs for trees to be planted 2020/2021. The scheme is being administered by the Forestry Commission (click here for more information).

Even after allowing myself to be side tracked I managed to find the information I needed. And I’m pleased to say my latest picture book story is in its third draft. Just a little more tweaking and my next task will be to research a suitable publisher. With fingers crossed I’ll get less side tracked, but I doubt it.   

Blatant plug time

Love a short story? 

Then check out my short story collections - available in paperback and ebooks versions (most ebooks are available at the low price of 99p/99¢ each):

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm (10 stories)

Fox of Moon Meadow Farm (10 stories)

Ten Tales of Coyote  (10 stories)

Anansi The Trickster Spider (ebook £1.49/$1.49 - 16 stories) 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Making It Personal: Harvesting Picture Books From Real Experiences by Clare Helen Welsh

We all know that finding an original picture book idea is tough. Extremely tough. But one way of being unique, is to make your writing personal. There is only one you, after all!

Twenty authors could all write stories about bears, but what would make yours different from everyone else’s is what you bring; your experience, your style, what you notice, know and believe to be important about bears. No-one can replicate you and that’s what will help your text stand out to publishers.

So how do we cultivate our ‘You-ness’ ?  - a term I first heard author, Catherine Johnson, use at the SCBWIBI Conference in Winchester - and how do we turn it into picture book gold?

Try writing down all the experiences, people, memories, interactions that are important to you. Choose one and consider:
-                     Is it interesting to others?
-                     Is it helpful to others?
-                     Is it (or can it be) told from a child’s perspective?

This last point is particularly important. You will need to craft your emotion into something accessible for the age group you are writing for. Remember that just because something resonates with us as adults, doesn’t necessarily mean it will touch or entertain a child in the same way. Emotion is hugely important in picture books, but your text still needs excitement and tension to make children want to come back to it again and again.

It’s perhaps helpful to expand your mindset when working in this way. Your final text might not actually be the whole of the thing you experienced. Once you have taken the nub of the idea/memory/emotion and sculpted it into something children will enjoy, it might only be a snippet of your original experience; a phrase, a character or an idea that you can use as a springboard for something else.

As an example, my most recent picture book, The Tide (illustrated by Ashling Lindsey and published by Little Tiger), started life as a phrase that my children kept repeating whilst on a day trip to the beach; ‘The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!’ I wrote whilst they played. It was very special to sit back and watch them. It was also the first time they learned about tides.

On the beach at Perran Sands, Cornwall (April 2015)

Ronnie Spry, who lived with dementia, with two of her grandchildren.

Six months later, this memory had very much stayed with me, and so I used it as inspiration for a book about dementia, told from a child’s point of view. There were already some very good books for children on the subject. I know because my children’s Grandma lived with dementia towards the end of her life. Their Grandma wasn’t with us on our beach trip. No-one even mentioned or talked about dementia on that day. In fact, the final text doesn’t bear much resemblance to our trip at all. But the emotion is there. And a few little details that make the text feel fully-rounded; my children did play in the rock pools. They did build forts and castles and they did laugh in and shower in the salty spray. Their song, ‘The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!’ also features, as a refrain in the book. Using the tide as a metaphor for memories that come and go, was unique and original to me. It was my way in to a subject written about many times before.

                                              (c) Ashling Lindsay (2019)

                                                (c) Ashling Lindsay (2019)

Perhaps you also like working this way? It would be great to find out if you do.
If not, perhaps give it a try …and let us know if you find picture book gold!

Clare is a children's writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh .

Monday, 2 September 2019

Digging through it by Jane Clarke

On Saturday, I helped excavate a small test pit with my local archaeology group. It occurred to me that editing the first draft of a picture book text is a bit like being on a dig. 
  1. At the start, it's hard to see what's there. You begin to strip away at it.

2.  Layers are essential, but some layers just need removing, like this corrugated iron sheet. 

If something’s blocking the flow of your text, cut it out - even if it is easier to leave it in there and walk away!

3.You don’t want to miss anything, so sieve through it carefully. 

4. You are likely to discover many broken things. 

Can anything be pieced together?  Discard a lot. Keep some. Either way, preserve a record. You might want to look at things again sometime.
5.  Remember it all started with the bedrock. Which in the case of our dig was waterlogged clay, but in a picture book is the theme of your text. Don’t lose sight of it.
6. It's hard work, but it's fun, especially if your join in with others who share the madness.

If you're looking for like-minded and helpful people, check out the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Jane was once an archaeologist, but is now a full time writer. Her latest picture book is Leap Frog, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. For those who are interested, the test pit revealed a lot of rubbish - but also 3 shards of fifteenth century earthenware, 2 of late Anglo- Saxon pottery and a worked flint (probably Mesolithic). There was no sign of any structure. The dig was carefully recorded on a University of Leicester data base.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Lost in Picture Book Maps with Mini Grey

Lost in Picture Book Maps

My First Maps
 My first map-love as a child was my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World. 
Now I own it, but I used to just visit it at my Grandpa's house. It was really big, big enough for a small child to be lost in, and my grandpa Noel Grey had inscribed his initials NWG on all the places he had visited, prospecting for oil I suspect. Here he is at large around South America.
Here's a photo he took of Ernest Hemingway with an enormous marlin - apparently they went fishing together.

On one map he has urgently written GOLD, somewhere along the Amazon, in Peru.
There's a bit of a diagram too.
I started writing this post before the fires in the Amazon had beome the terrifying news they are now. From this perspective my Grandfather's charting of 'GOLD' is a bit bitterly ironic; anyone with any sense now knows that the most precious treasure to be found in the Amazon is the rainforest itself.
Maps of Discovery, Power and Plunder

A map is a place to roam about in the imagination. A map is a record of the discovered and the undiscovered – terra incognita. A map is a plan for plundering, or a diagram of how to carve the world up, a record of ownership.

Here is the Carta marina, a wallmap of Scandinavia, by Olaus Magnus. It is the first map of the Nordic countries to give details and place names, initially published in 1539.

It seems to be awash with splendid mythical beasts. Did the map-maker think they were real, or was drawing the map of the far-away giving them permission to invent the most bizarre creatures they could concoct? Creatures include a literal sea-cow and sea-unicorn, whales with flowing tresses, a sea-elephant or Rosmarus and a Polypus which looks like a giant lobster. But it looks like Magnus was trying to depict what was really there – the land animals are fairly realistic, and many of the sea-creatures could be reinventions of existing ones: the sea unicorn: a narwhal, the Rosmarus: a walrus, the Polypus perhaps an octopus. Because they’re water beasts they are hard to get the measure of without diving equipment.  Here are a selection of map-beasts:
Probably a whale but it's quite boar-like
a Polypus
This has everything
a Belena - whale - with an orca

a sea serpent
You can explore the monsters here:  

Mulling with a Map

'I wisely started with a map and made the story fit,' JRR Tolkien once wrote.

In older children’s books, a map may well be the only illustration. The map is often a charting of the story journey. 
When inventing the Hobbit story JRR Tolkein started with drawing Thror’s map.
Drawing the map was part of the process of creating the story.

Here's the map from Winnie the Pooh, drawn by Christopher Robin, with a bit of help from Ernest Shepard,
and the map from the beginning of the Narnia book of the Horse and his Boy, mostly desert (by Pauline Baynes.)

As it was sometimes the only picture in the book I would return to the map again and again, and trace my protagonist’s journey and mull over the places on the way.
And maps lend a touch of reality – a promise that the story may take you to real places. 

When Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was published in 1726 it was a roaring success but some did not realise it was fantasy.
 “It is full of improbable lies, and, for my part, I hardly believe a word of it” exclaimed an eminent bishop. The Duchess of Marlborough was said to be ‘in raptures at it; she says she can dream of nothing else since she read it.’  A tale circulated about one old gentleman who, after reading the book, was alleged to have gone immediately to his atlas to search for Lilliput. 

Here’s my map for Money Go Round by Roger McGough – as this book is deep in Wind in the Willows territory I had to start with communing with EH Shepard’s Willows map.

Picture Book Story Maps
Moving to more picture book territory, a map can be a journey or a map of characters or events.
Here’s Dixie O’Day’s Map from Dixie O'Day in the Fast Lane by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy.

It is used by Dixie in the story and we can find where every event happens in an extremely satisfying way.

From a map of events to a map of characters: here is the map from Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap – the places are the people.
 I can’t resist putting in these fresh and lovely animated spreads of the poor wolf getting more than it can deal with from Very Little Red.  

In The Cat Who Got Carried Away by Allan Ahlberg and Katharine McEwen there are three very important maps.
Here's the first one.
And, oh, how delicious - we can see the cars and the characters and the shady old geezer with the suspicious pram and Horace the cat. This is a useful map of a particular moment, which shows exactly where the pram is, and white van skulduggery, and the impending fate of Horace the cat.

When I was making the book of Jim, the cautionary tale by Hilaire Belloc, I wanted to put in a map of the zoo where Jim meets his lion.
Jim has a yearning to run away, and when I was making the book there seemed to be more and more health and safety rules appearing everywhere and children seemed to be getting less and less freedom. So the Zoo Map is a map of the Safest Zoo in the World, one where everything is either shut or off-limits or prohibited.
 To make sure everything is completely safe, there are Zoo Rules on the back of the map. 

 Metaphorical Maps, Maps of the Soul

Here is Jonny Hannah’s Dark Town map from Greetings from Dark Town – complete with leviathans, Island of Profound Quotes, Sea of Impossibilities and beasts and more beasts. 

The first metaphorical map may have been for Pilgrim’s Progress, which also may have been one of the first novels (fictional prose narrative) in English. (Interestingly, other early novels include Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, both map-centred-adventure territory.) In Pilgrim we encounter unforgettable fictional places: the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the House Beautiful, The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Here’s the Map of Ghastly Gorm Hall from Goth Girl, by Chris Riddell.
Note the Hall has an East Wing and a West Wing, but also a Broken Wing. As well as a Kitchen Garden, the Hall is complete with Bedroom Garden and Living Room Garden. 
 I’m planning my garden improvement already.   
One can meander round Metaphorical Smith’s Hobby-Horse Racecourse – with its Hill of Ambition, Gravel Path of Conceit, and Pond of Introspection. 

In Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book –we find a Map of my Heart, a Map of my Day.

We’re wandering into maps that are states of mind, a map of how you feel, a map of time. 
One of my absolutely favourite picture books is Emily Gravett’s Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. Mouse battles his terrors with the power of drawing. The book is extremely nibbled and so is Mouse’s pencil.
Here is the Map of the Isle of Fright, where the visitor can travel from Twitching Whiskers to Loose Bottom. 

And now - Exclusive to Picture Book Den: 
Cut Out & Keep: Make Your Own Metaphorical Landscape Generator.  

Simply cut out, combine randomly from column A and B and use the places created to make your own Metaphorical Landscape.

Impossible Maps

Making a map gives you freedom to map the impossible, to lose yourself in your scale of choice.
In A Boy & Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton – here’s a map of nowhere. It’s almost not a map at all.

Here’s the map on the cover of the book (from the original hardback version)
No features at all. Except a mug ring. But then, look again….squinting closely– there are two black splots.
Focus in on one and it’s – yup, just a squashed fly.
Then let’s pull right in on the other splot – I definitely see oars there. 

The scale of the bleak emptiness is immense, and I feel like I am falling through infinity.

My book Space Dog started with thinking about making a space map. My son Herbie had a brilliant rocket toy. It came from the Early Learning Centre.

It was shaped a bit like a kettle with a handle, and you could fly it all round your home, exploring the Cistern System, the Pastaroid Belt and the Outer Spooniverse.  
I wondered – what would space look like if the whole of the universe was actually everything in your house, in disguise. So here we have some Space Map Planetoids:
FryUp42 with its ketchup volcanoes, the steamy planet of Bathtime 37 and Cornflake 5 and Bottleopolis which are in the Breakfast Cluster.

  The Space Map was Space Dog’s endpapers, but, alas, they only appeared in the hardback version.

Download your own space map bits here, and make your own Space Map.

Maps and the Imagination

Take some words, maybe these ones which are a list of some things you might forget:  
Take a diagram of some islands, maybe these ones:
Put them both together, and what have you got?
The Isles of Forgetfulness.

This page comes from The Atlas of Experience by Louise van Swaaij and Jean Klare, which charts the human journey through life, with maps drawn in Subjective Projection and reproduced in Unimaginable Scale.

Maps demonstrate the alchemy of words and pictures, that magic picture book double act. Words & Pictures and your imagination are doing the work of together creating a whole new thing. And because your imagination helped make it, it’s unique. So the map is words and pictures glued all together with a tremendous projection of imagination.

Falling into a Map, endless Maps

My dream is to be able to actually fall into a map and find myself in another world that I can explore. Or to find a map that I can zoom into or out of forever…from the microscopic atomic scale to the intergalactic.

In Tiny by Korky Paul and Paul Rogers, Tiny is a flea on the back of a dog called Cleopatra living at No 72 Hilltop Road.
Korky Paul’s marvellously detailed pictures pan out from hairs to streets to islands to planets. 
But every time I can still spot the dog, find the house still recognisable at a smaller scale.
I know if I zoom back in I’ll be able to find EVERYTHING there, every bird, fish, person, dog, insect, molecule. (I love that giant octopus.) 

To end with I’m going to tell you about one of the very first picture book maps I ever made.

It was for a student project, adapting Gulliver’s Travels.
The first page opens out to show Gulliver’s desk and his map.
In the map you can make out Gulliver abandoned in a rowing boat, and the flying Island of Laputa about to come over and pick him up.
What I really really wanted was for you to be able to zoom in enough to for you to be able to see the waves rippling the water, to smell a bit of spray and hear some seabirds. I did (sort of, badly) manage to do this when I animated my book and falling into the map became the beginning of Gulliver’s adventures on the crazy island of Laputa.
Here's the flying island of Laputa

A map is a place to roam about in the imagination. A map is a record of the discovered and the undiscovered. A map is a plan for plundering, or a diagram of how to carve up the world. A map is a journey, a story, a cast of characters, a portal.

I’ve always been obsessed with the small world. Small worlds are where we are animators as children: the doll’s house, the micro city you made among tree roots, the box of plastic dinosaurs and farm animals ready to journey down the garden. A map is a model world, and in picture books maps can come alive, using the power of words and pictures and your imagination and mine, in yet another feat of picture book magic.

PS:  Interested in maps and in Oxford? There's an wonderful exhibition - Talking Maps -  at the Bodleian Library you might like to visit. Details here.

Mini's latest book is The Last Wolf.
Sketching Weakly is Mini's sketch-blog and you can find it here.