Monday, 29 June 2015
The Oddest Place I've Written - Lynne Garner
The ideas for my books tend to come when I'm out and about. So I typically only get the chance to jot down the basics of the idea. However I have written two books whilst away from my desk. The first was Dog Did It! I'd just taken part in a day long workshop led by the very talented and lovely Julie Sykes. I'd had this idea for ages but not managed to do anything with it. However with Julie's hints and tips buzzing around in my head and the support of the other students Dog Did It! was ready to burst into life. So the first draft was scribbled in a small note pad on the train home. The second oddest place I've written a picture book story (one that is still looking for a home) was whilst walking the dog. The idea had been floating around my mind for a few weeks. I'd tried to get it down onto paper but it just wouldn't play the game. However as I wandered around the field doing my ball throwing duties it came to me almost fully formed. Eager to keep a record of it before it faded away I wrote the first draft on my phone (between ball throws).
The Oddest Place I've Written - Jane Clarke
Was in a hammock in a shared roundhouse in the middle of Los Llanos, Venezuela, after spending the day looking for anacondas.
The anaconda we spotted was digesting the contents of a big bulge in its tummy and a rhyme popped into my head based on 'There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly...' It's called I Saw Anaconda, and it's due to be published by Nosy Crow next year, illustrated by Emma Dodd.
The Oddest Place I've Written - Moira Butterfield
When Lynne asked me to think about this subject, I had a problem. The thing is I can hardly write anywhere. In fact I've gone a bit weird about it. I don't like writing in a place where someone might walk in and break my thought process. I can't write where there is music. I do, however, make an exception for trains. I don't know what it is about trains - the rhythmic noise, the confined area, being stuck in a seat - it's all good. I love writing on trains and have been known to go on a journey just to get some writing done. I write longhand in a notebook or pad, and I snigger inside if someone nosily peers over my shoulder, because my writing is illegible to anyone but me and they are foiled (see below). My best ideas come on trains. Ticket to ride please!
If you have a tale to tell about the oddest place you've written please do leave a comment and let us know, we'd love to hear about it.
The Picture Book Den Team
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Or if they are shouting/calling out – “Stop!”
|Some of Holly Sterling's great illustrations for a new Quarto series of four books I have coming out next January.|
Or if there is a loud noise.
|New board book art for an upcoming series. A loud noise and a call-out here.|
|Exclamation mark over-user|
Friday, 19 June 2015
One of the best things about being a writer for children is the way that, every now and again, you get direct evidence that the work you're doing is making a real difference.
The Letterbox Club is a scheme, initiated by Booktrust (in the UK), where children who are placed with foster carers are sent, once a month, packs of books and number games. Many of these children have moved from one placement to another and rarely if ever get mail in the post addressed directly to them. Many have few, if any, books. Many are well below average in attainment levels.
So the big bright Letterbox packs, dropping through their postbox, addressed specifically to over 10000 children across the UK, with books and games chosen to match their current level, are truly exciting. Research has been done to prove beyond a doubt that these packs make a real difference to their reading and numeracy.
The two original Letterbox Club patrons are Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Lemn Sissay. I was asked, when the scheme spread to Northern Ireland, to be a regional patron. I write a letter to each child by name. Some of my books are included in the packs. And I go, every now and again, to a 'Fun Day' to meet the children.
Last Saturday we all met up in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. I read them my new picture book, The Nose that Knows - they seemed pleased to be the first children to see and hear it. I read Too Noisy, and they all joined in (especially a particularly enthusiastic young girl at the front!). I read them a chapter from Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires and one little boy acted out, to much amusement, the role of Pete's pet dog Blob as he turned into a Werewolf. Everyone, even the adults, joined in the howling. Then we all went off and made models of wolves out of Jumping Clay.
As I was reading one very small boy edged closer and close to me until he was almost sitting in my lap. Afterwards his foster mother told me that, only a few weeks ago, he was so wary of strangers and of coming forward that such behaviour would have been unthinkable.
Dr.Rose Griffiths, founder of the Letterbox Club
The Letterbox Club in Northern Ireland is funded by Fostering Network as part of its Fostering Achievement programme, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Government. At a time of savage cuts - the NI government support for the Bookstart programme has recently been completely withdrawn - Letterbox Club funding has been guaranteed up to 2016. I very much hope that it will continue beyond that, and that The Letterbox Club, across the UK and possibly beyond, will survive and grow.
Sunday, 14 June 2015
They're a great addition to any story sack and can be used in a variety of ways, all of which help children meet some of the EYFS goals. For example:
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development: making relationships (bonding over play) and building self-confidence
- Communication and Language: speaking and listening skills
- Physical Development: small motor skills (throwing the cubes, holding a pencil)
- Expressive Arts and Design: being imaginative
So what are story cubes?
Story cubes are small cubes that contain images, these can be used to help you create a story, poem, work of art, anything creative really. You can purchase them or you can make your own. If you prefer to make your own you can create a cube from card (there are loads of templates you can download from the Internet) or up-cycle some old wooden play bricks. Once you're armed with your cubes and are ready to experiment with them here are a few ideas to get you started:
Group game - Create a story version one: Throw all nine cubes and each person picks one cube. Decide who goes first and that person has to start the story using the image from their cube as inspiration for their part of the story. The next person then has to add to the story using the image from their cube. Continue in this way until everyone has had a turn. If there are a small number of players e.g. 3 then each person can pick three cubes and use one cube per go until all have been used.
Group game - Create a story version two: Give each player the same number of cubes. Then taking it in turn each player throws one of their cubes and carries on the story from the previous player using the image they've just thrown as inspiration for their section of story.
On your own: Throw the cubes and arrange in a line. Following the sequence of images to create a new story.
- You don’t have to be literal with the images for example if a rainbow is thrown there doesn’t have to be a rainbow in the sky. Perhaps someone is singing ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ or someone is wearing a rainbow coloured top.
- You may wish to record the results of your 'game' so the story it not lost.
What happened? Throw the story cube. Using the image that lands face up to discuss that part of the story. Was it funny? Was it sad? Was it scary? What happened before or after that part of the story?
Rearrange the story: Throw the cube and use the outcome to rearrange the story you’ve read. Perhaps the goodie loses and the baddie wins. Perhaps something the character was afraid of is no longer afraid of. Perhaps something they were bad at they are now fantastic at. You can then explore how this would impact on the story.
I hope this has given you a few ideas for using story cubes and you can see the benefit of adding these to your story sack.
If you decide to experiment with them please do let me know the outcome.
Monday, 8 June 2015
The first Arvon course I went on was led by Pat and Lawrence Hutchins. It was inspirational to be with people who shared my passion for picture books.
and SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)
Our own Natascha Biebow is Regional Advisor of the British branch
Saturday, 30 May 2015
|Helen and big supporter Daniel|
Helen Dineen is a picture book author represented by the Anne Clark Literary Agency. She also volunteers in a local school and is a part-time child-minding assistant. Find her on Twitter @aitcheldee or pounding the streets of Southampton.
Monday, 25 May 2015
Two heads are better than one: The benefits of early author-illustrator collaboration • Jonathan Emmett
One reason for this lack of direct contact is that many picture book publishers like to moderate all communication between a book's author and illustrator. In the conventional UK set-up, an author gives any comments or ideas they might have regarding the illustrations to an editor, who then (if they agree with them) passes them on to the illustrator (sometimes via the book's designer). This is obviously a rather slow method of communication and 'Chinese whispers' like misinterpretations can occur. Another disadvantage of the conventional set-up is that while the author has some influence over how the book is illustrated, the illustrator has relatively little influence over how the book is written, the story having been largely hammered out before they are on board.
|The line of communication between author and illustrator is often indirect.|
(Image taken from my "How a book is Made" school presentations)
When I first started creating picture books I'd intended to both write and illustrate and was in the habit of developing ideas simultaneously in both text and illustration. Although my illustration has largely fallen by the wayside, I still think of stories visually as much as verbally. I'll often get a story idea from looking at an image or conceive a story outline as a series of illustrations. So I've always thought that the conventional set-up, with its lack of direct interaction between author and illustrator, is less than ideal. Fortunately, I've been able to team up with several sympathetic illustrators who have been happy to exchange ideas at an early stage and several of my more recent picture books have been developed in a far more collaborative way.
|Some of Mark Oliver's early concept art for Monsters: An Owner's Guide|
|The Silver Serpent Cup and some of the outlandish vehicle models, made by Ed Eaves, that inspired it.|
Not all of the author-illustrator collaborations I’ve worked on have made it into print – I wrote two unpublished stories with the late Vanessa Cabban – but I’ve always enjoyed working with the illustrator to create them. And I suspect that, having helped shape the initial concept, the illustrators I’ve created these books with have felt a little more attached to these projects and may have been prepared to lavish a little extra care and attention on them.
|Some of Vanessa Cabban's "Clara and Bertie" character sketches from an unpublished project we developed together.|
There’s a synergy when text and illustration work well together in a picture book. This happens naturally when the same person is both writing and illustrating, but if the author and illustrator are two different people, such a synergy can be a lot easier to achieve if they get together early on to exchange ideas. I’d certainly recommend it!
Find out more about Jonathan and his books at his Scribble Street web site or his blog. You can also follow Jonathan on twitter @scribblestreet.
See all of Jonathan's posts for Picture Book Den.
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Rewriting fairy tales is always a challenge.
I like to bring the world up to date, to help children engage with the story better. This might include tackling gender, class and diversity issues, as well as making the characters dress and behave in a more contemporary style. Whatever your aims of adaptation, you still need to make sure the story retains enough of the flavour of the original to allow children to identify familiar themes and characters.
The latest Fairytale Hairdresser book - the Little Mermaid - had an added element to tackle. The original Hans Christian Anderson story is very dark and many people are not familiar with the ending. The tale is about sacrifice for love and has strong themes of moral 'goodness'. Anderson's mermaid chooses to swap her tail for legs, even though every step she takes will be like 'treading upon sharp knives'. In the end, she fails to win the heart of her prince and is given one last option to avoid becoming foam on the sea: kill the prince. The Little Mermaid refuses, and instead she throws herself into the ocean to meet her death.
Unsurprisingly, the Disney version has a different ending. In the 1989 film, Ariel and her prince fall in love and she is made a human permanently by her father, King Trident.
Like Disney, I wanted to steer clear suicidal mermaids, but I felt uncomfortable with the film's message of 'change for the one you love' so I spent a long time thinking through what I wanted to say. Why is the mermaid unhappy the way she is? Should she become a human permanently? Should the prince become a mermaid?
In my story (spoiler alert) the little mermaid finds she misses her tail. She returns to being a mermaid and she and her prince (Marino, a diving instructor) spend half of their time in her (underwater) palace:
and half the time in his:
You can read the original Little Mermaid tale here.
The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Little Mermaid is available from Amazon here or Waterstones here and also in independent shops like this one.
Friday, 15 May 2015
|(c) Kristen Fulton|
So far, this week, I’ve discovered that:
. . . discovering the wonder of a bar of soap’s bubbles!
Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out my NEW small group coaching courses!
Sunday, 10 May 2015
Not that the style in question is depressing per se, just that the unoriginality of a lot of the stuff out there is depressing. It's the law of diminishing returns, people mindlessly copying people who are copying people who are copying people who are aping particular 1950's styles like that of the wonderful Miroslav Sasek -
– and Cliff Roberts -
But. . . . I lose the will to live when I see a style being done to death by those who really should be trying to work out their own style and their own take on the world. Why do they do it? Is it a lack of confidence, or of self respect?
I never understood unthinking fashion following in the first place so it puts me at a disadvantage I guess. Not that I'm trying to occupy some sort of moral high ground. Well, maybe I'll claim a molehill's worth of hieght. After all, we all see ourselves as paragons of discernment, however delusional that view might be, I'm no different ;-)
Is it wholly market led? It may be that the market has pushed artists in this direction. If something is doing well, publishers will want more stuff like it of course.
Is there some correlation between our times and the fifties that leads people to this abstracted, flat, design led style? To the distance these styles keep the viewer from their subject? The fifties seems to have been a time when Modern was seen as good. Now in our more pessimistic times are we nostalgic about that idea and view of The Modern?
Are things so tough and uncertain that we want to stand a safe distance from the world, especially the world we present to our kids? I'm not any kind of psychologist so I don't know the answer to these questions, but I find the idea interesting.
What I do know is that I for one am getting bored sick of it. It's the illustration world's equivalent of all those young men with big beards, shaved sides of heads and plaid/check shirts ;-) That's getting really old too.
Talking of 'old', put the word 'grumpy' and 'man' in there too and you've defined me absolutely. . .