Monday, 23 January 2012

Growing wings... by Linda Strachan

This is not a blog about fairies or flying horses

 or dragons

or even birds.
Just so that you know that up front! (Actually there may be mention of one bird, but her wings are already fully grown.)

Neither is it a blog about sprouting a set of beautiful feathery wings -  in case you had that in mind - which is probably just as well. I imagine it would make getting dressed a real problem!

I wanted to tell you about how a book, or a series, can grow wings and take off ...  often way beyond our expectations!

This week the 10th book in the Hamish McHaggis series (Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt )  will be ready to be sent off to the printers.
The book won't be launched until later April 2012 but it is so exciting to have arrived at this final stage.
Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt 

 It is wonderful to be back working with Illustrator Sally J. Collins and I know that neither of us thought, when we started working together in 2004, that it would be the start of such a wonderful and exciting journey.

Sally and Linda with Hamish McHaggis,
We have a lot of fun with the characters (Hamish- a cuddly haggis, Rupert- an English hedgehog, Jeannie- a rather dippy osprey and Angus- a cheeky pine marten.).  There have been some exciting book launches in amazing places such as Edinburgh Castle, The Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Glamis Castle and even at Balmoral, and this year we will be launching the latest book in Glasgow's famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Sally and I work closely together and as soon as I have an outline for the story she begins to sketch out some ideas and work up any new characters. 
In this book we have an urban fox (Maggie) and her little fox cubs so Sally immediately began to work on getting Maggie just right.
Our animal characters don't wear clothes but they do have accessories, such as Hamish's tartan tammy and Angus has his red cap.

Rupert often wears his glasses and he has a camera and binoculars. Jeannie the osprey likes to wear pink beads and for this book she is sporting some new beads with a Rennie Macintosh style rose on them.   
So, as you can see here, we decided that Maggie the fox would have a handbag!

Once the story is complete Sally and I discuss each spread and nothing is set in stone until we are both happy with it.  What works so well for us is the way we get to bounce ideas off each other, right up until the book is in the final stages.

When I speak to people about writing picture books I think this is how they imagine most authors and illustrators work.  But I am fairly sure that we are in the minority.

I have written a fair number of highly illustrated books but I have never met or even been given the chance to speak to any of the other illustrators while the book is in progress.
Working on a Hamish book at sally's house

 So working with sally is a completely different experience and one I enjoy.  One reason that it works so well is because we actually live quite near each other and can meet up regularly to exchange ideas, but also because we respect each other's opinion and expertise.

I travel a lot, visiting schools and talking about my books, and the Hamish McHaggis books are a favourite with the children, not only here in Scotland. (you can find out a little about my trip to New Zealand schools last year here on my blog (Writing the) BOOKWORDS 

Sally and I were absolutely delighted when Scottish Book Trust (SBT) developed a set of teacher resources based around the Hamish books. Sally and I went through the books and listed some of the things we thought would be of interest and the lovely people at SBT added other ideas and also gathered material devised by some very enthusiastic teachers, as case studies, to provide these wonderful FREE downloadable resources for teachers.

I have always found it fascinating to see how much I discover about each new book.  It can be startling what you can find in a story to work with, and I often find things that I had never really thought about when I was writing it.  This becomes even more obvious when the time comes to think about how I am going to present the book to children.

So now it is time to have a deeper look and check out the wings our new book is about to grow -
Linda Strachan is the award winning author of over 60 books including Writing For Children   pub A. & C. Black.


Paeony Lewis said...

I'd love to work so closely with an illustrator, sparking ideas off each other.

Moira Butterfield said...

What really struck a chord with me was that you 'respect each other's opinion and expertise'. That's so vital when you are working in a team, and such a joy when it occurs. The trouble comes when this doesn't happen,and then it's so painful. I think it helps enormously to work with people you can meet up with regularly, so you can form a respectful personal relationship.

Lynne Garner said...

I've never even had a chance to speak to the illustrators of my books. It must be wonderful to work together in the way you do.

If you'd like to write a blog around Rupert the hedgehog then I'd be delighted to feature it on:

Linda Strachan said...

Paeony, I do love working together because I think it brings the best out of both of us.

I agree, Moira, there is no substitute for face to face meetings especially for a picture book.

Lynne, I would love to! I'll be in touch.

Alison Boyle said...

Good insights about positive author-illustrator partnerships, and how it works best for the final book when there's a chance to bounce off one another. Thanks Linda.