Sunday, 3 November 2013

Quentin Blake, Picture Book Ideas Month (PiBoIdMo) and interesting facial hair. That’s right: it’s the inspiring month of November, by Juliet Clare Bell

It’s that time of year again: for some, it’s an opportunity to grow interesting facial hair

Nice

for several hundred of us, it’s the annual British Isles SCBWI Conference, with Malorie Blackman and Catherine Rayner for starters...

and for many hundred of us picture book writers throughout the world, it’s
PiBoIdMo 13! Yay!

November has turned into a month I get childishly excited about. And Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (where you have to come up with 30 ideas for picture books in 30 days) has a whole lot to do with it. Since it’s all about inspiration and good habits for being creative, I’m going to talk about inspiration here. And where better to start than with my favourite illustrator (author and illustrator of my favourite adult book –Words and Pictures, and illustrator of one of my very favourite picture books, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen), whom I met/saw for the first time last night (a long held ambition of mine)? It's the one and only...

QUENTIN BLAKE

Photos taken by fellow groupie, Dave Gray.

In the presence of great greatness...



The lecture was brilliant. He talked about the illustrations he’s been doing ‘beyond the page’ in the last ten years or so, on buildings, art gallery and many different hospital walls and on buses for education projects (his book Beyond the Page, is beautiful and is always on my desk for inspiration...).

An illustrated book bus in Ghana.

So how does this fit with PiBoIdMo?

Well this year, I want to try specific ways of coming up with my picture book ideas as well as just writing down ideas that come to me in the course of a day.

So where do you go looking for ideas?

...from pictures

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking about pictures today. In bed this morning, one of my children, apropo of nothing, started talking about how the Paul Klee picture on the wall made her think about a story, which she proceeded to tell me.

This prompted my youngest to imagine a story coming from the other picture in our room...
Picture from the cover of One Hundred Years of Solitude

So one place I’m looking for ideas this month is in pictures –wherever I can find them. On walls, waiting to be hung in our new office, from notecards, in Quentin Blake and Shaun Tan books, the children’s (as always)....

...from books

This year, I’m going to practise what I preach. I teach writing picture books and it’s been too long since I’ve gone through my favourite picture books and tried to capture the essence of what it is I really love about them. Often, there's really interesting use of metaphor, as in Not Now, Bernard, by David McKee. I'd really like to play around with this more for this year's PiBoIdMo ideas... Quentin Blake talked about this in the lecture, using the example of The Story of the Dancing Frog, and how he was using a metaphor for bereavement but that he could just have easily had the main character learning to play the cello instead.


I love the idea that as an illustrator you can choose the metaphors you use in picture books partly based on your desire to draw that particular thing (he didn’t say that specifically in this example but he’s talked about it in other books before). As an author who doesn’t illustrate or know who the illustrator for my stories are going to be until after I've written them, it’s a slightly different game but I’m going to look at themes I’d like to explore and come up with visually different metaphors and see whether that leads to fresh story ideas.

... exercises I do in school visits with children

I’m going to...
make up silly stories on the hoof the same way I get children to do collectively in school assemblies and see if any germs of ideas for something more substantial come (I’m the character in their story. Someone in the audience chooses what I am –it can be anything at all; someone else chooses a name; then what I most want to do in the world –or beyond- that day; what’s getting in my way, etc.. Because it’s all done quickly by different people, no one thinks about it much or feels self-conscious);

...play the name game that inspired Don’t Panic, Annika! where you come up with characteristics of a character based on their name, using rhyme or alliteration. And when you’ve got those characteristics you work out what needs to change by the end of the story in order to make it satisfying/funny etc.;

...play the What If? game I play in the classroom where we look around at the room, or the playground and turn ordinary objects or scenes into something quite extraordinary by saying: this may look like an ordinary whiteboard/wall display/teacher, but what if... (and similarly with objects taken from a bag).

And I’ll be reading Tara Lazar’s blog daily and follow the exercises that the guest bloggers suggest.

Basically, I’m going to allow myself to play for a month.

Do more creative pursuits that aren’t writing

This month, I’m trying out a local close-part harmony group. I joined a choir for one concert about twenty years ago but before that I’d not sung collectively since being in school, and although I love singing with the children, and in the shower, I’ve not done anything since. Again, inspired by Quentin Blake, as a non-drawer, I’m going to do five minutes of drawing each day throughout November just for the fun of it. And I’m attending the first in a series of traditional arts storytelling workshops, run by local storyteller, Graham Langley . And, since the death of my mother earlier this year, who was a prolific reader, and whose inscription is in many of the books that I have, I’ve started reading novels again in a way that I haven’t for almost twenty years. I do actually feel as if something has reawakened in me (so thanks, Mum, for that).


Different writing environments. Writing alongside others...
If you’re a member of SCBWI and PiBoIdMo etc., writing really isn’t the lonely occupation many think of it as. There’s such a huge, welcoming community out there. But a lot of it is online and this year, I’m arranging to do more writing alongside others. It started with a writing retreat last year where a fellow picture book author, Rebecca Colby, and I booked a cottage for a week and just wrote, usually in our own beds during the day, and then in the evenings, sitting together at the dining room table. We were joined for a couple of days by another children’s author (Addy Farmer), and it was an incredible week.

Whilst it’s extremely hard to get away for a week, I was really keen to try and replicate something of that communal environment, so from this month, once a month, our local SCBWI is going to host a free day-long write-in in the fantastic new Library of Birmingham...


where anyone can come along and write/sketch for the day together on their separate projects.

The children's section of the library, where all artwork, including the prints on the beanbags, is by Laura-Kate Chapman, who illustrated our last picture book, The Kite Princess!

I’ve also recently moved into an office over the road from our house, with another children’s author and fellow SCBWI-er, Leila Rasheed, which is brilliant. It’s freed up loads of space in our respective houses and has provided us with a fantastic working space. And from January, we’ll be running fortnightly day-long write-ins in one of the large meeting rooms there where writers and illustrators can come and write/illustrate for the day.

As always, November is going to be a busy month (especially in the run-up to the conference where I organise the mass Friday night critique with seventy-plus critiquers) and this year I’m also writing a commissioned book for which I’m doing loads of really interesting research/interviews at the moment, but that’s the joy of PiBoIdMo. It doesn’t actually have to take much time at all. You just need to do it every day and get yourself into good habits (and this year, I've actually bought index cards and a box to put them in, which is an exciting if unusually organised step to have taken). To finish with the wonderful Quentin Blake again...

“I don’t wait for inspiration. I’m not, in fact, quite sure what inspiration is, but I’m sure that if it is going to turn up, my having started work is the precondition of its arrival,” (Words and Pictures, p100).


Inspiration enough.

Happy November.

Do you have any PiBoIdMo tips or hints? Please leave them in the comments section below -and have a fruitful month.

Juliet Clare Bell is currently researching for a picture book based around the Cadbury chocolate factory and Bournville in Birmingham, which so far has been extremely interesting and very tasty...

31 comments:

  1. Wow, Clare, what a busy month. Have fun!

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    1. It's always fun, Jane. I love Novembers (and I'm still completely buzzing from seeing Quentin Blake). Have a productive month yourself!

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  2. Thanks Clare for an inspiring post. You're so right about PiBoIdMo, it's such a fantastic concept. This is my second year taking part; thank goodness Jane Clarke told me about it at the SCBWI Canterbury meet up last November.
    Cath

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    1. Thanks, Cat. PiBoIdMo is great in so many ways and it doesn't take up much time if you're crazily busy. Have a great month of idea-generating...

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  3. I don't know why I haven't been liking November... But I think I am going to love it starting from now... Thanks to PiBoidMo !

    Most of my stories were writen going around illustrators blogs.Sometimes, one of their drawings can give me inspiration...

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    1. Hope you do, Nicole. There's a huge sense of community about it. I like your idea of going round illustrator blogs. I'm going to have a go at it myself. Thanks!

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  4. Great post, Clare. I must try and get along to some of the write-in days. I've just been away for a week in Devon - no 'phone, computer, disturbance of any kind - and I managed to get more writing done than I do in the rest of the year! Oh - and enjoy the close harmony singing, it's a fantastic thing to do and so much fun!

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    1. Thanks, Julie. I'll put up the dates very soon and I'll enjoy the singing, I'm sure. Glad you've had a good week of writing...

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  5. How cool to meet Quentin Blake, Clare! Thanks for sharing the pictures and all the ways you're going to find ideas!

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    1. I know, Tina. I feel very very grateful to have seen him. Happy PiBoIdMo-ing...

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  6. Good post, Clare. It's people like you that keep this from being a lonely occupation. After PiBoIdMo, a good critique group is important to help nurture the stories generated.

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    1. Thanks, Mona. I feel extremely lucky in my critique group. It makes a huge difference.

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  7. I think having a good critique group isn't easy at all...

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    1. You're right, Nicole. It's not easy but it's worth keeping on keeping on trying to find the right one. Mine has been absolutely brilliant. Once you know exactly what you want from one, it's often easier to find it -or to set it up yourself... good luck.

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  8. Inspiring post! Enjoy the singing.

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    1. Thanks Heather. I'm excited about the singing... See you at the conference?

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  9. Love your post, especially the photo of Magnam. (I'm always attracted to bright shiny things lol) I'm new to PiBoldMo it's wonderful to see so many other people with a shared interest. I write my stories around my illustrations. Blogland is wonderful when you live in the middle of nowhere, as I do. :)

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    1. It can stop things feeling very isolated. I feel lucky in that I found SCBWI almost straight away when I started writing so it's never felt at all isolating. If you're not in SCBWI, I'd highly recommend it, Catherine. Good luck with PiBoIdMo.

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  10. I'm having a go at picture books this month ... interesting how that kind of creativity seems to come from a different side of the brain from novel-writing. Thanks for the inspiration, Clare.

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    1. Candy doing picture books at last - hooray! I'm watching and waiting, Candy!! Enjoy.

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  11. Oooh, Candy, I can't wait to see what comes of your picture book ideas. How exciting! Have a truly inspired month.

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  12. Clare,
    What an inspiring post! I needed it today! I wasn't feeling inspired, but your enthusiasm bubbled right off my monitor and into my heart! So glad you got to meet Quentin Blake! I know that had to be inspiring in a once-in-a-lifetime way. Have a wonderful November!!!

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    1. Thanks, Penny. I felt like a child seeing Santa Claus for the first time. It was very special indeed. Glad you're feeling more inspired. Now we've got a new inspiring banner for our crit group, too -we'll all be coming up with the same ideas!

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  13. Oh, man! QB is an idol of mine! I often try to 'channel' his light touch when I feel my drawings are too stiff. Lucky you! This is really a great post that deserves to be read by as many as possible - I'll be doing my best to spread the link around!

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    1. Thank you, Julie! I do feel incredibly lucky. He's my favourite favourite and has been for years. What a man. We can all bask in the QB inspiration... Glad the post is useful to you. Good luck with PiBoIdMo, Clare.

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  14. An encouraging post, Clare, and a great approach to daily ideas for stories and tales. Loved your four sources for inspiration: books, pictures, children, adventures. A great recipe for creativity.

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    1. Thanks, and I hope you have an inspiring month. Clare.

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  15. Clare!!! Awesome and inspiring stuff! I am NOW even further away (moved from Germany to Hawaii) but dang I wanna come to all your write-ins and stuff. I was creatively inspired by Rittersport chocolate, so I understand the 'duties' of researching that particular subject thoroughly ; ). Here's my PiBoIdMo-generating method: step one: Read the Guest Blog post for the day (let in some outside creative inspiration); step two: do a little warm up sketch of a lightbulb (changes daily and somehow is influenced by the post); step three: share my sketch and short-thought on my blog (and out on social media); step four: brainstorm ideas and put in my little folder so I don't lose it...and final step: be okay with whatever happens. Yesterday, I was whiney and hopeless and had a crappy half-cooked idea and was just miserable...but I reminded myself it wouldn't last forever...And today, it's better. The 'okay with whatever happens' seems to be particularly important to me, I somehow grew a giant "MUST BE CREATIVE EVERY WAKING MOMENT OF EVERY DAY" chip on my shoulder that I'm dissolving with heavy doses of acceptance, patience, persistence and humor.

    Thank you for sharing your Quentin Blake experience, adopting that last quote. And also. Starting off with Mr. Selleck and a facial hair comment is gonna make me smile the rest of the day. I live down the road from where they filmed on location (at Robin Master's estate).... : ) when you come for a visit, we can go on a magnum-quest. Happy creating!

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  16. Aaaagh. I've just lost an equally long reply! Hawaii?! That sounds fab (and a magnum quest? Lots of fun). Thanks lots for your method for PiBoIdMoing. It sounds great. I'd add trust into your acceptance, patience, persistence etc. -trust that it's ok NOT to be creative all the time and that the parts that seem non-creative are extremely important too.
    Have a really fruitful, inspired month in Hawaii, PiBoIdMoing, but don't be hard on yourself when it doesn't feel inspiring. Sometimes those times end up preceding something that needed a break before being created/thought up.
    Thanks again for posting. It's great to hear from you,
    All the best, Clare.

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  17. Great post. I love PiBoIdMo as well. This morning, I'm using some much needed housecleaning as an opportunity to brainstorm ideas. It makes cleaning much more fun to have my mind elsewhere. I've got my stack of index cards in tow so I can capture the ideas as they come. Crumbs, dust bunnies, long lost toys… you never know what story idea might be lurking under the refrigerator or behind the sofa. =)

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  18. I too have a copy of 'Words and Pictures', Clare, from when Quentin Blake was a speaker at the Society of Author's conference in Brighton in 2000. Oh, so long ago, but I remember being awestruck ;-) I'm always inspired when I meet a favourite author/illustrator, and when I'm feeling bouncy I get more of my own ideas.

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