Thursday 30 April 2015

Martin Salisbury discusses five great picture books

We're delighted to have this guest blog from Professor Martin Salisbury, course leader for the prestigious MA course in Children's Book Illustration run by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. An illustrator himself, Martin has written a number of important books about picture books for children and here he looks at five great picture books.

By Ludwig Bemelmans

Published by The Viking Press,
New York, 1934
Though best known for his subsequent, hugely popular Madeline books, of which there were five, Bemelmans’ first picturebook was this clearly semi-autobiographical tale of a childhood holiday in the Tyrol. Hansi is packed by his mother onto a little train and journeys up into the mountains where he stays with Uncle Herman, Aunt Amelie and their daughter, cousin Lieserl for the Christmas holidays. Various adventures are described through words and pictures in a generously sized format with alternating colour and black and white pages.

Born in 1898, the author had experienced a troubled upbringing in what was then Austrian territory (now Italian) and was sent to the United States at the age of eighteen to work in the hotel industry, eventually opening his own restaurant. This first venture into writing and illustrating came at the suggestion of friends and was well received by reviewers. It marked the beginning of a successful career as a humorist, novelist and artist. His work was characterized by an idiosyncratic, occasionally sentimental approach to the anecdotal.

There is far more text here than would be found in a modern picturebook. It falls somewhere between an illustrated book and what we now think of as a picturebook, with several beautiful double page spread illustrations in colour. Hansi was printed in the United States. No further details are given about the printing but it is clearly produced autolithographically. Bemelmans presumably would have needed to acquaint himself with this process, producing separations for each colour directly onto the plate and in places overlaying colours to create further hues, thereby maximizing the potential of the process. He appears to have used both lithographic crayon and inks. The first edition was issued with a dust jacket. Bemelmens’ extremely limited, at times appalling, draftsmanship is somehow always surmounted by the exuberance and charm of his vision.

The Moon Jumpers
By Janice May Udry
Pictures by Maurice Sendek

Published by Harper & Row Inc.,
New York, 1959
This copy, 1st UK edition
(The Bodley Head, 1979)
One of Sendak’s less well-known titles, this is a book that finds the great master in lyrical, sensual mode. Udry’s richly evocative text tells of a sultry, moonlit summer night, from the perspective of a group of children, out playing before bedtime. Sendak’s images give an almost pagan, ritualistic layer to the book as he uses heavily opaque paint to create formalized shapes of trees, buildings and children in intense moonlight. Using an almost pointillist technique, the artist eschews representational interest in architecture or flora in order to create a primitive, Rousseauesque atmosphere. The children seem to float and dance ritualistically across the pages in an operatic performance, brought to a close only by the call from the house: Mother calls from the door, “Children, oh children.” But we’re not children, we’re the Moon Jumpers!
“It’s time,” she says.

By John Burningham

Published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1965

One of the greatest picturebook innovators of his generation, Burningham has consistently pushed at the boundaries of the medium with works such as Grandpa and Come Away from the Water Shirley. His precocious, Greenaway Medal-winning debut, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers, which was published in 1963, just over three years after receiving his diploma from the Central School of Art in London, gave notice of a unique talent that was emerging at a key time for illustration and in particular the picturebook. The development of new methods of lithographic printing and the vision of important figures in UK publishing such as Tom Maschler at Jonathan Cape and Mabel George at Oxford University Press helped initiate a ‘great leap forward’ in expressive picturebook art.

Humbert was Burningham’s fourth picturebook in these early post art school years. The book tells of a humble working horse in London whose owner trundles him daily through the city, collecting scrap onto his cart. One day, the Lord Mayor’s parade comes by and Humbert leaps into action to save the day as the mayor’s grand coach breaks down. More than anything though, the book is a visual celebration of London, a tour through the deep browns of dirty Victorian buildings and the heavy, smog laden nights, lit by a yellow moon.

Doctor De Soto
By William Steig

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
New York, 1982
Steig died in 2003 at the age of 95 after an illustrious career as a humourist, writer and illustrator. He did not begin making picturebooks until into he was into his sixties after working for many years as a cartoonist. Having managed to sell his cartoons at a very early age and become the family breadwinner, he went on to produce over 1600 drawings and 117 covers for the New Yorker magazine alone, characterized by his a highly distinctive, sardonic sense of humour. Of his children’s books, it is Shrek! that has become the most widely known in recent years, thanks to the success of the Hollywood film. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Simon & Schuster, 1969), the Caldecott Medal winning story of Sylvester’s the donkey’s discovery of a magic pebble that can make wishes come true has also become a Twentieth Century classic. It also caused some controversy due to the casting of pigs as police, a derogatory association that was particularly prevalent in the hippy era. Although Steig insisted no offence had been intended, the book was banned in some places.

As with all of Steig’s books, Doctor De Soto is firmly underpinned by a profound and meaningful narrative yet delivered with an easy lightness of touch, and great humour. A fox is suffering from acute toothache and begs the dentists, who happen to be mice, to remove the painful tooth. Despite their stated policy of ‘Cats and other dangerous animals not accepted for treatment’, the mice take pity on him and perform an extraction. Throughout the story, the fox is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to eat the mice after his dental surgery is complete. Steig’s text is hilariously matter of fact: “On his way home, he wondered if it would be shabby of him to eat the De Sotos when the job was done.”

The Monster from Half-way to Nowhere
By Max Velthuÿs

Published by Nord-Sud Verlag, Mönchaltorf,
Switzerland, 1973

This copy: 1st UK edition, A&C Black, London, 1974
Born in The Hague in 1923, Max Velthuÿs studied painting and graphic design at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten (Academy of the Visual Arts), before working for some time as a graphic ‘all-rounder, designing for advertising, TV and film. He came relatively late to picturebook making but found great success with the Frog books, beginning with Frog in Love, which was championed by the legendary Klaus Flugge at Andersen Press. Flugge went on to publish numerous subsequent tiles in the series. Velthuÿs’s Frog books are characterized by a graphic economy and an ability to address complex existential themes in an elegant understated manner, always stressing the innate nobility of human kindness.

The Monster from Half-way to Nowhere was one of the artist’s earlier picturebooks but already displays this lightness of touch and quietly philosophical approach. The page designs are masterful in their use of space and distribution of weight and colour. A fire-breathing monster arrives in a village to the consternation of the inhabitants, whose firemen immediately douse him with water. They try to put him to work as a military weapon but his natural good nature prevents him from wishing harm on anyone. Eventually he harnesses his fire to the newly built power station, providing electricity to the village.

Max Velthuÿs received the Hans Christian Andersen award for his contribution to children’s literature in 2004, a year before his death.

A discussion on further great picture books can be found in Martin Salisbury's 100 Great Picture Books, published by Laurence King in April 2015.

We wonder what you think of the intriguing selections? What books would be in your personal top three?

Saturday 25 April 2015

Patience, patience… by Jane Clarke

Like many children's authors, I've been visiting a lot of schools recently. In a couple of schools, we've even had the time to make books. It's made me realise that when I'm writing a picture book text, I have a lot in common with the kids. 

It's exciting when your head is fizzing with ideas that might make a book! 

Inspired? Fantastic! But now you need to make it into a story and write it down….

It's hard to get your thoughts down on paper so that someone else can read and understand them. 

The danger is that some of the fizz evaporates somewhere along the way between mind maps, story plans, and writing, so it really helps when people are enthusiastic about your ideas.

 Thanks to all the fantastic, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers I worked with.

It's hard to be patient and polish up your work.

Oh yes. But it's worth taking time so that the finished book is as good as it can be. 

Congratulations to all the children who made wonderful books.

Making a book is a l-ooo-ooo-ooo-ng process. When asked to guess how long one of my picture book texts takes to write, edit, be illustrated and appear in the shops, children will often guess 'a week.' When I tell them it takes at least two and a half years, and sometimes up to five years, they think that's an eternity.

Sometimes if feels like an eternity, too! But the fizz when you get a new idea you just have to put down on paper somehow makes it all worthwhile, especially if that idea turns into a book!

Jane's impatiently awaiting the publication of 4 toddler board books, 3 picture books and 2 more books in her Dr KittyCat series and has recently been lured onto Twitter

Monday 20 April 2015

Do you want to earn more money writing? Moira Butterfield

I expect the answer to that title is yes. Nicola Morgan recently wrote a great blog about it, with practical and positive suggestions, and I’ve put a link to that blog at the bottom of this one. One of her suggestions is the possibility of writing more by taking on paid fee work. That’s what I do and have done for many years. For picture book authors there are opportunities to do this in board books and early-years educational books. Some of you will be old hands at doing this but for those who like the idea but haven’t tried it, or are new to writing as a career, here are some points I thought might be helpful.

It’s a craft, like journalism 

Writing paid fee work is not the same as writing your own stuff with royalties promised down the line. It’s a different discipline. It’s more akin to journalism because you are commissioned by an editor to provide what they want, and your work can be altered.

It has serious deadlines

Fee work has set schedules, often very tight. They aren’t to be messed with. You can’t decide to add on time because you needed to do this or that away from work, and you can’t plead writer’s block. I was once an editor who commissioned fee work, and if someone let me down schedule-wise I never commissioned them again because I had to carry the can for it. If I ever missed a print date the sales team and the production team would kick my boss who would kick me twice as hard because it would cost my company money. If you can’t, hand on heart, write under pressure to meet a date, you shouldn’t take on fee work.

Having said that, suggested fee work schedules can be ridiculous. Say no to those. They bring only stress and bitterness. (Ask if there is more time before you say no, though, just in case). 

Fees – don’t roll over and do it for nothing
Fees are tight and getting tighter, and some publishers try to take the mickey. There’s no pot of gold. For an insight into the money side, and into working with fee-paying editors, read the excellent ‘tell it like it is’ blog by Anne Rooney - Again I've added a link at the bottom of this blog. 

To work out if a fee is fair, get out your calculator and punch in the hours you think you will need. Multiply this by your hourly rate (you don’t need to tell the publisher what that is, by the way. It’s your business, no theirs.) 

You sign away rights
You will be asked to sign away rights in flat fee work. There’s some excellent material about this on the UK NUJ website, also with a useful guide to fees being paid in the UK. If there are similar sites in other countries, and you know of them, please do let us know about them in the comments section.

You don’t get the last say
Your editor may ask for changes. The sales team may ask for changes. You can point out why you think they’re wrong but in the end they get to do what they want. If you hate what they’ve done, you do have the option of making sure your name does not appear on the work. 

You may wish to use a pseudonym for fee work, and a different name for your own work. I'm hoping to do this myself in the near future for fiction-writing. 

There is often hassle

There is often hassle because fee-based projects sometimes evolve in-house as you’re writing. You need to be professional on these occasions, however unreasonable demands may be. It’s sometimes very tempting to shout ‘stuff it’ but never ever do. It’s always better to have dignity on a professional situation.

Here’s a little taste of things that have happened to me in just the last couple of months. It’s normal for fee work.

* Page counts were changed more than once. It’s ok. I can handle it.
Foreign publishers buying rights from my UK publisher demanded changes at a late stage (this has happened twice in the last 2 months). In both cases it turned out not to be too onerous, just annoying.
An incorrect brief was sent to me by an editor, and so a big bookplan had to be redone. It’s ok. We all make mistakes, and I hadn’t begun writing.
* One editor was unpleasant to work with. Some people need to be avoided and you tend to find out the hard way, but that's the same in most professions I guess.

You have to stay calm and did what you can to move the job on, within reason.  If you take on fee work, be prepare to handle a bit of messing about (no need to roll over, but best not to throw hissy fits, however deserved). 

You may work with lots of editors, some great and some not.
When people ask me ‘who’s your publisher’ the answer is ‘many’. Some are great – polite, focused and creative – and I’d do anything for them. Some are not. You’re likely to come across more of both types if you work with more than one company.

Publishing parties, book tours and festival appearances organized by your publisher. Forget it.
Doesn’t happen. You’ll even have to check they got your name right on Amazon, and the date your book is published. However, you can do your own school tours and earn money on the back of the books you’ve done, royalties or not. See Nicola Morgan’s blog for advice on that. And you can get PLR for library-borrowing in the UK, which over time can really make a difference to the fee. Other countries have their own schemes for this.

A non-picture book I wrote this year. A lot of fun to do. 

Time to do your own writing? Er….
Doing fee work sucks up your time and your creative energy. So if you take on lots, don’t expect to have much time left for your own projects. You need to find a balance, and I haven’t, which is why I’m manically writing this blog at the last minute. I’ve just counted up the books I wrote from April 2014 to April 2015 and even I am shocked and a bit too embarrassed to write the number. Some are history books, some are sets of board books for under-5s. There’s part of a poetry book, a practical nature guide, a body book and a book on the weather... That doesn’t include the editing work I’ve done on other people’s projects, and the development work I’ve done. It’s no wonder I’m struggling to finish the novel I’ve been trying to write.  Just bear this in mind before you plunge into fee work.

I regularly write educational history. 

You get to have a lot of fun
I get some fantastic projects offered to me that I really enjoy. This last year I’ve discovered the incredible worlds of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age – and now I’m really hooked on them. I’ve been offered a poetry commission for the very first time. I got to write a guide to Barcelona. I’m currently writing a series on children around the world, and loving it (though the schedule is nuts). 

I contributed to this new poetry
anthology, published by Collins 

…and I’ve had a picture book accepted, so I can still hold my head up (just) on this marvellous blogsite.  Now all I need to do is find a way to stay awake through the night to get that novel done….

Would love to hear your views/experiences on taking fee work, and ask me any questions you want. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. 

Here is Nicola Morgan's extremely helpful blog on earning more money:

Here is Anne Rooney's blog on working with editors and costing a project:

Moira Butterfield