Friday, 10 August 2018

#OnlyOneOfMe: Making a picture book in just a few weeks • Michelle Robinson

We have a guest post this week from former Picture Book Den team member Michelle Robinson about Only One of Me, a very special picture book Michelle has written with Lisa Wells. You can find out more about the project and read the book's text on Michelle's blog.

I swear: no deadline will ever stress me out again.

Since announcing our intention to produce #OnlyOneOfMe on July 31st, it's been go, go, go. With the help of my amazing agent, James Catchpole I've been spearheading a campaign to make a top quality heirloom picture book for charity.

Thankfully there isn't only one of me. The team is small but tight knit, and everyone is pulling together to make it happen. Illustrators Catalina Echeverri and Tim Budgen are currently burning the midnight oil, more than earning the right to be referred to as, "The hardest working people in the business".

Before the nitty gritty: I'm auctioning the rare opportunity to have an in-depth picture book manuscript critique with me, with all proceeds going to the fund. You can bid here!

Let me tell you a little about the book: Written from the perspective of a terminally ill parent, Only One Of Me is an expression of undying love for their children. What makes it so unique is that it was written by someone in that terrible situation.

Lisa and baby Saffia
Lisa Wells was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel and liver cancer at the end of 2017. Her doctors told her she has between just two and twelve months to live. Lisa and her husband Dan have two lovely little girls, Ava-Lily, 5 and Saffia, 9 months. I don't need to say anything more about it, really. It's too sad to think about. But for Lisa and Dan there's no getting away from it.

How do you go about preparing yourself to leave everyone you hold dear behind? 

I can only begin to imagine, and I'm so glad that for me it's just hypothetical. I wish I had a magic wand and could change the future for Lisa. The only wand I have is my pen - so I've given it a wave with Lisa's help.

Our story is designed to help dying parents express their feelings, giving them a lasting and tangible token of comfort to leave behind. Thanks to Lisa's courage, energy and loving nature - and thanks to all the people who are donating, spreading the word and supporting the Only One Of Me team throughout this crazy busy time -  her voice will bring comfort not just to her own family but countless others like them.

So how do you create a picture book in just a few weeks? You fly by the seat of your pants and call in favours from as many generous experts as you can!

Tim's initial character sketches for dad
We were inundated with hundreds of submissions from illustrators. I reckon we had to make our decision faster than any editor ever in the history of publishing! We chose to go with both Tim and Catalina. This way we could produce two different books - one for mums, one for dads - with the freedom to draw human characters instead of gender neutral animals. It also meant no single artist was going to bear the burden of the project alone. The two are forming a great partnership behind the scenes, supporting one another in every decision - there are so many to make, and we have to make them at break neck speed!

What should the characters look like? How can we be sure to make the characters diverse and inclusive? How do we convey the depth of sorrow involved while ultimately providing comfort? What colour scheme? What type style? Spreads? Single pages? The list is endless! Thankfully Catalina and Tim have plenty of support.

The counsellors at WHY We Hear You, our official charity partner, have been helping guide us, as have our publisher, Graffeg and my own super agent, James Catchpole. It's faster, easier and cheaper to get Tim and Catalina together in London (Graffeg are based in Cardiff Bay) for a brainstorming session, so my friends at Walker Books have offered to host, feed and advise them on Tuesday 14th August. In short, Tim and Catalina have a lot of support - but even so, they basically have to create a spread a day to meet our August 30th deadline.

We are so close to full funding - and we print on September 21st!

Huge thanks to Rob Hayward and the team at CPI Antony Rowe, Melksham, and are aiming to hold a fundraising launch party on the same day. To say timings are tight is an understatement! If the books aren't ready in time, we'll be celebrating thin air! We simply can't afford to mess this up.

But we won't. The whole team is dedicated, committed and fired up. We are determined that Lisa will get to enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of seeing her book in print before she dies.


Thank you to everybody who has read the story, spread the news, donated and sent words of encouragement! It means so much. We've had donations ranging from £2 to £250 and every single one is equally appreciated. The more we raise, the more books we can ultimately print - our bookbinders are very generously doing the first run free of charge, which is phenomenal, but we predict a bit of a frenzy in sales!

I should say that the book will be available to everyone, but has been designed as a resource for dying parents. Do keep a copy on your shelf, but be careful sharing it with young children if you're a parent in fine fettle! We wouldn't want to cause any undue anxiety! You will have the option to buy copies and donate them directly to charity, either under your own steam or via WHY We Hear You, who will help see that the books get to where they're most needed.

So wish us luck! Luxuriate in your deadlines! And above all, live, laugh and love. 

Michelle x

Michelle Robinson is the bestselling author of picture books such as A Beginner's Guide to Bear Spotting and Goodnight Spaceman

Monday, 6 August 2018

Are you famous? by Jane Clarke

Over the last few weeks, I’ve done assorted school and library events for the under 8 year olds, and, when it’s time to chat, I've been asked “are you famous?” They’re puzzled because I’m standing in front of them, being introduced as a special visitor  - yet they haven’t seen my face on TV - and won’t have heard of my name, except in the context of that event.

Sky Private Eye (illustrated by Loretta Schauer) - Jane at the event at Barnes Lit Fest

If I ask the children if they know any picture book writers or illustrators, the name they most often come up with is Julia Donaldson. They know her as the author of the Gruffalo books, but they often struggle to name Axel Scheffler as the illustrator - or to add any more names to the list. The majority of picture book writers and illustrators are invisible to them.
But when I ask the same children what picture books they love, their eyes light up. They know the title and the characters and can’t wait to tell me all about the story. They remember who read their favourite book to them, how it made them feel - and how they requested it to be read again, and again, and again. The book is etched into their hearts and has become part of their childhoods.

Most adults I’ve asked can also recollect in detail the stories the picture books they loved as a child, and see the illustrations in their mind’s eye  - even if they can’t remember the name of the author and illustrator. Often, as adults, they have sought out the book they loved as a child so they can read it to their children.

 I had to track down Downy Duckling (Ladybird Books, fist published 1942!) to share with my sons. I had no idea who wrote and illustrated it -the names of AJ MacGregor and W Perring are not on the cover.

So when I’m asked “are you famous?” I explain that not many people know my name or what I look like, but they might know and love some of the stories I’ve created - and that sort of fame makes me very happy.

 In the case of the picture books I’ve written, Gilbert the Great is probably the best known, thanks to Charles Fuge’s wonderful illustrations, and this summer, in the USA, there was even a Gilbert plush in Kohl’s, helping to raise money for Kohl’s Cares charities. 

Do you have a favourite picture book you remember as a child, but didn’t find out the names of the author and/or illustrator until you were much older?

 Jane also often gets asked “are you rich?” She answered that question in this post
Nothing has changed, except she’s now even richer in granddaughers (4)!