Monday 31 October 2022

See a mummy unwrapped! (writing for pop-ups) Moira Butterfield

October saw the publication of a highly-illustrated book I wrote for kids roughly aged 7+. It’s called The Incredible Pop-up Mummy and it’s got 20 flaps to lift and three truly amazing multi-layered pop-up spreads. Writing for a pop-up project for any age-group is a very different experience to a normal book. It’s a team game – and with pop-ups of this complexity one might say it’s an ‘extreme team’ game! Here’s roughly how it goes. 

The front cover. It's very SHINY! 

Step 1. Writing? Wait for it….Wait for it….! You need to come up with some pop-up ideas and chat with the editor. The editor discusses it with the designer and the paper engineer – in this case the Templar in-house book wizards Kieran Hood and Richard Ferguson. No writing has been done yet – only thinking and researching. You need to know the general form of the book before you begin. 

In this case the book uses non-fiction but if you were writing a fiction story for a pop-up book then you’d still need to think about how to incorporate some belter pop-up opportunities and build them into the right places in your page plan. You can only have a certain number, depending on cost, and you'd need to work out where they're likely to go in the spread plan (if you’re coming up with a brand new as-yet unpitched idea, check in bookshops to see typical extents that publishers can afford). 


Step 2. OK. Go! You can start writing. You need to think about the spaces you’re going to get around the pop-up and you might need to think about flaps, too. I love a flap book for any age but flaps can be disappointing when what’s hidden beneath them is a bit ‘meh’ and not really an interesting reveal at all. They need to be worth the effort of opening them!

Now that's worth opening, right? 

Step 3. Finished? Nope. In a complicated pop-up book the writing is almost guaranteed to need changing as the paper engineering gradually comes together. In fact changes might happen right up to the last minute as the page space alters. You’ve got to cultivate patience and understanding and hold your nerve. It’ll be ok in the end….


Step 4. Finished? Nope. If your work is non-fiction an expert could get involved, making changes and suggestions. We were lucky to get Stephanie Boostra, who really has poked around Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples. She knows her stuff and was enthusiastic about the book. 


Step 5. Check it all (you may need to turn pages upside-down). Checking the layouts for a pop-up book is a bit barmy. All the bits are designed to fit on a printing sheet and they can be positioned any which way.Words can sometimes get mislaid so you need to make sure they’re all still there.

Er....Ok. Are all the words still there? 

Don’t be put off by this seemingly difficult process. If you ever get the opportunity to work on a pop-up remember that the secret of the job is giving the pop-up engineer great opportunities and knowing that there's a logical progression to the whole thing. It's just a bit different to an ordinary book, that's all.  


Anyway, this is being posted at Halloween time and, as promised in the title, you now get to see a mummy unwrapped! 

Happy Halloween!

 The Incredible Pop-Up Mummy is illustrated by Quang and Lien, and published by Templar Books. 


Moira Butterfield’s currently available books include Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow), the Look What I Found series (Nosy Crow/National Trust), the Secret Life series (Quarto), Dance Like a Flamingo and Sing Like a Whale (Welbeck), Maya’s Walk (OUP) and her latest Walker book – My Big Book of Questions About the World

twitter @moiraworld 

instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor


Monday 24 October 2022

Goodbye - and thank you! by Jane Clarke

 I’ve loved my time on the Picture Book Den, and my career as a children’s author, but now it’s time for me to retire. 

I came to writing in my forties, having been an archaeologist, then a history teacher. It didn’t occur to me to try writing for children until I landed a job that involved reading picture books. So my first thanks go to the then librarian at Antwerp International School, Barbara Noels, for getting me started - and to my colleagues and students there who were my guinea pigs :-)  It took me several years, and many rejections,  to get published, with my first books coming out in 2001. My initial aim was to get one book with my name on it into the library where I was working, and I’m amazed to have ended up with over 130 published books. Of these, only 23 are picture books - they are the hardest of all to get published.

I wrote all of these and I didn't panic - much!

The world of children’s books has been wonderfully supportive. At the outset, fellow members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators helped me work out what I was doing, and I received a huge amount of encouragement from the late Pat and Laurence Hutchins and generous help from Tony Bradman. I’ve try to pay forward some of that help to others. I’d like to thank everyone who helped me on my way, and Celia Catchpole who saw potential in the rejection letters I sent her, and bravely took me on.  It’s been a pleasure working with her and her son James at The Catchpole Agency - and also with brilliant editors like Picture Book Den’s own Natascha Biebow- who was the very first to get me a contract!

As well as providing me with an unexpected career, writing for young children saw me through some very difficult years - my mum and dad and my husband all died suddenly within months of one another in 2001, leaving me and our two teenage sons bereft. Talking animals provided a safe ‘alternative’ world where the hours passed without pain. In the tradition of picture book happy endings, my sons and I eventually flourished, and they and my four young granddaughters fill my world with loads of love, joy and laughter (not to mention unicorns, rainbows and sparkles).

I’ll still be writing the odd thing if and when inspiration strikes, but for now I’m concentrating on spending time with my friends and family (especially if it involves cake), doing lots of voluntary work on behalf of my local Lions Club to support local and international charities -  and fitting in yoga, long walks, fossil hunting, book club and FitSteps. And I’m planning to get lots of use out of my bus pass. However did I find the time to write?

Thanks for having me on the Picture Book Den, and thank you for reading my posts and my picture books. I hope some of my books will be treasured in the way I still treasure some of my sons’ favourites. 

I’ll sign off with the biggest thanks of all to my wonderful friends for their support, and for always cheering me on. 

Love to all,

Jane x

Jane's website

Monday 17 October 2022


We are delighted to be sharing an interview with author-illustrator, Harry Woodgate, ahead of the publication of their new picture book, Timid, which launched on 13th October with Little Tiger Press. 

Dear Harry, thanks so much for freeing up your time to answer some questions for Picture Book Den. We are really excited to be showcasing your new picture book, Timid Can you tell us about it in three words?

Very big lion.

Brilliant! :-) What was your inspiration for the story?

The idea for Timid began with a pun! It was the week before the very first lockdown, and I was sat in the back of a coffee shop in town with my sketchbook. I happened to doodle this big fluffy lion, and in the weeks that followed I kept wondering how to turn it into a picture book idea. Then the character of Timmy came into my head, along with the phrase, “You’re so timid, Timmy!” and the rest of the book developed from there.

Coincidentally, there is a bit of a pun in the title of Grandad’s Camper (because Grandad is more camp than his husband, obviously), so I want to clarify that this is not an intrinsic part of my writing process, it’s just that I am very easily amused.

As the book came together, I felt very drawn to the idea of presenting Timmy’s anxiety as a lion that only they can see. When you have anxiety, it can be very hard to separate yourself from your worries, so this felt like an interesting way of exploring that experience, as well as allowing for some fun characterisation and humour along the way.


Well, I'd be LION if I didn't say I'm glad those ideas came together so beautifully (Sorry!) What do you hope readers take away?

First and foremost, I hope children enjoy the book, because reading should be fun and interactive above anything else! If the fun I had making it shines through when reading, then that’s the best result I could ask for.

I also hope it reaches any children and families who will benefit from seeing an openly non-binary character in a story, because this kind of representation is still quite rare in picture books, especially when it’s incidental to the main storyline.

Finally, I hope Timid helps reassure young readers that it’s completely normal to have feelings of shyness and social anxiety, and that whilst those feelings might not ever go away completely, you can learn to accept them for what they are and not let them get in the way of what you want to do.


These are such important take aways and they all came across beautifully to me. I'm sure other readers will feel the same. Have you ever thought about what happens to Timmy, Nia and Lion after the story ends?

I’d like to think that they remain good friends, and that they continue to follow their passions together. I don’t think the Lion ever leaves Timmy, but as they grow up, I hope they learn more and more ways to accept and work with one another.

I also have this funny thing where I like to imagine all my characters as existing within one Marvel (or Emily St John Mandel)-esque universe, although this is somewhat complicated by publishing exclusivity clauses. I think it would be fun if Timmy and Nia one day met Milly from Grandad’s Camper and they all went on a road trip together.

That so interesting! Getting all your characters together would make for a fantastic road trip! Next, I’d really love to hear more about your process. How did working on Timid compare to working on your debut, Grandad’s Camper. Huge congratulations on winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize this year!

Thank you so much! I’m incredibly grateful and still feel a bit amazed that it happened.

My process usually starts with a rough first draft of the text, then thumbnail sketches for each spread, and gradually I edit and develop and refine these until I’m ready to move on to final artwork. Reading aloud helps me work out things like page turns and phrasing, and making a dummy book helps to ensure there’s a nice flow and variety of compositions in the artwork. My finished illustrations are usually a mix of hand-painted, photographed, and digital textures which I collage together in Photoshop.

Of course, this process is all very collaborative. There are so many people involved in making a book and lots of conversations go on behind the scenes to help make each story the best it can be.

As for the differences between Timid and Grandad’s Camper, Timid felt a lot more structured from the beginning, probably because I had a better idea of what to expect, and what was expected of me. Also, I began working on Grandad’s Camper in the very creative, experimental environment of university, whereas I wrote and illustrated Timid whilst working from home during the pandemic, so naturally that made each experience very different and brought its own challenges.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good story?

Characters whose personalities, goals and struggles feel rounded, believable, and relatable. Worlds which are fully realised and immersive, whether that is achieved through words, illustrations, or both. And most importantly, a writer or illustrator who is genuinely invested in the story they’re telling, so they can introduce the reader to things in a new and interesting light, and leave them feeling hopeful, inspired, hungry for more.

That's such good advice. Thank you for sharing! A bit more about your practice - in a typical day, how much time do you spend writing and illustrating? Can you describe your workspace?

I tend to work on weekdays from mid-morning, around 10-11am, until early evening, around 6-7pm. I used to be very bad at maintaining a regular schedule, but after enough all-nighters at university and plenty of burnout-induced headaches, I’m much better these days at establishing healthy boundaries, although of course it’s still very much a work in progress!

I’m very lucky to have a dedicated home studio, which is mostly populated by books, candles, art materials and houseplants (one of which is intent on taking over the entire room, and another of which very rudely decided to die on me whilst I was away at a book festival). By the end of a workday, it’s not unusual to find a small village of empty tea mugs on the desk beside me.

Wonderfully described - your workspace has come alive in my mind! What is the best thing for you about making picture books?

I love holding a finished book in my hands and thinking, “Oh, I helped make that!”

I love the community that exists around children’s books, and the many lovely people I’ve met through it.

I love hearing how people relate to my books, or seeing kids really engaged in art and reading when I’m running workshops or events.

All of which is to say, I find a sense of purpose and fulfilment in making books, a satisfaction in knowing that they have the potential to shape lives in a constructive and positive way, to leave an imprint on the world which hopefully makes it better than it was before.

What about the worst thing?

Sometimes it can be very difficult to strike the right balance between a manageable workload and financial sustainability, and I think that’s a challenge we’re seeing quite widely across the publishing industry which needs to be addressed. I think a constant drive for profit and growth can burden publishing employees and freelancers alike with too much work for too little compensation, and ultimately none of us can make our best work if we’re burnt out! Also, I do often wish I wasn’t sat staring at a screen as much as I am. At least with writing I can go for a walk and record myself narrating the story, but it’s not so easy with illustrations!

What piece of advice would you give a picture book creative just starting out?

Firstly, I would recommend getting to know other creators in the picture book space. Having people in the same boat who you can turn to when things get tough, or celebrate with when things go well, makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable. Trying to get through the trials of drafting and pitching alone is not fun, but it’s much better when you have a supportive network of people around you.

Also, I think it’s important to lean into a process of collaboration from the very beginning. It’s much nicer working on books where it feels like you’re all contributing and building the best version of a story together, and it’s also a wonderful antidote to perfectionism. There can be such a pressure to get things right when you’re faced with a blank page, but the reality is that every book needs work from many hands, and I find that helps relieve some of the unnecessary expectations I place on myself as a creative person.

Finally, and I realise this is easier said than done, but have confidence in your own voice! It really shows when a creator truly believes in the work they’re making, and even if it takes a long time to get there, there will be others who share that vision.

Thank you so much for your detailed answers, Harry. I'm sure the Picture Book Denners are very grateful. Lastly, can you tell us what’s coming next for you?

I have several new books coming out in 2023 which I’m really excited about…

Shine Like the Stars, written by Anna Wilson, is a gorgeous, lyrical picture book exploring our connections to the natural world. It’s publishing with Andersen in January, which is perfect timing to brush away those post-holiday blues!

Grandad’s Pride, the sequel to Grandad’s Camper, also publishes with Andersen in June to coincide with Pride month. It’s been such a joy to return to these characters, and I hope this book will allow lots of families and young people to feel seen at a time where the state of LGBTQ+ rights unfortunately feels quite uncertain and scary. 

Everything else is still under wraps for the time being, but I’m very excited to share more when I’m allowed to! 

Fantastic! So, lots for us to look forward to then! 

Harry, it's been a pleasure interviewing you. Thank you so much for letting us peek at your side of the desk and congratulations again on your newest picture book, Timid! I've had a sneaky preview look and can confirm your readers are in for a real treat. It's available now from all good bookshops.

BIO: Clare is children’s writer from Devon. She writes for a wide range of ages about a wide range of themes and has over 50 published titles. She founded the #BooksThatHelp initiative that aims to create honest emotional spaces for children through a love of reading and books.  


Monday 10 October 2022

Getting Hands Dirty - Exploring Textures by Diane Ewen

For this week on my turn to post, I invited Diane Ewen, a rising star in children's books to talk about her creative process and how she plays with her art. Read on and have a peek into her process as Diane explains how she goes about illustrating her picture books. 

Chitra Soundar