Wood pigeons are dictating to me on the last morning in the rose garden at Holland House. There is chipping and chirping all around me as I write. I've ended in a place I hadn't planned.
I started the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat thinking that I was coming to play with my picture book characters but everything changed with the workshops and experimenting over the next few days.
How amazing that in all my 'Scoobie' (SCBWI_BI in conversation) years, I hadn't thought about harvesting my own childhood memories of wonder and discovery - as early as aged 4.
We ended up with a wall of post-it note inspiration - real childhood moments that could spark a story idea.
It has been a weekend of telling stories to each other and I've met so many new Scoobies with fascinating other lives and we didn't stop talking about picture books all weekend.
How amazing to still be in the conference room after midnight sharing art and character and ideas.
Each morning, I woke at 6:30am and went into the garden for an hour. On the first morning, I packed my paintbox and mini stool and sat with the cat beneath the sundial and drew in the fairtrade
sketchbook I'd bought from the Holland House gift shop (why wait until the end of the retreat to exit with a souvenir?).
I made several ink sketches focussing on colour. I returned later to add the watercolour when the ink was dry.
Last year, I made great progress with my colour work and dummy book. This year I made my first concertina sketchbook (Bockingford lightweight paper with cardboard box end pieces) - cutting, sticking (PVA glue) and making something that looked a little like my childhood ice-cream wafer sandwich.
My concertina sketchbook was a little blank invitation to play (I made the shortest version - 6 pages of watercolour was less intimidating and as it turned out - enough for me to complete one in the weekend).
Well, you could knock me down with a paintbrush. How come I didn't know about these?
I finished painting my little sketchbook this weekend because Lynne Chapman showed us how to make the most of them - paint tones rather than outlines - keep the flow from one page to the next - add snippets of overheard
dialogue or your own text. Use small bulldog clips to stop the pages expanding out of control. Limit your colour palette. I'm pleased I brought my folding camping stool - essential to getting
exactly the right POV of your chosen subject and I finally had a use for my Pentel water brush ( I carry a screw top plastic pot of water too).
I always thought that to paint in watercolour, you dipped your brush in water, loaded it with your colour and sploshed it on quickly before it dried. No! No! Wet your watercolour paper first where you plan to colour and then add the colour. As soon as the paint was dry, I added line and text.
I had worked in acrylics, oils, pastels and inks at art school but I had never tried watercolours because I'd been painting with them all through my childhood. I wanted to try something new.
This weekend, I rediscovered them and plan to make a full length storyboard for one of my picture books.
Emily Lamm, Commissioning editor at Hodder Children's Books. From the bigger picture to 'the finer detail' of picture book making
Andrea MacDonald, Executive Editor for picture books at Penguin Random House Children's Books.
The picture book is a '32-page stage'.
More photos of the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat on
What was your memory of the death of your first pet?
What food did you most fear or look forward to at school?
What accident did you suffer through your own stupidity?
Lavender sweet and long
Barrows short and strong
Don't sit under the apple tree
How sweet the sound
We all went away knowing we had work to do - but we left with new tools to tackle it
I know where I'm going - I've been there before and I'm going back - with my BookMap.
I've made 16 poster-sized pages of the journey through my story. Unfolding each page reveals columns filled with words about setting, characters, motivations and revelations.
I had no idea how important 'mapping' my novel would be when I began analysing the 2nd draft.
The timing was perfect for me. I couldn't wait to finish my accounts' spreadsheet in April. It was such a relief to be filling columns with words instead of numbers.
The April Mapping Your Novel workshop with Imogen Cooper and Vanessa Harbour was a little terrifying. Especially the 'Spider Chart'. How could I begin to work out what my novel was really about?
What amazed me was how much of my 48,000 word story I remembered. I'd finished the 2nd draft of my 'middle grade' fiction at the end of last year. Drawing the spider chart was an adrenaline rush
to get to the heart of it. What are the main themes of the story? What do they all lead to? I remember being so excited about telling all to my piece of paper that it made me cry . But it was
O.K. Vanessa was nearby, watching over the brood of Egg writers. She gave me a reassuring smile and there were mini chocolate eggs on standby.
It took me a month to complete my BookMap. 24 spreadsheet style pages. 10,000 words. I loved discovering my story all over again. Reading every chapter and noting down everything, including time of day - details, details, details. Then it was time to meet Mother Goose (AKA Imogen Cooper).
Write down the things you can't write the story without.
And I did. I revised my BookMap to a focussed 16 pages, 8,000 words. I have a new title, a new ending and a clear story. I've molted 7 chapters. It was all down to answering Imogen's insightful questions.
As a result of all this mapping practise I have completed 2 of my picture books and devised 2 more. My 63-page 'swipe book' for ipad is now also a traditional format 32-page picture book after a glorious 2 hours remapping it. Bonus!
Big thanks to all at The Golden Egg Academy for nurturing this little Egg.
I couldn't resist making a real map out of my BookMap pages.
I never dreamt I'd be more excited about my story now that I'm at the rewriting stage. I've prepared Act I. Now I'm ready for the inaugural Golden Egg Writing Retreat this weekend. I've downloaded Waze, there's a Sat Nav in my car and with my BookMap, I'm good to go.
I realise, after talking with Vanessa Harbour on facebook this morning, that my BookMap makes me feel like I have a book now. Also, I was surprised to read that it's not only new drivers who use
a BookMap. Read Vanessa's blog about hers here.
Such a fine day and an amazing opportunity yesterday to see all 51 beautifully illustrated BookBenches in Gordon Square, London WC1. Pictured here from the back - wait until you see them from the front! And this is only half of what's up for auction. Click or hover over photos below to see book titles, author & artist credits.
Or jump to the Auction
Want one? Auction is tomorrow, Tuesday 7th Oct 2014 - "Proceeds will go to the National Literacy Trust’s vital work to raise literacy levels in the UK." You can bid online too. www.booksabouttown.org.uk/auction.
Done it! My illustration for our Quote Book - Just
Imagine Centre Illustrators' Group
Our last one, the Travelling Sketchbook, took a year to complete. I am number 2 in this round. You can follow the illustrators' journey on facebook.
We each chose a sealed envelope that revealed a quote about reading books. I was excited by mine but I avoided searching for the root of the quote so that I wasn't influenced by any illustration that had gone before. Now I know the text is from Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. I'm glad I didn't recognise the Oompa-Loompas' words in the quote but I must find Quentin Blake's illustration for it!
It helps if you have a good reason to go on a writers' or illustrators' retreat but it's not essential. Sometimes you surprise yourself.
I needed to explore colour again. My picture book in progress has had interest from a publisher - (ooo, I love that phrase). And also, an A4 letter of suggested changes.
Since returning from the retreat a week ago, I have re-read and checked those comments and I'm amazed to find that I have cracked the story problem, broken the colour barrier, even rewritten the whole thing and it was all down to one tiny little thing:
I've made many dummy books - scrappy little ones - full-size labour intensive ones but this has to be my favourite. Sarah McIntyre showed me how to make one years ago but I couldn't for the life of me remember how to make it. Note to self - this is how you do it.
Make 4 of these altogether to make a 32 page dummy book.
This was the diagram I drew on my goal-setting postcard. Our illustrious SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, Anne-Marie Perks, encouraged us to set ourselves 3 achievable goals by the end of the year - write them on a postcard and hand them to her before we left the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat last Sunday. I photographed mine so I could remember what I planned to do over the next several months. Was that cheating, Anne-Marie?
I re-packed my bag for the retreat several times. I couldn't decide what to take for my colouring. Acrylic tubes were too heavy to take by train. Colour pencils and brush pens don't allow for mixing.
I pulled out my art trolley and dug deep. The Caran D'Ache gouache paintbox I'd had for at least 10 years and never used was begging to go with me.
7.30am on the first morning, I was in the garden testing the paints and trying to capture the 2 colours I had spotted in a patio pot the evening before.
When I signed up for the retreat, I requested help with my colour work and I was paired with Helen Stephens. We talked about my picture book story and agreed the text still needed work. Helen suggested that I draw in colour with a limited palette. Limited palette, I do - but DRAW in colour - yes, let's do it! So I painted character sketches and realised my main character was the wrong colour. I painted 4 colour spreads in my minibook, coloured 8 more spreads when I got home and now it's done.
The most amazing thing about focusing on the colour is that I re-imagined the story and I'm halfway through goal no.2, part of which was to rewrite the ending.
Alexis Deacon reminded us that observation is the key to our unique vision and sent us into the garden in search of things to draw or write about.
In groups we sat around an object and had to find 30 ways of describing it. Try it! It makes you study an object. The real test was when Alexis sprung a drawing exercise on us - draw the object from memory.
Then with a list of descriptions from another group, we sat down to illustrate a thing with these attributes. I homed in on the list that mentioned a colour! So this is what it looked like - I didn't see the object until after I'd drawn it.
Armed with colour and character, I set up in part of the garden at the retreat. Alexis stopped by and dropped a book title in my head. Had I read Theory Of Colours by Goethe? No - but it's on my desk now and I know I'm going to have a lovely time reading it in my garden. In my imagination, my garden will always look like this.
So, I am off to buy some colours. I plan to give my eyes a rest before I begin to tackle my 'best piece of artwork for my main character'. Helen - you are a jewel - Alexis, you are a gem and SCBWI - see you again! I should add that all picture book retreats are best experienced with a mix of illustrators and writers. Work is so much more colourful.
Hello and thanks to Jacqueline Jay for tagging me. You can read her post on the blog tour about writing urban fantasy for teens here. We met at The Golden Egg Academy weekend workshop a couple of months ago and I'm flattered that she asked me to join her on the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour.
I’m relieved to say that I’m now in the incubator at The Golden Egg Academy working on my first middle grade fiction - a mystery set in the present day with a hint of magic from the past - about The Smiths, a family with roots in a West Country village, where even the dogs have secrets.
I've also just finished writing and illustrating two new picture books.
I write with words and pictures for children with a focus on unusual characters in recognizable settings. I’m a sucker for drama and dialogue. I celebrate grandmothers, dogs and builders and flip fairytales on their heads – or do I celebrate fairytales, dogs and grandmothers and flip builders on their heads?
I blame the puppets - they have a way of making me talk. Oily Cart – one of UK’s leading Children’s Theatre companies trained me as a puppeteer when I performed with them for several years. My puppetry led me to performing and writing scripts for children’s TV programmes and I wrote my first 1:30 minute ‘food’ themed story for a TV producer’s job application. I didn’t take the job but I somehow got the idea that the story could be a book – it was rejected 11 times (I know now that’s not so many) but I gave up on that and decided to make a dummy of another. My first picture book, HIC! was published by Bodley Head at Random House.
Now - writing for older children is a chance to explore that part of my childhood imagination and history.
I had a nice random rhythm going (I’d wait for an idea – rewrite until my nose bled and then submit the story) until that SCBWI Writers’ Day of 2007 when David Almond showed us ‘How to turn the mess in your head into a novel.’ I went to his workshop because I love Skellig. Not because I thought of myself as a writer (I made picture books – where’s the writing in that?!).
On that day, David Almond invited us to 'be someone else,' begin with the facts and ask questions:
What are you scared of?
What do you hope for?
What is your greatest desire?
What is the astonishing thing that happened last week?
Who is important to you?
Why do you keep remembering the man in uniform?
Then I wrote the opening sentence.
I had all my answers but I didn’t pick up the story until my first SCBWI writers’ retreat at Dunford House in 2013 where I handwrote 5,000 words without thinking.
I battled with the impostor syndrome as soon as I arrived and sat at the writing desk - where Dickens had left his visitor card - and I wrote for half an hour to prove that I'm going on a writers' retreat and I'm not scared!
I’d been living with The Smith story for these years before a trip to Prague sparked a series of new thoughts. I’d read Kafka’s account of his horror of going to school and I found the doorways and imagined him clinging to the columns on street corners. I remembered my own fears.
I found the grand piano and played the tune my mum had taught me – the same one her dad had taught her. I recalled my consolations.
A few days after the retreat, I met David Almond at a book launch and told him that I’d started the story I had begun thinking about at his workshop. He was encouraging. “Write 5,000 words every weekend for the next 12 weeks and you’ll have your story.” I tweeted the next day - #challengeaccepted. And I finished my 65,000 word first draft 12 weeks later.
The most astonishing thing I learned was that the pace was right. I didn’t immerse myself in writing round the clock as I have done before (and mashed my brain). It was good to have a week between the 2/3-day writing spells to allow the work to sink in and the story to evolve. And on the other 2/3 days I drew and painted for my picture books. I also learned to write everywhere. Dunford House retreat had libraries, a drawing room, a conservatory, a music room and a garden. I wrote outside and in all the rooms - in my tiny gloomy room - even under the stairs.
I wrote in longhand with black ink because I could write without thinking or editing. Looking back at my notebooks – I’m amazed that I hardly crossed out anything. I typed up at the end of each ‘weekend’ resisting the temptation to edit.
I approached my picture books in a new way – without fear – I just drew and wrote and experimented. I found a new confidence in my working process.
Many thanks to all the generous authors and illustrators who have shown me new ways of working in the last few years:
It's with great excitement that I'm tagging 3 writers on #MyWritingProcess blog tour:
1. Supercomic, Sarah McIntyre – we met at SCBWI long before she sailed off around the children’s book world with Philip Reeve.
2. Anita Loughrey, one of the most prolific writers of children’s fact and fiction books that I know - she is also membership co-ordinator British SCBWI.
3. Jeff Povey – his name jumped into my Twitter feed and I thought, hello – what’s he up to? 10 years ago we had exchanged studio gossip in BBC TV scriptwriter land. Now he’s on my YA radar with his first books at Simon & Schuster.
Sarah and Anita will be posting on their blog on the tour on Monday 12th May
lllustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre makes picture books and comics with two other artists in an old police station – complete with jail cells! – in Deptford, south London. She loves piling stuff on her head and for one of her last book launches (Oliver and the Seawigs) she wore a six-foot-tall Marie-Antoinette-style wig made entirely from purple cling film. Right now she’s getting reading to launch two new books, the highly illustrated chapter book Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve, and Jampires, a picture book with David O’Connell. Both Philip and Dave are great friends and she loves the collaborative nature of working with them; throwing around story ideas, drawing comics together, doing joint festival events. Her greatest recent achievement is learning with Philip how to play one song on the ukulele and immediately taking it on stage. Check out her blog, which she updates frequently: http://www.jabberworks.co.uk
Anita Loughrey likes to call herself a ‘freelance writer’ as she will put her hand to writing almost anything. She has even tried to write erotica but the only thing she really
achieved there was giggling a lot! She has over 50 books published, which are mostly teacher resources and children’s illustrated fiction and non-fiction for the education market. She also has a
column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum called, Research Secrets, about writers and their research. www.anitaloughrey.com
Scriptwriter with around 250 credits including EastEnders, Casualty, Silent Witness. Author of The Serial Killers Club published by Warner Books in the U.S. Most recently the author of SHIFT, the first in a YA trilogy published by Simon & Schuster.
Thrilled to say that I'm safe and snug in The Golden Egg Academy incubator. Last weekend I joined 9 other 'Eggers' for Through The Narrator's Eye workshop.
I'm already a member of Society Of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Society Of Authors (SOA) the who, what, where of children's book writing and illustrating so why Golden Egg?
Last year, I wrote my first Middle Grade children's story (2nd draft 48,000 words) and I didn't know what to do with it.
I submitted it to the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2014.
When they passed on it I knew that I hadn't even discovered my voice yet and I needed help.
I didn't think I had a voice for my longer fiction until editor Beverley Birch unlocked the mystery this weekend. My voice was there but I didn't recognise it. How could I? I've only written 2 drafts and Beverley said she writes about 50.
Task 1 - Through The Narrator's Eye: Analyse the same piece of narration told from different points of view.
Help, Ms English Comprehension, where are you when I need you!
I took my highlighting pencils and escaped to a new writing space. I never liked writing in class.
I scribbled and marked and discovered the difference in the voices in our half hour time limit. This task highlighted every potential narrative trap.
I'm often the last to speak up in a group but I was confident that I'd cracked it. I shared my favourite voice.
"Already he was a smudge in the gloom, striding away..."
sample B (146 words) 3rd person, vivid imagery, economy of language (1 word replaces a phrase), use of sense of smell, the dark place becomes a character.
And my least favourite:
Sample A (219 words)
"He wasn't there. He'd completely disappeared."
Dull. No energy. No vision. No action.
Richness of language comes from economy of words. Precision comes from clarity of story.
How easy it is to reveal your writing problems when you read someone else's work.
Task 2. Write 200 words with your chosen narrator stance. Try something new.
I tried to tell my story from another of my character's persective. Older voice, third person. The character wouldn't be quiet and his voice took over. I wrote three versions and understood.
Narrative stance depends on the age of your reader and the content of your story and why you are telling it in the first place.
I wrote the 1st draft of my story in first person to understand the motivation of my 10 year-old character but I felt that her young voice was limiting. I wrote my next draft in third person to get distance and "go beyond the vision of one character " as Beverley defined it. This allows the narrator "to smuggle in language" and explore.
Final task: Assess your writing.
10 Eggs groan. We know our previously submitted opening pages need work and we can't wait to hit the delete button.
"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water", Beverley warned me in my one-to-one. Trim what you've learned through the unfolding of your story. Don't throw out images - throw out extraneous information.
The character and tone are there. I have a voice!
Beverley reassured me by saying that if she was at her commissioning desk, my story would get her attention. To progress, I need to clarify it.
I need a plan - a Golden Egg BookMap.
My reindeer illustration is behind today's window on the Words and Pictures digital advent calendar. It features illustrators from the Society Of Children's Writers and Illustrators SCBWI, with tweetable micro stories posted in the comments below each picture.
I've tweeted from the beginning of December, not knowing which day my illustration would appear. It's so much harder to come up with something when it's your own picture. Also - writing short tweets of 140 characters (including hashtag and Twitter handle) - I'm compelled to use rhythm and rhyme. Shame on me!
There have been some wonderful stories so far. Together the words and pictures offer a unique and often humorous narrative.
You can post your own tweetable caption here - don't forget to leave space for #W8PAdvent and your Twitter handle.
Today we posted The Graveyard Book from sunny old London to begin its new life -
in sunny California!
Grand Total raised for the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan appeal:
I arrived late. All the brushes had been handed out. I took out my pen ready to write or draw. Alexis Deacon was about to take away my familiar creative tool and hand me a paint brush - the long-handled chunky sort that I remember from school. With coffee cups on every table laced with watery, orangey acrylic paint, formality spilt onto the table and was mopped up with loo paper on several occasions. We played with visual narrative in ways I have never experienced before.
The focus was on making the pictures and shaping them so that readers can understand what they are looking at.
We started by painting several A3 pages of root vegetable shaped orangey splots.
Gillian McClure (Left), Zam Zuppardi, Dave Cousins, Bridget Strevens-Marzo (Middle) Anne-Marie Perks (Right) and myself, amongst others, were liberated by this first of Alexis Deacon's intensive workshop techniques. Painting what would turn out to be backgrounds or frames for our individual narratives. While we waited for the paint to dry...
We began a sophisticated game of consequences - our visual brains muddled with keeping track of what caption went with which picture but, it didn't really matter. We wrote down a caption and drew in a frame. I felt like a kid again. I could draw anything I wanted and I didn't know what to draw!
With a helpful nudge from Margaret beside me, I began with a pencil line and I can't remember what I ended up with. We passed it on and responded to a new drawing and caption in front of us. Once we had begun - it was easier to respond to the illustration and caption we received. This was my response to "Where did I put the...cheese?"
We collected several narratives - maybe 100 frames. I lost count and Alexis chose some and put them under the illustrator's microscope - The Visualiser. I would normally have been hiding under a table at this point but somehow it wasn't too humiliating because as Alexis reminded us, we were all trying to communicate not demonstrate our illustration skills.
'Separate great drawing from great communication'
The aim was to make every element in the frame count because the reader is looking for clues and wants to make a story out of every frame. For example, (I am sure Anne-Marie Perks will be mentioning this too), a large hen centre foreground and a small house to her right inspired the caption "Does it hurt when you lay a house?"
We had to pay attention to detail. The more information in a picture the more we are communicating. Focus on:
I drew snails on a cliff edge watching a nuclear explosion.
Our orangey splots were dry and we drew a contained narrative. Characters had to interact and we used the inherent strengths of the shape to illustrate an event. The shape I chose from our pile immediately suggested tunnel. I plucked a Derwent Vermillion red pencil from Alexis clutches and started with a pair of rabbits and decided to throw a load of rocks at them.
Alexis then invited us to choose a frame from our work in progress - one that is troubling us would be ideal and it was!
We were looking for information not aesthetics. My fellow illustrators discussed one of my frames.
The most surprising thing was that they thought the characters knew each other (they didn't) and the Fox's gesture was ambiguous - it looked like he was waving - everyone was reading something other than I had intended. I realised that the focus was on the wrong character.
At Alexis suggestion - I changed the main character's Point Of View and put him and the reader inside the house looking out. Now we know a character is hiding indoors (concealment without awareness was difficult when both characters were so visible in my original) and looking out the window - we now see Fox arriving somewhere new.
Thank you, Alexis Deacon for an excellent intensive illustration workshop. It was good to have several hours focussing on Visual Storytelling at this year's British SCBWI Conference.
I'm on fire!
It was 31st October 2008 and I joined the line and Neil Gaiman signed The Graveyard Book - twice and I read it twice and I'll read it again and again because I have both editions but we are letting this one go (as soon as Woofy has finished reading it).
Author For The Philippines is raising money with an online auction in aid of the Typhoon Haiyan Appeal. Bidding opens 8am Wednesday 13th November and will close 8pm Wednesday 20th November (both GMT).
Because we love it so, we're letting Chris Riddell's illustrated edition go. It hurts because it is my most prized 1st edition, double-signed by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell in 2008. It won the Carnegie Medal in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration - the first time a book has made both shortlists for 30 years.
I had no intention of parting with it, even though Chris joked at the time that I'd be able to sell it on ebay in future as it didn't have my name in it.
But it has theirs in it and I hope it raises lots of money for aid in the Philippines. It's the least we can do.
Oh and while you're here - click over to the auction now - you can even bid to be a character in a book!
Thanks Teri Terry for a beautifully crafted weekend retreat. Author, Lucy Christopher, you set me down in the place I've always wanted to write about and it smells good to be back! Lucy Coats - thanks for taking my brain beyond the Dunford Drawing Room ceiling (wait till you see what you've started). Candy, what a wonderful way to end the SCBWI writing retreat -pyjamas and 21 bedtime stories. Thanks to Rebecca Frazer at Orchard Books for sharing industry secrets (we won't tell, honest) and all at Dunford House last weekend. I would thank my agent...