Two magpies to wish joy to everyone in 2014. I drew them for my friends’ little boy who has developed a love of magpies, and his parents wanted to make him a magpie T-shirt for Christmas – looking forward to seeing him wearing it this year…
Today is publication day for ‘Twit’, written by Steve Cole and illustrated by me. It’s an early reader from Orion, and is a very funny story about three over-confident, bossy owls and their rather gullible little brother. A lovely way for beginner readers to build up their confidence.
Stop press: Those nice people at Orion have just launched a competition to Knit Twit – craft your own little blue owl, and send in a pic for a chance of winning a prize…all the details are here. Get busy as the closing date is the end of October!
I’ve had great fun working with Ladybird Books on a brand new series called First Fabulous Facts – as the name suggests, it’s non-fiction for very young readers. The first two titles, Dinosaurs and Minibeasts are out now, with two more to follow soon and another pair next year. I’ve done the cartoons, and another illustrator, Patrizia Doneara, has done the more scientific drawings. I really like the way they’ve designed the series – an appealing way to learn about the world.
All my life I have lived near the river Thames, and it’s a mighty body of water that I feel a very strong emotional connection to. As a child I used to love visiting the river at high tide and letting it go over the top of my wellies, and I still feel a thrill when I see the water lapping over the towpath. In the last couple of years I have taken up skiffing and punting, so I am spending more time than ever on the water, enjoying seeing the river and its wildlife up close in all seasons. I’m also very involved in one of the tributaries, the Wandle, through local environmental organisation The Wandle Trust which organises monthly river clean-ups.
I’ve now been given a wonderful opportunity to create an exhibition for The Art Cabin, and I think the Thames is going to be my subject. I’ve started a bit of drawing and collaging, observing herons, grebes, grey wagtails and my favourites, the cormorants. I’ve also been delving into one of my most treasured books, Sweet Thames Run Softly, by Robert Gibbings. (there is a marvellous British Pathe film clip of Gibbings walking by the river here). Gibbings was a writer and woodcut artist who built his own small boat on the eve of the second world war, and paddled the whole of the river, from Lechlade back to London. The book is a beautifully illustrated account of the journey. Back in May I did the same journey over four days by skiff, and have been sketching out some ideas for linocuts inspired by my own trip.
It’s very exciting to be at this stage of a project – it could go in any direction, any media and at the moment there are no constraints. I’ll post more news on the project soon.
Here’s two magpies for joy, which is what I wish everyone for 2014. My friends’ son has developed a great interest in magpies (to go with his existing fascination for fountains) and his parents asked if I would design a ‘Two for Joy’ T-shirt for his Christmas present – so here’s the design. I’m looking forward to seeing him wearing it this year…
Here’s some wildlife from the river Wandle – illustrations I’ve been working on for the Wandle Trust‘s forthcoming vision statement document.
It’s finally here – Duck Sock Hop is officially published today, by Dial Books, a division of Penguin US. It’s been an amazing process to be involved in, from first seeing Jane Kohuth‘s brilliant text about 18 months ago, through researching ducks at the London Wetland Centre, drawing and revising pencil roughs, completing the artwork and finally holding the finished book in my hands.
What made you want to become a writer?
Who were your favourite writers and illustrators as a child? And who are your favourites now?
Can you talk about the process of writing – how you develop an idea and refine it into a perfect picture book text? Any tips? Are there places you go, or routines you follow to get inspired?
Can you describe your workspace?
What would you do on your perfect day?
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
What qualities make you love a picture book manuscript when you receive it for consideration? What qualities do you look for in an illustrator’s work that makes you want to work with him or her?
When I’m considering picture book manuscripts it’s the voice and read-aloud quality that I’m drawn to immediately. I look for stories that I think will inspire repeated readings and characters I think have breakout potential. (I’ll confess that I tend to favor well-intentioned but ill-behaved characters–the Pig Won’t’s of the world!) I also look for humor and consider the illustration potential a manuscript has. Oftentimes we’ll receive strong texts that seem more targeted to parents than to kids, and those are never for me. I like books with genuine kid-appeal. As for seeking out illustrators, I look for artists with unique styles, memorable characters, kid-appeal, and the ability to convey movement and expression.
Do you ever have to turn down manuscripts you want? If so, why?
I do sometimes have to turn down manuscripts that I wish I could pursue, and it’s always a little heartbreaking. It takes a whole team to publish a book successfully though, and if there’s not enough collective enthusiasm for a project, I feel I’d be doing the author a disservice if I took on his or her work. That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to me and to the author though.
What drew you to Duck Sock Hop when you first saw the text?
Duck Sock Hop is the kind of text you can’t possibly read without smiling. It’s very Sandra Boynton-esque in its read-aloud quality, and I felt that kids and parents would truly enjoy reading it and sharing it. I also imagined it with Jane Porter’s illustrations. I felt that her bright colors and bold lines would be a perfect match for Jane Kohuth’s joyful text, and indeed it turned out to be a wonderful pairing.
What kinds of books do you like to read for pleasure? What are some of your favourites?
I always wish I had more time to read for pleasure, but a great deal of my reading time is devoted to submissions. I did just finish Jenny Lawson’s memoir Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, which I absolutely loved, and I’m in the midst of an adult non-fiction book right now. I sometimes find adult memoirs and non-fiction to be an interesting change of pace, but more often than not, my reading for pleasure is focused on middle-grade and YA. I recently read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and I have Trent Stewart’s latest Mysterious Benedict book and Kelly Barnhill’s The Iron Hearted Giant on my to-read list along with lots and lots of other books I’ve stacked up at home and at work.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I feel very lucky to have a job that I love so much and that gives me the opportunity to work with so many inspiring people. It’s incredibly gratifying to help authors and illustrators execute their vision, deliver their best work, and ultimately see the books that results from the process. I realize how much trust it requires authors and artists to put in me and in us, and I’m beyond grateful for their willingness to share their work.
What would your perfect day be like?
Hmmm….my perfect day? I’m not sure there’s just one kind. I love finding new manuscripts and new artists, but I also love the moment when an author delivers a revision or an artist delivers their sketches or final art. Then, of course, there’s the moment when finished books arrive, which never loses its magic. And, on a more basic level, it’s always really rewarding when an author or artist connects with the notes you’ve sent and is excited and inspired to revise. So, I guess it’s nice to have so many different things that can make my day. That’s not to say that every day is perfect—we work very hard—but I think that when you’re passionate about what you do, you’re able to appreciate a great deal of the process.
Thankyou Nancy and Jane!
In the post from New York: a big box of copies of the book I have illustrated, Duck Sock Hop.
It’s published next week, May 10th, and is available here.
Soon I’ll be posting an interview with the author, Jane Kohuth, so watch this space!
I’ve just received an advance copy of the first book I have illustrated – Duck Sock Hop by Jane Kohuth. It’s going to be published on May 10th by Dial Books (an imprint of Penguin US) in America, Canada and Australia.