My new picture book, King Otter, is published this week by Simon & Schuster. It’s the story of an otter who finds a box of fine clothes, puts them on and decides to declare himself king. Power goes to his head and he issues wilder and wilder demands before a muddy downfall and a realisation that river swimming and friendship are a good deal more rewarding than bossing people about.
The story started to take root when I was given a pair of cowboy boots for my birthday, something I’d always wanted (see photo above for my boots and King Otter’s). As soon as I put them on I developed a bit of a swagger, which set me thinking about how clothes can have quite an impact… added together with my passion for river swimming and all I had to do was fill in the gaps! (Well, it wasn’t quite that easy…).
I always like to make a toy of my characters, and King Otter was the most fun of all to make because I got to dress him as well. He’s just been on his first school visit and the children had a lovely time trying on his crown, taking turns to have him sit next to them and even asking him what he thought of their stories. And there was lots of scope for interesting discussions about how they would behave if they found a crown.
Huge thanks to everyone at Simon & Schuster and especially to my editor Alice Bartoskinski and designer Harriet Rogers who were a delightful team to work with and made the book WAY better than I ever would have managed without them.
And I’ve spotted some lovely reviews already!
“A great little fable about the importance of friendship, delightfully told and beautifully illustrated – 5 stars” – Books for Keeps
“The most perfect drawing of an otter ever” – Angels and Urchins
“A lovely, subtle story of friendship …The illustrations in their bright, clear colours are very appealing.” – Armadillo Magazine
I’m thrilled to have two pieces of work in the Museum of London Docklands’ current exhibition, Secret Rivers. My graphic novel, The Ghost Carp (inspired by fifteen years of river cleanups with the Wandle Trust) is in a glass case alongside Charles Dickens no less! And my Wandle Alphabet poster is also featured, together with an audio recording of me talking about the five-year process of finding all the letters. In the photo above, I am even wearing a necklace that came out of the river – you never know what you are going to find…
The exhibition is well worth a visit, and is on until 27th October. Admission is free.
I’ve been out on the road promoting Brian The Brave over the past few weeks – my new picture book with Paul Stewart, published in April by Otter Barry Books. I’ve done a couple of library visits, at Southfields and Northcote, where children really enjoyed participating with the sheep puppets. One girl got very attached to the wolf! I was sad to have to disappoint her… Paul and I did a story time at The Book Nook in Paul’s hometown Hove, and afterwards took the sheep for a romp on the beach.
On April 4th my new book with Paul Stewart, Brian the Brave, will be published by Otter Barry Books. I’ve collaborated with Paul once before, on Wings!, and it was lovely to be asked to work with him again.
The new story is all about sheep – but it’s also about much more. Brian is a happy-go-lucky sheep munching grass, when he meets a new friend. All is well until more and more sheep arrive, and start forming cliques based on the colour of their wool and the shape of their horns – causing much sheep-based unhappiness all round.
Brian wanders off despondently, but a chance encounter with a wolf brings out the hero in him, and he persuades all the sheep to work together to defeat the fearsome predator.
All the illustrations are made from collage, using scraps that I painted and applied textures to – the scratchiness of the wolf comes from monoprint rubbed with a sticklebrick, and the colours range from gouache to household emulsion, ink and oil pastels. When I first saw the text, I asked Paul where he thought it should be set, and he said ‘Yorkshire’. I’m very fond of Yorkshire, so that was a good starting point for me, and I had fun sneaking in lots of wildlife such as lapwings, moths and red campion. You can read more about the process here.
It’s a great story to read out loud to young children – I’ve tested it on my under 5s art group and they were fascinated by which sheep was which. There’s a handy guide opposite the title page.
Brian The Brave will be published in the US later in the year by Flyaway Books, and is out now in Denmark as Marius den Modige!
For the last few months I’ve been working on a very different sort of project – I’ve been illustrating a PhD. It’s part of the Creative Impacts programme at Kings College London, and I was very proud to be part of it through my collaboration with Dr Sharron Frood. We were paired up in October (one of 8 creative/academic pairings this year) and I made a concertina book as a visual interpretation of Sharron’s work on the plight of AIDS orphans in South Africa. Her research included lots of heartbreaking stories but also points the way forward for more joined-up care for these children, hence the title ‘New Hope’. An exhibition of all the Creative Impacts partnerships was held at Bush House in The Strand earlier in February – the subjects covered and means of interpretation are very diverse and inspiring. Thankyou Sharron for being so lovely to work with, and all the team at Kings for being so supportive.
This is a four page mini-comic I made about learning to play my great-grandfather’s fiddle. I’t been a very joyful process for me, although the story of the fiddle is a sad one. It feels appropriate to post this today, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, since it was my grandfather’s brother’s sad death right at the end of the war that silenced the fiddle for almost a century.
It’s only a few months now until the launch of Wings!, Paul Stewart’s lovely story about a penguin who wishes he could fly. I illustrated the book, and decided to do it all in collage – very painstaking and slow! But I am pleased with the results. This is one of my favourite spreads, where Penguin finally gets an all-too-brief taste of flying – the landscape is based on The Gower, in south Wales, where I have spent many a happy camping holiday with my family.
One of my favourite Christmas activities is making cards. Usually I design and print something, and only then realise they don’t fit a standard envelope – but I’ve finally learned my lesson and lino-printed dozens of cards just the right size to fit a bunch of A6 envelopes I’ve been sitting on for years (they are left over from The Longest Little Book, a Big Draw project I ran many years ago). All the card I printed onto was offcuts from the exhibition I held earlier in the year, Skim Sky Blue, so it was rather satisfying to use up so many odds and ends. I completed the cards with a hand-painted watercolour red bow round the bears’ necks.
It was the last outing for the very wonky drying rack – it’s now a pile of first-class kindling.