My Writing Process

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My friend and fellow illustrator Bridget Strevens-Marzo invited me to take part in the ‘My Writing Process’ blog tour – and this seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on how I work. Bridget’s post was a fascinating glimpse into her mind and methods – she’s someone whose work I really admire and I can’t wait to get my hands on her forthcoming book with Tate Publishing, ‘Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw’ which really looks into the heart of being creative in a wonderfully accessible way.

The blog tour consists of four questions, so here goes:

1) What am I working on?

As always I have several ideas on the go at once, all picture books. However since I am at that delicate stage of discussing projects with publishers but nothing signed and sealed, I don’t want to give too much away! As you can see on my desk above, I’ve been looking at ‘A Home Afloat’ as one of the stories I’m working on is set aboard a houseboat (a bit of a wish-fulfilment fantasy for me). I was recently in Amsterdam and went to the marvellous Houseboat Museum – it was so inviting I would have been happy to move in on the spot. I’ve always been fascinated by rivers so setting a story around one feels like a very natural thing to do.

I’m also preparing for an exhibition inspired by the River Thames – ‘Skim Sky Blue’, which is going to be on for the first half of May at The Art Cabin. So in between bouts of writing stories, I’m getting out my wood cutting tools and creating huge piles of wood shavings on my desk. There’s more about this project in earlier posts, here and here.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s a tricky one to answer! I would like to think my work is characterised by having a sense of humour and a sense of playfulness, which I hope comes out in both words and pictures.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always been fond of animals, so they make very natural subjects for me to draw and write about. I’m very influenced by the stories I used to love when I was little – like Bridget I loved the eccentricity of Ant and Bee, and I also loved the humour and detail in Richard Scarry. It was Quentin Blake’s illustrations that initially drew me to the Uncle stories, but the text turned out to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. But my favourite book of all as a child was Modern Tales and Fables illustrated by Vaclav Sivko, whose surreal illustrations I have written about in a previous post.

4) How does your writing process work?

I have a notebook with me at all times and write down or sketch anything I see or overhear that might provide a spark for a story. Each week I run an art class for under 5s, and I find the way the children think, talk and even move very inspiring. One week a little girl came in dressed in a home-made carrot costume – I’ve put that in a story. I like to develop the words and pictures together, so as an idea takes shape I’ll draw out 12 very rough boxes in my notebook and start making notes, both visual and in words, of what will go on each of the 12 spreads. Then I’ll start making a small paper dummy book, putting words and pictures together to get a feel for how the pace and page-turns will work. Then I’ll keep it with me, keep glancing at it and tweaking little bits, or rearranging whole sections, until several versions later I might decide it’s ready to show someone. I’ve also joined a monthly picture book writers’ crit group with fellow author-illustrators, which is enormously helpful and supportive and a great way to move an idea up a gear.

Next week I’m passing the baton on to the very talented illustrator and writer Faye Hanson. Faye’s first book was published by Macmillan in 2010 and she’s happiest when dreaming up fluffy characters and fantastical contraptions – I have had a sneak preview of her new book and it is really special.

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