Book promotion for the shy at heart

It’s been a busy summer, on a book tour to promote my new picture book, Pink Lion (Walker Books 2017). It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this on my own, so I thought now the last event is over, it might be useful to pull together what I’ve learned along the way. At least I can remind myself next time I have to do it, and maybe it will be useful to someone else as well.

I am naturally quite a shy person, so being the centre of attention doesn’t come naturally to me – but I have discovered that I can do it! In fact, I’ve really enjoyed all the events, meeting lovely bookshop people, parents and most of all children all over the place from Clapham Junction to Northumberland. One of my events was at the HUGE Apple Store in Regents Street for their Saturday Kids Hour. I’m glad I didn’t know in advance I would have to wear a microphone, but now I know I can do it – and it was amazing to see my Pink Lion animation on a screen the size of a double decker bus…

So here are my tips on book promotion for the shy (which I suspect is 99.9 per cent of all illustrators and quite a lot of authors too):

  1. Make yourself a prop – a puppet or a toy (or find someone who can make one for you). I somehow felt more confident having my velvet version of Arnold with me – and children love to give him a hug.
  2. Contact lots of shops and offer a storytime visit – once it’s in the diary, you have to do it. And it actually gets easier and easier.
  3. Have some ‘extras’ to leave behind – I bought a badge-maker a few years ago and it has been a great investment. This is the one I use.
  4. Practise, and work out how long it takes to read the story. Ask questions of the audience, get them involved. If you don’t mind drawing in public, ask if the bookshop has a flipchart. I use a wax crayon to draw and pastel chalks to colour, and children love to help with the colouring in. 45 minutes is a good length (no longer) for a picture book age audience.
  5. Have another activity for after the story – for Pink Lion I have three different colouring/activity sheets which have a mix of things to colour and space for bits children can make up themselves. The better prepared you are, the less nerve-racking. Audiences can be very big or very small – you never know, so be prepared for both and don’t worry if it’s smaller. It’s more intimate that way, which is nice as a change.
  6. Be prepared for noisy babies and other distractions – it’s OK to pause for a while.
  7. Speak slowly.
  8.  Enjoy it – and don’t forget a Sharpie to sign books afterwards.

A huge thankyou to all the places that have hosted me and Arnold over the last few months: Waterstones Clapham Junction, Queens Park Bookshop, Sheen Bookshop, Southfields Library, Heffers Cambridge, Forum Books Corbridge, the Apple Store Regents Street, Nomad Books Fulham, and Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill.

And an extra special thankyou to the places that made window displays! Thankyou Forum Books, Queens Park Books, Heffers and Salt and Pepper, the nicest cafe in Soutfhields.

“It needs more roaring”

My new picture book Pink Lion is published next month by Walker Books. This is the story of how it came into being…

Once a week I run an art class for under 5s. It’s a great joy to watch the creativity of young minds and fingers – and a constant source of inspiration to me. This was never more true than the week we made robots. After constructing our shiny cardboard creations, I asked the group what they thought the story might be about today. “A pink lion,” said one boy, without hesitation.

That was the spark that set me pondering, scribbling and scouring museums for stone lions (the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a particularly fine one in pink granite). Brainstorming pink things put flamingoes in my mind, and I liked the idea that a pink lion might be adopted by pink birds and live a happy life with jelly for tea every day. For some reason it seemed natural to call him Arnold.

This didn’t offer much drama, however, which is where the growling gang of yellow lions comes in, sending Arnold into a state of confusion about his identity. The story was shaping up, and I made a series of small dummy books with all sorts of endings – in one, Arnold raced round making cold drinks for the lazy lions, in another he went home to find the flamingoes had formed a stunt motorbike troupe.

I took the latest version on a camping trip to Wales, and one wet afternoon when there wasn’t much else to do I read it out to a friend’s little boy. His feedback was concise, and pinpointed the problem with dazzling accuracy – “It needs more roaring”. And that’s when the very nasty crocodile came in, putting flamingoes in peril and letting Arnold discover his inner roar.

The story was coming together – now for the artwork. “Make it look as if it took five minutes” said my editors at Walker Books. It took about two years to make it look as if it took five minutes. I tried every material under the sun – coloured pencil, collage, gouache, ink. None of the pinks felt right, and they seemed to clash with the yellows horribly. One day I was browsing a book about Picasso, and noticed ‘household emulsion’ in the list of materials he used. That’s when it clicked – I bought a sack of tester pots from Homebase, with delightful names like Yellow Submarine and Berry Smoothie. I applied them with the worst brushes I could find, added a scribble of pastel pencil, then pen and Indian Ink for the details – and finally I had something I was happy with.

Now the book is finished, and will be out in the shops in just four weeks. I’ll be visiting bookshops to do some storytelling and signing – and it’s the first time I will have done this without an author. So that I’ve got someone to travel with, I have made myself a pink velvet soft toy version of Arnold – he’s a proper luxury lion with THREE types of pink velvet from his inner ears to his paw pads, and raspberry mohair for his scribble cheeks. I’ve stitched little bags of baking beans into his paws, which gives him just the right amount of weight to be able to sit up on his own. We are looking forward to touring together! Although our family cat is rather jealous.

Stamping Ground/Sounds of the City

Every year the Association of Illustrators run a poster competition in conjunction with Transport for London. I have never entered before, but this year I decided to give it a go and I am thrilled to say my poster is now in the exhibition of the top 100 entries – on show at the London Transport Museum until September.

The theme was ‘Sounds of the City’, and I used the wonderful website London Sound Survey for inspiration – take a look, it’s full of fascinating sounds and archive clips. It also has a very carefully compiled section on references to sounds in London in print through the ages, and this is where I discovered a news clipping from 1951, about a baby elephant escaping from New Cross Empire. In its panic it ran into a nearby Post Office, causing customers to vault over the counter and stamps to scatter everywhere, trumpeting loudly all the while. The Post Office staff proudly reported afterwards that they hadn’t lost a single stamp. This delightful story inspired my entry, which I made entirely in collage, using letterpress blocks to print the ‘Parrrump’ sound. I even made my own set of stamps!

The amazing rainbow jaguar

I celebrated World Book Day 2017 by making a book with children at the Evelina Hospital School. This remarkable school caters for children who have to stay in hospital for a long time, and miss out on going to their regular school – it’s a lovely warm and friendly place with very small class sizes and lots of 1-1 teaching.

The project began with a morning on dialysis ward, where some of the children have been spending three days a week since they were born. Using a mix of drawing and collage, I helped the children create some beautiful rainforest creatures – my favourite is the rainbow jaguar, invented to represent all the undiscovered species in the rainforest. I also visited other wards, and spent a day in the classroom working with some children who were well themselves but had very sick siblings, so the whole family was living at the hospital. One little girl produced the fabulous treehouse below, complete with a family of five!

The work the children produced was wonderfully exciting and vibrant, and I have put it all together into a hand-bound book for the school to keep, use, and exhibit in their summer show. You can read the school’s report on the event here.

‘Wings!’ on tour

To celebrate the launch of ‘Wings!’ by Paul Stewart, with collage illustrations by me (published by Otter Barry Books September 2016), I have been on a mini book tour.

A few weeks ago I made a penguin puppet, carefully matching the colours of Penguin in the book, right down to his flamingo-pink feet. Stop one was The Book Nook in Hove – a terrific local bookshop with cafe attached. Paul settled in the big leather armchair to read the story to an eager and sharp-eyed audience (who spotted lots of details in the pictures), after which I organised a craft activity where children made their own mini-stages with a dancing penguin – just like the opening pages of the story, where Penguin is enjoying the Grand Gathering of All the Birds.

Next we visited The Alligator’s Mouth bookshop in Richmond, Surrey – a lovely and well-stocked little gem. And if you missed both those events, don’t worry – we’ll be appearing again at Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill early next year – Monday February 13th, 10.30am. Do join us!  Many thanks to all three bookshops for hosting us.

The Amazing Harvest Machine

With secret doors, knobs to twiddle and control panels galore, this harvest ‘machine’ was the focus of a Big Draw activity I organised recently for a lovely local community event, Southfields Harvest. This year’s Big Draw theme was STEAM Powered – bringing together Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths.

Children drew fruit and veg to drop in the hoppers at one end, added dials, switches and various secret ingredients through the little doors, and then created some imaginative finished products to appear in the ‘output’ hatch. The doors in particular kept many little fingers busy for much of the afternoon – and even the mayor dropped in to participate.

Many thanks to Southfields Harvest, and to St Barnabas Church for hosting the event – and also to Work and Play scrapstore for plenty of paper and the rather classy doorknobs.


coversWings! is published on September 1 by Otter Barry Books, with words by best-selling author Paul Stewart and pictures by me. It’s the story of a penguin who wishes he could fly, tries all sorts of inventive ways to learn – and eventually, with the help of his friends, discovers his true element (published in Dutch too, by C. de Vries-Brouwers).

Paul Stewart’s warm and funny text was a dream to illustrate – though it was a little daunting working with someone known for collaborating with the multi-talented Chris Riddell. We met up just as I was starting work on the roughs, and I asked Paul what he had in mind for the Grand Gathering of All the Birds, at the start of the book. He said he was happy for me to choose. Soon after, conversation turned to music and we discovered we were both big fans of the End of the Road festival, and I had my answer – the Grand Gathering became a music festival for birds, with Swan on a Gibson semi-acoustic guitar and Eagle on penny whistle while Duck takes care of the circus skills area.


All the pages are hand-made collage, and I’ve included some secret snippets of maps showing some of my favourite places, as well as some lovely mono-printed scraps leftover from a project I did last year with a school in Twickenham.

gower_JPI’ve also sneakily slipped in a few favourite places – when Penguin ‘flies’ with the help of his friends and some string, the background is the golden sands of Oxwich Bay in the Gower, south Wales.

mountainsAnd when he has his moment of despair, it’s against a backdrop of two mountains inspired (somewhat loosely) by Glydr Fawr and Glydr Fach in Snowdonia, north Wales.

swimmingMy favourite page to make was the one where Penguin finally ‘flies’ in the sea. I spent some time sketching the penguins in the glass-walled tank at Marwell Zoo to get a sense of the correct movement.

Co9C8JFWgAA4dvJI love sewing, so it seemed natural once the book was finished to make Penguin into a puppet. Paul, Penguin and I will be appearing at The Book Nook in Hove on Saturday 24th September – there will be a story reading and a craft activity. Do come! We hope to add more bookshop dates in the autumn.

Barbed wire and twisted trees

20160526_142344_resizedI’ve just finished a project for Twickenham Museum – a large canvas backdrop for their forthcoming exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. I worked with a lovely group of Year 9 students from St Richard Reynolds Catholic College, also in Twickenham, over two days.

Day 1 began with a visit to the museum, after which we looked at the paintings of WW1 artist Paul Nash. Although Nash didn’t reach The Front until 1917, I felt his striking and intense battle-scarred landscapes would be a good starting point for the students. We then made collagraph plates by sticking string, rice and corrugated scraps onto cardboard – this was to represent barbed wire, shell explosions, and torn duckboards. We then used mixed media to create a reduced scale collage to plan the composition for the final backdrop.

Day 2 saw the students cutting blasted trees from black felt (sourced from the wonderful Work and Play scrapstore) and then getting stuck into some embroidery. I must admit I had wondered if this would be the least-favourite element for a group of teenagers, but in fact they couldn’t put those needles down, and the detail of the stitching on the trees is one of the best things about the finished work. We also printed the collagraph plates onto fabric – a mixture of linen, cotton and various satin samples in a muted colour palette. Keeping to the paper plan as much as possible, I then finished the piece by assembling on canvas with a mix of PVA glue and Bondaweb.

Many thanks to Twickenham Museum for inviting me to take part in the project, to the Richmond Arts Team at Orleans House, and most of all to the staff and students at St Richard Reynolds Catholic College for all their enthusiasm, ideas and careful stitching.


charactersI’ve been writing a lot lately – more than drawing, in fact. One of my new projects is developing an idea for a young fiction series. I’m enjoying plotting in a longer form, which is new to me, and it feels like a luxury to have more than 12 double page spreads to fill with action. It’s interesting to feel my way through the process – I can’t help tackling it visually and have created a pile of charts with notes on colourful scraps and taped-on extensions to try and help pull the different elements of the story together. I’m also playing with how the characters might look, and finding a completely non-digital approach quite refreshing…

World Book Day

Last year I was lucky enough to be picked for a special training programme for new authors – 21st Century Authors – run by the National Literacy Trust and delivered by Author Profile. We covered all the stages of planning and delivering a school visit, from preparing the content to tips from an actor on how to stand and deliver. The final part of the programme was an actual school visit – and mine was yesterday, fortuitously on World Book Day, to Wessex Gardens Primary School in Brent Cross, north west London.

Although I’ve led creative workshops in dozens of schools over the years, it’s the first time I have visited one as an author, so I was excited and a little apprehensive – I feel much more comfortable encouraging other people/children’s work than talking about myself. However I looked back through all my notes from the training, found the talk I had prepared, and realised I was actually ready. Best of all, although the publication date is still some way off, I was able to read the children my first picture book as author and illustrator, Pink Lion – a world premiere!

The school, staff and especially the children couldn’t have been more welcoming. I spent the day with Year 1, talking about how I wrote the story with and developed the artwork – and was rewarded by a big spontaneous round of applause after I read the story out loud! Since the children were all dressed up for World Book Day, it was lovely to be told by the Mad Hatter, Robin Hood and several princesses that the book was a hit with them.

The remainder of the day was taken up with workshops – the children created their own stories using a mix of collage and drawing, with some very imaginative scenarios developing as well as gorgeous artwork. I love the idea of the snake being happy about his present – beneath the flap is a tiny, curled up sleeping bear. Nice to see my little flier getting embellished and incorporated into some of the books too!

Huge thanks to NLT and Author Profile for preparing me so well for this event – may it be the first of many.