Category Archives: Books

The Boy Who Loved Everyone

I’m so proud to have collaborated with super-talented illustrator Maisie Paradise Shearring on our new book, The Boy Who Loved Everyone, out on November 7th with Walker Books.

The story is inspired by a real boy, who used to attend my weekly under-5s art class at a local nursery. He had the most touching habit of telling everyone he loved them – the other children, the nursery staff, and me. It was utterly charming but I noticed that often people wouldn’t quite know how to respond – although you could tell they were secretly pleased.

This was happening around the time of the Brexit referendum, and the week after the result there was a tangible sense of sadness from the wonderful nursery staff, who are from all over Europe. But that melted away when the real ‘Dimitri’ called out ‘I love you’ to one of them. His words also emboldened me to say what needed to be said – that these lovely people were welcome and we wanted them to stay.

The story came together quickly after that. It occurred to me that it could take the shape of the classic 1940s Frank Capra movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, where a generous-hearted character comes to doubt his worth but is redeemed when shown the difference he has made to other people’s lives.

I was thrilled when Maisie agreed to illustrate the book – I had admired her artwork for a while and I knew that she would be the right person to show visually the tenderness and vulnerability that the story needed. Maisie came to the nursery for two days to sketch in the early stages of making the book, and she has captured beautifully the life and heart of the nursery, from the ladybird cushions to the children’s pictures hanging from pegs on a clothesline. The teacher in the book is exactly like the real teacher!

My favourite spread in the book is the deliciously blue-toned bedtime scene, with the warm light falling on Dimitri’s bed from the landing as his mum tucks him in. “You’re my best, best boy,” she tells him – this line came from my son when he was little and told me I was his “best, best Mummy”!

The book is also published in Italy by La Margherita Edizioni as Io Ti Voglio Tanto Bene, and will be published in the US in 2020 by Candlewick Press.

Collage wildlife

I’ve got lots of exciting projects in the pipeline at the moment, which is a very nice way to begin 2018. The collage snippets shown above are from a picture book due for publication in 2019 with Otter Barry Books – ‘Brian The Brave’, written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by me. The main characters in this lovely story are sheep, but I won’t show those until nearer the publication date.

It’s great to be collaborating with Paul again (our previous picture book, ‘Wings!’, was published by Otter Barry Books in 2016) – and one of the things he suggested in his notes was that the landscape should look a bit like Yorkshire. I love Yorkshire so was delighted to oblige! I have been having fun putting together scenes with dry stone walls and abundant wildflowers such as meadowsweet, red campion, clover, buttercups and reed mace, and including favourite birds like lapwings and grey wagtails – and some damselflies for a scene including a pond.

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.

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.


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.

The Ones That Got Away


A couple of years ago I developed a project for a publisher with a pair of books full of holes – Peepholes: Paws and Claws and Peepholes: Fins and Flippers. The idea was that the child reading would spot a tiny bit of an animal through a hole in the page, then turn over to see if they had guessed what it was correctly. It was great fun but a very very fiddly job getting the holes to appear in the right places – so that you could see just enough without it cutting into the image on the left-hand part of the spread.


Despite the publisher’s enthusiasm, sadly when the books went to Frankfurt and Bologna they didn’t get any co-editions, and therefore became financially unsupportable (the holes add to the production costs). The word was that it was too sophisticated for a very young audience, yet too simple for older children. We even re-formatted it to be simpler and squarer, with fewer holes – but still the international buyers didn’t bite, and unfortunately the book wasn’t to be. But I’m still proud of the project, and I thought enough time has now passed to show some of the spreads from the book here. The yellow spread with the moose is an early version – the publisher said these animals were too ‘educational’ so I re-drew them in a less realistic way. Looking back though, I think I prefer this original version. I’m rather fond of the cheeky monkey playing the guitar.


I was experimenting a lot with textures at the time – in the spreads shown here there’s some sawn timber, a view of the skyline in Berlin, gravestones in Hackney and windfall golden plums. Every picture tells a story! I do feel sad that this book never saw the light of day, but at least I did get paid. And I certainly learned a great deal from the experience – not least, that nothing is ever certain.





Crayons, pom-poms and bananas – the launch is done!

Pencils, glue sticks and pom-poms have been thoroughly deployed in two launch events to mark the publication of This Rabbit, That Rabbit. Many thanks to Under The Greenwood Tree and Salt and Pepper for hosting the two events, which involved a colouring and collage activity overseen by the friendly giant velvet rabbit. Little pots of strawberries and bananas were the perfect accompaniment at Salt and Pepper, with cappucino for all the adults.

Lovely Sue and John at Salt and Pepper couldn’t bear to part with their window-display rabbit, so I’ve changed to message to read ‘signed copies available here’ and he will stay at the cafe for now. Now I’m off to my local library to give them a copy for their weekly ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions.

Publication day

Today is publication day for my Baby Walker board book, This Rabbit, That Rabbit. It’s the first book I have done that’s all my own pictures AND words (though there aren’t very many of them…) so it’s a thrilling moment. I had the idea for the book several years ago from watching our pet rabbits – they used to lie very flat with their feet stretched out behind them when they were feeling particularly contented. And one of them was slightly on the large side. More recently I dug the idea out again and came up with some words that sounded good together and which would give me an excuse to draw some funny pictures.

There’s a launch event today in Clapham and another tomorrow in Southfields – all the details are in the previous post, here.