Illustration Wednesday: The A-Z of Children’s Books with Fig Taylor

I don’t know whether the last week of August affects you the way it does me. I get excited in anticipation of the annual September buzz, the kind of buzz I should really be feeling on New Year’s Day but often don’t. That’s because years of schooling conditioned me to feel like September is the real new year.

This is the week I start looking at autumn jackets and new pens and most importantly, I think about my creative goals for the coming (academic) year. What do I want to accomplish before the winter holidays? What would I like to have completed before next year’s summer break?

I don’t think I’m the only person who makes resolutions in September. You may have one or two in your head right now. Since you’re reading my blog, your resolutions might have something to do with writing and/or illustrating books for children and young people. You might be wondering where you can get some advice about how to work in this corner of the publishing industry.

This is a very long-winded way of telling you that, if you can get to London, the Association of Illustrators is hosting an excellent afternoon event all about this topic with Fig Taylor on Friday, September 4, 2015. If your September resolution is to get your children’s book portfolio in good shape, Fig can give you great advice. When I first came to the UK and joined the AoI, she gave me a very helpful portfolio review.

Here’s the link for more info – and good luck with your September dreams!

Inspiration Monday: East Street Arts Open Studios 2015

Participating in an Open Studios event can be a bit nerve-wracking. You clean all the paint-covered coffee cups, sweep up bits of paper stuck in the floor boards and generally make the place presentable without sanitising it too much. Then you think about what you’d like to tell people about your work and hope you don’t talk too much (or too little).

When the first visitors arrive, a little thrill runs through the building. You stand up a little straighter and make sure your paintings aren’t crooked on the walls. And then you’re off, greeting and chatting with people you have never met or people who have come to see you again or friends who have come to support you. Sometimes it’s a long one-to-one chat or a gathering of people who enter as strangers to each other and leave as acquaintances. There is a rhythm to the flow of visitors but each interaction is unpredictable – and that is its loveliness.

One of the things I noticed this weekend was people’s deep need for creativity and for inspiration, the wish to connect with others who feel that same need and to fulfil their curiosity about what artists do. There were recent graduates starting on their new paths, people who make time for creative work in a busy non-art career and groups of like-minded people meeting up to visit the studios together.

I had rich conversations with visitors from many walks of life. I learned new things, was given excellent recommendations for films, artists, places in Yorkshire and was privileged to share my artwork and books. I left the building last night with a warm, fuzzy feeling and a great deal of inspiration to get back to work.


Inspiration Monday! A Great Day Out.

teresa-flavin-big-posterThis fantastic poster greeted me when I arrived at Allerton High School yesterday. The excellent team of students who organised my day of speaking and bookmaking with visiting primary pupils also made a variety of wonderful posters, flip charts, bookmarks and certificates. They were all charming, friendly and creative – a credit to their school!

Big thanks to everyone at all the schools involved and to the Ilkley Literature Festival which sponsored the event.

Inspiration Monday: Exploring Huddersfield!

I was delighted to be invited to speak to Year 6 at South Crosland CE Junior School recently, especially because Huddersfield Literature Festival awarded my visit as a prize for a schools writing competition. I discovered that the pupils are also keen illustrators when I set them a quick drawing activity and they all came up with a great array of characters. I always get a real buzz from seeing what young people can invent within a short period of time!

I didn’t know much about Huddersfield so before my event I asked teachers to set the pupils another short writing competition to describe some of the coolest and most atmospheric places in their area. Not only did I have a very enjoyable visit, but I left with a sheaf of their writings. The pupils wrote intriguing profiles of some interesting and unusual places. It was tough to choose an overall winner so I selected two top entries and four honourable mentions. And here they are!

First is Mia’s twist on the local legend of Devil’s Rock:

We’re told that the Devil jumped from there to Castle Hill but I don’t believe that. I’m sorry but it’s sooo cheesy! I mean really! The only thing is: I think my theory about Devil’s Rock is worse. I believe that it was a ship and Netherton was the coast line… The creaking boat crashed around as the wind savagely rocked it along its path. Well, almost its path. The captain had lied that they were taking a detour to avoid the worst of it but they were actually being mercilessly dragged astray from their winding path. CRASH! The boat was destroyed in one second but half of it indented the rock, lost souls of the sea forever enclosed in the dank yet treacherous rock.

Here is the beginning of a story that made me want to find out what happened next – and it was fun that Katie used my characters Sunni and Blaise:

Sunni carried on walking through the mud, the type that seeps onto your feet, soaking everything. She could feel the ancient train tracks as her wellies sunk through. Walking, walking and more walking. It took ages for Sunni and her best friend Blaise to walk through the vast woods leading to the end. To the wall. The tall dark trees arched over their heads. However, nothing was going to stop them now. The end was in sight. Eventually they were able to touch the damp, jagged wall. At the bottom there was a tiny, rusty gate. It started to rattle. The wind started to howl. There was a sharp echo. Something was coming…

Now for the honourable mentions. Lauren’s description of Devil’s Rock had a great atmosphere:

Devil’s Rock. A creepy, haunted cliff that has a scary giant’s footprint on it. Some say that hundreds of years ago a fierce giant called Hungrybones lived there! Over the years disgusting green moss has formed over the sharp rocks that stick out like pointy knives. Now and again the giant comes back to haunt his home once again…

Daisy’s story of a painting showing its artist on Devil’s Rock was intriguing:

The painting hung high above the dining room in the old house. Devils Rock. A huge rock with sharp teeth like stones sticking in odd places. Trees of ivy green stood stock still around the pointed rock, enclosing it in their branchy arms. It was clear to see the artist who painted the rock, whoever he was, was sat at the very edge of the hidden cliff. Twelve people stood with their arms around each other on the vast rock; they were all smiling. In fact some were even waving. You could not see most of the group’s feet due to the mossy green grass which had formed on the rock over time. One person was on their knees; he was pointing at a large footprint shaped mark set in front of the people. It was this foot print shaped mark that created the myth of Devil’s Rock.

I liked Callum’s description of a mysterious figure at Holmfirth Jail:

In Holmfirth, there is an old, half demolished jail house. There is a rumour that at night a mysterious figure climbs out of the bars and stands staring lifelessly at people and if they stare at him for too long they will gradually become a large rock. At morning he climbs back in and no one knows what he does in the day time…

Poppy’s description of Goblin Gorge could be the start of a spooky story:

Beaumont Park. Even the name gives me shivers down my bony spine. Nothing is more scary than an old abandoned train track called Goblin Gorge. Trees, never ending, congested the woods. The park is usually quiet at night except for the gloomy, cold, thick air that only the goblins can breathe in…

Thanks to all the Year 6 pupils for their contributions!

Announcing a New Partnership with Book Events for Schools!

All my recent books in a tidy row!

All my recent books in a tidy row!

I am very excited to announce that I am working with the excellent Book Events for Schools on my Yorkshire-based school and library visits. You may already be familiar with the comprehensive events listing, interview and review site offered by its sister organisation, Book Events for Children.

Book Events for Schools was created to offer author services to schools and already represents Emma Barnes, Kate Pankhurst, Andy Seed, Jason Beresford, Andy Seed, CJ Busby, Anneliese Emmans Dean and Joshua Siegel. From a busy author’s point of view, it’s great to have a friendly agency that communicates with interested Yorkshire schools and organises all the logistics, including book sales.

This doesn’t mean that Yorkshire schools and libraries aren’t free to email me on my Contact page as before. Far from it – I’d love to hear from you! But once we have decided to go ahead with a visit to your school, Book Events for Schools will guide the rest of the organising process. It couldn’t be easier.

What about schools outside Yorkshire? I will plan my visit with you directly. All you need to do is email me and we can take it from there. Every primary school or library that emails will receive my 2015 Primary School brochure, full of detailed information about what you can expect from my visit, what my talks and workshops include and how to book. 

What about a brochure for secondary schools? I may very well create one, but for the moment it works pretty well to plan visits that are tailored to each high school. You might want me to give an assembly to Year 7 or you might want me to do an Illustration workshop with students undertaking a GCSE in Art & Design. What do you need? I’m here to help.

World Book Day 2015

My scrumptious thank you gift from the pupils!

My scrumptious thank you gift from the pupils!

This is one of the biggest weeks in the UK school calendar! Tomorrow, March 5, children across the land will come to school dressed as their favourite book characters. They’ll be celebrating World Book Day and all that is fun and inspiring about reading.

I visited a wonderful local school yesterday and spoke to 170 pupils aged 7-11 about my work. I asked them why we even care about books and reading. Hands shot up and children offered answers that knocked my socks off and made me happy to be an author. ‘Books take you to different worlds,’ they said, and ‘Books are AWESOME’! Books are ‘inspirational’ and ‘informational’. I couldn’t answer the question better than they did.

For all the hands that shot up in excitement, there were also hands that stayed down. I know there are children for whom reading is difficult or who have somehow been put off. I always hope that something I say or show them in my presentations might spark interest in reluctant readers. I can’t think of anything better than to have inspired one child to pick up a book and read for pleasure.

Happy World Book Day! Keep on reading!

January Inspiration!

This month has been excellent for art and writing inspiration. I kicked it off a couple of weeks ago when I spent a week at Lumb Bank, the Arvon Foundation’s writing centre in rural Yorkshire. It was magical, as I knew it would be, and it inspired my writing side in a very big way. But when the wordy side is stoked up, the visual side demands to be fuelled too.

Last week’s day trip to the London Art Fair sorted me out – maybe too much! I now want to continue writing the two books I’m working on AND make paintings AND book art. The Fair was held in the airy London Business Centre in Islington and though quite busy, it was not overwhelmingly full of people. I could take my time and hang out looking at works I wanted to spend time with. I’ve included a few of them here.

Art by Swoon at the London Art Fair 2015.

Art by Swoon at the London Art Fair 2015.

I liked street artist Swoon‘s work. Some of her images were on found objects like old fencing and others, like the image here, are wall art. I admire her style – it’s bold and delicate at the same time.

Chun Kwang Young‘s mulberry paper constructions astonished me. From far away they look like rocky landscapes, but when you get close you can see they are made up of hundreds of folded papers. Han-ji (mulberry) paper is very important in Korean culture and in the video on his homepage, the artist talks about ‘gathering the spirits of ancestors’ in his pieces. Each one contains a whole population of spirits.

Work by Chun Kwang Young at London Art Fair 2015.

Work by Chun Kwang Young at London Art Fair 2015.

Detail of work by Chun Kwang Young.

Detail of work by Chun Kwang Young.

Another Korean artist, Kwan Woo Lee, uses many stamps and seals in his pieces. Close up, they are an amazing collection of characters and small graphic images. I enjoy art that works on several levels and contains layers of meaning, especially when the artists work with small, beautifully crafted elements.

Detail of work by Kwan Woo Lee at the London Art Fair 2015.

Detail of work by Kwan Woo Lee at the London Art Fair 2015.

What’s the next inspiration? I’m hoping it will be The Weather Machine, an intriguing immersive theatre performance in early February. Stay tuned.

Buy Local and Support Your Indie Bookseller!

Totally_locally_Xmas_ManifestoI think this cool poster from Totally Locally says it all. When you venture out to make seasonal purchases, I hope you’ll support the retailers in your neighbourhood, your village, your town. They are your neighbours and their presence helps keep your area thriving, vibrant and diverse! And why not put books at the top of your shopping list? (Hint, hint.)

Happy shopping, everyone!

Spooky Halloween Reads: The Shadow Lantern and Jet Black Heart

Jet Black Heart on the sands of a Yorkshire beach

I’ve been loving having two spooky books published recently! The Shadow Lantern, the final story in The Blackhope Enigma trilogy, is out in the USA and Canada, and my stand-alone teen book, Jet Black Heart, is out in the UK.

I’ve done a bit of speaking and guest posting about The Shadow Lantern. It was a lot of fun writing for these awesome US book bloggers, Candace’s Book BlogNovel Novice and Unleashing Readers. There may be one or two more posts in store and I’ll put them up here when they’re live.

I popped into the lovely Candlewick Press during a trip to Boston last month and we recorded a little video. If you want to know about my experience with a ghost in an old country inn, this is the place to hear about it!

Meanwhile, I’ll be speaking about Jet Black Heart, published by Barrington Stokeat several UK secondary schools in November. Because the story is set on the Yorkshire coast, it’s extra cool to share my photos and stories with pupils at local schools.

Aside from venturing out to visit schools, I’ll be hunkered down working on my next book. November is the perfect month to write another adventure with a whole new cast of characters!

Art Exhibition at Fountains Hall

fountains-hallA few months ago I joined forces with four fellow artists to explore the idea of making new artwork in response to historic locations around Yorkshire. This was a bold experiment for me but I couldn’t resist because Lorna Barrowclough, Hondartza Fraga, Carla Moss, Valerie Zwart and I have so many cross-over interests – and we are now good friends as well. I have been looking at ways to link my writing and personal art-making more closely and working with these talented artists has helped me focus my ideas in ways I could not have imagined at the start.

When we learned of the opportunity to show our work at Fountains Hall, the Tudor manor on the grounds of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire, we jumped at the chance. Over the summer we made field trips to the stunning house, abbey ruins and grounds to sketch and photograph. I had many magical moments walking the wooded paths, visiting the other-worldly Georgian follies dotted around Studley Royal’s water park and marvelling at Fountain Abbey’s atmospheric ruins. After some very stimulating conversations about our approach to the work, we planned the exhibition and gave ourselves a name: The [Re]enchantment Project.

underpaintings-on-canvasI began with blank canvasses, gave them a swift undercoat of colour and made the first two of a series of paintings that re-imagine the Hall and follies after hours, when the spirits of the place are free to roam. This is just the start of a collection that pulls together the things I am most interested in: magic, the supernatural, light and dark, landscape and more.

We christened our debut exhibition, curated by Valerie Zwart:

So Far, So Awesome: The [Re]enchantment Imperative

And we set out our approach: Since the early to mid 19th century, the need to re-enchant— to meaningfully connect to our world through mystery, wonder and awe — has been a persistent feature in our cultural history. In photos, paintings, books and a site-specific installation, five Leeds artists based at East Street Arts create alter-realities within the context of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. In an era marked by disillusionment, this exhibition explores how historical sites continue to be relevant as touchstones for our imaginative engagement with things and places.

We set the dates: Thursday, October 9 to Thursday, October 23, 2014  

We chose these dates to coincide with Fountains by Floodlight, a programme of evening illuminations, choral music and food that Fountains abbey is hosting on 11 and 18 October events. Please see the Abbey website for details.)

Opening times: 10 am to 5 pm daily (please be aware that normal admission to the site will be charged)

Meet the Artists reception: 3:30-5:00pm, Saturday, 18 October

Location: Fountains Hall, Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, Fountains, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 3DY

Everyone is invited! If you would like to be added to our mailing list for future exhibitions, please email us: