Inspiration and Aspiration 2014

Yellow Rabbit ACORN webHappy Second Half of January! By now we’ve all had plenty of time to assess 2013 and make wishes for 2014. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about.

Top creative experiences in 2013:

Launching two new books for children and young people. In May Templar published The Shadow Lantern in the UK and brought my Blackhope Enigma middle grade fantasy trilogy to a close. I am immensely thrilled that the books are out there in the world and finding their tribe of readers. When The Shadow Lantern comes out in the USA this July, I will feel a great sense of completion but there are aspects of the stories that will always inspire me. You never know, they might just spawn a bit of artwork down the line.

In November, Barrington Stoke brought out Yellow Rabbit, a story for younger children illustrated by Rich Watson. I originally wrote Yellow Rabbit for an anthology called Wow 366! Each story could only have 366 words in it, which was a challenge but a lot of fun. Barrington Stoke acquired the story and have included it in a special pack of eight books  aimed at schools and libraries in the UK. And here’s something not everyone knows: Yellow Rabbit is based on a true story. I lost my yellow rabbit when I was a kid and always wondered where it ended up. This story is what I wish had happened to my lost toy.

Attending two conventions that blew my mind. I’ve heard artists and writers talking about going to ‘cons’ over the years but never knew much about them. When I heard that a crew of children’s and YA authors were going to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, I decided to take the plunge. Not only did I get to meet and hang out with all these good writerly people, but I learned a lot. I returned with a notebook filled with scribbles and ideas, inspirations and advice. The author panels were fantastic, the art show was impressive and the attendees’ passion for books was phenomenal. I am hooked and will definitely go to more conventions. I like the look of this one.

A few weeks later I volunteered at Thought Bubble in Leeds, one of the top comic and graphic novel conventions in the UK. Once again, I didn’t have any idea of what I was getting into but I am so glad I took the chance. Thought Bubble is a busy, colourful, wacky, inspiring festival of words and pictures. There’s room for everyone, from the twelve-year-old boy selling his hand-produced comics to superstars like Fabio and Gabriel, the Brazilian twins that had a constant line of people waiting to meet them. There were plenty of superheroes, of course, but there were many other kinds of comics and graphic novels. One of the things I like the most about this community is that is welcomes people who create and publish their own stuff. The Do It Yourself ethos is quite empowering. Thought Bubble’s organisers were amazing, the writers and artists were wonderful and the fans were fantastic. After two full days of running around, hauling furniture and managing crowds, I was exhausted but inspired.

And all this inspiration is spilling over into my aspiration for 2014: to bring my writings and artwork closer together. How will it manifest itself? I have a few ideas but they are too premature to share yet. In the meantime, I’m editing my next book for teens (stay tuned on this one) and starting to think about the small illustrations that will go with it. On the art side, I’m planning new paintings for an exhibition in the spring. Preparing, pruning, planting creative seeds – perfect winter activities.


Helsinki: Arrival at 60° North

Ice on Suomenlinna waterway

I haven’t quite caught up with the fact that I am now in Finland.

I learned just over two weeks ago that I had been selected for a Helsinki International Arts Programme residency and it felt slightly unreal. The Scottish Book Trust, who are administering the two new residencies for Scotland-based children’s writers, pulled out all the stops and rapidly got everything set up for my arrival. I packed my gear and said goodbye to the daffodils, knowing I was unlikely to see any in Helsinki yet.

Just before dusk last night, I flew in over tall birch forests and snow fields. There was something mysterious about the landscape. It definitely seemed like a place where trolls might roam. I made my way to the city centre, with its wide avenues and majestic buildings, and waited for the ferry to my temporary island home, Suomenlinna. The small boat ploughed through ice sheets in the harbour as the darkness set in. I tried to put all thoughts of the Titanic aside…

Helsinki is gradually coming out of winter and the ice is changing every day, I was told. Earlier this week there was none in the harbour but it returned in time for my arrival. I feel lucky to be able to watch spring tiptoe in here.

The small Suomenlinna ferry next to a huge one bound for Sweden.

One of my friendly hostesses greeted me at the Suomenlinna dock and we crunched over icy paths, under old arches and past huge rough-hewn walls, sometimes encountering the fragrance of wood smoke when we turned a corner.

I was shown to my toasty-warm quarters in a two-hundred year old brick building with huge wooden doors. This is the place where I’ll be working on my next book and keeping a log of all my discoveries in Finland. I’ll be learning about the local literature scene from writers and publishers, visiting bookshops and museums and getting immersed in Finnish culture. And what about the language, you might ask? I’ll try to learn as much as I can while I’m here. I’ve got a few phrases down already, and though everyone I have met so far has spoken good English, I think it’s not only polite but also important to “taste” the host language wherever I go. And the number one word is, of course, kiitos – thank you!


Mapping Ideas

In which I deconstruct and reconstruct The Next Book.

I am on a short breather from work on my next children’s novel. This gives me a chance to stand back, tidy my workspace (and my brain).

I always find it fascinating to see how writers and artists work. Seeing sketches and scribbles others have done reminds me that we all have our own ways of creating. As I gain more experience writing novels, I am beginning to know what works best for me when I am plotting or rewriting. I am definitely a mind mapper. Maybe this is because I am used to drawing ideas, so it’s logical to work in a graphical way. There’s nothing like drawing bubbles and arrows (using the all-important colored pens) on a big paper.

I took a photo of the mind map I’ve been working with on my latest manuscript. It looks like a jumble of nonsense but it’s my own kind of shorthand. I mapped out the manuscript as it was in the first draft, then marked down all the issues that needed to be resolved and possible solutions. That’s where the colored pens come in handy.

As I wrote the second draft, I often referred back to my mind map. It gave me a structure to work with and was a quick reference guide to my editors’ comments. Before I get to work on the next draft, I will take the time to make another mind map, so I know which way to go with things.

Summertime in Glasgow

The studio has cooled down enough that I can work without the fan. I have been aiming it directly at me over the last few weeks, trying not to send papers flying. We usually get a week or two in summer where I curse the poor ventilation and wish I could be outside, but this year we are having a “real summer”, which means more use of the fan. I’m not complaining..really! Often the Glasgwegian summer involves drizzle and greyness, so this is a wonderful blip.

I am busy at the computer, working on writing projects. It is giving me good practice with touch typing, which I learned over the winter. Even though I thought I was pretty quick with the two-fingered hunt and peck method, I realised I was fooling myself and getting repetitive strain in my wrists. So I took an evening class and learned what I should have when I was in high school.

My fingers do not exactly fly across the keyboard yet but my posture is better and my wrists thank me. If you plan on writing a novel, learn touch typing. It will take at least one or two small hurdles out of your way.