Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Marketing: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

By Alison Baverstock 

Just before Christmas I attended the SCBWI conference in Winchester and yesterday I went to another conference in Cambridge.

On the way back I was daydreaming on the train (a favourite thing to do) about the experience.

Lincoln Book Festival 2010: Janetta Otter Berry

Gill Hutchinson reports on a talk on Diversity and Inclusion given by Janetta Otter-Barry (pictured left) of Frances Lincoln at the Lincoln Book Festival on May 15th 2010.

Creative Minds: How much is too much?

Writers such as Melvin Burgess (pictured) have attempted to push open the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and have faced mixed reactions, writes Stephanie Williams. He has become the writing equivalent of Marmite – you either love him or hate him!

London Book Fair 2010: Take me to the Book Fair

The London Book Fair was a bit of a sad spectacle this year, with so many exhibitors prevented from flying in by aeroplane-stalling volcanic ash from Iceland.

Undiscovered Voices: What a Discovery!

Nobody can dispute the success of the previous Undiscovered Voices anthology, the winners have gone on to accomplish great things and I’m sure this second set of writers will do just the same.

So how did the concept come into existence? And what does the new selection of writers think about their success?


Hello, everyone, and happy summer!

The first half of 2010 has been a busy time for the SCBWI-BI with lots of events and good news from our members.


From the Autumn Winter 2010

Welcome to what I hope is another great issue of Words & Pictures!

We will take a look at the winners of Undiscovered Voices; review the recent London Book Fair and explore how much is too much as far as sex is concerned in young adult novels; not forgetting the introduction of the new Book Review section.


From Autumn Winter 2010 

I was born in London and studied textiles at Loughborough. Having had a varied career working as a freelance designer for English Eccentrics, and an agent selling textile designs in London and New York, I have also lectured in design at several London colleges and produced designs for Lambeth council.

VOX SCBWI: My Strengths and Weaknesses

From Autumn/Winter issue 2010

We asked members: What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

I’m always pushing myself to write better and therefore I’m a compulsive reviser. I need to know when to stop! Paeony Lewis

Over the years I have seen my greatest weaknesses turn into a strength. I had a passion to write for children but life got in the way. Finally I got my youngest two off to nursery and reception and sat down to write the stories in my head.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

From brief to book - trials of a non-fiction writer

By Claudia Myatt

Fiction writers work inside out – from idea to story to pitch to publication.  Non fiction writers usually work the other way round, from an idea that starts inside a publisher’s head.  You have to get inside the subject, make it your own, learn about it and make it fun. 

Sunday, 5 December 2010

'In Conversation' Illustrator Masterclass Event

Despite the snow and ice that had disrupted travel earlier in the week and the presence of lots of London Christmas shoppers illustrator members and non-members came to hear Ben Norland, Art Director from Walker Books, and author illustrator Viviane Schwarz talk about their working relationship at the last Illustrator Masterclass Series in 2010 on 4 December at St George's in Bloomsbury.

Viviane speaking about her book, Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure. Both Ben and Viviane spoke about how an illustrator's ability to write greatly increased their odds of being published as there are degree courses turning out illustrator's every year but very few courses that teaches how to write picture books.

Viviane speaking to illustrators at the tea break.

Everyone surrounded the table during the feedback session given by Viviane and Ben on the book dummies brought in by attendees.

An example of Viviane's world building for her latest book. She made the sketch on the left based on a 'set' created by toys and other materials in her studio.

Ben and Viviane 'performed' Vivian's latest book written by Alexis Deacon, available for sale in July 2011. Ben and Viviane spoke about how a picture book needs to be read aloud and is a performance.

More from the book by Alexis and Viviane, A Place to Call Home. When asked if Viviane starts with her characters, she said that she begins with 'place' - 'builds the house' then populates it. She often makes 3D models of her characters like a sock puppet. She even shares her puppet making as you can download from her website patterns to make knitted cats from her book, There are Cats in This Book. Ben added that in his opinion there are three important elements to every picture book: Consistency of character, sense of context and place and a sense of humour.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

More on the Sketchcrawl!

The morning was cold and clear and the company, warm and fun. The images above were done in the V&A Museum in the afternoon. While drawing the study of the fellow with the hawk from one of the huge tapestries at the museum, I was asked very politely to leave for a half hour while the tapestries were given a rest from the light. I then went to Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit exhibit and was amazed at the vast amount of studies she made of her pet rabbit who of course, became Peter. Only that kind of 'knowing' your character so well would allow for this amazing view of Peter jumping as above.

At the Natural History Museum I warmed up on a horse head skull - I was thinking about a Susan Cooper book cover, then sketched this impressive mammal the Maned Wolf.

Last year I played around with the idea of pangolin characters and seeing this little guy inspired me to pull them out again and see how I could develop them more. All and all it was wonderful inspiring day. The usual anxiety of sketching in public just wasn't there knowing you had friends drawing throughout the museum. We all agreed we would definitely do it again in the new year and hopefully make it a regular event. Hope to see more illustrators at the next one!

Monday, 29 November 2010

London Sketchcrawl Report

26th November was the first SCBWI Sketchcrawl event in London.

The event was open for anyone, not just our illustrators, however as it turned out only members turned up on the day. A small but dedicated group of SCBWI children's book scribblers descended on the Natural History and Victoria & Albert Museums, pens, pencils and brushes at the ready. Here are just a few samples from some of the participants, I've posted all of my own sketches on my personal blog.

Amber Hsu - Fish
We started the Sketchcrawl shortly after 10.00 am in the Natural History Museum. The location, exhibits and visitors all proved to be inspiring subjects.

It was great to see the way each artist focused on different aspects of the museum. Some of us made copious notes and explored characters developed from the displays, while others sought to capture the environment and immediacy of the moment...

Clare Tovey - Bats

John Shelley - Griffon Vulture

Clare Tovey - Whale
John Shelley - Moeritherium
Some creatures past and present gave particularly inspiring ideas for children's book characters....

Amber Hsu - Girl and Bird
I think one of the biggest lessons for us all was how these displays encouraged us to broaden our vision, whether through new ideas or for texture, materials, treatment of our drawings etc.

The relatively limited time frame per image encouraged us to open new doors in our creativity.

John Shelley - Distant Relatives

John Shelley - Entrance Hall, V & A Museum
Sue Eves - Notes on Devonshire Tapestries

In the afternoon we moved on to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where once again the location itself as well as the exhibits proved a rich source of subject material.

Amber Hsu - Sculpture

some participants: L to R: Sue Eves, Amber Hsu, Anne-Marie Perks, Claire Tovey, John Shelley.

There were many more sketches and other participants, if I receive any more I'll add them to this post.

At the end of the day we gathered to share notes. It was a fascinating and very satisfying event which we certainly plan to repeat.

Sketchcrawls began in the US a few years ago based on an idea by Enrico Casarosa. Although there are set dates for Worldwide Sketchcrawls this SCBWI event was independent. More information on the original concept is on the Sketchcrawl website.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Illustrators: Starting Out? How to Get Noticed...

By Lynne Chapman

I'm get lots of emails from people trying to get started in book illustration so, to save writing individual replies, here's some more general advice, this time about getting yourself noticed.

It's following up on my post about creating a children's illustration folio, sharing what I can about the next step, and what worked for me at least.

Firstly: spend some time browsing the children's section of bookshops. Independants are best, but Waterstones will do the job. Bookshops are better than libraries for this, as it's all still selling, so never out-of-date.

Familiarise yourself with what different publishers do. Who publishes picture books? Who publishers chapter books? Which illustration techniques are used for which age groups? Who leans towards traditonal, beautiful, funny or off-the-wall?

Note the websites of publishers whose books look a bit like what you do, then check their newest releases on-line to see what they're after right now.

Get a copy of The Children's Writers & Artist's Yearbook (or something similar - there are a few different ones these days). This has listings of all the publishers with their contact details, as well as more advice and guidance.

Make colour prints of maybe three of your best pieces, marked with your contact details or, if you have the necessaries, design an A4 flyer, like the one above.

Post these with a short covering letter to the publishers you have researched. Unfortunately, publishers get unbelievable quantities of unsolicited material, so you have to work very hard to catch their eye. Here are a few hot tips that worked for me:

1 - Make sure you contact a named Art Director or Commissioning Editor (never send a 'to whom it may concern': it will probably go in the bin).

2 - Ensure any samples you send are produced to high quality - first impressions DO count.

3 - Be funny or different or cute (I designed this letterhead for my covering letter, with the tied-up cat printed top-right and the fish swimming along the page bottom, featuring the header 'See me soon, or the pussycat gets it!' )

4 - Be persistent, but not boring: send a printed sample of new work (not just the same old stuff) once a month.

5 - Get on-line: set up a simple website, or a Flickr portfolio, to refer publishers to (but resist the urge to pad it out with your less-good work).

6 - Be proactive: phone the art director a week later to ask if they will see you.

7 - The scatter-gun approach: do all of the above for lots of different (but relevant) publishers.

8 - Don't give up too easily: take on board any feedback you're lucky enough to get, but don't be put off by lack of success - even if you're good, it might take a while for someone to bite.

Initial Contact:

If in doubt about which individual to contact, don't be afraid to phone the publisher's switchboard to get the relevant Art Director's name. In your covering letter, tell them you would like an appointment to show them the rest of your folio. This is important, even if you're not local: I have always found that face-to-face contact is the thing that works. For me, samples sent out and website links are all about getting publishers to ultimately let me visit them at their offices, to present my work in person.

Don't be too disappointed if the Art Director doesn't remember your samples when you phone - they get hundreds. Ask again if you can make an appointment to visit them with the rest of your work. Be ready with a simple website or Flickr page, so they can quickly check your work on-screen.

OK, now the bad news - children's illustration is a very tough market to break into: there's so much competition and the standards are very high. My experience is that slogging round publishers and bombarding them with reminders about your work is the only way in.

But take heart: if your illustrations are of a high enough standard, are interesting, clever and relevant (perhaps even a little bit different, without being too off-the-scale), you should eventually get your foot in the door, if you stick at it doggedly enough.

Watch my blog for posts about what you should expect if you are successful in getting an appointment with an Art Director. In the meantime, if you missed my talk at the conference, why not read about
how I got my first book?

Good luck!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hot Tips Put Into Action!

I want to quickly pass on a couple of great tips I picked up at the wonderful SCBWI conference over the weekend (and take the chance to show you a couple of the sketches I did on my way there).

The first tip comes from
Tim Hopgood, another picture book illustrator / author, who I first met at the Northern Children's Book Festival earlier in the week.

We were at the same hotel for 3 days, so had dinner together each night, along with other folks like David Bedford, Joan Lennon and Alan Durant. That's one of the lovely things about the NCBF: you catch up with people you've not seen in ages and keep adding new friends each year.

Tim and I got on like a house on fire, so I was especially pleased to run into him a few days later at the conference. He was giving a talk on how his book ideas evolve.

He's an understated, but very funny guy, and the talk was really interesting. We all did lots of giggling and one of many things that amused us was when Tim shared a bit of his working practice: every day, before he starts work, he turns up the music good and loud, and spends a whole hour dancing around the studio, all by himself! This is an illustration from his gorgeous book
Here Comes Frankie!, that seems rather apt...

So anyway, yesterday, after I had waded through my back e-mails for the week I've been away, I decided to try it. I couldn't afford an hour, as it was already about 11 o'clock, but I jumped and bopped for a good 10 minutes, and found that Tim's right: it's really good for clearing your head.

Out of breath and slightly sweaty (must get more exercise...) I starting in on the re-planning I need to do for a text that's been buzzing around for a while. Gullane are showing initial signs of interest, but are right that the idea needs some re-thinking.

I also tried out a new, 'big-paper-ideas-map' technique that I picked up at the conference from
Marcus Sedgwick. It's a way of tugging as many relevant thoughts from your head as possible and then marshalling them into some semblance of order. I usually just sit at the computer and write, so this is a new method and, so far, it does seem to help.

Thanks Marcus! Thanks Tim!

Conference 2010: Top Ten Tales of the Unexpected

By Teri Terry
First published in Notes from the Slushpile

I just spent the weekend at the 10th anniversary celebration and mass book launch that was the SCBWI British Isles Onwards and Upwards conference

It was brilliant time catching up with friends old and new, and I even learned a few things along the way. Some are not what you’d expect, at all….

Monday, 15 November 2010

Winchester Conference Competition winners

The SCBWI Conference in Winchester Onwards and Upwards was a fantastic success. A string of events for illustrators included excellent presentations by Mini Grey, Bridget Strevens, Tim Hopgood, Sarah McIntyre and Lynne Chapman, in addition to open portfolios, one-on-one critiques, competitions and the Illustrator's Print Exhibition. If you weren’t able to attend and have a Facebook account check the British SCBWI Group, which is full of links to reports and photos.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Reconciling pictures with words

I thought I’d post a few images that formed part of a talk I just gave with Sarah McIntyre to the conference of Oxford Children’s Book Groups. The talk was about developing the pictorial side of a picture book story, and the importance of constantly checking back to the text, to get the right feel for the book as a whole. We called it ‘Hopping the gap between words and pictures.’

Here’s my hardback cover for the picture book BUG AND BEAR, by Ann Bonwill, which will be published by OUP in 2011. I was talking about how I eventually decided what the characters would look like.

Bug and Bear went through several versions before I hit on how they should look. Although I liked this early version of the two friends, I realized it was just too sensitive. In the text, Bug eventually annoys Bear so much that she tells him to go and jump in the lake! This little Bug just looks too vulnerable for that.

So in this later sample, I settled on a more stylized Bug, with circular eyes. He’s much more of a caricature, and that gives us just enough distance from his emotions, so that it’s okay for Bear to get annoyed with him.

And jump in the lake he does! But this sketch of him floundering on a lily pad wasn’t used in the end. Hopping back to the text again, I realized that the story is not really about Bug being terrified of drowning at this moment. It’s about his friendship with Bear and the misery he feels at being banished by her.

So here’s the finished spread, where Bear is worried, Bug is miserable and Bear makes an heroic rescue…

Before their inevitable reconciliation!

Noah's Ark

Here's my recent sample piece that I have sent to Brights my agents. It was illustrated it in photoshop and painter. I wanted to concentrate on the emotions in this piece as well as a sense of depth and perspective - hopefully I've managed this, although it's probably a little too small to see much detail!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


My new book, to be published in March 2011 is The Little White Sprite; a story about a  boy who encounters a mysterious creature inside an old hollow tree.  On one level it's all about a child entering a magical world, being persuaded to stay but in the end finding he can safely return back again to where he belongs. On another level, the sprite has echoes of nature spirits that are said to be the life force of trees.

The Little White Sprite paperback edition ISBN 9780956510815 and hardback edition ISBN 9780956510839 will be available  in March 2011 from Amazon and bookshops via Gardners and Bertrams.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Sketchbook Project

Front cover of my sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project, theme Night Time Stories.

Inside front and inside back covers for the sketchbook.

This is the cover for an exciting event I am participating in called the sketchbook project run by the Art House Co-op in Brooklyn, New York. Artists are participating from all over the world. The sketchbooks are given ISBN numbers, tour several main cities in the US and become part of a permanent library collection allowing them to be checked out like a book. I got started on this project as a way to experiment, play, and try out a story idea based on two characters, Raven and Wolf and their competitive and mischievous relationship. Their story is based on a Native American story of a time of magic and when humans and animals were the same.

To find out more:
The Sketchbook Project: 2011