Bridget's Big Draw

We're very excited on Words & Pictures today to have Bridget Strevens-Marzo here with us to share her recent publishing success. Bridget writes

"It is good to be back writing as well as illustrating.  Even better to have a couple of book contracts after a gap, a change of life and location. My next French book is out with Bayard this September and in May 2015 I have another book due out in the UK."

"It is over 20 years (blimey!) since I’ll have had a book which I have written - as well as illustrated - published in the UK. To signal the change for my own written and illustrated books, I am simplifying my name to Bridget Marzo. 

Tate Publishing is a ‘boutique’ publisher with good distribution here and in the US via Abrams. They are getting noticed for their original and beautifully produced children’s books. Working with them has restored my confidence to the point where, for the first time in my life, I submitted to an illustrator competition. I was shortlisted among some lovely company for the Association of Illustrators (AOI) AwardAnother cause for celebration!"

Bridget tells us about some of the ups and downs she's had during her career

"I had no idea that so many years after my first three books were published in 1991-2, I’d still be battling with self-criticism and doubt. I filled drawers with projects. A UK publisher made an offer in the mid 1990s for a two-book project I wrote and illustrated - but just for the text. They thought my illustrations ‘too European’. Since most of the story was in the pictures, I declined and I took it to the first big French publisher I met – they bought the project instantly. I received full payment on completion but a change of packager and marketing strategy meant the books never came out. 
My self-confidence took a battering. David McKee (of Elmer fame) who also lived in France suggested I approach French children’s magazines. He, like Helen Oxenbury, Helen Stephens and other UK illustrators do the odd commission for them and it was good, he said, to ‘expand your repertoire’. Since then Bayard has been my mainstay as a children’s illustrator.  

Australian based Little Hare found my website in the late 1990s and commissioned me to illustrate Margaret Wild's Kiss, Kiss! It was a successful co-edition that still earns me royalties from international sales and it led to some good US illustration commissions too. But all the long while, my own stories stayed in the drawer.

But then in 2008 Bloomsbury US commissioned me to illustrate Mini Racer by Kristy Dempsey. At last I’d have a book out in the UK too. Sadly, serious family problems got in the way and the book didn’t come out until 3 years later.  

I then moved from France to the heart of London and found a cheap space in a shared studio. The studio and the chance to focus on my own work after a long interruption got me out of my self-critical stew. Leaving my time-guzzling computer at home, I went back to pencil and paper, and two characters, high-energy Tiz and low-energy Ott, came to life in a series of four little books. They are still waiting in the wings.

The publishing response to them was promising, said my agent Erzsi Deak, but I’d need a full length picture book story to launch the characters. So I bought some A4 sketchbooks, and drew and wrote in them pretending each was the final story book.  

That’s how Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw emerged. I worked on another different project in the same way, which I showed to Bayard. I’d recommend a 20 sheet sketchbook as a good way to keep your ideas, words as well as pictures, on track.

Think about what you can offer to kids from your own deep interests that is in some way distinct from all the other books out there, suggested an editor at one of the many SCBWI conferences I have been to.  

So I started to think actively about turning my obsessions – art and language  into stories. For starters there had been a language element in my very first book Toto in Paris. My dad was a Londoner and I was born in the UK. My mother was a Spanish Catalan from Barcelona with most of her family in France. Plonked into my French cousins' school playground, I felt as if I had landed from Mars and I have always felt for kids who were non-native speakers like I was there. My French editor assures me that Bridget’s Book of English will work as a title in France. (Bridget Jones to thank for that?)

I'm hoping I may use the book for non-English speaking kids here too. It’s a flap book - not a manual - offering a playful first taste of English. In it, a funny furry family go through the day from breakfast to bedtime. 

There’s a fridge to open and curtains to close and English words in context. And thanks to a chat with non-fiction packager Lionel Bender at one of the SCBWI London Socials, I asked Bayard to include for the first time in their history a QR code on the back cover that links to a site where I will pronounce all the words in the book in my - ahem - BBC accent.

As for the art, since childhood I’ve always been surrounded by the smell and splodges of paint and tools to scribble with. Later, for some years, I taught at a US art school in Paris. One of my favourite projects was getting students to put together a ‘quilt’ out of patches of marks which they had to make in as many different ways as possible. 

Tiz and Ott make marks in my story too. The  endpapers of Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw will show a bunch of crayon and paint marks like so…

Remember how as a child you could draw a bird by wiggling your pencil or brush in a kind of M shape? After Ott and Tiz whip up a storm and get carried away with crayon and brush, Ott manages to paint one of those simple birds – a kind of distress signal to Tiz who has scribbled herself into a hole. 

But first of all, Tiz has to draw her way out of the hole rung by rung. Just like I did, line by line!"

Bridget Strevens Marzo

Bridget loves playing between words and pictures, pencil and paint, colour and computer. After a Cambridge MA in Chinese and Art History, she moved to Paris where among other things she copied at the Louvre and earned a living translating art books.

After she wrote and illustrated her first picture books two decades ago, she worked for US, UK and French publishers on picture books, novelty books and games for children’s magazines. She also shares her love of books with children, students and gives workshops for adults.

Co-hosting SCBWI international conferences earned Bridget a place on the advisory board as international illustrator advisor. Back in London, she's a contributing editor for the AOI's magazine Varoom and is working on two exciting new book projects.


  1. This is lovely Bridget. I love Tiz and Ott - will definitely be adding them to my collection and the family on Bridget's Book of English is delightful. The QR code idea is genius - many congratulations!

  2. Your work sounds so inspired, Bridget. Innovative, delightful and fun. Such great advice to write from deep down. Congratulations on your words and pictures.

  3. Inspirational! Off to check out Tiz and Ott.

  4. Love the idea that you can scribble yourself into a hole and draw yourself out, line by line! Gorgeous illustrations, thanks for sharing, Bridget!

  5. Well done Bridget, these are looking really wonderful!

  6. Can't wait to check out your new book! Thanks for sharing the story behind how Tiz and Ott came about - always fascinating. Plus it's so pleasing to know there is hope for finding new paths to publishing after long gaps. Here's to lots more opportunities for you!

  7. Great stuff Bridget, thanks for giving us this insight.

  8. Love your work Bridget! I have a feeling that Tiz and Ott are going to be firm favourites in our house. x

  9. Thanks everyone for all your encouraging comments - especially appreciated during what feels like a long wait for Tiz and Ott's Big Draw to hit the shelves in May 2015!


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