Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happy Christmas


We've been getting a lot of snow lately, but at least it gives me the chance to be useful for a change. In the first blizzard, about a fortnight ago now, I even managed to dig our car out with nothing but a Wellington boot.

Despite the prospect of having to cross the English Channel on foot, I'm anticipating a high old time over the next fortnight, and I hope all readers of my erratic blog have a very happy Christmas too. I send you my very best wishes, and let's make sure we all have a fab start to 2011 as well.

See you in the new year!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

In Training...


A few people have asked me, now that I'm no longer working as an illustrator, if I've also stopped drawing for myself. I can see why they'd ask that, but I couldn't even contemplate hanging up my sketchbooks for good. That would be an intellectual amputation, and no, I don't believe I'm exaggerating.

I've sung the praises of slim Muji notebooks before, but they're so little trouble to carry that there's really no excuse not to, even if you're on a nudist beach (they're so small you could tuck one in your... well, in the band of your panama hat).

Coming home from London the other day I rediscovered another advantage of the pocket-sized sketchbook: it's incredibly easy to hide the fact that you're drawing at all. The people in the sketch above must think I'm highly proficient at crossword puzzles. When it comes to violating other people's privacy, a gentleman does so in secret.

I still think of myself as an illustrator, and finding some black and white line work is one of my aims for 2011, but for now I'm happy keeping the engines in tune with Muji. And now you know what to send me for Christmas, so we're all smiling.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

I'm Off Again...

...only this time it's to hide in the countryside with my laptop and my revision of The Ghost Effect. I'll be taking aspirin too. In the meantime, and because I know you'll miss me, here's an interview I have just done on the subject of Harry Potter and my cover art for the book. Yup, still talking about it...

See you soon.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

"Bah..."

"...not another illustrator who thinks he can write!

This mean-spirited sentiment has come my way a few times in recent months, but you know, I'm grateful for it. After all, nothing inspires ambition quite like being put in one's place.

Now hit me again, harder.

Friday, 26 November 2010

I Learnt Two Interesting Things…

…at the Sheffield Children’s Book Award. They are so interesting (especially if you write and illustrate picture books) that I’m going to share them here. No, wait, I actually learnt three things! But first…

The award ceremony was a huge event, much bigger than I’d expected, with a 1000 school children in the audience, plus plenty of adult hangers on. Sheffield should be very proud of itself for hosting such a wonderful annual blast – a celebration of libraries, reading and books, with the kids themselves voting for the shortlists and the winners.

I didn’t win in my category, though just being shortlisted felt pretty special, I can tell you. Morris the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andreae and Sarah McIntyre won both the picture book category and the overall prize, and this is a much deserved win because, as I said, the children chose it themselves. It was in talking about this with editors afterwards that I discovered the first of the Interesting Things:

--Picture book editors, some of them at least, are growing less reluctant to publish rhyming texts.

This is exciting -- for me, anyway -- not only because kids love rhyme, but because it comes naturally to me when I write for the very young (as with Jack’s Tractor). The difficulty of landing a co-edition, especially in a language other than English, has made rhyming texts very difficult to sell in recent years. But I was told, “if it’s good enough, it will be translated.”

The second Interesting Thing was this:

-- Gross sells (Morris is a very manky monster indeed), but not so much in the US. Actually, Morris does have a US co-edition, but as a general rule, books about poo, vomit and farting, while hugely popular with young readers everywhere, often don't get picked up by US buyers, and the possibility of not landing an American co-edition keeps the lid on the number of gross picture books that come out in the UK. In other words, there’s no point in running off after Morris’s slime trail just because he’s very popular, even though these days there are certainly more gross books about than before. Gross alone isn’t enough. But that’s the thing about Morris – he manages to be charming, even when he’s squeezing his spots! Definitely something to keep in mind.

The third thing I learnt was this: if you are nominated for an award, then if at all possible please go to the ceremony. I know a lot of authors complain about having to traipse about attending these events because I’ve heard them doing it, but when, at Sheffield, the kids were told that their favourite author couldn’t be there, the look of naked disappointment on their faces was a lesson in itself.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Being Let Out


I'm off for a week, mostly to be in Cambridge to catch up with old chums, though I'll also be heading up to Sheffield for their children's book award. This is because Jack's Tractor has been shortlisted in the picture book category. I honestly think I've been very restrained in not mentioning that every other post, so stop rolling your eyes, you at the back!

I have never been nominated for a proper children's book award before. And this after over ten years of writing and illustrating. Perhaps that isn't something to admit here in public, but I can't help feeling that this, coupled with the fact that Jack's Tractor is the first text I wrote that I didn't plan to illustrate myself, can only say positive things about my decision to concentrate on writing.

I don't think I'll win the award – my money's on Morris – but I hope it'll be fun just being there. In any event, I'm not going to take my grumpy side with me. I'll leave him here instead, to illustrate this post.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Willies and Bums

Warning! There are some potentially offensive words in this post.

I’m working on a new text for reluctant teen readers (14 and under), primarily boys, and the question of just how bad bad language can be in kid-lit has presented itself. It’s always an issue, but this particular text, which is slap-stick and energetic, just cries out for some fruity language, especially with very grown up bad guys. For example, I can’t have sleazy nightclub owners and their hard men say ‘Golly!’ or ‘Come back here, you ruffian! We have the measure of you!’

There’s a lot of scope for ingenuity in cooking up faux swearwords, and famously this is where literary pirates get their cheesy vocabulary, (arr!) but even the best faked-up obscenities tend to bring a text down in age range, a sure way to drive off teen readers. The problem is, real swearwords often drive off the people who control what those teenagers read.

I’m fortunate to have editorial guidance on this though, and after reflection, the spectrum of language and acceptability looks something like this:

‘Cunt’ and ‘fuck’ are right out on the edge, and I hesitate about using them even here. I wouldn’t even use ‘WTF?’ for this age range.

‘Arse’ and ‘shit’ are tamer, but still too fruity for most gatekeepers. They might work for older readers, but are best avoided if you want your book to be stocked in a school library.

‘Bloody’ and ‘crap’ inhabit perhaps the most interesting part of the spectrum, which seems to form the crossover point between rude and tame. Many people would still object to their use in a children’s book, but for an audience over 12, and if deployed with care, a great many wouldn’t.

‘Ninnyhammer’, ‘lumpus’ and ‘poo-brain’ are at the fun end of things. This is my natural home, though I have to turn my back on it while I write the teen story.

Do you have any thoughts on this? At what age should young readers be exposed to bad language in literature, language they are more than likely hearing around them anyway? Or should children’s books be a refuge from the crappier side of life? Where would you draw the line?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Exterminate!

As I revise my 11+ SF/supernatural thriller, I find I’m using the search and replace function to eradicate certain words, or at least limit them, as part of changing the tone of the story under editorial guidance. Since at some level this action is driven by the current market, I thought it would be interesting to display the corpses of those words here, as a warning to others. So here’s the gibbet:

Paranormal (dead)

Psychic (mostly dead)

Agency (very dead, along with all ‘agents’)

Department (dead, along with ‘government/al’)

Spy (mostly dead, though there are still two left in the field)

I’m actually queasy with embarrassment seeing these words listed here, because they suggest my book is about something it’s not. So it’s just as well they are gone. Words favoured and promoted as part of the same change are: spectral, ghostly, dreamwalker, dreamself, Metascape and Somnarium. I like these words.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Redit


I have a foot each side of a divide. It’s not an eye-wateringly wide distance to span – children’s publishing is still a small pond -- but it is brain bending, not least because the size of each lily pad is so very different. One is as broad and bendy as an 80k word novel (yes, careful counters amongst you will have noticed that it has grown), while the other is as tight as a 347-word picture book text (and one that I have been asked to reduce, at that). But the trick doesn’t really lie in balancing between two such mismatched things, the trick is allowing them both to bloom despite my size 12 clod-hoppers. If you hear a splash, you’ll know what’s happened.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

My Problem With Books..


...is mostly one of storage and eradication. We moved recently and don't have the space we once had, and I have too many books. Yes, I know, this is what charity shops are for, but wow, it's difficult choosing which to part with! It goes something like this:

My eyes slide along the spines and I'm confident there must be a good half dozen I can hoick off the shelf and into the charity box, and yes, look at that big tatty red one with the broken back that I know I have never read. So out it comes and I see that it's called A Tramp Abroad, and I'm just about to drop it in when I remember that Mark Twain wrote that, so I look at it again, because, you know, it's Mark Twain, and I'm thinking it's probably a 20s edition, only it s ays 1881 on the title page, and I'm impressed because that makes it 129 years old, so now I'm looking at it with completely new eyes because the centre of each spread is like a time capsule of smells and textures from the reign of Queen Victoria, and the font is archaic and the drawings are delightful, and who cares if it's falling apart? And then it occurs to me that it might be a British first edition, so I take it over to Google it and inevitably this means I start reading it too, but there's no time, so back on the shelf it goes, and it's not so much that the shelf is as full as it was before, it's like it's fuller than ever.

Phew!

Now look me in the eye and tell me you're different:)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Unseemly

I apologize for my lack of blogtion recently. I'm feeling a bit frazzled. I have also been very busy turning my novel into a building site and dealing with the creeping fear that maybe I won't be able to put it back together again. I will, won't I?

In the reject rubble pile, it's funny how the same misshapen brick keeps turning up. We all have our own writing foibles, but mine seem to be dominated by overuse of the word 'seem'. Sorry, I mean mine are dominated...

What do you think, is it just a harmless literary tic? Or is it a sign of a feeble intellect (along with making up words like 'blogtion'.)? Whatever it is, dealing with it seems... sorry, is certainly snapping my writing into better shape.

Monday, 27 September 2010

We All Have a Bottom (Even When It's an Ass)


It's Banned Books Week, and time to remind censors, gatekeepers, and self-appointed moralists that some people hold different views to theirs, and that the young deserve to grow up fully informed and not hoodwinked and mollycoddled. The most interesting article I've read so far has to be this by Anne Rooney, perhaps because it gives a non-American perspective on the far reaching implications of decisions taken in places like Texas and Beijing.

I have frequently had to make small changes to picture book texts and illustrations to boost a book's chances of securing a US co-edition, and some rather big ones too, but the real issue here is much more serious than avoiding hedgehogs and the word 'trousers'. Let's celebrate today by reading something that someone doesn't want us to read, and revel in the extra publicity a ban brings a book while we're about it. And let's all laugh at the idea that banning Harry Potter or photoshopping out genitalia ever made any sense whatsoever.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Drawing Out a Character


It's a long time since I last posted a sketchbook page. This is from a pocket book, showing a primary character (more ghosts, I'm afraid) from something speculative I'm working on for 10+. They're humorous short stories, so my more cartoony style is for once quite appropriate. Looks a bit peaky, doesn't he, my gentleman ghost? But then I doubt death does anyone any favours.

Click for closer look.

I've noticed on my travels around the internet that a lot of writers draw their characters, regardless of whether or not they have any expectation or intention of illustrating a text. I find this fascinating and always enjoy seeing such pictures. It doesn't matter if they're little more than biro sketches on the back of an envelope -- you never know what might emerge from the act of sketching that can be folded back in to enrich a character with some unexpected detail. Even if it is a hole in the head!

Do you do this? I'd love to know, and all links to posted sketches are welcome.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Open Day at Ivory Towers


People occasionally write to me. I call this my ‘fan mail’, but I’m not really as deluded as that sounds. Okay, some of it actually is quite complimentary, but often it’s requests for advice on being an illustrator (which I’m happy to give, for what it’s worth), letters helpfully pointing out mistakes I have made in one of my picture books (thank you!), and very rarely – but rather wonderfully – drawings from children who have liked a story. Inevitably a lot of it is Harry Potter related, though that’s dying off a bit now (and I’m always a bit wary of any HP requests, especially after someone asked for a signed book cover for a sick child only to put it straight onto e-bay!).

Anyway, why am I telling you this? Well, to make the point that unless you live in a cave and shoot would-be readers, writing really isn’t as solitary as it’s often made out to be. Readers and writers go together like crackers and cheese.

I won’t say which is which.

Everyone who keeps a blog knows all this already, but there’s nothing wrong with being reminded, as I was a few days ago when my agent forwarded an e-mail from a confused parent. Could I please explain how something in one of my early picture books was possible? What was “the author’s intention”? There were two small children waiting for an answer.

Wasn’t it clear from the story? Apparently not, and who’s fault is that?

I wrote back and apologised (and I hope my explanation satisfied those two boys) but as I spend my days wrangling with a half-fossilised ms, trying to make time travel sound plausible, it’s useful to be reminded that readers will be the ones to decide if I’ve succeeded or not, not me. And even the loftiest ivory tower has a letter box.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rejection, Indigestion, and Unfinished Business

I keep seeing this Bernard Black clip around and it always cracks me up. We've all been there, and as long as we keep on writing we'll all go there again. Thank goodness for Laughter! And wine.

Of course, following my recent good news (blah blah, etc.), I’m feeling slightly braver about the dreaded R word right now, though only slightly. I can’t stop thinking about the many editors who said NO. But before you roll your eyes at this (and in keeping with my new warts-n-all approach to blogging), please hear me out. The fact is, having had time to mull over the whole submission process for my novel, I now see that I did something very stupid. So, Writer, let what follows be a warning to you.

My agent sent my ms out to nineteen individual editors. Some simply weren’t interested, and some didn’t even respond, but a good dozen or so gave thoughtful and informative responses to read while I fumbled with the corkscrew. Looking through those again I have spotted a theme, and I now finally understand something that people have been saying to me for a long time. Namely that you really can’t afford to submit work that isn’t as strong as you can possibly make it. Or in other words, if you feel that something could be improved in your own ms, for heartburn’s sake do something about it before you screw up your chance with an editor!

Several editors came close to actually spelling that out to me in their rejections, with comments such as “positive, positive, positive …but I just don’t have the time to work with the author on… example, example, example”. It’s the reference to lack of time that says it all. Why submit something that an editor thinks they’ll have to spend loads of time on?

Of course, it’s one thing to do this if you don’t realise you are doing it, but the point is I knew there was room for improvement and went ahead anyway. Why? Well, because I suppose my head had never really left 2006, when showing strong potential was still sufficient to interest a publisher. This was back when publishing was still confident and bullish (and solvent!) and when mid-listers could still be regarded as bestsellers waiting to happen. You know, back before hundreds of editors were made redundant and when bookshops could still paper over the cracks and smile.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2010 is a rubbish time to approach publishers, but it can’t hurt for me to say this: it’s never been easier for an editor (or, by extension, an agent) to say no. Therefore, it’s never been more important to avoid giving them obvious excuses to say it! Even if this does mean many months of extra work.

And after all, 2011 might just be better. Let's drink to that.

Friday, 3 September 2010

To Be Read in Tooth and Claw




The deadline for my latest picture book give away has passed, and it's more than high time I picked a winner. There were a few late entries, but that's okay – they're all in the magic hat now. So if you'll just bear with me while I slip into my sequins...

rustle

Here we go...

Drum roll

The winner is...

Suspense!

… Loodles!

Congratulations, Loo. Just send an address to ***@***.fr with any names you would like me to dedicate this book to, and I'll get it in the post ASAP. And I hope you enjoy this fine -- and now very rare and collectible -- Book and CD bind-up.

Friday, 27 August 2010

In the Wake of a Book

In the rush and tumble to find something eye-catching to blog about, could it be that I have stumbled on a subject seldom covered? After all, I don't see many celebrations of a title's removal from a publisher's list. But that is precisely what is happening to one of my books.

To be accurate, the title itself isn't going out of print, it's a book & CD edition of it that's for the chop. The paperback of The Noisiest Night lives on, but it's nonetheless a sad development, not least because the audio version is rather fun. If anyone's curious, the form of words used to condemn a book is (something like):

'I am writing to let you know that sales of this book have slowed down to such an extent that we have reluctantly decided to remainder the stock we have left and declare the book out of print.'

Not really what you want to read over coffee and a marmalade breakfast, but (as I suggested a couple of posts back) that doesn't mean it isn't a significant development worthy of being recorded on a blog like this. Every book has a shelf life, and when a single title becomes several editions, a letter like this one won't be long in coming.

Ashes to ashes, pulp to pulp.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a celebration so let's get to it. I have a shiny rescued copy of this fine picture book (and CD!) about cheeky tigers and animal noises to give away. Simply comment on my blog before the beginning of September GMT and your name will be entered into a draw. In fact, make an animal noise while you're at it (ROOAR!), and I'll put your name in twice. The lucky winner (or the young person of their choice) will then receive this signed book (with sketch), complete with bedtime recording and sound effects. All you need is an address!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Here's the Deal...

Well, it's happened: the contract has arrived, the ink is more or less dry, and only the Royal Mail can stop me now. Accordingly I have performed the promised cartwheel, but just in case you blinked and missed it, a faithful reproduction in pen and ink has been attached to this post showing it exactly as it happened.

I am proud and delighted that The Chicken House have acquired world rights to my 11+ supernatural thriller, The Ghost Effect, for publication in June 2012. These days I'm mostly to be found on Cloud Nine.

The Chicken House is a great publisher, and one I have been eyeing up for a while now, mostly because of their vibrant 9-12 and YA list. They have a reputation for nurturing new writers and for being as focussed as a small press would be, whilst being part of the Scholastic Group means that they are able to back up this hands-on approach with real global clout. I honestly don't think my novel could have a better home, especially with an award winning editor (no pressure there then!).

Thanks again for your encouragement and kind comments on my blog as I have staggered toward this major branching point in my career. I promise not to bore you to tears with endless posts about revision angst and the fascinating depth of my navel, but I hope you'll forgive me if I, er, mention my book quite a lot nevertheless:-/

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Keeping it Rosy

Many publishing blogs spin endless tales of doom and gloom right now, as mid-lists shrink, retail space evaporates, and we all teeter on the brink of celebrity cookbook wipe out. But writers themselves tend to paint a rather more positive picture on their blogs, especially when they talk about their own careers. Not all writers of course, some are more honest about these bruising times than others, but there's no doubt that a great deal of 'talking it up' is going on. Not that this is at all surprising.

I get my fair share of knock backs, and I don't normally mention them here. For example, I tried very hard for a lovely ghost writing job a few months ago, and failed. And I've just received a letter notifying me that yet another edition (book+CD) of one of my picture books is going out of print, something that happens perhaps once a year. But why don't I blog about these things? Isn't a big part of blogging the 'sharing of relevant information', warts and all?

Naturally, no one wants to look like they're struggling, and this is probably even more true of writers who are already published because they have professional reputations to nurture upon which future publishing deals will be based. So we talk it up and keep it rosy, because it's in our interests to do so. But could it be that some agents and publishers have an interest in doing the exact opposite? Just a thought -- don't shoot me.

How about you? Do you blog it up (if you blog that is)? Or are you brave enough to show a little bruise blue with your rosy pink?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Hurrah for...

It's too long since I last sent out any hurrahs, and I know I've missed some people and books and publications. Sorry. Let me correct that today with two shout outs.

Hurrah for author and artist Marcus Sedgwick and the publication of his latest novel, White Crow. Marcus is an old friend and fellow sketcher, and these days a major figure in YA writing, inspirational to me not only for his taut prose and Gothic imagination, but also for the fact that, one way or another, he manages to illustrate a lot of his novels. My copy of White Crow has reached the top of my reading list, so hurrah for that too. See Marcus talking about his book here here.

Secondly, but no less importantly, acclaimed Writer and Illustrator James Mayhew is celebrating the considerable achievement of reaching book number ten (!) in his charming Katie series of picture books. James is another old friend, and while he isn't quite one of my ex-tutors (I'm not sure how I managed to miss his modules, but it wasn't deliberate I promise!), he was a great moral support when I was starting out. He also bakes legendary cakes.

On top of all this, James is a prolific blogger, with something interesting to say about everything from Dusty Old Books to Opera and Ballet. So Hurrah for James and for Katie!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

I Didn't Only Doodle

Technically, I've been a published author for 11 years (I'm young at heart though, I promise), and yet, as the editing and revision of my novel begins in earnest, I find myself almost back at square one.

Having a picture book text edited is not normally a complex or protracted process, though it can be dramatic, with editors saying things like 'love the basic concept, but now try it in the present tense, and set in space!'. And as it's only five hundred words, you give it a go, because we're talking hours and days here, that's all. Yes, getting a picture book text just right can be very difficult, but exploring options is pretty easy, and fun too.

Having had several days to absorb my first editorial meeting about a novel, I can see that I'm in completely new territory. There's A LOT to think about! Having a fourth dimension doesn't help either – why, oh why did I pick time travel?

Oh yes, because it's endlessly -- timelessly -- fascinating, that's why.

But anyway, it's nevertheless an invigorating experience being edited on this scale, and liberating to be given time and permission to slash and burn, as well as reappraise all those discarded ideas. What it all comes down to is writing out the weaknesses of the text to allow the strengths to really fly, though that makes it sound easy. It isn't, which is why having someone experienced point out which is which is beyond price.

I've been told that I might just have an original idea, though I hardly dare type that! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's a cluster of ideas that have not been combined quite this way before. I think. I'll probably find out to the contrary when the plagiarism charges arrive. But whatever it is, I've also been told that it's being held back by some rather pedestrian (though core, unfortunately) plot elements that have been done, frankly, far too often. It's no simple thing to nurture and destroy at the same time, but that it seems is what editing is all about.

If only my contract would arrive, then I could talk about it here properly.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Looking the Art

I never look more like a geography teacher than when I'm on the beach. Unless I'm looking like a minor civil servant on annual leave that is, and really it could go either way. Of course, being English, the sunburnt knees and insect bites come naturally, but at least I could do something about that hat.

Back when I lived in Silicon Fen, people with bored handshakes would say 'you're in IT I suppose', and I always enjoyed putting them straight, if only to watch their confusion. 'Is that even a job?' they wanted to say. Perhaps it was unfair of me not to have purple hair and a brain stud.

To what extent should (should?) people in the arts peacock themselves with flamboyant dress? Is a poet in a cardy and slippers not to be taken seriously? And what about a crumpled linen suit, straw fedora and loud summer scarf? Which is worse, being a disappointment or being a cliché?

Now that we writers are all performing monkeys and indefatigable self-promoters (you reclusive types can just stay at home), surely it pays to adopt a trademark style. Some have big hats, others enormous beards, and some look like they've escaped from rock bands. What do you think, could red knees do it for me? And how about you – do you expect creative people to give themselves away in their manner of dress? And what do you do to set yourself apart?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Carte Postale

I was warned to be careful about living by the sea. I was told it would be addictive and that after one taste of shoreside life, I would never want to live inland again. Well, people tell me all sorts of things, but this is one bit of advice that has already proved itself true. I now live a short stroll from a fabulous little beach, overlooking the English Channel, and it already feels like home.

And there have been signs too. I won't list them for fear of jinxing myself, but a dozen little things have happened to make our move just that bit easier than it might have been, just a shade more agreeable.

One of the reasons for my family's relocation was my need to be closer to my own career -- a sorry thing, that was growing sorrier by the year with my absence. So I can't help feeling reassured by the fact that within hours of arriving, I discovered that Jack's Tractor has been shortlisted for the Sheffield Children's Book Award. A few days after that, the contract for a picture book text called Too Many Tickles finally reached me, bringing to an end a year long submission process, my longest ever. Plus, I have an appointment for a first editorial meeting about my novel, as well as a few publishy things to go to.

That was quick!

I hope my wife is happy. She looks it, and I know she's always dreamed of living by the sea, but I also know it's not easy to leave your own country behind. I don't worry about my children though – there's a beach! And kites, and ice cream and fossils to find and crabs to catch and two full-time parents to wind up. I reckon they're pretty lucky.

Actually, I think I am too.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

This is Rouen, signing off...


Well, there's no getting round it. It's time to put away my beret and baguette, and dust down the old bowler hat and brolly – I'm moving back to England. Actually, I hope to be dumping clichés like that over the side of the boat, but something tells me I won't escape them, wherever I go.

This will be my last post for a while. As is always the case, despite all efforts to avoid it, I'm sure to be cut off from the internet for weeks. But I have decided to try and embrace this spell of analogue life and do things like write postcards and throw pebbles in the sea. Who needs the internet anyway? I've managed to blog once a week during this complicated move, so I hope to do more once the dust has settled. In the meantime, it's the Eighteenth Century for me.

It's very strange to leave a whole life behind, a whole way of life, not to mention another language (bien que je n'aie jamais blogué en français). So many lovely people, so much that's familiar, exchanged for a new town in a country that has changed a lot in the seven years I've been away. But I won't bore you with my strange emotional state. And I have things to look forward to as well, such as the arrival of a certain contract (fingers crossed! fingers crossed!), not to mention the ability to actually say yes to publishing parties. Also, the pub.

So this is me, signing off for a bit. But it's not adieu (unless those clichés capsize the ferry) merely au revoir. Have a great summer and see you soon.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan

Wasted is a story about chance, about Jack who seeks to control it by directing his life through the toss of a coin, and about Jess who has to deal with the consequences. Oh, and it has to be one of the most nerve-jangling books I've read for a long time, though in a good way. I mean, I'm used to getting attached to characters and worrying about them, but Wasted dials that edge-of-the-seat anxiety up a notch. Why? Because not only are we shown how chance determines what is, we also get to see what could have been. And the reader has a hand in shaping both.

The driving force within Wasted is the way small seemingly unrelated moments can combine to determine the course of events, even spelling the difference between life and death. But those moments could easily have been different. What if we had arrived somewhere slightly earlier, or missed a particular phone call? What if someone glanced up and noticed something they might easily have missed? Life is shot through with What Ifs like these, but in Wasted we are given a god's eye view of this process. At two points during the book the reader is even shown the dramatic role of chance through alternative chapters, and then, at the end, it's our turn to toss a coin to decide the fates of Jack and Jess.

I must admit that I wasn't very keen to read this book. I'd got hold of the wrong idea about it and its coin-flipping peculiarity. I imagined it would be like those choose-your-own-adventure books I read as a boy. But I'm a grateful follower of the author's blog and knew this was an important title for her, so I added it to the pile. The fact that it has turned out to be one of the highlights of my reading year shouldn't really surprise me though, because I knew from Fleshmarket that Nicola Morgan writes beautifully and vividly. But to think I almost didn't read Wasted! There's a What If right there.

The voice of the narrator (and therefore the author) is very present in Wasted, and this might grate with some. But don't let it. The presence of the author at our shoulder is key to how the book works. This is a puppet show where not only can we see the puppets and their story, but also the puppeteer, and even the way the strings interact. The result is a completely engrossing reading experience -- literature in the round. Actually, it's like being invited backstage to watch the play, and is all the more fascinating for that.

It says something about how much I got caught up in the story that I took that final act of coin tossing very seriously. I was determined not to sneak a view of the alternative ending, and I still haven't. I flipped the coin and got heads, and with it the end of the story that chance dictated. Then I turned the book round and round in my hands, looking at it, as I always do when I finish something and know I'll never be quite the same again. It is, quite simply, a brilliant book.

Wasted by Nicola Morgan was published by Walker Books in 2010. Nicola's superb writing blog (soon to be a book too) is essential reading for anyone who needs help finding a publisher.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Nose of Not Letting Go

The deadline for my Jack's Tractor HB give away has been and gone, and Higgins the dog has rootled for a winner in the Pink Hat of Fortune (not mine). My foreign correspondent and animal handler has just sent pictures and yes, I can confirm that -- despite Higgins' surprising lack of professionalism -- one name did stick to his snout more convincingly than the others. And so the winner is...


...fellow writer, Natalie Bahm.


Congratulations Natalie! And don't worry – Higgins hasn't slobbered on the book itself. Please send an address and anything you would like me to write in the book to *** at free.fr and I'll put your prize in the post this week sometime.

Who was it who said one should never work with children and animals? Oh well, at least no dogs were hurt in the winning of this book, though I doubt anyone will be wearing that hat again.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Win a Book!


As there are only a few weeks to go before my family and I (minus one refugee cat) head north across the English Channel (for good), I am increasingly living in a cardboard Manhattan of packed boxes, and it won't be long before our internet connection is switched off. Since I can't be on-line at the beginning of July to note the release of the paperback version of Jack's Tractor, let's celebrate early with an amazing, stupendous hardback give away!

Simply comment on this post before noon of Tuesday 15th June (GMT), and you could win this beautiful glossy book about noises and boyses and rhyming animal fun. Your names will be put in a hat and my mother's dog, Higgins, will carefully select one using the latest psychological profiling techniques. If your name is still legible, I will sign and dedicate the book either to you or the young person of your choice and send it off to any valid address you care to give.

So what are you waiting for? Comment without delay! And thank you for leaving me with one less thing to pack.

Friday, 4 June 2010

No cartwheels without a contract, but...

…I think I can risk a small blog post to announce that I've just accepted an offer to publish my novel, The Ghost Effect.

As I'm very cautious by nature, I don't want to even name the publishing house yet, just in case something happens before the paperwork comes through, but I think you can tell by the way I'm grinning that it's a good one. I went to London about ten days ago to meet the publisher and my future editor and had a really rather galvanising and inspirational time. Beside their enthusiasm for the characters and the story, they did say that they think the second part of the novel could do with some work, and I hope I made it clear that I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to make this the strongest début novel I can manage. There was even speculative but exciting chat about the future, but stop, Taylor, stop...

No cartwheels without a contract.

But it's very exciting! All the more so because there were two top-notch publishers interested at the end, and I was able to pursue my chance with the one whose list seemed the more natural home for my book. I'm pleased to say that Boris is utterly speechless about all this, and even Natasha left a congratulatory post-it on her way through to see someone more interesting.

The publication window mentioned is Spring 2012 (gasp), though that's still a quite normal period of delay. The book will be published in all the obvious English-speaking countries... but I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Anyway, to all those who have kept their fingers crossed for me, please feel free to flex again, and thank you for your moral support and kind comments here. My own fingers will remain firmly in the crossed position however, right up until I need them to sign my name on the contract.

Then I'll post a picture of me doing a cartwheel:)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Back to the Source

I have just finished reading The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman, first published way back in 1994, and it feels like I've blundered into a clearing and rediscovered why I'm in the forest in the first place. Pullman's writing did more than anyone else's to inspire me to write fiction for children – yes, because of Northern Lights, but also because of his illustrated books for younger readers, Clockwork and The Firework-Maker's Daughter. I remember, in my mid twenties, being made to feel the magic of childhood again and wanting very much to pass on the favour.

The Tin Princess is probably a very silly book. It's the tale of a cockney street kid who becomes the queen of a tiny central European state, and finds herself caught in a storm of courtly intrigue and danger as a result. It's so cliché-ridden it stinks (they even put the word 'swashbuckling' on the cover), but how wonderful that it doesn't matter!

As I sit and worry that my own writing is frivolous, that somehow I should be 'addressing issues' or 'telling it like it is' in gritty council estate drama, thank you Philip Pullman for reminding me that I don't need to. As he says on his website:

'… I'm not in the message business; I'm in the “Once upon a time” business.

And I'm proud to say that so am I.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Gold, Frankincense and... Mer?

I take great delight in finding pagan or magical imagery in churches. On a cliff near where I live is a church that contains no less than two mermaids. Naturally it overlooks the sea.

These sirens are on a carved stone column, dismissively described as un curieux pilier in the church itself, and have an escort of bizarre and brazenly secular heads: sun burst faces, feather-hatted noblemen and a vomiting sailor.

But the mermaids of Varengeville-sur-Mer aren't merely a legend, they were actually seen in the sixteenth century, playing in the waves. Whether or not those gawping sailors were sick drunk on rum or had merely stayed too long in the sun doesn't matter. They must have seen the mermaids, or they wouldn't have been carved in the church now would they?



In the graveyard, in the company of minor poets and composers that only the French know, the cubist George Braque is buried beneath a mosaic headstone. Back inside, his stained glass makes the light of the sun a deep-sea blue where the mermaids are.



The church at Varengeville was founded by St Valery, who carried the first stones up to this cliff top despite the advice of the locals. Fifteen centuries later the magical place he began is making its way back down, as the cliff subsides and the stone mermaids wait for the salty taste of the sea.


I collect places like this. But I see no reason why I can't share them.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Reading: Focused or Flighty?


As the submission process for my novel grows more protracted and, er... eventful (though still very uncertain), I'm finding it hard to concentrate on my writing. I have two new ideas that I believe are very strong, and I've started working on them both, but they are very different to each other and I'm torn. Fortunately the other primordial preoccupation of all writers (other than sketching cast-iron dragons, that is) is still open to me.

For the first time in my life I'm reading exclusively from a single genre: Kid-lit. More specifically, MG/11+/YA fiction, mostly published in the last few years. And it's quite a ride! There have been real highs, such as Pat Walsh's bewitching Crowfield Curse, and the brilliantly moving Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (all hail!), though there were lows too. One book even got chucked across the room (and not in a good way) though naturally I won't mention its title here. There's been page-flipping adventure in The Joshua Files (M.G.Harris), wonderful writing in Fleshmarket (Nicola Morgan), and gripping contemporary drama in When I was Joe (Keren David). And I haven't finished yet – next up is Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. All in all, I think I'm managing a book a week so far this year, which is pretty fast going for me.

But I wonder if all this focus comes at a price. I know that some writers never read their own genre (or say they don't), preferring to 'bring material in from the outside'. Now that I'm not reading history or popular science or picking up books at random (from Chatwin to Chick-lit), am I confining myself to a literary ghetto?

How do you read? Do you flit from genre to genre as the fancy takes you, or are you as joyfully blinkered as I've been lately?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Proofs, and a Cover Up

I recently received the proofs of my next picture book, to be published in August. In the world of fiction, a proof copy is a bound preliminary version of the real thing, but that's not the way with picture books. The illustrations being so important, picture book proofs usually come as flat, unbound and un-cropped sheets. But the purpose is the same – it's a chance for the author/s to have some final input before the book goes off to be printed.

After years of being Illustrator to other peoples Author, it's still strange to see those roles reversed. So it was probably inevitable that when the proofs came for Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake, I looked at the illustrations a lot more closely than another author might. And I wasn't exactly shy about letting Boxer Books know that I was worried about the cover.



Don't get me wrong, Jill Barton's fine illustrations have a real charm of their own, and are especially suitable for Little Mouse's ideal readership: the very young. But that cover, being so pale, just left me worried that my book would be all too easily missed on today's digi-coloured bookshelf. Just compare it with Jack's Tractor, and you'll see what I mean. Anyway, the reality of the situation is that at proof stage, there's not much that can be done about the colour work as scanned. However, that's not to say the design can't be altered. It turned out that others at Boxer had similar concerns, and here's what they came up with:



The addition of blue, and the enlargement of the text is a huge improvement. The design is much stronger now, and I'm happy that this is how the book will appear when it's released. What do you think?

Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake will be published (on both sides of the Atlantic) on the 3rd of August (when I'll be living in a carboard box, somewhere in the English Channel) by the very lovely Boxer Books. If you like furry animals, fun and cake, then what are you waiting for? Pre-order your copies now! You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Everyone's a Critic


I've just had a very unprofessional micro-argument with my wife over my last post. She wanted to know where on earth those horrible drawings came from, and made it clear that she could hardly even believe I had drawn them. Of course, I can't see the problem and thought they were rather good little samples of illustrative line-work.

According to the most fundamental advice doled out to budding writers, partners are not best placed to comment on your artistic doings. They are supposedly as incapable of objective observation as mothers, being entirely preoccupied with the need to live a harmonious home life, protect your feelings, earn breakfast-in-bed privileges, etc.

So how come mine missed the memo?

But, you know, I'm glad she did, because there is one very good reason why those closest to us are actually important as beta readers/test audiences/drawing slagger-offers: they have to live with the fallout if we get it wrong. This could be financial or professional, but perhaps most serious are the psychological consequences of seeing a loved one lose perspective, head off down a dead end and then come off the rails in a sticky heap of depression and self-depreciation (cof). It's surely worth a little short-term ornament throwing (sorry) if it forces another look at even those things we think we're getting right.

My wife doesn't know much about children's publishing. I'm trying to develop an illustration style that appeals to twelve-year-olds, and frankly she doesn't have a clue how to do that. However, she's quite right to make me look again, because perhaps I don't either.

Thank you, you:)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Home Again


I'm back from my farewell tour of the south of France, and very lovely it was too. In a few months time I will once again, after seven years away, be living in the UK -- and dealing with the very mixed feelings that this change will involve – so this spring trip was especially welcome. I read Theresa Breslin's excellent Nostradamus Prophecy to help get a historical sense of place, as well as keep up my 'kid-lit' reading.


Naturally I also took a pocket sketchbook with me. This time a particularly fine leather bound affair with gold-lined pages, no less! Okay, it was a present. Normally I wouldn't be seen dead with such a Sunday painter's posing pad, but it's just too nice not to use. I deliberately roughed up the first pages a bit and once I'd found my way into it, it's a great little book, with square pages that fold into a very useful double page landscape spread. Thank you Julie and Philip (and congratulations again!).



I'm still not sketching as much as I'd like, despite anything I might have said about these things before. I'm longing to go off on a dedicated drawing trip (Julian, are you there?), but it'll have to wait.


I managed to receive a thoughtful rejection of my novel whilst away. But, despite being positive in tone...

'The Ghost Effect is an intriguing novel, and a fascinating premise, but after much thought, I have decided not to make an offer for it. ...There is a part of me itching to work with the author to make this into a super first novel, but the realistic part of me has to admit that, at the moment, I just don't have the time.'

… a no is still a no. Ah well. Every olive has a stone in it, but is no less delicious for that.



Anyway, I'm back in the driving seat again, with lots on, not to mention a house full of stuff to pack. Oh, and lots and lots of blog-reading to catch up on.

As ever, click for a closer look at the sketches

Friday, 2 April 2010

Slush, My Darling

I'm off to the south of France for Easter (I know – please don't hate me), but I'm leaving Smiley to guard my blog while I'm away. Make no sudden movements. I'm also going to leave you an interesting site that is rumoured by some to give a close approximation of what it's like to wade through the fabled, dreaded, soul-devouring slush pile.

For those who don't know, the slush pile is the heap of unpublished material that sloshes around publisher's back rooms and threatens to swamp them completely. It is so named (so the story goes) because the piles of paper that were once pushed through editor's doors while they were away, closely resembled heaps of banked up snow once the door had been opened and closed again. These piles of slush, whether virtual or physical, are still where your manuscript goes if you send it in unsolicited. This is also where the most junior staff members are exiled, just in case the next Dan Brown is in there. Somewhere. The internet is full of horror stories about slush, from supplicant writers who never hear back to editorial staff pulling their hair out and shredding armfuls of material unread.

These days, with the numbers of people writing a novel going ever upwards, the slush pile has become so scary to many publishers that they have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts, adopting an 'agented only' policy instead (according to Random House, the last time they found something publishable in the slush pile was 1991!). This means that literary agents are now the gate-keepers to publishing, and it's their offices that are being swamped, since the acquisition of an agent is the first sensible goal of most writers today (agented stuff still goes into a slush pile though, just a much smaller one).

But what must it be like to sort through a slush pile? Well, try this site to find out. In a nutshell, writers are invited (for a small initial fee) to submit the first page of their novel for rating by members. And by members, I mean just about anyone since joining at a basic level is very simple. If enough people rate your writing highly, it's 'elevated' to level two: the chance to submit a whole chapter. Get through that, and you can submit 50 pages in level three. Score highly there too and your manuscript will be reviewed by a real live literary agent, a prize that will ensure a healthy submission rate, I'm sure.

What do you think of this? I must admit to being put off by the fee, though at least it ensures that only people with a certain level of commitment to their writing will submit. Or is this just too much of an obvious money spinner for your taste? I don't plan to submit anything myself, but I have found the rating process (completely free) strangely addictive, and interestingly my ratings have largely followed those of others (revealed afterwards), which suggests a useful level of objectivity. And it's fascinating to see what others are writing, and yes, some of it is pretty good. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who uses this site. I can't help feeling that approval from an anonymous cross-section of readers would be a huge spur for anyone caught in the grip of writerly self-doubt.

Happy Easter!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Reading: Speedy or Creepy?

I'm a creepy reader. By which I mean that I'm slow. In fact, I was so slow even to learn to read in the first place, that I needed special help at school to keep up with my comrades. My eye crawls across the page at a very sedate pace, caterpillaring from one word to the next while my mind booms them out loud between my ears, and I often wonder if I should be worried about this. Not that there's much I could do about it.

I have tried to develop the knack of speed-reading, but I can't. If I try to switch off the voice of my inner-reader and take in the meaning of the words direct -- or parcels of words as I'm told speed-readers do -- I lose the sense of the writing very quickly. My mind wanders and I usually end up at the bottom of one of those white channels that open up in text bodies like well shafts in cross-section. Some of you might not even know what I'm talking about when I refer to these. I mean the snaking white spaces that form at random across the page, joining the spaces between words in one line with those of the next and the next, and so on. They are the first thing I see when I open a book, and I take this as a sign of being visually-minded.

Speed-reading, I'm told, involves taking in a sentence at a time, registering its complete meaning, and then moving on to absorb the next. So not a caterpillar nibbling each leaf, but a goat demolishing the whole bush, one twig at a time. It's very impressive -- I know people who read incredibly quickly and I've always envied them. My own mother, apart from being amazing in a general sense and nothing like a goat specifically, is a natural speed-reader and can read a novel a day. Typically, it would take me a week to get through the same book. My mother could read a stack of stuff in that time, but I often wonder who gets the best experience of the writing.

I'm very preoccupied with the sound of words when I read and write, and some part of my brain can't help but 'count' the stressed and unstressed notes that characterise English. This is the music of our language. Can speed-readers appreciate this as they stride through the text? I really don't see how they can, but perhaps it doesn't matter, especially since the meaning of the words has nothing to do with the sounds and shapes they make. Or has it? Perhaps Dylan Thomas meant more than we might suppose when he chose the words of his musical lines. Could poetry be speed-reader proof? I'm asking these questions because I don't know.

I'm not trying to criticise speedy readers (put the phone down, Mum), I am, I suppose, just trying to reassure myself that it's okay to read as I do. And perhaps, for a writer, it's preferable. Can a novelist be complete without being a stylist to some extent? Or would writers be better off concentrating on meaning alone, leaving off the curly bits? I would love to hear your views on this, especially if you are a speed-reader who doesn't slow up for poetry. Can you read a novel a day? And are there any other creeps out there?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sketchbook Sabretooths...

...because, hey, why not? Click for toothy close-ups.


And if, like me, you write for the young and sometimes need a galvanising kick up the backside, this post on Candy Gourlay's blog (about Richard Peck's Bologna speech) should set you up for the day. And hopefully beyond.

I shall be feeding all my adverbs to Smiley from now on.

Monday, 22 March 2010

My novel – des nouvelles

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have a YA novel out on submission at the moment. This process started about 6 weeks ago, with a request for a response from publishers within a month. That deadline (which was never more than a guide time) has obviously passed, and as I write this the only response so far has been a handful of rejections. Most potential publishers have yet to respond (though there have been some hints of interest and requests for more time), and with the Bologna Book Fair about to kick-off, I can expect the waiting game to continue for a while yet.

Rejections -- though inevitable -- are always disappointing, but at least mine so far have been of the brief 'thanks, but not for us right now' kind. However, each one has also offered a critical observation, as well as a positive. Multiple rejections, even ones as brief as these, can be very useful for objectively highlighting a problem in the text, and I'm reassured that so far I haven't had a string of people making the same criticism.

So much that I've read lately suggests that 2009/10 is a bad time to submit a début novel, but I try not to think about this too much. After all, the idea of sitting on my hands and waiting for better times is intolerable, as well as ridiculous. So those hands are out and busy (when my fingers aren't crossed that is) and I'm still hopeful that The Ghost Effect will find the right home. I'll post more about all this when the time comes.

Monday, 15 March 2010

On s'amuse au musée


My son wanted to see some real swords and shields, so we went to the Musée des Antiquités in Rouen to look at the things the Gauls, Romans and Vikings left behind. We took sketchbooks, making this the first drawing trip we've ever been on together. He asked me afterwards if I was going to put our pictures on the internet. How could I say no?



You've got to love the ancients for their interest in animals, and the curious things they did with clay and bronze as a result. When you're only five and also interested in beasts, finding whole troupes of gibbons, lions and mythological creatures at eye-level is enough to put even swords and shields out of mind. Despite only being allowed a few lumpen wax crayons (not every exhibit is behind glass), Max heaved a security guard's chair over and started to draw.

Sketching an object is a bit like crawling all over it with your mind. There's no better way to really understand how it is, and what it's like. With observation alone, the eye tends to slip from one feature to another, registering everything but rarely fixing much in the memory. Drawing forces you to look again, to see all those features as part of something complete. This always provokes a proprietorial feeling in me -- a sense that in some way I own that object once I've drawn it. And with something hand-made, it's also a moment of contact between my mind and the mind of the person who made it, irrespective of language, culture or the passage of time.


Max was delighted by a little Roman monkey jug made of clay, and wanted me to draw it with him. It was only through the sketching process that I noticed it had a surprisingly human anatomical feature that made the responsible Dad in me wonder if I should steer Max to something else. I'm glad I resisted such a prudish impulse. Max, free of prejudice, drew everything he saw in grown-up silence.

On the way to the museum, we met a friend who was impressed that I was going to teach my son to draw. I made one of my 'just-so/perhaps not' grunts (I'm good at those, especially in French) and changed the subject. There's no question of teaching anything – all Max needs is to feel that it's okay to look closely and okay to draw in public.

Max's patience lasted for an hour and a half, and he's already forgotten most of the things he saw in the museum, but I'm sure we'll both remember his brazen little monkey for many years to come.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Tyger, tyger...


I was delighted to see my picture book The Loudest Roar mentioned in a moving article in the Times this weekend. Simon Barnes' son has done me the great honour of liking (and growling along with) my tiger, Clovis. And I don't even mind playing second fiddle to Judith Kerr after such a compliment. Good luck to you, Eddie, and...

ROOAARRR!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Hurrah for...

Looking back over my blog, I'm dismayed to see that it's all me, me, me! I should do more to acknowledge the achievements of my many creative friends and acquaintances, and what better way to do this than by sending out fine and throaty Edwardian-style 'Hurrahs'?

Let's start with two.

Hurrah for Illustrator Cassia Thomas, whose first picture book was published last week. Cassia is a fellow graduate of Cambridge Art School (under its various changing designations). Lively Elisabeth shows her great talent to the full and makes it clear we'll be seeing lots more from her in the future. And indeed, her second book, George and Ghost, will be out in September. Congratulations, Cass!

And secondly (though far from leastly) illustrator, writer, and graphic novel artist Dave Shelton's new book, Good Dog, Bad Dog, was published yesterday (World Book Day!). Dave is an old life-drawing-and-down-the-pub-afterwards chum and a prolific sketchbook filler. Follow his blog for a regular procession of characters and quirky animals, and for dazzling displays of penmanship.

Good Dog, Bad Dog is the first in a stable of titles rising from the ashes of the DFC, a brave but ill-starred attempt to launch a weekly children's comic in the UK. I came close to contributing to it myself, and it's especially nice to see the venture resulting in something good and lasting. Congratulations, and hurrah for Dave!

I would like to make this a regular feature on my blog, so come on everyone – get busy!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Klop

I'm still hoping to do a graphic novel one day. How can I not after seven years surrounded by les bandes dessinées?


In contrast to the last image, I gave the pen free rein in this sample and kept Photoshop in its place. It's dark, but I like it that way. Looking at this again, I think I might have stolen something from Cézanne, but there are worse people to steal from.

Click for a closer view, but don't cheat at cards.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Little Background


The acid test for any illustrator and his style is the depiction of figures in interaction and figures in context. I've been posting samples of my recent experiments with Photoshop, but so far I have managed to avoid placing any of my figures in an environment. Here's a first attempt with a background (though I doubt if 'holding a cat' counts as interaction).

Knowing where to leave off drawing and start using Photoshop to shade and texture is still a challenge. I could have gone much further with the pen, but I held off cross-hatching too much and honestly can't decide whether or not this is a good thing. The result is an image that seems much lighter, with a lot less black than there might have been, but I miss the detail somehow. There's even a little 'painting' going on, although I can't go much further with a mouse. Not without my fingers seizing up, anyway.

Click for a closer look. All observations and advice welcome.

Monday, 22 February 2010

I Won Something!


Anita Saxena, figure skating YA writer and fun-loving blogger, recently held a competition to design a new header for her blog and I'm delighted to say that I won! Visit Anita's blog to see her shiny new banner (and read her interesting and humorous posts, of course).

Anita has kindly mentioned my plan to provide an on-line illustration service for those who want to add graphic, illustrated or drawn elements to their blogs and web-sites. In actual fact, I'm still at the 'wondering about logistics' stage with this plan, although her banner competition has spurred me on. So, while this is still mostly something for the future, if anyone reading this has pressing illustration needs I'm sure we could organise something. And now I even have a satisfied customer to show off.

Thanks again, Anita!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Nail-bites

Well, it's gone. My novel, for better or worse, is now sitting in the in-trays of the depressingly small number of people who publish children's YA fiction. According to my agent, they've been asked to respond within a month. Of course, it doesn't take that long to type NO, but now now, Taylor – let's be positive. John le Carré says that 'spying is mostly waiting'. Writing is too. Fortunately, I've got my toenails to move onto while I wait for my fingernails to grow back.

Anyone reading this blog who feels in any way warmly disposed to me and my writing career, might like to start crossing their fingers from now. Please. No pressure, just... please.

I had a very uncool, fist-shaking 'xxxxing hell!' moment recently when I discovered that Puffin were about to launch TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow, the first in a series of books about time travelling secret agents who defend the past against those who wish to distort it. But after raging at my computer for a bit, I calmed down and realised that this is probably a positive thing. After all, it surely means that time travel is getting some serious attention in the publishing world, which can't hurt. The word Zeitgeist might amuse anyone here who has read my novel and knows German. In any case, as far as I can gather the similarities are fairly superficial, though I must read TimeRiders pronto.

Later on I realised that this coincidence probably means an automatic rejection from Puffin, which is a less happy thought. Oh, well. To head off a return of the grumps, I've just been on You Tube to look for something to cheer myself up. You might like what I found. Yes, I know that laughing at people who can't ski falling down in the snow is very, very sad, but still...