Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Friday, 13 July 2012
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
No, this isn’t a stupendously disastrous piece of parking, it’s the summer art installation at the De La Warr Pavillion: a witty and refreshingly populist statement about life on the edge (and other things) by Richard Wilson, inspired by the film, The Italian Job. Hear the artist talk about it here (after an uninteresting advert for something or other). And yes, the bus really does teeter.
1) You can look at it carefully from all angles, then read the notice and try to respond in the way the artist and/or gallery suggests.
2) You can stand back and enjoy the fun and spectacle of it all, and take from the experience what you will. Eavesdropping in on the reaction of others is sometimes the best part.
3) You can get sour-faced and grumpy, and give a little speech about how it’s ‘arty-farty’ and ‘a waste of money’. Don’t forget to start off with ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’, and finish with a borrowed allusion to the Emperor’s New Clothes. For the sake of completeness, you might like to write it up afterwards and send it to your local paper. They’ll love it!
But of course there are others. My son, Max – after staring up at the bus teetering above him – said, ‘Dad, can I throw stones at it?’
I said no, but that would have been fun too, and it's on a shingle beach afterall.
The Bus is there all summer. If you’re in the Bexhill area, it’s worth a detour. But please don't throw stones at it.
Friday, 6 July 2012
An interesting and challenging standing pose. Getting the centre of balance right is the key to capturing a pose like this. Typically, the foot that bears the most weight should be the one that is most directly beneath the base of the neck. It’s never that straightforward though.
20 mins. Graphite stick on cartridge paper. Some rubbings out.
Thursday, 5 July 2012
People sometimes laugh at the poor quality of my equipment. ‘Are you really drawing in that?’ comes the incredulous voice, as I scribble or sketch on the cheapest of cheap squared exercise books. But most artists know -- and I guess this goes for writers too – that nothing abets the ‘tyranny of the empty page’ quite as much as crisp leather bindings or fancy endpapers. Which is why many artists jot notes and scribble doodles all over the first few pages of their sketchbooks, to try and break the sense of preciousness that comes when you peel the price tag off. I sometimes let my children draw in mine, just so I can start off with a little honest mess.
The exact opposite of the scruffy jotter, though, isn’t a pristine Moleskine, it isn’t a book at all. It’s Microsoft Word. Writing almost feels like surgery there. Sadly, I still can’t do without all the crutches and aids the programme provides, I’m not nearly confident enough for that. But it’s not just the eye-strain and back ache that make me resent being dependant on the computer.
In my book, Haunters, the troubled character of Eddie is in part my own little tribute to the loveliness and power of the unassuming school exercise book. With a pencil and a rolled up book in his pocket, Eddie feels he can tackle anything, if only he can get the chance to work it out on paper first. There’s going to be a lot more of that sort of thing in my new book. Not that I can talk about that yet, of course.
In the meantime, I’m just going to have to shrug off the comments about my ‘trashy little notebooks’ with a smile. And when, as sometimes happens, people give me beautifully bound books with my initials in gold on the cover – perhaps out of pity -- I’ll never be anything other than grateful. But that’s not what I aspire to. In writing, surely nothing is nobler than a scuffed-up and dog-eared exercise book, with just a few pages left to go.
Friday, 29 June 2012
Well, that’s not a good start. After declaring last week ‘I go life drawing on a Thursday’, I couldn’t go at all last night. But hey ho, here’s a sketch anyway, from a few weeks ago.
Yes, sometimes the models are male. I liked the tragic look of this pose very much, though having drawn one hand well, I seem to have lost my grip on the second. The image of the drawing before -- a reclining lady in a dress -- is ghosting through. 15 mins. Graphite and paper.
And this is probably a good moment to mention that my new novel is a mystery based on artists and drawing. More about that coming soon.
Friday, 22 June 2012
I’m inaugurating a new regular feature today. Obviously in time it’s going to go meme-tastic and roar round the internet like a virus in a bucket full of chickens, but until then, it’ll just bring a little variety to the old blog. I go life drawing on a Thursday evening. On Friday mornings I'll post a sketch, whether it’s any good or not. This should keep me on my toes.
I really liked this pose. Lots of angles and interest, and no way to avoid fore-shortening. 15 mins. Lump of sharpened graphite on a stick, and my trusty ‘Bushey’ sketchbook.
Keep an eye out for colour (!) in the weeks to come.
Saturday, 16 June 2012
Well, I’m pleased to say there were 17 correct answers in the amazing Dan and the Dead ‘spot the difference’ competition. However, 18 slips of paper actually went into the hat because someone let me know it’s their birthday today (many happy returns!) so obviously that name had to go in twice.
But the pitiless gaze of Dame Fortune -- as mediated through the Hat of Fate and the Sea-and-Sand Fingers of my special helper, Benjy – takes little account of such things, it seems. For the name drawn out was…
Congratualtions, Valérie! And this is especially pleasing as Valérie is a good friend from France, and as the French are still refusing to publish anything I’ve ever done, it’s nice to think that one copy of one of my books at least will find its way to a bookshelf in Paris. Albeit en anglais, but hey ho…
Keep an eye out for the facteur, Valérie:-)
Sorry to all those who didn’t win, but I had fun doing this, so there may be another spot the difference competition soon. Like Dan’s facebook page to hear about it first. In the meantime, Dan and the Dead has been selected by Julia Eccleshare for promotion on Lovereading4kids. Here you can buy the book at a discount, download an extract, and also find out a bit more about me and my new books. There is also a crumby picture of me looking like I didn’t sleep very well the night before, but you can just ignore that.
Saturday, 9 June 2012
To mark the publication of Dan and the Dead I’m giving away a signed copy. But since it’s no fun just handing books out willy nilly, you’re going to have to work for this one. So here, for your coffee-break amusement, is a pair of identical pictures of our hero, Dan. Identical, that is, except for one small but notable difference.
When you have found it, send an e-mail to email@example.com and I’ll put your name into the Hat of Fate. On Saturday the 16th of June, I’ll pull out a name at random. And may Dame Fortune (who sort of appears in the book) smile upon you.
Click for a closer look at the pictures, if your browser supports that. The difference is subtle, but should be visible even at crappy blogger resolutions. And if you really get stuck, ask a friendly child to do it for you!
Thursday, 7 June 2012
My comic gothic novella, with spooky pictures, is officially out there. Somewhere…
Of course, regular readers of this blog will know that it’s only a few days since I shouted hurray over the publication of Haunters, and some may be wondering what the hell is going on. Two debut novels? That’s not right, surely!
Well, right or not, it’s a sign of how little control I have over my career that after years of rejection and frustration, I made a simultaneous double breakthrough in my struggle to get into fiction. And on the same theme! No one was more surprised than I was. But believe me, no one is less inclined to complain about it now than I am. Hurray indeed!
But how did this come about? Well, back in early 2010, when I was still fighting Haunters into an acceptable first draft for commissioning editors to read, my agent called and told me that A & C Black were looking for illustrated stories for a new ‘high interest/low inclination’ series. By this they meant kids, mostly boys 10 to 14, who had sophisticated teenage tastes but little interest in reading -- kids who may yet pick up a book and have one last try, but who had all but given up on the world of books. It sounds high-blown, I know, but it felt like I was being given the chance to change their minds and win them back. Okay, high-blown and arrogant, but that’s honestly how it felt.
Anyway, one of the themes mentioned was ghost stories, and since I was just finishing Haunters -- an alternative ghost story where there are no real ghosts at all -- I had a lot of conventional ghost material left over. Using this, and inspired by a half-remembered childhood fascination with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), I quickly put together a premise, wrote a pair of very short sample chapters, and sent it off to A & C Black with a sketch. Another iron was in the fire. But the fire wasn’t looking very hot.
Cutting a long story sort, AC Black expressed interest in the story around the time I was signing the contract for Haunters with Chicken House, though it took a long time for it to develop into something they would actually take on. I was only known for picture books, after all. But take it on they did, and then I had two stories to shepherd through the editorial process, at the same time, and two titles for the same age range, both seemingly about ghosts. And that’s hardly an ideal situation to be in – just ask a publisher! I’ve already had one bookseller get in touch and ask which of the two upcoming ghost books by a Thomas Taylor is the one I wrote.
But really, it’s fine. The two books are very different, and I’ve decided to stop wringing my hands over it. And I’m glad my agent talked me out of using a pseudonym – the publishing world is tough enough these days, without dividing myself up. And I think it’s clear the two books will have two distinct readerships. As for the ‘changing minds about reading’ thing, well, only time will tell if I got that right. Whatever, it was enormous fun to write!
I’m working on a second story about Dan and his mysterious ghostly sidekick, Simon, which is due out in 2013, provisionally entitled Dan and the Caverns of Bone. Do you detect a theme? Meanwhile, Dan and the Dead is available as both a hard copy and a kindle edition, and is easy to order through your local independent bookshop. And you can follow Dan’s ghost-busting exploits on his facebook page.
And lastly, do you remember that kid in your class, the weird one who kept talking to himself? The one who seemed to know too much, the one everyone laughed at? Well, next time something goes bump in the night, just pray he remembers you!
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Kate! The scribbling sea serpent:-)
Sorry it took a couple of days to get the Haunters draw organised – I’ve been away – but the hat has spoken. Well done, Kate, and thanks to everyone who left a comment, spooky or otherwise. Kate, I’ll be in touch through twitter for a postal address and the name of your cat…
Kate’s excellent writing blog is one to follow too.
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Well, my book got launched. Not -- as my son Benjy hoped -- “all the way into the space!”, but with enough bang to leave me happy, and grateful to all those who came. And it was especially good to see so many old friends. Here’s a picture of me looking happy, see. So it’s true.
There were between fifty and sixty people (I gave up trying to count:-) so my fears of being Tommy No-Mates were not realised. I even managed to not pass out during the reading, and no one threw anything or heckled either. Benjy did tap me on the shoe half way through, and Max hugged my leg at the end, but I’m taking these as signs of approval. I scrawled in some books afterwards, and got to see more copies of Haunters in one place than I may ever see again.
So thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to everyone who has bought my book over the last few weeks. And many thanks to Heffers Bookshop too. I’d also like to thank 11-year-old Freddie Rawlins for this glowing and thoughtful review, which I discovered when I got home. Clearly a fellow of impeccable taste. Thanks, Freddie!
To mark the publication, I’m giving a signed copy of Haunters away on my blog. All you have to do is comment below, and your name will go into a hat on the 3rd June. Comment with a spooky anecdote or ghost story, and I’ll put your name in twice. And don’t hold back – I’m not easily scared *peers over shoulder*…
Thursday, 24 May 2012
It’s the publishing event of the century! Well, for me, anyway. Haunters is officially out today. Yay! Just as Amazon appear to have run out…
But that’s good news for your local independent or Waterstones. And it’s certainly okay if you are in the Cambridge area and can come to my book launch tonight. Plenty of books there, and I’ll be signing them of course. And I’ve been appearing about the place a bit too, such as Simon Kewin’s brilliant blog, Mr Ripley’s Enchanted books, and even – on a very different note – Planet Penny. And that last one has a competition to win a signed copy and everything!
But a book launch? That’s, like, appearing in public, right? Do you think I should iron a shirt? Sand my teeth? Someone told me it’s compulsory to wear a sombrero. That is right, isn’t it? Now, where are my Elton John specs…
Thursday, 17 May 2012
Saturday, 28 April 2012
This is a genuine question I’ve been posing myself lately as I try to develop a new project. And unlikely as it seems, I’m finding it hard to answer.
I write for a young readership, a group of people who have been spoilt with bad guys over the years: The White Witch, Voldemort, Mrs Coulter, Mayor Prentiss, Capricorn from Inkheart, etc, etc. Some may be cheesier than others, but they are all fine examples of villainy, and I like to think my own Adam (from Haunters) would fit in nicely (or rather, not so nicely) beside them. Surely I need a real bad ‘un in my new book too.
But part of me, the part that – I’m embarrassed to say – has literary hang-ups, has been tugging his goatee of late. Do we really need one, he says, adjusting his authorial corduroy. Isn’t relying on a baddie to provide narrative tension a bit like relying on adverbs and exotic dialogue tags to tell the reader what’s happening? Can’t circumstances themselves create conflict and imbalance, without the need for some dastardly cape-swisher scheming in the shadows? Did Mark Haddon need a baddie to make The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a compelling read? Did David Almond need the wicked cheese in Kit’s Wilderness? And so on…
That part of me could do with a slap, I know, but he does have a point. We all love a good villain, but nothing connects with readers quite like a sympathetic character struggling with true-life adversity.
So do I need a villain? I haven’t quite decided. But one thing I am sure about – by God, they’re fun to write!
Any views on this? Any favourite literary bad guys you want to share?
Monday, 16 April 2012
Whenever I go away, I always feel slightly nervous about what might be waiting on the doormat when I get back. Especially anything in a brown envelope with a window in it. But this time, after a wonderful Easter week in France, I got back to find – Indeed, beneath a brown envelope with a window in it -- this: a finished, printed copy of Haunters!
I’ll leave you to guess how excited I am about it:)
…but, but, it really is a beautiful object, isn’t it? Its colour combination and design is so fresh and bold, and its spine just cries out, ‘Oi – read ME!’, which is exactly what good spines need to do these days. Aren’t Chicken House just fab with their covers? And here’s a glimpse inside too, because the chapter headings are scratchy, edgy and mysterious, and every one different. Just perfect for the story.
When I think how long and difficult this book’s journey to print has been, I’m almost amazed to see it in my hands now. It could so easily have died on my hard-drive, or wasted away in the slush pile, or been edited to smithereens, or…
This seems a good moment to mention that I am having a launch party for Haunters, at the children’s department of Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge -- the bookshop I used to work in. It will be on the official publication date of the 24th of May, and be from about 6:30pm onwards. I will probably read an extract and go a funny colour, but I’ll also be around to sign copies and generally look ill-at-ease but very happy. In any case, I’ll try not to dribble. There will be wine and interesting people. Please come along if it’s at all possible.
Friday, 30 March 2012
I have been interviewed by writer and skating champion Anita Saxena on her wonderful blog (just look at that fabulous banner;-). Here you can find out more about my upcoming book, Haunters, as well as see me give advice to unpublished writers like I know what I’m talking about!
Thank you, Anita, for inviting me.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
As the days tick by and the publication of my debut novel creeps closer (24th May!), I can’t help feeling increasingly embarrassed by the threadbare nature of my web presence (or ‘platform’, as I believe I’m supposed to call it). The received wisdom is that I should be on every online social medium going, bigging myself up with trumpets and yelling about my wonderful book. And plenty of people are telling me to do just that. It’s interesting though that my publisher’s advice was simply to ‘do one thing, and do it well’. And as more and more on-line voices (here, for example, and here) speculate that you can’t sell books on social sites anyway, or that blogging and even facebook have peaked, the advice to keep it simple and strong sounds appealing. And yet, the trumpets…
I’ve had a quick scout around my platform (ugh) and thought I’d share the sorry results with you.
- I have a blog. Obviously. I like blogging, even though I don’t post as often as I once did. Whenever I think of something to write, my internal editor usually shouts me down with either ‘Bragging!’ or ‘Boring!’. But he hasn’t killed it off yet, and won’t -- I have met some very interesting people here.
- I’m on facebook. And I (sort of) like it there. I started facebooking (French word) in order to keep in touch with my scattered family, but I’ve since expanded my ‘friend’ criteria to include anyone involved in writing, art and publishing who’ll have me. And yet, I still have personal stuff on it, and a brother who thinks nothing of tagging photos of me with underpants on my head, etc. I haven’t managed to divide my personal side from what might be called the public at all. I wonder if it’s too late. Or maybe a facebook page for me as a writer is the answer. Though that might be a very lonely place.
- I am on Twitter. I don’t really get it, and rarely have any sense of a conversation, but I’m hanging on in there. @ThomasHTaylor. Any advice?
- I have joined LinkedIn. But my eyes immediately glazed over.
- Google+ as above.
- I have signed up for Goodreads. But can it really help raise my profile to tell the world what I’m reading right now? Maybe I haven’t explored it enough. I only joined last week.
- Other things. I’m dimly aware of sites like Bebo and Gothise, but don’t expect to see me there soon – I’m all social media-ed out. I have noted, though, that some kind soul has expanded my Wikipedia entry, with a bibliography and everything! Thank you, whoever you are. I had planned to do this when Haunters was published. Honest.
- Website. More about this soon.
So there we have it. My on-line platform. All I need to work out now is do I expand it as far as I can, or trim it down to one node of ‘excellence’ (ha!)? Whatever I decide, I see little room for any trumpets.
Any thoughts? And what about your own ‘platfoms’?
Sunday, 11 March 2012
Dan and the Dead. Here’s a sneak preview.
I wonder why I found them so difficult. It’s slightly sobering. But then, little that is worthwhile was ever created easily. Or something. Perhaps I just need to buy myself a new pen…
Click for a better view.
Click for a better view.
Monday, 27 February 2012
Gosh, doesn’t time fly when you’re not updating your blog? I’ve been busy drawing, both sketching out new characters (see here) and working on the final illustrations for Dan and the Dead. My new blog banner is a spin off from that, if you’re curious.
Anyway, after so much writing over the last year, it feels good to go back to mostly drawing. And once again I’m struck by one enormous difference between the two activities.
I need silence to write. If possible, I also need to be alone in the house. There’s absolutely no question of listening to music. The only sound should be the scrape of dry fingertips on the keyboard and the steady drip drip drip of blood as it sweats out of my forehead (it’s probably just as well I’m on my own).
Drawing, on the other hand, is next to impossible for me if I don’t have music. And if you want to phone me while I’m sketching, then fine, go ahead -- I can hold the phone in my left hand and chunter for hours while my right hand carries on. In fact, just pop round. You can stay and listen to the radio with me, to this and this and this, and then we can chat as the coffee-break kettle steams and hopefully agree that the one thing that really puts the ‘great’ in Great Britain is the wonderful, inestimable, sanity-saving BBC. I’m sure they had illustrators in mind when they invented it.
The phrase ‘back to the drawing board’ normally has negative connotations. But not for me:-)
Sunday, 5 February 2012
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
I have been thinking a lot about time travel lately. This isn’t surprising, given that I’ve just written a book in which the characters can visit their younger selves -- and their ancestors -- in the form of ghosts. What would you do, if you could do that? And what would I say if I got the chance to haunt myself at the beginning of my efforts to write fiction? Apart from ‘boo!’ that is.
I remember that beginning quite clearly -- it was the start of 2005, a year and a half after I’d moved to France. I was house-sitting alone for a couple of weeks, trying to meet an illustration deadline and walking someone else’s dog. On those daily tramps through the woods, I came to realise that not only did I have a whole novel-sized story rattling around in my head, I was also no longer afraid to try writing it down.
Now that I am on the point of seeing my first book reach print (not the book mentioned above, naturally), I can look back over the whole experience and draw some conclusions. So, as a time-travelling ghost, what writing/crafting/story-telling tips would I give my younger self when I appear before him in the woods? Before my younger self passes out from shock, I think I could get across at least five:
1 – Storytelling trumps everything.
…especially when you are writing for a young readership. And I mean everything. It’s more important than historical (or contemporary) accuracy, more important than the things you worry you should be writing about, and certainly more important than the demands of your ego. People NEED good stories. Just be grateful for the chance to supply them.
2 – Don’t aspire to be a great writer, aspire to be a great story-teller.
…and don’t call it ‘writing’, call it ‘work’. Above all, don’t aspire to be a writor (with an ‘o’). Writors (with an ‘o’) are poncy people who ‘commune with their muse’ and complain about wine. Instead, go into the ring bare knuckled, and don’t come out till your book is lying face-down in the blood and sawdust. That’s the work. Now you can drink the wine.
3 – ‘Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie’
Okay, I stole this one from Stephen King, but my younger self doesn’t know that. It's time he did. Let’s hope he’s taking notes.
4 – Plan ahead.
…even if it doesn’t come naturally. You don’t have to stick to the plan, just give yourself a clear sense of what you’re aiming for. Trying to make up a complicated plot as you go is a bit like brick-laying in the dark. You wouldn’t build a house that way, so why do it to build a world?
5 – Listen to criticism. Also, BOO!
Tuesday, 24 January 2012
I went to the Chicken House’s Big Breakfast event last week. And look, I spotted a copy of my book! Well, okay, it was just a spiral-bound printout, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything of Haunters on paper, so it was still memorable. I was even asked to sign a few.
These Big Breakfasts are all about bringing authors and their books together with interested parties from the world of children’s literature. There were croissants, there were readings, and there was the great Barry Cunningham to make it all sparkle.
The Chicken House’s list for this year seems very strong, and a few titles particularly caught my eye: Freaks by Kieran Larwood (last year’s Times Chicken House Fiction Competition winner), Girl About Time by Kerstin Geir (best-selling time slip romance first published in German in 2009), Floors by Patrick Carman (madcap goings-on in the barmiest hotel in the world) and Muncle Trogg and the Flying Donkey by Janet Foxley (the sequel to the wonderful Muncle Trogg, and which the author kindly inscribed for my son (who adores Muncle and anything to do with Mount Grumble)). But those were just the few books I snaffled on my way out. The rest look great too. I just hope Haunters won’t let the side down when it’s finally published in May.
Monday, 9 January 2012
I was very pleased to be able to go to the launch -- at Heffers in Cambridge -- of Dave Shelton’s charming and delightful illustrated novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. And it was lovely to meet so many old friends from art school and beyond. Though wishing to spare the author’s blushes, everything about the book is lovely too.
First there’s the title, which is itself a definition of what ‘high concept’ is all about. Then the cover is a jaw dropper, not only because it’s stylishly understated, but because publishers are thought to be allergic to anything but ‘play it safe’ these days. Then inside… well, inside there’s humour, humanity, allegory, a sea monster, fly-fishing with a rubber duck, a very strange sandwich, and much more besides, all peppered through with fine drawing. And some cracking one-liners too: “The boy managed a half-smile (he would save the other half for later)…”
For children and grown-ups alike, especially if they appreciate good design with their future classics. Buy it or find out more here or here. And you can see pages from Dave’s sketchbooks on his excellent blog. And if that isn't enough, Sarah McIntyre has written a much more fullsome acount of the launch, with photos and cake and everything!
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a breakdown of the last 12 months. For me, 2011 was all about 2012 anyway. And I’m not going to be making any resolutions either (beyond the usual desire to increase brain activity whilst decreasing stomach usage). I just hope you all have a good time ahead, and can keep positive. Don’t let the tabloids get you down.
To set my blog going again, I wanted to post something about a twelve-year-old sketchbook blogger called William Sedgwick. Only, to do that I had to wait till he’d turned thirteen. His age is relevant because William recently suffered the indignity of having his long-standing blog and g-mail account summarily deleted by Google because he was ‘underage’. By two months. That’s DELETED, not frozen or suspended. And how was this young hoodlum found out? He was honest about his age whilst trying to upload a film to You Tube. Clearly the action of a dangerous subversive.
Anyway, now that Will’s matured overnight to be a responsible member of the blogosphere, I’m happy to say he has founded a new blog: Drawing Lizards. Please take a look – he has a fine and confident line, and a fearless eye. But after being slapped by Google, even Will could do with a boost. And he deserves more followers too, having lost the following he’d carefully built up. Will’s an old friend (is that okay, Google?) and I’ve seen many of his sketchbooks, indeed, been there when he drew in some of them. You won’t be disappointed by his blog, I promise.