Friday, 29 June 2012

The Fool's Apprentice

I was rooting around for some paper the other day, when I came across a small portfolio case, tucked down the side of my plan chest, which contained a collection of my early artwork, much of which I had forgotten about.

When I first set out to become a children's author, I'd intended to both write and illustrate and the artwork below was drawn to accompany one of my early story poems, The Fool's Apprentice.

The writing now feels awkward in places and the linework lacks expression (it was done with the same Rotring technical pens I was using for my day job as an architect) but it shows my first steps in something akin to a picture book format, with several images illustrating the same story.

Click on the images to see larger versions.

If the illustration of the Queen looks familiar, it might be because it was inspired by an illustration by the Czech Art Noveau illustrator Alphonse Mucha.  Mucha is one of my favourite illustrators, a master of line, colour and composition and, in my view, one of the greatest graphic artists of all time.

The Queen in my illustration was inspired
by Alphonse Mucha's Princess Hyacynth.

You can seem more examples of my early artwork in the portfolio section of my website.

One of the reasons I stopped illustrating was that my agent advised me that, while there were hundreds of great illustrators looking for picture book work, there were relatively few authors that could write good picture book texts and that if I wanted to make a living out of picture books, I'd do well to focus my efforts on the latter.  This proved to be excellent advice, but I often wonder how my illustration would have developed if I'd stuck at it.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Rotherham Children's Book Awards

Yesterday I was at the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham for the Rotherham Children's Book Awards.

The Pig’s Knickers, a book I did with illustrator Vanessa Cabban, was shortlisted for the Picture Book Award and this was one of those slightly nerve-racking award ceremonies where you don’t find out which book has won until it’s announced at the ceremony itself.

The other books shortlisted for the Picture Book Category were I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins, Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh and The Fearsome Beastie written by Giles Paley-Phillips and illustrated by Gabriele Antonini and David and Giles were also at the ceremony.

David and I had met before as, in addition to being an author/illustrator, David is also a designer and had designed a couple of my pop-up books and one of my picture books. However we’d only met in person once and that was ten years ago so I don’t think either of us would have recognised each other if we’d met elsewhere.

I hadn’t met Giles before, but it turned out we had very similar views on my pet topic of ‘why boys don’t like reading’. I’ve always felt that this aversion needs to be tackled at picture book level and Giles and I both think that boys would find picture books far more appealing if more of them were scary and dangerous rather than cute and cosy. But this is what I would have expected from an author who has written a story about a child-eating monster and an axe-wielding granny!

If you’ve never been to the Magna Centre before, it’s well worth a visit. Apart from the exhibits, the space itself, a former steelworks, is incredibly impressive and atmospheric. My son, Max, hadn’t been since he was little, so he came along to have another look around and to help out with my signings. 

This photo only shows one corner of the huge hanger-like hall
in which the ceremony took place.

The awards were held in Magna’s “Big Hall”, which although only a quarter of the size of the main exhibition space, was still MASSIVE and more than big enough to accommodate the hundreds of children who were attending.

One end of the hall was taken up with displays inspired by the short-listed books and created by the schools that had voted in the awards. Several of these featured The Pig’s Knickers and I spent some time inspecting the wide range of porcine undergarments (some of which are shown below) and reading some of the funny book reviews that the children had written.

Thurcroft Infant School's display ...
… included this charming underwear catalogue.

Each of the authors gave a quick speech to introduce themselves and then there was a lively signing session, in which I met lots of enthusiastic young readers, one of whom informed me that he was wearing a pair of polkadot knickers just like Pig’s in honour of the occasion (I opted to take his word for this). 

Many of the displays were COMPLETELY PANTS ...
… but in a GOOD way!
I’d already had a good day, but it was made even better when it was announced that The Pig’s Knickers had won The Picture Book Category. I hadn’t prepared a speech, but then I didn’t need to — tip to future award recipients: you really don’t need to make much of a speech if you are prepared to pull on a pair of red polkadot knickers in front of an audience of school children. I mentioned that it was not the first time I’d donned the knickers in public and it appeared that my reputation preceded me as one of the organisers had enquired earlier whether “I had my knickers on me?”. A question I assumed she did not ask of the other authors attending. 

I was lucky enough to take one of these shiny fings home with me!

A big “THANK YOU!” to all the children that voted for the book and to the awards organisers for putting on such an enjoyable event.