Category Archives: Guest post

GUEST POST: The Pocket Chaotic – the illustration process by Daniel Gray-Barnett

As spend another period of time living in very close quarters, it seems appropriate to share this post about the illustration process behind the delightful picture, The Pocket Chaotic by written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. The story brings to life a delightful family of kangaroos, in a story of a journey towards independence – and how family life can make us feel like we’re living on-top of each other! Read my review of The Pocket Chaotic here.

Today, illustrator Daniel Gray Barnett shares insight into how he created the artwork for the story and his thoughts about the book. Welcome to the blog Daniel!

“When I was asked to work on Ziggy’s story, I (quite aptly) jumped for joy! I love drawing animals, and I love drawing families – getting to illustrate this particular one was something I was very excited about.

It’s a very funny, touching story that I think most people can relate to in one sense or another – whether it’s the parent-child connection that evolves as the child grows up and learns independence, or just the clash of personalities which often happens in families or relationships. Trying to maintain your own space in your life or home when you’re a neat, organised person and other people are a bit more chaotic is a common challenge. Maybe you’re the messy person with hoarding tendencies and your family just don’t understand the value of your treasure trove! Working on this project was a bit faster than previous picture book projects I’ve worked on – it was completed over a period of about 8-9 months. The sketching and storyboard phase took several months. I do all my sketching digitally in Photoshop, which helps me to be less precious about the process and keep things very loose! The editor had some ideas for how the spreads might work, which helped speed things up. Most of the storyboards have stayed fairly close to how I originally imagined, with some small tweaks.

In working on the illustrations, I was very inspired by the work of Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame), one of my favourite illustrators. In the past, I tend to work in quite limited colour palettes, but was also looking for the challenge of working in full colour – and non-digital colouring at that. Ludwig’s work helped me see a way of combining these methods into a cohesive book. I love how in Madeline he contrasts illustrations of limited colours with full colour illustrations, which seem to be mostly used for the outside world in the story. I borrowed the same approach for The Pocket Chaotic – when Alexander is inside Nancy’s pouch, those illustrations are shown in the limited black, white and egg-yolk yellow colours. When Alexander is in the outside world with his mum, those illustrations are shown in full colour.

After the storyboards were all given the go ahead, I spent a few weeks doing colour tests, playing around with inks, pencils and crayons to find that just right combination for the look of the story. I print out all of my sketches then use a light box for my inking process. I ink my linework and colours separately, just in case. I’d hate to have to redo an entire illustration because of one stray line! My illustrations are usually done in bits and pieces, before I scan everything in and layer it all in Photoshop. It feels like digital printmaking, in a way.

This project was a bit of an experiment for me. I used to work in only black ink and use the computer to do all my colouring, but on this book, I used a variety of coloured acrylic inks to do as much colouring as I could outside of the computer. I think there’s something wonderfully unpredictable, loose and warm about how it turned out. We decided to print the egg-yolk yellow in a special Pantone colour, which was saved for Alexander and Nancy and the pouch interior illustrations. It’s so terrifically bright!

It took about 4-5 months to finish all of the illustrations. I had a couple of speedbumps, trying to get my linework somewhere which had the loose energy I was looking for, but still a bit refined. Quite symbolic of the battle between Alexander and Nancy’s personalities, really. There were a few late nights but I’m really happy with how it all came together! Usually I have to wait about 9 months to see the finished product, but 2020 has been such an unusual year. It was only several months from our print deadline to seeing a completed copy. I’m so pleased with our book, I hope you all love it as much as Ziggy and I do!”

With thanks to Daniel for this fantastic guest post! The Pocket Chaotic is published by Cicada Books; find out more The Pocket Chaotic — Cicada Books.

GUEST POST: Author Catherine Bruton on Another Twist in the Tale and Creating Characters the Dickensian way!

It’s the second Victorian-inspired blog this month in celebration of the launch of Mr Dilly’s A Very Victorian Christmas, the festive treat for primary schools that the whole school community can enjoy! I’m really excited to welcome Catherine Bruton to the blog, author of No Ballet Shoes in Syria and most recently, the Oliver-Twist inspired Another Twist in the Tale. Today, I share my review of this wonderful tale and Catherine is sharing some wonderful insight into creating Dickensian characters.

You have heard, no doubt, the tale of Master Oliver Twist – that rags-to-riches boy; the parish orphan who became heir to the Brownlow fortune. But what few know is that was a second Twist – a girl, brought into this world moments ahead of her brother. This is the story of Twill Twist – and her journey through the gambling dens and workhouses of London, as she attempts to make a life for herself, rescue her friends, and uncover the mystery of her past – while meeting some familiar faces along the way…

For me, Oliver Twist always brings back memories of Christmas – the musical version was always on at Christmas time and who can fail to recall Ron Moody’s fantastic performance as Fagin?! And now, author Catherine has brought to life Dickens’ Victorian London again, with the most wonderful twist, as the title suggests. Meet Twill, none other than Oliver Twist’s twin sister, rescued from death by Baggage Jones, herself a young girl fighting for survival in Victorian London. Intertwining characters from the original story – including the wonderful Artful Dodger- with utterly delightful new faces, Catherine weaves a world fraught with danger for Twill as she navigates her way through the backstreets of Victorian London, trying to discover the truth about her past. Another Twist in the Tale is one of the most authentic, engaging and downright enjoyable books I’ve read in recent times and I am really pleased to welcome Catherine to the blog with a brilliant post about creating Dickensian characters. Welcome to the blog Catherine!

Creating Incredible Characters – the Dickensian way! By Catherine Bruton

“What was the best thing about writing ‘Another Twist in the Tale’, my sequel to Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ set in Victorian London and featuring Oliver’s long lost twin sister? That’s easy – it was the characters! Rediscovering familiar old faces from Dickens – the Artful Dodger, Fagin and Oliver Twist himself  – and creating a host of exciting new heroes and villains of my own – Baggage Jones, the Monstrous Madame Manzoni and Miss Twill Twist –  was just so much fun!  So what did I learn from Dickens about how to create incredible characters?

Names

From Mr Pumblechook, Martin Chuzzlewit, Ebenezer Scrooge, Pip Pirrip, The Aged P, the Artful Dodger, Mr Jaggers, Abel Magwitch and The Barnacles  to Creake, Crumple, Cripples and Cruncher, Dickens’ character names are as weird and wonderful, glorious and grotesque, sad and funny and moving and brilliant as Dickens’ incredible cast of characters themselves. So how did he do it?

Well, Dickens knew how to play with sounds, from the assonantal Scrooge and Drood, the plosive Pip Pirrip, the alliterative Newman Noggs and Nicholas Nickleby, to the onomatopoeic Creakle and Jingle and Crimple.  And he loved using homophones and puns too – Micawbre/Macabre, Jaggers/Jagged, Uriah/Urine, Claypole/Maypole, Krooks/Crook, to name but a few. Sometimes the word association goes further – from McChoakumchild, choking all the joy out of children, to the deadly Lady Dedlock and the heartless Harthouse. Dickens also  enjoyed using everyday objects in his names – Bucket, Pocket, Guppy, Slime and Honeythunder – and he was the absolute master of the pithy epithet: who can forget The Artful Dodger, The Avenger and The Aged P?

So I gave myself licence to have fun with names in ‘Another Twist in the Tale’. I have my own alliterative heroes and villains – from Tommy Tickle, Madame Manzoni, Bob the Butcher’s Boy to Twill Twist herself (not that she becomes a Twist right away!) as well as my own associative names – Mrs Spanks who is famous for her beatings, Fleet who is fast and stinky as the river she takes her name from, and the cherubic Angel.

Names in ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ are particularly important because many of my characters’ names have been lost – or found! ‘Baggage Jones was quite sure she’d had another name once but it had been lost like a penny down the floorboards or an odd sock in the laundry  … she  had spent her fourteen years on this earth being addressed thus ‘Get over ‘ere, you baggage … Fetch this, you useless baggage …. Get on, you baggage you’ – that she had come to believe Baggage was indeed her name.’ Similarly, all of the members of the Sassy Sisterhood of Saffon Hill are named after the places where they were found, shivering and starving on the streets – ‘There was Sloane whose half-closed eye and scarred cheek had been gained in an encounter with the Old Bill on the King’s Road, Chelsea who has slept a whole winter in the snow on Eaton Terrace and little Angel who has been found starving on a street corner in Islington.’ Poor Piccadilly and Trafalgar – the asymmetrical twins – come off rather worse in this particular naming strategy! Meanwhile, many of the urchins who find themselves prey to the exploitative Blacking Factory sweatshop are nameless – ‘the latest arrival had no idea what his name was so the boys called him Nemo (which means nobody)’  Oh, and there’s  the one known simply as Boy Number 12 (my nod to ‘Hard Times’!)

Meanwhile some of my names are riddles. The mysterious Mr Barrabas (not his real name!) takes his pseudonym from another literary baddie who poisoned his own daughter and a houseful of nuns with porridge (can you name the author and the play?) Oh, and this evil gentleman’s name also links him to another famous Dickensian villain to whom he bears a striking resemblance. ‘Mother Earth’ and the mysterious Mrs C also have names that prove to be riddles to be solved before our heroine can save the day. Meanwhile, Madame Manzoni is a tribute to one of my favourite characters from a classic novel NOT by Dickens! I shall leave the literary sleuths amongst you to figure out who (look out for the clue later on in the blog!)

As for  Miss Twill (Twist/Brownlow) Jones – also known as Camberwell, Will Camberwell or  just South o’ th’ River to her friends – well, our plucky heroine loses a name,  gains a name, changes her name, throws off  a name and gets a brand new one at the end! Yes, names are a big part of this story!

Appearance

Dickens’ character descriptions are famously gloriously visual, almost cartoon-like at times. His characters come in different shapes (the ‘square’ Mr Gradgrind), sizes (Tiny Tim) and colours (just think of Miss Havisham’s wedding attire faded to sere yellow, like her hopes!) and his descriptions are peppered with wonderful metaphors and similes  – who can forget the letterbox mouth of Mr Wopsle?

So, you can just imagine how much fun I had creating my own character descriptions, drawing on Dickens’ techniques and allowing myself licence to exaggerate as much as I liked. There’s the monstrous Madame Manzoni ‘who had once been a diminutive bird-like woman of singular beauty. But over the years a monstrous accumulation of flesh had descended upon her tiny body like lava upon a doomed city, burying the fairy-like girl in waves and waves of undulating white flesh’. Or Baggage Jones, ‘a scrawny scrap of a creature who bore a squashed appearance as of clothing hastily scrumpled.’ Or Twill Jones who ‘shared all her brother’s angelic beauty, but her big blue eyes shone with a fierce light and there was a determined tilt to her chin and firm set to her rose-petal mouth which reflected her fearless temper.’

And I had the most brilliant fun inventing suitably Dickensian metaphors and similes: ‘wobbling like a colossal blancmange’, ‘a tall hot, poker of a woman’, ‘tiny beady eyes that glimmered like currants in the swelling pudding of her doughy face’, ‘an eyebrow raised like a slug wriggling on a vast mountain of lard’, ‘he had the soft, plump features of a newborn and not much more hair on his head than a babe-in-arms neither’, ‘a squat looking girl with the appearance of a pugilistic pug’. Yes, when it comes to creating Dickensian characters it’s all about the imagery – the more weird, wonderful and grotesque the better!

Voices

During a trip to the Dickens’ Museum in London I learned that the great man would ‘act out’ his characters in front of a mirror to get the voices right (I even got to stand in front of the actual looking glass and mutter a few of the Artful Dodger’s choicest phrases!)  Dickens uses dialogue almost like a play-write to evoke his characters’ idiosyncrasies. From Mr Sleary’s lisp and Harthouse’s lazy drawl, to the catchphrases for which so many of his characters are famous – Fagin’s obsequious ‘my dear!’, Scrooge’s ‘Bah Humbug!’, Uriah Heep’s ‘Umble’  to Jo the Crossing Sweeper’s ‘I don’t know nothink’ and Stephen Blackpool’s ‘Tis all a muddle!’ not forgetting my personal favourite, Joe Gargery’s ‘Ever the best of friends!’

Dickens researched the idiolect of his characters carefully, studying a book of Lancashire dialect before writing ‘Hard Times’ and introducing into his  London novels the earthy  Cockney slang associated with the working class, the theatre, or the criminal underworld,  such terms as butter-fingers (a clumsy person), flummox (bewilder), sawbones (surgeon), and whizz-bang (sound of a gunshot). He also made up plenty of words of his own – comfoozled meaning exhausted is my particular favourite. He turned nouns into verbs (and vice versa) ‘I won’t submit to be mother-in-lawed’ declares Fanny – adding prefixes and suffixes, and creating compound words, many of which have found their way into the Oxford English Dictionary (manslaughter and corkscrew apparently!). This playfulness with language lends a richness and variety to his  novels and particularly to his dialogue, bringing characters vividly and memorably to life.

So, as a writer who spends a (possibly worrying!) amount of time ‘acting out’  characters in my head – and sometimes out loud, too (I frequently find myself talking in role as I potter round the supermarket or on the school run!), this was music to my ears. I loved going back to my well-thumbed copy of ‘Oliver Twist’ and studying the dialect of Fagin, Bumble, Dodger and other characters. This allowed me to mimic the cadences and rhythm of their speech, as well as echoing the syntax, peculiar idiosyncrasies of grammar, lexical sets and other idiolect features (yes, my English teacher geekhood quivering with delight!)

Oh, and I rather fell in love with Philip Thorne’s appendix in the Penguin Classics edition with its glorious list of Dickensian slang which I devoured hungrily, allowing me to pepper the Sassy Sisters’ dialogue with some of the choicest Victorian vernacular.  I gave my characters their own catchphrases – ‘Spare the spoon and spoil the child,’ ‘Beauty is your duty’ – and allowed myself to go fully to town on accents, phonetic spelling – and even the occasional made up word of my own!

Yes, Dickens’ characters inspired many children’s authors, from Roald Dahl to J K Rowling, and his methods of characterisation are so distinctive that his creations live long in the memory. Following in his footsteps was the most incredible fun as a writer and when young readers close the covers of ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ I hope it might inspire them to check out one of Dickens’ stories for themselves. I love the idea that Twill Twist might introduce readers to her long lost brother Oliver and  Nancy and Bill Sykes, to  Pip and Magwitch and  Miss Havisham, to Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchitt and Tiny Tim, to Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield and many more of  the glorious characters and unforgettable adventures created by the inimitable Charles Dickens!”

Another Twist in the Tale by Catherine Bruton is published by Nosy Crow (5th November 2020, £7.99 paperback). With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

BLOG TOUR: All I Want for Christmas by Beth Garrod

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for All I Want for Christmas by Beth Garrod, a gorgeous novel for teens full of friendship, a touch of romance and lots of festive fun! There’s also a positive message about social media – which whilst it can bring people together, also presents a ‘reality’ that is far from the truth. The heroines of the story, Holly and Elle, are both truly engaging, ending up in all manner of hilarious and ever-so-slightly awkward scenarios, and you’ll find yourself rooting for them all the way to the mistletoe- fuelled finale!

US-based Elle is a social-media influencer. But sometimes online attention isn’t all it seems from the outside; with a family who are constantly on the move, and so-called friends putting pressure on her to increase her following, she decides to swap places with one of her followers for the holidays.

Holly lives in a small village in England, and LOVES Christmas more than anything else. Nothing is going to get in the way of this year being the BEST Christmas ever . . . Nothing! But when her mum announces she’s selling their house, and Woody decides they should go on a ‘break’, her plans for the perfect Christmas start to crumble like over-baked gingerbread people.

Will swapping with Elle be Holly’s perfect opportunity to escape? And far from home, will they both find all they want for Christmas?

I’m delighted to share a post from author Beth Garrod, with a fantastic finale to this very festive blog tour – welcome to the blog Beth!

“Today is the final stop on the All I Want For Christmas blog tour – so to do Holly proud it’s finishing with a big tinsely bang. A big tinsely 70s bang. Because when it comes to Christmas, you can be cool like Elle orrrr, you can cover yourself in glitter, pull on your turkey slippers, and dance like no one is watching. Which is exactly what Holly would recommend.

So here it is, the final tune to get you shaking your baubles and twirling those Christmas puddings. After all… IT’S CHRISTMAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSS.

Wizzard: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

This is a song about loving Christmas, a lot – which is something Holly is ALL about (although, when it comes to wanting it to be Christmas every day, 2020 might have clinched that vibe). This song is stuffed with sleigh bells, Christmassy choirs, and lyrics about getting your beard frozen. What more could a Christmas song want?! Sure, the video might be weird, but that is exactly what Spotify is for. Cranking this up and wishing every day could be a day you get to hang out with the best people, wear pyjamas for longer than is necessary, and eat whatever is within reaching distance. Chocolate Orange counts as fruit, right?

So however you like to bring Christmas magic, whether you do it with a million traditions like Holly, or keep it low-key like Elle, get this tune on, and let the bellsssss ring ouuuuut fo-o-orrr Chriiiiistmaaaaaas.”

Find out more here: Beth Garrod (bethhgarrod.com)

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

GUEST POST: Poetry and privacy with A.F Harrold

A.F.Harrold is an award-winning poet and author, most recently shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2020 for Midnight Feasts: Tasty poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell. The judges, including 2019 CLiPPA winner poet Steven Camden (aka Spoken Word artist Polarbear) described Ashley’s book as ‘a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced.’

I’ve been privileged to see Ashley performing poetry and running school workshops with children aged 7 and 8 – you’d be hard-pressed to say who enjoyed it more – the children or the adults in the room! His energy, humour and love for poetry is contagious. Read an extract from Midnight Poems:

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Ashley to the blog today with a guest post about poetry and privacy and how we can use poetry to help deal with the things that trouble us. Welcome to the blog Ashley!

Poetry and Privacy – A.F. Harrold

“What I love, and have always loved, about poetry (and about all art, really) is that it’s none of your business.

What I mean is, when I read a book or a poem or listen to a piece of music or hear a joke, I am under no obligation to share it. I don’t have to tell anyone about it. Not about what I thought of it, or how it made me feel, or what it reminded me of, or what connections I traced from it to other pieces of art I’ve consumed before. I can keep all of that to myself.

Art is private, and one’s responses to art are private.

Sure, you might be the sort of person who loves sharing, in which case share away.

But for those of us who aren’t sharers, who don’t much care for the outside world, that feeling of ‘This-is-mine-ness’ of a book or a poem or a story overheard… that thing that happens in the solitary heart and the reader, the listener, is special. It’s a treasure, it’s something that belongs to us, a gem sparkling in the head of the toad of ourselves.

No one has the right to ask you what you think about this or that book or poem (or rather they have the right, but you have no duty to answer them). Keep it safe, keep it secret, if you want.

(You may not have much that belongs to you. You might have to share your toys, your bedroom, your bathwater. But this one thing, this treasure in your head, no one can take that away.)

And the same should go for making art.

You should feel free, whether you’re 8 or 80, to make poems, to do drawings, to write stories, to keep a diary, and to choose to keep them to yourself or share them with the world as you see fit.

Think of making poems as diary keeping.

Use them to find shapes for your thoughts and your fears, for the things that are happening in your life and in your family, with your friends or with strangers you saw in the shops… and sometimes just writing it down will be enough to still the fear, sometimes putting it away and looking back in a month or in six months and seeing how you’ve grown or changed or stayed the same as you-from-the-past might be helpful.

Writing something and knowing that no one else will see it, read it (until or unless you choose to share it), is a way of talking to yourself, to the future you, of checking in and taking stock. It has been essential to me, at times, and if you’re shy or solitary, like I am, then it might be something you should try.

But even if you don’t write, remember to read, that too is a good way to learn about yourself.”

Find out more about A.F Harrold at www.afharroldkids.com and the CLiPPA 2020 at www.clpe.org.uk

GUEST POST: Everyone Needs a Wulfie with author Lindsay J Sedgwick

I recently reviewed Wulfie: Stage Fright by Lindsay J Sedgwick illustrated by Josephine Wolff , a charming story about families, friendship and being brave even when you’re afraid. The story features a young girl LIbby who finds a much needed friend in Wulfie. Although he gets her into some scrapes, he also is a staunch ally when she needs it most. Read the review here.

I’m really pleased to welcome author Lindsay to the blog today with a guest post about why everyone needs a Wulfie. Welcome to the blog Lindsay!

Lindsay J Sedgwick

Everyone Needs a Wulfie

“It’s that simple. We all need friends, and every child needs a Wulfie.

That’s why he exists. It’s why he was created. So that every child diving into these books could imagine she was Libby and Wulfie was her best friend.

He’s a lot more loyal than many friends in the real world when you’re a child and he was invented for that very reason. For my daughter, also called Libby, who really, REALLY wanted a best friend.

She was four when Wulfie first appeared. I was sitting on her bed trying to make up stories for her. He was the explanation as to why we always had 17 odd socks – Wulfie was eating the ones that vanished before they ever made it to the washing machine. He could grow and shrink, he was purple and he loved her more than anything. He also kept getting her into more trouble, despite his intentions being good.

He was incredibly nosy and impulsive, while she was just trying to get through the days without being blamed for stuff her brother did.

Every story was adlibbed on the spot, so if I ran out of steam or inspiration, I’d ask Libby to give me three words – an object, a mood, a place, a sound …. and use those to make up a fresh adventure for the duo.  It got to the point where she wouldn’t let me take the short cut of reading a book to her – it had to be a new Wulfie story.

They weren’t always very good, but the central relationship was always fun, if sometimes sticky, muddy, messy … Because Wulfie and Libby had to face adversity, jeopardy, fear, meanness, even true nastiness so that they would triumph in the end and Libby would go to sleep with a smile on her face.

Wulfie, we discovered, would eat anyone who was mean to Libby. And, yes, the fictional Libby would make him spit them out, but for a while after they’d be sniffing bums or chasing a tail they didn’t have, so there was payback! He was fluffy and scruffy and cheeky and mischievous. And, to begin, nobody knew he existed except her.

Stories started to take us through several nights, trying to find extra twists, extra obstacles, extra fun and slapstick. Pretty soon Libby was wishing Wulfie was real and I started writing notes after she’d gone to sleep ….

Wulfie, in short, was the ultimate best friend.

That this was the motor behind the series was consolidated years later when I asked her – then aged 7 – what a best friend was. We were waiting for the bus to town and she had been musing about how everyone else seemed to have one.

“Someone who would walk through flames for me,” she said.

As a parent, my heart sank. I admired her courage and ambition, but how could anyone live up to this? It’s no use as a parent to tell your child that they will meet that ‘best friend’ at some point in the future, probably. That maybe you’re more interesting and special and shouldn’t try so hard. When you see everyone else pairing up and forming groups, it makes you sad inside.

This is where books come in to keep us going. To allow us to dive in, to be an invented world with all sorts of friends, having adventures and eventually triumphing.

Like many writers, I was the child looking on at peers who seemed to more easily make friends. I was also a daydreamer who was almost always somewhere else in my imagination when I wasn’t meant to be. Writing essays that were condemned as being too creative. When I read books then, I reinvented myself as the characters, living through their adventures and friendships. I find it all too easy to remember what it was like as a child so when I write, I am my characters; talking aloud, twitching, being in the story with them and hearing their voices in my head.

Wulfie went through a few incarnations between then and now. My daughter is now 21, doing her final year in UCC. But it was set in stone back in those first days that Wulfie’s role was that to be the best friend ever, loyal to Libby regardless of everything and everyone else.

And yes, this does mean he’s going to get her into adventures and scrapes she might not have chosen, but with all of these, she gets stronger and more confident.

That was what I wanted for my daughter Libby, way back then, and for every kid I knew. I still do.”

Find out more about Wulfie: Stage Fright at www.littleisland.ie