Last week was holiday time. I haven’t had such a good holiday in years. It was our first attempt at going on holiday with the dog so we didn’t wander too far. We rented a tiny fisherman’s cottage in Southwold, Suffolk, a few hours drive away from London.
The weather was perfect all week: sunny with a light sea breeze, so just right for lots of walking (and we did LOTS). We even managed a couple of afternoons on the beach too.
It’s a lovely part of the world – people often think of East Anglia as boring because it’s flat. And it most definitely is that.
But it’s wonderfully isolated and hugely atmospheric. Big, windswept skies; smuggler’s creeks hidden by tall, whispering reed beds; soft sun-baked sand dunes; storm-battered shingle bars; salt-bitten fishing boats and drowned towns.
There were even a few cheap but cheerful robots.
Look at those big east country skies! Whoosh!
Southwold harbour. Some great fresh fish and seafood to be bought here. A ferryman will row you across the river for 90p! Otherwise it’s a walk up to a disused railway bridge.
Lots of interesting things buried in the sand for the dog to sniff.
It was our second attempt at introducing the Treacle to the sea, but she didn’t seem that impressed. She was much more excited by the potential of sand for digging. She also had the walkies of her life. We set out early each day for a long walk through the dunes to the harbour and various other parts of the nearby countryside. She’s come back home looking a lot slimmer than when she left.
I’d like to think we have too, but there were too many cream teas, home-made cakes, ice creams, good pub food and local beer (Adnams Brewery has its home in Southwold) so I doubt that’s the case.
Do I look relaxed? Because I was. It was a wonderful week.
World Book Day was back in March – it’s a chance for children at schools all over the country to dress up as characters from their favourite books.
I’ve not heard of anyone dressing up as characters from MONSTER & CHIPS so these photos sent to me by a mum yesterday are a first, as far as I know! And they’re brilliant!
Take a look at ‘Joe’. He’s absolutely perfect – even the hair is right! And look at those hand-sewn zombie cupcakes! Spectacular creativity and a lot of hard work too. My day is officially MADE.
I’ve surprised myself that I really enjoy book events – something I didn’t expect when I started out doing them. I work with a great age group that are enthusiastic and full of ideas, and are not afraid to push things a little! [Click on the image to make it bigger.]
One such event took place at Oxford’s Bookfeast on Tuesday, as part of their annual schools festival. I did a couple of drawing-and-talking activities in the wonderful surroundings of the Pitt Rivers Museum, hidden at the back of the University’s Natural History Museum. The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a huge collection of anthropology and archaeology from around the world and made for an amazing venue. So many inspirational objects to look at whilst I scribbled away on the flip chart!
The kids are also very good at asking very direct questions. These didn’t all come from Tuesday’s audience but are fairly representative of the type of things I get asked [click to make bigger]:
I’m always trying to think of ways to improve my presentation and make it more entertaining, and am curious to see what other authors do.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match author Veronica Cosantelli, however, who turned up for her event with her corn snake, named Thisbe, in tow. I tried to take a snap but Thisbe was just too busy to pose – she’d already done a runner in the car park! Gorgeous colours and patterns on her scales. I’m sure she was a hit with the audience.
Thanks so much to the organisers of Bookfeast for inviting me along for the day, and in particular to volunteers Sue and Mervyn who looked after me so well. As ex-teachers they were great with the kids which is always helpful.
My co-creator on JAMPIRES (coming soon!), Sarah McIntyre, has written a blog post for event organisers on how to make for a good author visit. There should probably be a companion piece on ‘How to be a good author when on a visit’ – it’s always good to be as prepared as possible!
Speaking of events, I’ll be at the MCM EXPO in London’s EXCEL centre this weekend with loads of comics folk, gamers, movie and anime fans and, of course, those crazy cosplayers.
I’ve not been to an MCM EXPO in a while and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be camped out in the comics village at table CP6 in my ink+PAPER hat on (not actually a hat) and probably scribbling away on something – do stop for a chat if you’re there.
It’s been a busy few days with a bit of wandering around but I’m back home and suffering silently (NOT REALLY) with a nasty cold. Here’s what’s been happening:
Also known as the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, it’s a relatively recent addition to the literary festival circuit. However, that hasn’t stopped it being ambitious in its programme as well as beautifully organised – and all in a lovely setting up in the Cotswolds.
I was there as part of the Schools Programme, visiting Kingham and Chadlington Primary Schools for some monster drawing workshops! Here’s a pic of me in action that I’ve stolen from the Twitter feed of the wonderful HarperCollins publicist Becca Palmer (@BeePea91) who was super-efficient in getting me out into the wilds of Oxfordshire and back again, safe and sound.
The children came up with some brilliant ideas (no surprises there, from my experience with these events) but also asked some very direct questions about writing and creating books – some budding authors there, I think. Either way, it was a lot of fun!
Here’s a pic (also stolen from the Twitter feed of @ChipLitFest themselves) of some of the other authors attending the Schools Programme at a superb dinner organised by the festival team at The Chequers:
Thanks so much to everyone behind the scenes at the festival: drivers, selling volunteers, food makers and wonderful bookshop Jaffe & Neale for hosting our lovely Green Room. It all made for a brilliant time!
After the festival I dashed off to Heathrow airport to catch the last flight of the day to Amsterdam. I lived there for a couple of years and absolutely love it. It’s been four years since I’ve been back, but as soon as I stepped off the ‘plane everything felt very familiar and I was very much at home. It was the weekend of the first King’s Day so all the locals were in a party mood, filling the city with a relaxed but convivial atmosphere.
Saturday had the perfect weather for wandering around old haunts, looking for bargains in the tax and licence-free flea-market that’s permitted just for the day, and also for general people-watching. Everyone wears the national colour of orange so the streets and canals have a vibrant and jolly feel to them.
It was also a chance to spot the Dutch edition of Monster & Chips or De Monster-Snackbar, as it’s called, out in the wild. Excitingly, it was on display in the five-storey Scheltema bookshop on Koningsplein.
De Monster-Snackbar looks great in this hardback edition. It’s published by Veltman-Jeugd and translated by Sandra Hessels. There were lots of fabulous picture books on sale, so I picked up a few of those as souvenirs too.
Coincidentally my friend Dirk spotted De Monster-Snackbar in SpeelBoek in Amersfoort at the same time! Thanks, Dirk.
Now it’s time to get back to work, if I can shake off the sniffles! Lots to do. I’m working on some picture books and doing some writing too, for picture books and ‘young fiction’ (ages 7-10).
Added to that, I started a novel a while back and am keen to get it finished in the next year or so – will have to fit that in somewhere.
Some events: I’ve mentioned the Alt Press Takeover in a previous post. I’ve also got myself a table at the MCM Expo at the end of May which is usually pretty crazy. It’s a while since I’ve been to an Expo so I’m really looking forward to that.
Before then, I’m in Oxford at the Bookfeast for more monster shenanigans. See you there?
I drew this comic to illustrate my attempts at allowing myself some free-thinking R&D time: time to develop those random ideas that pop up (usually just before I fall asleep, or when I’m wide awake at 4am) and see if I can make something more substantial from them.
Over a year ago, I wrote a post about time management and I thought I should update on my progress on this tricky topic, for my own records and anyone else that might be interested in an admittedly dry subject! I got quite a response from that post so it must be a common challenge. Long, dull post alert!
The general idea was to avoid work swamping other aspects of life through proper planning and use of the many tools and techniques available. There would always be times when a work situation would take priority but the hope was that this could be minimised with a bit of organisation. There were not supposed to be too many hard and fast rules, it was more about trying to find a framework to use as a reference.
I’ll recap all the tools I wrote about in January 2013 and how effective they’ve proven to be since.
PC and Android smartphone: the foundation of everything! Making use of Cloud-based software means I’ve got rid of my written to-do list and paper diary. I take meeting notes in a notebook as this is still quicker than anything else, but I transfer them to some kind of electronic form immediately afterwards.
As well as the PC/phone combo, I also make a lot of use of my iPad for work. It’s portable but doesn’t suffer as much as a phone from clumsy typing. Useful for going through my emails in bed with an early morning coffee, or doing a bit of work over cake in a wifi-friendly cafe! I’ve also used it (with a bluetooth keyboard) on a long train journey to do some proper document writing. A very handy gadget indeed.
The other bit of new ‘hardware’ is… my dog. Having something completely dependent on you means that your time is not your own any more. My dog has to be let out in the morning, fed, walked, groomed (and cuddled). These are obligations that I can’t ignore. But whilst these obligations take up time they have had an unexpected side-effect of making me more organised. As she has her own routine, I’ve developed a routine around her – always good for getting things done. I get up much earlier than I used to and get much more admin done in the mornings than before, a time when I’m not at my best creatively. I’m not sure I’d recommend anyone get a dog for time management purposes, but it’s interesting how these things work out!
Google mail/calendar: I’m still completely hooked into these. There’s an email button on Facebook events pages (a source of quite bit of social stuff) that means I can insert them into my calendar easily.
Trello: project management software. I’ve not used this at all as I’ve found other tools that can do a similar job in a slightly less complicated way (OneNote, below). Still could be useful given the right project.
Evernote: a personal database. I’ve replaced this with Microsoft OneNote because I bought a copy of Office and it came with it. Whilst not as pretty as Evernote it does the same job and has become essential for work. Each project (e.g., a book) has its own section in the database with subsections for research notes, inspirational images, publication schedule, marketing ideas and, inevitably, to-do lists. Accessible on all devices via the Cloud, as everything must be now. I love using this: it’s where all my ideas go.
A new thing for me is Pinterest. Complementing OneNote, this is a popular image organising/scrapbooking website (and app). I’ve mixed feelings about Pinterest (and Tumblr) in that they encourage the idea that images on the web don’t belong to anybody, but the upside is that I’ve discovered so much great stuff and brilliant artists.
Twitter/Facebook: I probably use these less and less, interestingly, which has been great for clawing back time. A quick scan of the feeds a few times a day to keep in touch with what everyone’s doing and that’s about it. I still use them for plugging my work (which I’m trying not to feel guilty about) but the informal discussion/chat side of things has never felt natural to me so I’ve pretty much given up on that. I still don’t know what the ideal is for social networking vs. productivity.
Finally, a quick mention of Photoshop actions, where you can record and save your keystrokes for repetitive tasks. I use these a lot, particularly for book and comic work where many (if not hundreds) of pages have the same layer structure and settings, and to prep black and white art for colouring. I know some experienced Photoshop users who have never made use of these and it would save them a lot of time and tedium.
Wall calendar: I have a year planner stuck to my wall for a quick at-a-glance view of the year. I’ve not made as much use of this as I thought I would, to the point where I didn’t bother buying one for 2014 and made my own instead. Still good for a quick snapshot of the year for events and deadlines.
Email use: I use the five sentences rule as much as I can and it really works. Email inbox is officially under control! I’ve not being very good at restricting my email time to specific periods but that’s not so much an issue as I feel like I have email sorted at the moment.
Calendar/to-do list: I tried to get rid of my to-do list by putting tasks in the calendar and thus time-boxing them. This was successful for a while, then the to-do lists started creeping back in. It was the same problem that I’d always had of under-estimating time needed to do particular things and not completing them in the designated time limit.
Consequently, I now use the calendar for recording how much time I spend on a task for future reference, e.g. the number of hours spent on 100 illustrations for a 200 page chapter book, a task I’ve had to do more than once and hopefully will get to do more of in the future! I also work out daily targets for a piece of work. For a basic example, if I need to do 100 illustrations in 6 weeks, that means I have to do 100/(6 weeks x 5 working days) = approx 4 illos every working day. If I meet the daily target it makes me less panicky about the final deadline, plus I’ve allowed contingency by not including the weekends as work time so there’s a safety net as well.
As for the to-do lists, I try to keep them short and specific, with a list for the day and a list of medium term priorities. I keep these in OneNote. NO POST-IT NOTES ALLOWED!
I think my time management has improved a lot in the last year but it’s still a struggle. One thing I’ve found is that those tasks that fall by the wayside (housework, home decorating) do so not because I don’t have time but because I don’t want to do them at all. It’s important to be honest with yourself as to why you’re not doing something and not blame it on lack of time by default. There may be other ways to deal with it – pass it on to someone else, perhaps?
Free day: something I’m experimenting with recently (and going back to today’s comic) is allowing myself a ‘free day’ a week to work on whatever idea is bugging me at the current time or just have some non-work drawing/writing fun, regardless of a deadline or not. It sounds very decadent, but I’ve so many ideas I’m worried will never see the light of day just because they are having to wait their turn and are constantly getting pushed to the back of the queue by other priorities. The next day I go back to scheduled work and the idea/fun has to wait until the next week’s free day. This way I get to do some enjoyable R&D stuff and still feel like I’m keeping everything bubbling along at the same time. It’s as close to multi-tasking as I’ll ever get.
I’ve made an entry in my calendar (POW!) to write another update on my time management in a year’s time. Meanwhile, the struggle continues…
Taking advantage of the spring sunshine, we zipped along surprisingly quiet roads for a day at Whitstable on the Kent coast yesterday. The countryside was looking particularly fecund as we drove along – lots of flowering fruit trees and fields of shocking yellow oilseed. Whitstable was fairly quiet when we arrived but soon began to bustle.
It was a multi-purpose visit. We were taking the new car for a test run (it worked), trying out some seafood (fishfinger sandwiches – yum!), doing a bit of walking, some book research and also to introduce the dog to the sea (she was not impressed). Lots of colours and textures and things of interest to look at (for us and the dog).
I thought Whitstable sounded like a good name for a character so drew a comic-ette featuring him:
What else am I up to? I’m doing a couple of school events as part of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival just after Easter, after which I’m rushing straight to the airport to fly to Amsterdam for its first ever King’s Day – I’m expecting some Dutch-style craziness if the previous Queen’s Days were anything to go by.
Then on May 10th I’ll have table at the Alternative Press Takeover at the Bishopsgate Institute. I’ve been to many alternative press shows in the past few years and you can’t beat them for the diversity of material on display. Certainly some of the most inspiring small press events I’ve been to. Do come along – it’s free to get in!
Aside from that, I’m working on a few picture books, some illustration work and some new writing projects – plenty to keep me busy. Oh and don’t forget that the Monster & Chips drawing competition on The Guardian website is ongoing until April 29th – have a go at drawing your own monster and win prizes!
There were Secret Agent shenanigans at the Discover Children’s Story Centre last weekend – was everyone exactly who they seemed?
What exactly was going on?
Have no fear – it was just a bunch of comic illustrators being nutty as usual. That’s Secret Agents Richy K. Chandler, Laura Ellen Anderson and Jamie Littler (whose photo I’ve pinched) up top, and escapees Sarah McIntyre (another victim of photo theft) and me below. All part of Discover’s Big Write Festival!
The Centre has an amazing interactive exhibition running throughout the summer, taking the form of a secret agent academy. It really is fun, and quite challenging too – definitely worth a visit just for that.
However, at the weekend there were loads of other activities as well, with author and illustrator visits and a comic making workshop, which it was my pleasure to organise. It was secret agent-themed too!
I made a poster for it and some other artwork you can see below. I also created some activity sheets for visitors: a character design page, a colouring sheet and a comic/book cover. You can download printable versions of all of these from my activities page.
Here are some ideas-and-inspiration posters I created for the workshop space:
And I also made some bunting with a secret code displayed on it, so special messages around the room could be decoded. You can see it in this photo hanging above the busy secret agent workshoppers:
Speaking of busy, here’s Agent Littler doing some live-drawing (photo by Richy). Check out Richy’s blog for more photos of Saturday.
On Sunday we were joined by Sarah, and the super-talented and funny Gary Northfield and Alex Milway. It was quite unseasonably sunny, so we relocated to Discover’s fantastic garden for our comic-making.
As usual I didn’t think to take photos but Sarah has written a lovely comprehensive report on her blog. Loads of photos from inside the Centre too!
Thanks so much to all the brilliant illustrators who came and helped me with this event, and to the Discover Centre for being such wonderful hosts and looking after us all. If you came along, I hope you enjoyed yourself – congratulations, you are officially Secret Agent Comic-makers!
I celebrated World Book Day a bit later than the official day (last Thursday) but last Saturday was a lot of fun, nonetheless!
I was the guest of the brilliant Natasha and Jim, who run Chicken & Frog, the only independent children’s book shop in Brentwood, and who provide the warmest welcome in Essex!
It’s a great little shop – a real treasure trove of wonderful books.
Not only that, they run a creative writing club, as well as other tuition services. The back of the shop is set up for writing, drawing and other activities – a fantastic local resource. Do go and say hello (and buy some books) if you’re in the neighbourhood!
It was straight down to business, drawing and creating monsters (with help from some very keen artists and story-makers). Jim & Natasha have kindly let me borrow some of their photos for this report: look how colourful and cosy the shop is!
We made an epic battle between the sometimes evil/sometimes good Dr Frankenspring (and his radioactive shrinking sandwich) and the jelly-like Turkey Bocotpus, whose appetite seemed to get him into trouble. Then it was into the workshop room for some individual monster-making activities. There were some monstrously inventive work going on.
You can download the monster-making sheets from my activities page, if you want to have a go yourself. I’ll be adding more printable things to it soon, so keep an eye on it.
Huge thanks to Chicken & Frog for looking after me – I had a lovely time!
The Mill is a community centre (though it’s much, much more than that – see their website for details) which Discover took over for a day of story making, and they asked me to help with a drop-in comic-making table. I made some comic templates (which you can download from here) and took along a bunch of copies of the wonderful Phoenix comic for some inspiration. I had some friendly competition from a table devoted to biscuit-making and decorating!
There was a map theme to the event, so I’d made a treasure map-style comic, which seemed to go down well. Other brave souls were quite happy to create their own comics without any assistance. I posted below photos of just a very few of the brilliant comics created on the day. There was so much good stuff it was very difficult to choose which to show!
As well as biscuits and comics there was a story-telling monster yurt(!) and some poetry reading too. Discover are holding another Story Party this Saturday at the Paradox Centre in Chingford – do come along!
I’ll being writing about another exciting Discover Centre event that I’m taking part in very soon.
Speaking of comics, this week sees the return of W.A.S.P., the Webcomic Artist Swap Project! Masterminded by Richy K. Chandler, the event lets various webcomic creators loose on each others comics! It’s a lot of fun for us and also give readers the chance to discover new comics. This year, it was my privilege to work on a very beautiful comic – it’ll appear this Friday, so watch the W.A.S.P. website for details! And there will be a special guest on the recently resurrected Tozo on Wednesday.
Deadlines done and dusted, I escaped into the real world last night to go and see Comica Festival director Paul Gravett interview US comic artist Paul Pope, who had been visiting Europe for the Angoulême festival. I love the fluid and inky brush technique he uses (contrarily, I’ve drawn my fan-art of his character Battling Boy with a pen, but only because it’s new and I’m trying it out).
It was a fascinating talk, as Pope is a candid speaker with an uncompromising attitude to his art. He spoke of the his time working with a Japanese manga producer and their terrifyingly strict corporate approach to producing comics, and his rejection of working for the big mainstream US comic publishers in favour of book publishers who tend to be more experimental in the type of material they’ll publish. He also talked about his experiences of working with the film industry (a Battling Boy film is apparently in the works) and how writing the screenplay at the same time as writing the comic could potentially affected the course of the book. He did a bit of live-drawing too, which was fun to watch. He is obviously someone who loves what they do and it was a pretty inspirational evening – lots of thought-provoking stuff for the journey home.
A very happy New Year to everyone! 2013 was pretty great all round, and I hope 2014 brings lots of good things to all.
I’ve lots of exciting things planned for the coming year. It’s going to be a busy one! As ever, fitting it all in is going to take some major planning, which is hard work in itself. I’m revisiting my time-management bag of tricks, and flexing those organisational muscles in preparation.
Monster & Chips Audiobooks
Here’s a bit of Monster & Chips news: the first audiobook is released tomorrow, read by the supremely talented actor Oliver Hembrough. It’s so exciting to hear someone else’s interpretation of the story and I absolutely love it! You can listen to an extract on SoundCloud (or clicking the orange play button in this very post).
The other books in the series will also be released as audiobooks in due course, available as downloadable mp3 or as CDs from libraries. I’ll post buying links in the Monster & Chips page when I’ve dug them out.
Every author loves getting emails or letters about their books (even if it’s saying something horrible – at least it means someone is paying attention!) but the best letters and emails are the ones where the writer has been creative! And there’s nothing more creative than a bit of baking.
Ansel (8) and Toby (6) made their very own zombie cupcakes from Monster & Chips! They’re rather fearsome. I particularly like the little feet made from raisins and the rather cross looking fellow above. You wouldn’t want to meet these cakes on a dark night so best eat them up fast! BRRAAIINNNS!
This reminds me of the magnificent cakes made by Polly a while back. Feeling a bit hungry now!
Last Saturday was the Autumn Comiket at Central St Martins College of Art. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a comic convention so I was looking forward to it.
Here’s a pic of my table with my new display stand. Very useful for hiding from potential customers! I was sharing a table with Paul Ashley Brown, who I’d not met before but who was excellent company during quite a long day.
I was asked to take part in the Drawing Parade, doing a bit of live drawing on the big screen. It was quite nerve-wracking but I think it came out ok.
I was supposed to supply a sound-track of music that I listen to when I’m drawing. However, I don’t listen to music when I work so I suggested the first thing that came into my head: the Scissor Sisters. Not sure how appreciative the audience were!
Here’s me in action (pic borrowed from Is Right Cartoons @isrightcartoons on Twitter). Here’s how the drawing turned out:
Comics prodigy Zoom Rockman and elder statesman Gary Northfield did a comics jam together which was a lot of fun. Also live drawing were Katie Green, Kripa Joshi, Dan Berry, Takayo Akiyama, Isabel Greenberg, Jingxuan Hu, Ginny & Penelope Skinner, Oscar Zarate, Ilya, Metaphrog, Alex Potts, Gareth Brookes (live embroidery!) and Krent Able.
As usual, socializing is part and parcel of the day. Great to talk to Broken Frontier reviewer Andy Oliver and Keara Stewart, Tanya Meditzky and Lando in the pub afterwards. The next Comiket is going to be in the British Library, no less! Looking forward to it.
Yesterday evening I popped along to the swish environs of Kensington Palace to attend the annual HarperCollins Authors’ Party. I’ve never visited KP before and I must go back for a proper look as it is rather lovely and quite subtle, as palaces go.
The party was in the Orangery. Lots of book types milling around and waiters carrying plates of tiny little hors d’oeuvre. All a long way from Fuzzby’s monster diner. I was going to take more photos, particularly of the wonderful editorial team who have made Monster and Chips so much fun to work on, but once I had a glass of champagne in my hand that was it. Probably just as well.
Victoria Barnsley, the CEO of HarperCollins, had announced her resignation a few days earlier and used the party to give her farewell speech. The Bookseller has covered it here.
She advised publishers to remember they are content providers, not tech companies.She said they should focus on what they do best: producing great stories. I’ve always struggled with focus, personally, wanting to do lots of different things at once. It’s only recently that I’ve felt things come together, recognised what I’m actually good at, rather than what I want to be good at. There’s always room for play and experimentation, as they keep things fresh and help with the learning process. But I’ve realised I have to stay grounded if I’m going to achieve anything with my work, and finally the benefits are beginning to show.
It’s my dog’s first birthday today! She’s still as cute as when she was a little puppy, but getting her to sit still for a photo is quite a job. We’re off to the park for a bit of frisbee playing in the sunshine. Have a great day!