Here’s what has been happening with me for the first part of this year.
When I’m a Mummy Like You!, the picture booked created by me and Francesca Gambatesa was released into the wild in February! We had a launch party at Gosh! Comics in Soho to celebrate (pic by Sarah McIntyre). It’s also out now in the US as When I’m a Mommy Like You! You can read a lovely review at Bookblog Book Monsters here. Francesca spotted the book in Foyles window as part of a Mother’s Day display.
We had to talk about our book characters and then lead the audience in a draw-along – the (huge) audience were very enthusiastic and some fantastic drawings were produced.
Read Sarah’s report here (from where I pinched these pics).
In March I had another big event at Leicester Author Week, organised by Whatever It Takes, an initiative to encourage reading within the city. I gave a talk to two sets of school children – about 400 children in all – about my work, followed by creative writing workshops. It was a busy day, but a lot of fun! Thanks to WIT for organising it, probably the best organised event I’ve been invited to. (Pic by WIT)
— Louisa Fielding (@WeezyFielding) March 2, 2017
— Keeley Darrington (@KeelsD76) March 2, 2017
— Michelle C (@TheTrueMC) March 2, 2017
Currently, I’m working on the edits for the first book of my novel series with Bloomsbury books, which comes out next year. An illustrator has been chosen and I’m very excited about the whole thing. Fingers crossed that other people like it too!
2016 is rapidly coming to its end and most people seem to be quite happy about that, as far as I can tell. It’s been a bit of a bumpy one, current affairs-wise, but 2017 promises more of the same. Let’s hope that cooler, wiser heads will prevail and that it’s not too troublesome.
For me, the second half of 2016 (as it’s been that long since I updated this blog!) was quiet, book-wise. I was focused almost entirely on writing, something that makes me very happy! I can report that the first draft of the first of my two books for Bloomsbury has been handed in, and I’m awaiting the editorial verdict. I’m expecting lots of red pen as even I could see the flaws of this draft, but I’m looking forward to fixing things up with my editors’ help. I love the world I’ve created in this book and really enjoyed writing it, in spite of a few uneven
sentences paragraphs chapters. I have to finish this book and hand in the first draft of the second book by June next year, so I’m expecting the first six months of 2017 to be spent tapping away on a keyboard…
…apart from January/February, when I’ll be working on the illustrations for this book written by Tom Nicoll. It’s very funny and I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty on the drawings. There are some great, quirky characters in it, which are always very satisfying to do. More info on that when I’m allowed to show it.
Speaking of quirky characters, I drew a whole bunch of them for Inktober. This is an internet community thing set up by artist Jake Parker. It encourages artists to create an ink-based picture every day for the whole of October. It’s a chance to draw just for fun, without the aid of a computer, and not be too precious about the splats and smudges. I’ve posted all thirty-one pictures on my Instagram account .
The last Creature Teacher book was published in July. It’s now out in six languages (English, Turkish, Danish, Slovak, Hungarian and Vietnamese) which is very pleasing.
Writer Sam Watkins is currently working on a new series from Egmont: The Fintastic Diary of Darcy Dolphin which is out soon, and I’m sure will be… well, fintastic!
Jampires has become something of a Hallowe’en book – not quite what Sarah McIntyre and I intended, but I love hearing about little Jampires turning up at costume parties in October – there are more and more each year!
On the subject of Jampires, here is Mrs Coventry from St Joseph’s School in Keighley, Yorkshire, reading the book aloud for us:
A very impressive performance! I went to a workshop for children’s writers in October on how to inject a bit of drama into book presentations so I’m hoping my reading skills have buffed up a bit. It was hosted by the Golden Egg Academy who mentor up-and-coming authors through the writing and publication process. It was an excellent day and the Golden Eggers are a lovely bunch of people too. I’ve a big couple of presentations in March (among other things) where I need to step up my showbiz side a bit more.
— Anthony Ho-Ho-HoBurt (@AnthonyJBurt) October 22, 2016
My most recent public gig was at the brilliant Brentwood Children’s Literature Festival back in July, organised by Natasha and Jim at the Chicken & Frog Bookshop. It was very well-organised for a first-time festival and there was a great crowd at the Brentwood theatre to see me do my Monster & Chips comic-making spiel. Some fab comics came out of it too, my favourite being about a prince and princess who meet, fall in love… and are eaten by a giant fly. (Pic below by Natasha.)
— JANE MILES (@MrsJaneMiles) July 29, 2016
Here are some more monster-y drawings that have been sent my way – firstly, this fearsome chap who comes with his own specials board (I love this colour combination!):
— Sophie Anderson (@sophieinspace) October 8, 2016
And also this brilliant comic featuring Fuzzby and pals (a couple of years old but which I only just found out about on the Imagination Project website):
Last, but definitely not least, I’m very excited about the next book from me and the amazing Francesca Gambatesa: When I’m A Mummy Like You! It’s out in early February (just in time for Mothering Sunday in the UK) and a bit later in the US – where it’s called When I’m A Mommy Like You! (obviously).
I can’t get over how super Francesca’s art is – there’s more at the book page. She’s done such a wonderful job with my rhyming nonsense and I hope people love it! There’ll be a launch party at some point which I’ll post about here when we’ve firmed up the details.
I’m going to be offline for the rest of the year but have lots of plans for 2017 so will be back refreshed and recharged in January.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful 2017!
I’m off for a summer break soon, escaping to the seaside from the city and its current political wailing and grinding of teeth. There is a folder filled with creative projects going with me. Past experience says they won’t even make it out of the suitcase – it’s good to do nothing sometimes. I might post some terrible snaps on Instagram, but aside from that it will be a very welcome social media-free zone.
To counteract that, here is a blog post written around other people’s Twitter photos! I may not do social media very well but I can’t deny it’s very useful.
Out and About
— Hachette Children’s (@HachetteKids) June 21, 2016
I was very privileged to be asked along to the first Lollies awards ceremony recently, hosted by TV presenters Sam & Mark, to honour the best in funny children’s books. It was a jolly event at the Lyric Theatre in the West End of London with entertainment provided by the performers of the stage show of Horrible Histories. There were even lollies for the audience – very welcome on a hot day.
This year’s winners were:
Picture Book: I Need A Wee! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
6-8 years: Badly Drawn Beth by Knife & Packer
9-13 years: The Parent Agency by David Baddiel & Jim Field
Among the nominees was my book buddy Jamie Littler, one of the hardest working people around. He wasn’t a winner on the day, alas, but it was great to see him recognised, and to see an award for funny books to replace the late lamented Roald Dahl Funny Prize. My friend Alex Milway has done a huge amount of work with his This Book is Funny Campaign to highlight the hunger for funny books amongst children. The more attention they can get, the better!
— This Book is Funny! (@ThisBookIsFunny) June 17, 2016
— francesca gam (@francescagam) June 20, 2016
It was great seeing When I’m A Monster Like You, Dad! in various shop windows over the Father’s Day weekend. It’s going down well in the U.S., apparently, and everyone wants to know what Francesca will do for the illustrations for our second book together (including me). There will be a wait, I’m afraid, as that’s not out until early next year. However, you can colour in some of her illustrations with these lovely activity sheets she made, available on my activity page.
— Brentwood Art Trail (@BwdArtTrail) June 21, 2016
I will be at the Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival next month, and in the run up to that I’m taking part in the Brentwood Art Trail. Some of my illustrations are in the window of the wonderful Chicken and Frog Bookshop, who are organisers of the festival. I’ll be running a writing workshop on the 29th July so do come along – tickets are available at the above link.
Meanwhile, I’m super-excited about a new book deal which means I’ll be writing a couple of books for an older age group (9-12 years) than my usual 7-10 years. It doesn’t sound like a big age gap but there’s quite a leap in reading ability in that time. Monster & Chips was about twelve thousand words in all, these will be about thirty thousand words long: loads more to write but loads more to play with, developing characters and exploring new worlds. It’s going to be a real challenge but I’m so looking forward to it, especially as I’ll have an editor holding my hand along the way. The first book won’t be out until 2018 but I can’t wait to see what people think.
Now, off to pack my bucket and spade!
Blogging is less of a chore when there are lots of nice things to write about.
Firstly, lovely letters. Here’s a drawing from Theo, aged 7, a Monster & Chips reader. He’s drawn a brilliant monster with a snot-burger and chips. Great use of colours, too. You can almost smell the fart!
I also had a very nice letter from Charlie, which was beautifully written, so I’ve taken extra care with my reply. Charlie, from St Bede’s School in Weaverham, said the Barry the cat was his favourite character in Monster & Chips so here’s a little picture of Barry that I drew at the bottom of the letter.
I couldn’t be more pleased for writer Sam Watkins as it was her first published book. And I was completely bowled over when Sam tweeted about an animated trailer that the children from the participating schools had made. It’s absolutely amazing and I keep replaying it and having a chuckle!
Freshmade NYC are a cooking and craft studio that run cookery sessions for kids in New York City. They have a storybook cooking class, which sounds like a fab idea, and recently ran a Jampires doughnut making session! Here’s a pic from their Instagram feed:
Banana doughnuts! Yum.
What am I up to at the moment? I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately and a few weeks back finished a manuscript for a book idea that I’m really hopeful will prove to be publisher-friendly. It’s doing the rounds of publishers right now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed and praying to the book gods that it works out.
I’m also working on a window artwork display for the nice people at Chicken & Frog bookshop in Brentwood. I visited them a couple of years back and am doing an event for the Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival which they are organising (tickets on sale!). It’s not something I’ve done before so it’s very exciting.
In the meantime, When I’m A Monster Like You, Dad! is out in the shops very soon! My advance copies arrived from the publisher today. Illustrator Francesca Gambatesa and I are hosting a launch event at Gosh! Comics in London on the evening of May 27th – all are welcome, so do come along if you can and say hello (and buy a book!).
It’s officially out today (although I think it’s been in some shops for a bit): Creature Teacher is here!
Written by Sam Watkins and with illos by me, it’s the story of Mr Hyde, everyone’s favourite teacher, who has a rather unusual secret: he turns into a weird creature whenever he gets upset!
It’s a great read and very funny, and I hope it’s a huge success for Sam as it’s her debut book! We’ve not yet met but will be doing a few events together in Worthing in a couple of weeks – very exciting! Purple snot may be involved. Allegedly.
There’s loads more info about the book on our Creature Teacher website (including important buying stuff).
You can find out about all the characters, read an extract from the story, and Sam’s also come up with some brilliant writing and drawing activities which can be downloaded for printing.
Make your own purple snot! Test your slug general knowledge! Make some moon rock cakes!
I did the illustrations for the book digitally, which helped a lot in meeting the deadlines. It still meant there were a few steps in the process of making them, but no boring scanning which always takes ages.
Here’s a walk-through of my process for making an illustration, where Mr Hyde’s doing some crazy dancing in front of the class!
1. I get sent a PDF of the book where the designer has left spaces for the illustrations with suggestions for what they might be. I worked with the lovely Sarah Darby – we’ve not met but I reckon she has a heck of a social life.
3. Then I draw a rough (digital) pencil sketch showing a bit more detail. This normally goes back to the designer for approval.
5. The finished illustration. I’ve added some grey tones and a bit of texture to make things interesting. The designer may make further tweaks, particularly if there have been changes to the text layout, but otherwise we’re all done!
Creature Teacher is the first of a series of four books (I’m about to start working on Book 2). Do go and buy it – it’s in the shops now!
I had a good post day yesterday and, appropriately enough for World Book Day, it was a book! With my pictures in it!
Creature Teacher is the first of a series of books written by Sam Watkins, and it’s been my privilege to have illustrated it.
A strange thing happens to Jake’s teacher Mr Hyde when he gets upset: he turns into a little monster that causes chaos in the classroom!It’s up to Jake and his friends to keep Mr Hyde’s secret from horrible headmistress Mrs Blunt.
It was huge fun to do the pics for this – it’s a brilliant, funny read, and there’s more to come. It’s published by OUP and the editor was Peter Marley, with design by Sarah Darby and Molly Dallas.
Creature Teacher is in the shops from April 2nd. There’s buying information on my dedicated Creature Teacher page.
I’m probably going to be staying off the internet for the remainder of the year, what with Christmas busy-ness and so on, so here’s a quick catch-up post. I’ve had a few computer issues recently so haven’t been able to update as much as I would like, particularly about November’s Thought Bubble Comic Festival up in Leeds.
Sarah wrote a magnificently comprehensive post about the weekend (you’re better off reading that than any account I could write) and what I really like about it is how she gets across how much fun the weekend was.
Particularly because of the help we had from Matt Badham and Molly Bruton in manning the tables (see the photo I’ve pinched from Sarah).They were great company and marvellous sales-people, and it really made a difference having their help. I’m not planning on doing any comic conventions next year so this was a lovely event on which to end 2014.
Speaking of Jampires, if you’re a crafty type and looking for last-minute gifts ideas, why not knit someone their very own Jampire? Graffiti knitter Lauren O’Farrell has conjured up a pattern to make a woolly version of our little jammy dodgers. I guess you could use whatever colour wool you like depending on your favourite flavour of jam. My mum’s a bit of a knitter so I’m hoping she’ll make me one!
It’s been a good year, though not as productive as I’d like (but then I always say that). I had two books out in 2014, and will have two books out next year (that I illustrated) with books that I’ve written following on from that.
I still need lots more projects to keep me busy and all the bills paid, and I’ve loads of ideas, but it takes a while for things to happen, and I keep getting caught out by just how slow the publishing world is. You need to have many irons in the fire, all the time, as so many of the ideas you come up with won’t go anywhere.
I’ve been doing loads of writing and have joined an excellent writing group which has helped with that a lot.
Most recently I’ve written a book around this little chap which is one of the projects I hope will find a home somewhere in the new year. I’ve also ideas for picture books, early readers, comics and more. It’s just a case of getting it all down on the page! And that takes time! TIME! Ugh – there’s never enough of the stuff. So that’s what I’m planning to do over Christmas (with a festively-appropriate break, of course): have an Idea Audit, and spend time Getting Things on Paper so I can start 2015 up-and-running and ready to go!
I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a brilliant New Year.
If you fancy some spooky fun this forthcoming half term then drop by the Story Museum in Oxford city centre on Tuesday 28th October. I’ll be doing a monster-themed comic workshop in the morning, and then in the afternoon will be joined by Sarah McIntyre for a JAMPIRE JAMBOREE! All the details including tickets can be found at the Story Museum website.
I’ve had a couple of ‘good post’ days recently. Not so long ago the postman brought the Dutch edition of book 2 of Monster & Chips or ‘De Monster-Snackbar‘. The book has been given the sub-title “The Pizza of Darkness” as I guess “Night of the Living Bread” doesn’t translate! As ever, the Dutch publisher and translator Sandra Hessels have done a great job and it’s a prized addition to my personal corner of the bookshelf.
Joining it is a version of book 1 that’s been repackaged by Sainsbury’s for their reading scheme. It’s in hardback and full-colour, and reprints chapter 1, where Joe first meets Fuzzby! It’s part of the scheme’s Ruby Level so ideal for those readers comfortable with reading alone. It’s available in stores from the end of August.
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!
Excitingly, The Guardian are running a MONSTER & CHIPS competition throughout April where you can win a piece of original art drawn by me!
Get your pencils, pens and crayons together and create your own monster – the winning entry gets their monster drawn into a picture by me, as well as a signed copy of Monster & Chips: Food Fright! There are runners-up prizes of books too. I can’t wait to see what people come up with. All the details can be found over at The Guardian’s website.
For the competition, The Guardian asked me to give my ten top tips for creating monsters. I’ve reproduced them here:
The Monster and Chips series of books have an enormous cast of characters but very few of them are actually human (or “hooman”, as the monsters say). From Fuzzby Bixington, the monster chef, to Uncton Slugglesbutt, his villainous rival, I’ve had to create and draw all kinds of strange and funny creatures to inhabit Monsterworld. The wonderful thing about making monsters is that there are no rules, but here are some things that might help you while working in your own creature laboratory.
- When drawing a monster, start with a simple shape that fits its character: maybe an oval for a fat, blobby monster or a rectangle for tall, strong tree-monster or a triangle for a squat, pointy-headed frog monster. Or combine all three for something really strange… Blobotreefrogasaurus!
- What is the body made of? Is it covered in bright green fur like Fuzzby, the owner of the Monster Diner? Or a hard insect exoskeleton like Gordon, a customer who dissolves his food with acid saliva? Or maybe wobbling blue jelly, like flatulent Mr Jubbins and his see-through tummy?
- How many heads? Just one eye or fifty-three? Four ears or seven antlers? As many legs as a centipede or a one-legged hopping monster? The sky is the limit (especially if the legs are really long). Just remember that drawing twenty-nine tentacles can get boring very quickly if you have to do it over and over again.
- Does your monster wear clothes? Monster apparel is something that is often forgotten. Perhaps King Kong would have been more welcome if he’d worn a smart tie, stripy socks and patent leather shoes. Would people have run screaming from Godzilla if he’d been wearing a woolly cardigan and a bobble hat? Choose your monster’s attire carefully: it’s a fine line between trendy triumph and monster fashion disaster!
- Gross is good: the grosser the better. Everyone likes a fart joke. Even your granny (probably)! Make your monster as disgusting as possible. Sludge-drippingly, mucous-oozingly, slime-burpingly, toilet-stinkingly, cheese-bubblingly, bog-gurglingly, toe-chewingly, bum-scratchingly, tongue-dibblingly disgusting. But make sure you’ve had your dinner first.
- Speaking of dinner, what does your monster like to eat? Everyone loves the monster-sized chips served at Fuzzby’s Diner, but perhaps your monster has a particular favourite food? Stinky Coughy Pudding? Splodgeburgers? CHILDREN ON TOAST? The food it eats can reveal a lot about your monster’s character.
- Where does your monster live? A lovely, tidy monster house with curtains tied back with ribbon? Or a dark, toadstool-infested cave with hot-and-cold running rats? Or maybe UNDER YOUR BED RIGHT NOW? EEEK! In Food Fright, the “hooman” boy Joe discovers a load of monsters are living in the shadowy sewers beneath Fuzzby’s diner. If only he can find his way out…
- Does your monster have a job? All the Bixington family are cooks or chefs. Fuzzby’s cousin Zuffby is an expert monster mega-sandwich maker. Perhaps your monster is a teacher, teaching young monsters rending and writhing? Or a mechanic, like Fuzzby’s friend Petrolla who specialises in machines that explode (sometimes on purpose).
- How does your monster talk? Does it have its own language? Does it roar like a dragon with fiery special effects? Or does it fart Morse code? Does it sound creepy, nice or just plain silly and stupid? In the Monster and Chips books all the monsters sound just like ordinary grown-up humans, as I’ve never heard anything sillier or more stupid than the way ordinary grown-up humans speak.
- Finally, and very importantly, make sure your monster has a name! I like names that tell you something about the monster. Like “Fuzzby” which sounds warm and cuddly. Or “Barry”, which sounds like… um, a cat (luckily there is a cat called Barry in Monster and Chips! Phew!) Alternatively, just throw a load of words together: the audience at a Monster and Chips event at the Edinburgh Book Festival lost year came up with a monster name of Sluggybottom Ninjapants! You can’t get more descriptive than that!
The competition runs until April 29th.
It’s a very important day today!
The third book in the MONSTER & CHIPS series is out today – happy publication day to me!
In Food Fright, Joe, Fuzzby and the gang face the Terror of the Towering Sandwiches, explore the sewers under the Diner, have a Great Brutish Bake-Off and visit the Monster Fair. Lots of messy and disgusting food-related fun!
Once again, the publishers have done an amazing job – the book looks great and it’s wonderful to see it side by side with books 1 and 2. You can find out more on the dedicated Food Fright page.
As part of their Big Write festival, the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford have asked me to organise a drop-in comics workshop on the weekend of 15th-16th March. To tie-in with their amazing Secret Agents interactive exhibition we’re making it Spy-themed! Come along to Codename: COMIC MAKER!
Special Agents Sarah McIntyre, Gary Northfield, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jamie Littler, Richy K Chandler, Alex Milway (and me) will be on hand to guide you – those who dare – on a mission to create their own Secret Agent comic.
They’ll also be signing books and comics on sale in the Centre’s brilliant book shop. It’s just one of the fantastic activities taking place that weekend – the place will be choc-full of book illustrators and writers. All the details can be found here. Hope to see you there!
Jampires via mail
Speaking of Sarah McIntyre reminds me that the printer’s proof of our picture book, JAMPIRES, arrived in the post the other day.
It’s out in September from David Fickling Books – lots more about that in the future.
Also in the post were a couple of advance copies of MONSTER & CHIPS: Food Fright! It’s out a bit sooner: March 27th! I’ve put as much information as I can on the Food Fright book page and will keep it updated when I have more.
World Book Day
Finally, tomorrow is World Book Day (in the UK!). I shall be doing my bit by paying a visit to the Chicken and Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Essex on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be there from 4pm – come along for some drawing fun. Here’s a photo from the shop’s Instagram account – looks like they’re ready for me!
I’m in the final days of what’s known as some ‘ambitious’ deadlines, so have been very quiet as I plug away at Getting Things Done. It feels a little like the new year hasn’t really started yet as I’m still working on projects from last year, but I’m looking forward to getting started on New Stuff very soon.
Monster & Chips News
The Dutch edition of Monster and Chips is in the shops (I think: release dates seem to vary, but it’s ANY DAY NOW, I promise)! It can be found in various online shopping places if you’d like to get hold of a copy, in a very handsome hardback edition. I’m hoping to pop over to the Netherlands at some point to see if I can spot it in the wild. Published by Veltman Jeugd and translated by Sandra Hessels.
It comes out just as I’ve got word that it will be joined on my bookshelf with a Brazilian edition from Editora Fundamento. I’m very excited to see how Fuzzby appears in Portuguese! Mind is officially blown.
Also: the audiobook of Night of the Living Bread should be out on February 6th, if I’ve got my dates right.
Pesky dates! Narrator Oliver Hembrough did such as great job with the first book of the series and I can’t wait to hear book two – it’s almost like a different (better!) book when you hear someone else’s voice reading your words.
As soon as I’ve got any buying links I’ll post them to the book’s homepage.