An Amazing Blog Tour

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Today I have the ABSOLUTE joy of being part of the Amazing blog tour. I was so incredibly lucky to be asked to host a Q&A with the incredibly brilliant Steve Antony – author and illustrator extraordinare.

As soon as I knew I was doing a Q&A, it was inevitable that I had to get my kids involved, so they helped me write the questions (there were SO many they had, so I had to whittle it down!)

Check out the questions and some brilliant responses from the man himself! 

What’s your favourite thing about going to schools?

Apart from chomping biscuits and nattering with teachers in the staff room, I always enjoy seeing all the artwork that classes have created. Whether it be acrylic self-portraits, cardboard dioramas, character pumpkins or even something as simple as paper snowflakes, I really do believe that art brings a school to life.

Funniest memory of visiting schools?

The funniest moments come during Q&A. Children don’t have filters, do they? The younger the audience the odder the questions. Is the Queen your granny? Are you Ed Sheeran? Why don’t you comb your hair?

Also, being greeted by over 200 children (and teachers) dressed as pandas on World Book Day was something I will never forget.

What memories do you have of reading as a child?

Most of my earliest and clearest memories of reading take me back to my school library. I remember that feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of stories just waiting to be discovered. I was never a fast reader and I preferred books with pictures, I still do, but there was something empowering about just being in my school library. Sadly, many children may never know that feeling, which is why the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is so important. The campaign aims to bring school libraries and librarians back to every school in the UK, because every child deserves a great library. You can find out more about the Great School Libraries campaign at: http://www.greatschoollibraries.edublogs.org

I also have fond memories of our public library. That’s where I discovered some of my favourite authors and Illustrators.

Do you remember the first book you read as a child that made you want to write?

Even as a very young child I loved to draw. But it was picture books like Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Munch Bunch (created by Barrie and Elizabeth Henderson and illustrated by Angela Mitson) that inspired me to imagine my own characters and tell stories with drawings.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I believe that inspiration is everywhere, but you have to tune in to it. I like to prove this theory in my story-building workshops. By the end of each workshop almost everybody has an idea for a story, and some even have synopses!

Books are a fantastic source of inspiration, which is why the library is the perfect place to feel inspired. Many of my stories were inspired by something I’d seen in a book, magazine or newspaper.

What is your typical writing routine? From first draft to final draft?

People often think I spend all day writing and drawing, but there’s so much involved in being an author and illustrator. In fact, last week I only spent around 5 hours working on my next picture book because the rest of my time was spent on emails, events, my website, blogs, taxes and marketing. As part of this blog tour, I wrote a ‘Day in the Life’ guest post for Acorn Books, which you might find interesting. https://acornbooksblog.wordpress.com

It takes about 4-5 months to start and finish a picture book. Normally my publisher will select a couple of ideas from my sketchbook for me to develop (this usually happens when I’m at the tail- end stages of finishing another picture book). In order to develop ideas into stories I do need plenty of time and space to breath because I find it hard to tap into my imagination during busy spells. I normally get a gut feeling if a story is working or not. As a general rule it has to feel easy, and if ever I feel like I’m rowing upstream, I let go of the oars. Once I’m happy with my story concept, I move on to character development, pacing and paginating. This can take weeks or months. The very last stage involves drawing the final artwork and tweaking the text, which can take anywhere up to three months.

What’s next for you?

Magic Light Pictures are currently developing the Mr Panda cartoon series, which is incredibly exciting. I’ve got more books in the pipeline, including a brand-new character that I’ve yet to create! The next Mr Panda book, We Love You, Mr Panda, comes out later in the year. I’ll soon be meeting with Swindon Libraries to discuss the next borough-wide art completion (I hold at least one art contest with them per year). Also, I hope to start writing a chapter book soon, but not even my publisher knows that yet! But before any of that happens, I’m going on my honeymoon, because I just got married!

It’s only day 3 of this blog tour and it has already been amazing (no pun intended!). Go check out the other blog posts so far, and watch out for the rest of the posts coming in the next few days! I am so incredibly excited for this book.

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Massive massive thank you to the brilliant people of Hachette Kids for asking me to be on this blog tour and Steve Antony for answering our questions! My kids and I had such a blast, and it’s been a pleasure reading Steve’s answers. I’ll be sharing them with my kids at some point today! 

S x 

Best of 2017: picture books edition

Hello! So far this week you’ve been treated to my favourite blog posts, MG books and YA books… today is no different, today is my favourite picture books of 2017. 

Now there are SO many books that could’ve been in with a shot, so many amazing books I read in 2017. I’ve tried to stick to books released this yearI hope none have slipped under the radar. 

I must point out now that The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield would DEFINITELY be on this list, alas it was published in 2016. But go out and buy it, because it’s incredible. 

So anyway… let’s go!

picxture books 2017Just as with the rest of my round ups, they aren’t in any real order, and I will share the links to my reviews (if they are yet to be reviewed, there is a review to come!)

Words and Your Heart – Kate Jane Neal
BOOKBLOG: Kate Jane Neal
I used this book in school to coincide with anti-bullying week and it’s all about the power that our words have. It’s one of those books that makes an impact on you STRAIGHT away. We used it in Reception, Year 2 and Year 6, with all children responding incredibly to it. 

Balthazar the Great – Kirsten Sims
(review to come)
There’s a reason I don’t have a review for this yet… because I can’t put into words how much I loved it. Balthazar is the most brilliant bear. I can’t wait to share my review with you all in the new year! It’s brilliant (the book that is, my review might not quite live up to that!).

Kevin – Rob Biddulph
(review to come)
Another one of those brilliant books. This is one of those books that all kids will love. Plus Kevin is the absolute cutest thing in the world. The gorgeous people at the publishers sent me this book and I was SO happy when it came in the post! Rob Biddulph is a complete winner for me every single time.

Here We Are – Oliver Jeffers
BOOKBLOG: Oliver Jeffers
There is no denying that Oliver Jeffers is the absolute king of picture books. I reckon I own ALL of his picture books, and for me there’s not enough. Here We Are is absolutely incredible: it’s powerful with a brilliant message to deliver too. I definitely did not (I did) cry when I read it. Please get this for your kids, or yourselfyou deserve a treat.

Grandad’s Secret Giant – David Litchfield
BOOKBLOG: David Litchfield
David Litchfield is hands down my favourite illustrator (his collaborations with Ross Montgomery in particular are some of my favourites… see Christmas Dinner of Souls and The Building Boy) and this is his first of 2 mentions on my list. Grandad’s Secret Giant was an instant winner at school: the story is beautiful and poignant. I absolutely adored it.

Superbat – Matt Carr
BOOKBLOG: Matt Carr
My twiglets actually won this book in a competition and I read it to them one day when I was with them. Since then I have bought myself a copy! It’s just brilliant. My twiglets (who are both 6) loved this so much and there’s some amazing illustrations in the book! Poppy even made an amazing bat joke afterwards… check out the blog post to find out more!

Franklin’s Flying Bookshop – Jen Campbell
(review to come)
I only recently bought this (see: the end of November) and finally got round to reading it to myself the other day, but MAN what a book. I absolutely loved the story and the illustrations. I am still processing my thoughts, give me a week to pull myself together!

The Grotlyn – Benji Davies
(review to come)
The Grotlyn was one of those books that I had seen so many of my twitter friends talk about, so when I was offered the chance to receive this book from the publisher I jumped at the chance. Man, what a book. It’s brilliant. Benji Davies is a master at what he does. This book is just excellent

Look For Ladybird in Plant City – Katherina Manolessou
Look for Ladybird
Again, the lovely publishers over at Quarto Books sent me a copy of this and I gladly accepted. I read it to the kids at school and they loved it –  the fact it was a “search and find” book had them on side instantly. They loved looking for all of the bits and bobs and then the ladybird too. I then took it to my twiglets, who LOVED it. It kept them engaged while their mam and I had a cup of coffee, and that’s saying something! 

When I Grow Up – Tim Minchin and Steve Antony
When I Grow Up blog tour 
I was exceptionally lucky to be invited on to the blog tor for this book, where Steve Antony, he illustrator, shared some exclusive sneak into some of the original sketches. You all know how much I adore Matilda, so for me, this was an incredible opportunity. This is the book of one of the songs from Matilda the Musical. I recommend everyone, every single one of you, buys this book. It’s wonderful.

The Marvellous Moon Map – Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield 
(review to come)
This is one of the loveliest books I’ve read this year. It’s an adorable tale of going on an adventure, following your dreams! The illustrations (courtesy of David Litchfield) are just wonderful, adding an additional level to a brilliant story. 

You Choose In Space – Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
BOOKBLOG: Sharratt/Goodhart
This isn’t TECHNICALLY a picture book, I’m not quite sure what the You Choose books are classed as, but it is too good to miss out. These books always go down a storm and I was very lucky to get a copy! These books are brilliant for talk, but also incredible fun. I’ve known a group of adults crowd around these books and discuss the ins and outs of choices! 

And there you go… my favourite picture books of 2017. There are many, many others I could’ve included! 

Which books would you have on your list?
Have you read any of my choices?
Which is your favourite of my choices?

Talk to me! Tweet me! Email me! Send a pigeon! 

S x

Today we have something EXTRA special. Like of all the special things I’ve done, THIS is one of the ones that I think is ONE OF THE MOST SPECIAL. I preface this blog post with

I LOVE MATILDA.

So when the gorgeous humans over at Scholastic asked me if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for When I Grow Up WHO WAS I TO SAY NO? Thank you so much to Scholastic for involving me in this blog tour… it is definitely a pleasure!

‘When I Grow Up’ is one of the incredible songs. written by Tim Minchin, from the Matilda the Musical soundtrack and it has been beautifully turned into a picture book, illustrated by the incredibly talented Steve Antony. It is that very illusrator that I am hosting on my blog today and I couldn’t be happier. If you fancy a listen, click, click.

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Without further ado… I hand you over to Steve Antony himselfimg_9911

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It took roughly five to six months to illustrate Tim Minchin’s When I Grow Up.

“Five to six months?” I hear you say. 

On average each illustration took about one week to complete. That’s three months, and that’s not even including the cover, endpapers and title pages.

It was a team effort. I regularly met with the book’s designer, Strawberrie, and editor, Pauliina, from Scholastic UK. I also conversed with Tim, at first via Scholastic, and then personally. The teams at Scholastic USA and Scholastic Australia also touched base periodically. The person I was in contact the most was Strawberrie. She helped me immensely. 

What you see in the published book are the twelve final illustrations. These twelve illustrations make up my visual adaptation of Tim’s words and roughly took three months to finish (one week per double page spread). But what you don’t see is everything else.

By ‘everything else’ I mean the following:

You don’t see the ‘animal’ version of the story featuring a koala bear, a giraffe, a crocodile, and an elephant. In this version a cast of animals literally performed the song onstage, a bit like The Muppets would. It was self-referential and a bit tongue-in-cheek. But it all started to morph into something that didn’t feel true to the song. 

You don’t see the dual narrative version in which I illustrate the song through the eyes of an adult and a child simultaneously. The ‘adult’ narrative was in black and the white; and the ‘child’ narrative was in colour. But that all started to feel a bit depressing.

You don’t see the long fantastical dream sequences with flying books, magic trees and flying beds. In this version the three main characters climb through a hole in a tree and into a dream land of magical creatures, pirates and so on. But it didn’t feel rooted enough in reality; it was too Wizard of Ozzy.

You don’t see the ‘Sesame Street’ inspired city jaunt. I loved the idea of having these kids skipping and jumping and cartwheeling through alleys, city parks, shops and so on. But this adaptation felt too rooted in reality. 

You don’t see the countless rough developmental drawings of all the characters. Some people can draw children with their eyes closed. I am not one of those people.

You don’t see all of the colour experimentation. And there was a lot of it. Because of my colourblindness I needed to occasionally ask Strawberrie for reassurance. She helped me choose some of the colours. I started off with a limited palette, but the song needed colour. More colour. But I decided that the children should be in shades of grey so that they stand out amongst all the colourful details.

After much blood, sweet and tears, I decided that the best approach was to merge fantasy with reality; a trio of playful children imaginatively exploring what an adult will be like in a way that makes adults remember what it was like to be a child. Fortunately, everyone agreed this was the best approach. Hurray!

This developmental process took a good three months. It took another three months to draw all of the final pictures.

I wanted to add lots of symbolism, like the statue of the man and woman lifting the world, and a diverse group of children. The book is peppered with Easter eggs. 

Hopefully every child will see themselves in this book. I also included Tim, me and a certain somebody else (you can probably guess who).

The one thing I didn’t do was draw Quentin Blake’s Matilda. In fact, I didn’t include Matilda at all. Instead, there’s a little bit of Matilda in each and every child. 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the book’s cover. Would you believe that it took around 30 attempts to find the right cover? 

Here are some of the rough developmental drawings from When I Grow Up. I hope you enjoy looking through them. I have misplaced some of my earlier drawings unfortunately. They’re probably buried somewhere in my studio.

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And, remember, the next time you flick through a picture book, please don’t. Don’t flick, that is. Read. Read the pictures; they probably took an age to write.

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A massive thank you again to Scholastic for having me on the blog tour, and to Steve Antony! 

If you’d like to see the rest of the incredible (and they are!) blog posts on the tour, check out them out!

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A very content, S x