It’s a Hard Life. . .

Reading this excellent post on Brain Pickings,

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/20/bill-watterson-1990-kenyon-speech/

featuring an inspiring and wise address to students by Bill Watterson, inventor of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, on the subject of creativity and life etc, I was struck by his declaration that “My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.”

It made me wonder what my job was if considered in those terms. As a Children’s Writer/Illustrator, to keep things ticking over and my life muddling along on an even financial keel I have to come up with two ideas a year. That’s right, TWO. Call that a job??

But before you roll your eyes and groan, there is a caveat to that statement. I have to come up with two publishable ideas, two workable, saleable, marketable, appealing, enjoyable and downright inspired ideas a year, and I have to continue to work at that level year after year. I hope that makes it seem a bit less of a breeze.

Oh, and of course I actually have to do the artwork.

I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s hard grind or anything, and I’m not trying to elicit your sympathy, just to add a bit of perspective. Of course it’s a great way to earn a living. Of course it’s wonderful to get paid to do something you love, something that expresses who you are and something you are bloody good at. Don’t think I’m not grateful every minute of every day to whatever powers made this life circumstance possible, because I am!

But it does involve work 😉

Obviously, to arrive at the aforementioned two successful ideas a great many lesser ideas have had to be jettisoned, often after a great deal of (mentally) strenuous refining. Ideas have to pass a lot of tests before being allowed to proceed to the next stage of the selection process, and likewise to the next and so on. It’s a war of attrition, weak ideas go to the wall. The few that make it through your own rigourous selection process then have to make it through that of a potential publisher, which is often predicated on a quite different set of not readily predictable criteria. However good your idea might be, they might already have a book about tap dancing rabbits coming out next autumn, or the editor you worked with may have left and the new editor might want to establish herself (it will be a her, this is children’s publishing and for whatever reason, it is 99% female) and you may not be part of her plans.

And then, though a publisher has given your idea their full backing, it can fail miserably when exposed to the buying public. Then, obviously, it was a deeply crap idea all along and you may not get published again for a while as you are obviously a purveyor of deep crap of the unsaleable kind. . .

So, even if your inspiration and appraisal apparatus is firing on all cylinders, the nuggets it produces might still be duds. . . ( I do so love a good mixed metaphor . . )

Well, as you can now see, it’s a hard life after all here on the creative coal face, hacking out my two ideas a year and you should all feel really really sorry for me and send me flowers and money and cake, don’t forget cake. . .

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Not a Lot I Can Say. . .

It’s all very well having a fancy blog and intending to post a lot about what I do and all that, but it turns out that the main thing I do, Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating, isn’t something that lends itself to sharing.

I can’t really show you what I am working on right now, as that would break confidentiality with the publisher. So no ‘in progress’ pictures. . .

I can’t really share ideas I’m working up with a view to publishing, as somebody might nick my idea. . . So no ‘I had this great idea for a picture book!’ posts. . .

sillycovers

I can show you stuff I have just had published, but that isn’t going to keep a blog going for long 😉

reading

It’s a bit frustrating. But I guess I can write something more general about picture books and my approach to them etc, but I have to avoid at all costs being like all those earnest websites with endless tips for would be authors who want to ‘realise their dream’ and publish a children’s book. . .

Call me cynical, but tip one would be ‘Lay off the inspirational websites and start doing the necessary hard work!’

Tough love Dude. . .

I’ll address the issue of what feels right to post about and what doesn’t, and hopefully come up with something worth reading, but in the meantime I drew some more cats. . .

cat5 cat6cat7

I’m a Denizen

I did a guest blog post for a site called ‘Picture Book Den’ a couple of weeks ago. You remember. . . hah, course you don’t 😉

Anyway, the post went down well, and I have been asked to join the select band of eminent and widely published Children’s Book writers that make up the site’s admins and regular posters. I have graciously accepted the offer of course.

So now, and henceforward, if you visit the site you will see my name on the important list just under the banner at the top, and if you click on said name you will be spirited straight to the ‘about’ page where you can marvel at the wonders there revealed concerning who I am and what I do. That is, if you weren’t fully clued up on my wonders already.

It will be nice to feel like part of a community of writers. Writing and illustrating is an isolated profession, we all beaver away in our own little bubble.  (which makes me want to draw beavers in bubbles but I shall restrain myself) This relative isolation does have it’s advantages of course, like not having to commute anywhere, and not being required to deal in or with office politics etc, so it can be a perfectly pleasant way to exist, but not all the time. It can be isolat-ing as well as isolat-ed. 

So being able to connect with people who know what I am talking about because they do the same thing as me will be a refreshing and valuable thing too. I’m pleased 😉

That being said, as I will be posting there four or five times a year at least I had better start working out what to post about. . . hmmm. .

Oh well, if all else fails, draw rabbits. . . in shades. . . that’s what I say.

rabb

Picture Book Den

The Picture Book author website that I wrote a guest post for a few weeks ago, called Picture Book Den has an interesting post from author Pippa Goodhart, featuring a character I invented.

In my post I mentioned how sometimes I come up with a drawing of a character that arrives with no story attached. Usually the concept and the character arrive in my head together, as a kind of package, or the drawing of the character suggests the story. I gave an example, a cute character called Small Bear, who I just couldn’t get a suitable story idea for.

Pippa, with my blessing,  based her blog post on the thought process she would go through to create a story based on that character. The post is a very interesting insight into how a writer’s mind works, and into the creative process involved in producing a story for a children’s picture book.

Here’s the direct link – The ‘Small Bear’ Challenge

smallbear

Small Bear

Six free copies in Danish. . .

INCdan-filtered

This may or may not be Danish. . .

It may seem churlish to moan, but moaning is what illustrators do, apart from illustrating, obviously. (My illustrator friend John says that the collective noun for illustrators should be a ‘Moan’, I can see where he’s coming from there. . .)

So, in churlish moaning mode, and carrying on from the title of this post, just what am I supposed to do with six copies of ‘I’m Not Cute!’ or whatever, in Danish? Or in French, or Finnish, or Japanese, or Spanish, or, or, or. . .

INCjap-filtered

Almost certainly not Danish. . .

You see, every time a book is translated and published in another country I get my contractually agreed three or more copies of it in said language. Of course, it’s nice to get foreign editions and be read in other countries, and I am grateful and pleased etc, and getting copies is good, but the trouble is, these copies tend to end up in a box in the loft, along with the English copies I didn’t give away to friends or didn’t get round to donating to a local school or something. I get six of them, and a further six in paperback if there is one. I feel they deserve a better fate really.

INCswe-filtered

Verging on the Danish perhaps?. . .

Don’t get me wrong, I am not presenting this as an awful problem, deserving of your sympathy. I suppose I’m just pointing out an unintended side effect of being a children’s author/illustrator that you are probably unaware of. My silly dilemma.

I do give copies to local schools from time to time but with all the sorting out of copies, finding a box to put them in, driving to the school, remembering to alert them beforehand and getting round to do any of the above when I don’t really have to and would rather be doing something else, means it doesn’t happen very often. . . Me being me and all. . .

INCfr-filtered

Unlikely to be Danish. . .

I used to distribute them to friends and family , but now their kids are all grown up or in their late teens, that outlet has long since dried up. So even if I do manage to get round to shifting a few English language copies that still leaves the foreign language editions festering in their cardboard box. I know someone in France with a five year old so that’s one copy sorted, but that’s about it.

INCnor-filtered

Danish? Look, don’t ask me . .

I mention all this because, today, for some reason, I had a burst of Resolve, which sounds like some kind of air freshener or something but no, this Resolve was the steely kind that Gets Things Done!

Today I narrowed my eyes, took a deep breath, unfolded the ladder, and boldly ventured into the loft. . .

There were a stack of about five of those supermarket veg boxes, heaving with my out of sight, out of mind books, eying me resentfully, little knowing that my only concern was their eventual freedom. Oh, Foolish books! Mind you, some of them had about twenty years worth of resentment to discharge. . .

INCned-filtered

Well, who knows? Could be Danish. . .

So anyway, I grasped the nettle and sorted them all out, keeping two copies of every English language edition and one of each foreign edition. The rest I heaved downstairs and sorted into piles according to language. I made a bunch of gift boxes for the nearest four or so primary schools out of most of the English language ones, which I will deliver in the next few days. The foreign language editions still glowered at me from their respective piles, but I had a plan! The local freecycle network! Maybe, I thought, if I stick them on there, someone would be glad to take them off my hands. We shall see.

INCserb-filtered

 Not even close to Danish. . .

Tune in next time folks. . . Dan Dan Daaaaah! (whoever he is. .)

World Rights Boxer Books. www.boxerbooks.com

I’m a guest Blogger. . .

On a site called ‘Picture Book Den’. Which is a blog dedicated to the Picture Book, with posts from it’s resident writers and from guest bloggers. I came across the site a few weeks ago and liked it very much. I cheekily asked them if they would be interested in a guest post from me, and they said ‘yes’ which was nice of them 😉

Anyway, it’s up today, so here I am writing a blog post about a blog post. I might get caught in some sort of literary feedback loop but it’s worth the risk.

http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk

is the link. The pics are a bit small but I’m hoping they can fix that. You can click on them to see a bigger version I think.

Happy Easter x

I’m Not Reading!

reading

World Rights Boxer Books. www.boxerbooks.com

(the cover pic is linked to Amazon uk, but it can be bought from bookshops, they pay tax I believe. . . )

Here be my latest book!

Only just out, as of a few days ago, published by Boxer Books both here and in The United States. There will no doubt be other language editions forthcoming. It will be being toted round at Bologna to grab some co-editions. That makes six ‘I’m Not!’ books in the series now.

(I’m Not Cute! I’m Not Scared! I’m Not Santa! I’m Not Sleepy! I’m Not Ready! and now I’m Not Reading!)

Baby Owl is getting to be a brand 😉 Well. . . in a small way at least.

The other good news about this book is that it got a good review in a prestigious American book magazine/website called Kirkus Review. So I am feeling quite pleased right now, as long as I don’t think about the state of children’s publishing at the moment and get depressed again. . .

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jonathan-allen/im-not-reading/

Text reproduced below. I hope I’m allowed to do this.

“Baby Owl’s plan to read a story to his toy, Owly (not the delightful comic-book character, but adorable just the same), turns viral.

Tiny Chick promises to sit quietly if he can listen also. But here come his brothers and sisters, followed by his cousins, all jumping on poor Baby Owl’s lap, pushing and shoving and all but pulverizing him. He protests and demands quiet, but when even more chicks join in, all his good intentions are brought crashing down by the frightening over-exuberance of his audience, and he calls for help. Dad comes to the rescue, and along with the chicks’ mom, he brings order to the chaos so Baby Owl can read the story without further ado. Allen’s latest adventure starring the endearing Baby Owl displays a nice mix of charm and mayhem, but that moment when Owl disappears in the crowd of crazed chicks is downright terrifying. So what will young readers find here? Is it a lesson in the joys of reading or a warning about mob rule, at least as it pertains to demented chicks, or perhaps a homily about trusting wise and loving parents? It’s all there, and Allen’s sharp, bright digital cartoons make it all work. Even the endpapers are filled with those goofy little chicks, not appearing the least bit threatening. A sweet, cozy ending suggests a perfect bedtime story.

Fun and reassuring. (Picture book. 3-6)”