Time to get back to the hares, whilst at the same time trying out the delicious crayons that cover my table in the studio. The process of self-publishing is not something I regret for a moment, though I was so involved in the production of the book, I didn’t do enough research, and underestimated the difficulties that a one-off publication would have as getting a distributor is concerned, even from an author who has had many books published in the mainstream both here and abroad. I didn’t send out The Midnight Hare to any publishers, it was always going to be a self-published work, as I wanted to see what would happen. The new story will be sent out to publishers/agents, and if I don’t get a contract, I will print 500 copies under the Moonwuzo Books imprint. Much easier to store 500 copies rather than 3000. Meanwhile, The Midnight Hare flies off into the world – repeat orders come in – this has been a very good week, so now I need to do some more work on this website, and put some graft in outside the studio. Though the studio is the place where I most like to be.
I have been working on a new story in my octagonal studio, the Tardis in the vegetable garden. This boy is called Finn, or maybe Louis. He meets a girl who has red hair and green eyes, in a wood where he has got lost. Louis comes to live in a house that has been given to his mother and father by Uncle Solomon, a maker of marionettes and toys, who has gone to the Gulf of Mexico. Louis’ mother paints pictures, his father plays the violin, Louis (or Finn) explores the house on his own. There is a cat who does not want to be seen. The pictures will be in crayon of various kinds, with some very fine sepia line here and there. A new departure. I only have a smallish table in the smallish Tardis, and the whole thing is covered in crayons. Yesterday I started a tiny sketch in a particular notebook with extra fine watercolour paper, and the texture just felt right for the medium.
I based the Garden of Delights in The Midnight Hare on the Alnwick Garden, a place I have visited many times. However the deserted nature of the place is nothing like Alnwick, which is one of the most visited destinations in the country. Of course one takes liberties all the time when illustrating, and one of the liberties I took was creating a wood on the edge of the garden inhabited by venomous mechanical birds. Mind you, Alnwick does have a Poison Garden among its many delights.
I had a lot of work to do on the scan of this picture, as I realised that the picture on the opposite page had Milo’s hand in exactly the same position, so I changed his hand, but the original hand showed through, so I had to very meticulously cover it over with red, using Photoshop; I don’t think the extra hand can be seen. Also Milo has a bright countenance, which is also manipulated somewhat, to get rid of the striations of the paper. However, I only use Photoshop to tighten up and clean up various areas of colour, and use my Wacom pen too at times (one of the interesting things about doing this book has been finding out how many brilliant programs there are to help). But the fundamental illustrations are done out in my studio in the vegetable garden, far away from the computer, the only machines out there being my very old CD player, an equally old blow heater, and a light up above, the bowl of which gradually fills up with insects as the summer progresses.
My publishing schedule for the coming few months is to get The Midnight Hare into as many local venues as possible; this will be especially important in January. Meanwhile I am getting on with the book about Finn and Ella and the Cat. This afternoon was one of those beautiful days in autumn when the sun slants through the changing colours of the leaves, and there are long shadows on the ground. And once again I can’t get near enough to the heron by the bridge to get a decent picture.
Painted on pastel paper with gouache and crayon. I will use both gouache and water-colour in the new book, and will paint on soft white Fabriano paper, using fine brush line with sepia water colour for the outlines of the figures, as I can no longer get the sepia drawing pens I used to love. However, having to improvise sometimes produces new effects, which in themselves can produce new ideas.
Neither “Finn and Ella” nor “Finn’s House” feel right as a title for the new book, I still think of it as “The Snow Book” even though it is definitely set in autumn. Went walking today looking at trees and leaves and the disintegrating heads of the greater willow-herb down by the River Leet – trawling for images as I went along. Wool-gathering, but all part of the process.
Maybe I’ll try sending out new book out to publishers, or even approach an agent, which is how I sold my work in the past, most of it anyway; but will keep the alternative option of printing 500 copies myself under the Moonwuzo Books imprint – that will give me the energy to do the work properly.
The boxes full of copies of The Midnight Hare are slowly emptying. If I had published with local publisher Serafina Press there would have been a set-up whereby distribution would have been much easier, as the groundwork had already been done by the MD of Serafina, Jennifer Doherty. But the other side of the whole caboodle is that I would have missed out on the having ownership and experience of the process. Swings and roundabouts. I am enjoying the ride.
Quite a different experience from working with large publishers, which I have done much of my life. I have the feeling I may never go back into that world, but who knows?
Sent off seven more copies of The Midnight Hare to children’s bookshops yesterday, the next batch will be to local concerns. Sad how many local bookshops have closed over the last few years, I check everything now, as these shops disappear from the High Street. Sad how many businesses have closed, indeed. This year I have decided to do my Christmas shopping as far as possible through actual shops, not on-line. Found a wonderful shop in Peebles that sells Russian boxes and hand-painted brooches, and started my shopping there. The gemstone and fossil shop had closed, but had opened, quite recently. My husband said “That’s a strange-looking shop,” and we went in – it was a cornucopeia. Worth a visit. Gustaf’s Studio and Gallery.
Children’s bookshops seem to be flourishing, though. It is a strange business, the book trade, it seems to change all the time. My knowledge of it at this point in my life is nada nada nada. But there seem to be some really beautiful and interesting books being published. I have some reference books and a couple of novels on Kindle, which is superb in manyu ways,but reading in this way is a completely different experience to opening a book.
I love the picture book form, one can put quite a lot in there, under the radar of High Art concerns; whilst trying to make something that looks and feels aesthetically pleasing.
An illustration for “The Fierce and Gentle Wolf” that has some of the autumn colours that I am going to use for the story I have been calling The Snow Book, but which has transferred itself to autumn, and is now called “Finn’s House”, though I am not sure this is what it will end up being entitled. The text is finished, as far as it is ever finished at this early stage.
I look at this illustration to the Wolf Book and wonder what on earth is that little green bird doing at the bottom of the picture – I can’t remember that particular variety, it looks like a budgerigar. The next book will have siskins and goldfinches in it, and a barn owl – but nothing that resembles a budgerigar.
This was one of the illustrations that worked first time off. In this earlier saved file, I have not taken out the “edge line”, where I copied the original image on to the plainer background. In the final image I carefully blended the edges by deleting the edges of the overlaid image so the underlying plain background showed through; and softened the inner lines of the pastel paper, though in places left the slightly corrugated look, as it fitted in with the tree trunk and the quality of the moonlight and the light of the lamp. Photoshop is invaluable, but it can be overused. I like the feeling of original line and brushwork, there is a depth and a surface difference that can be wiped out by over-use of Photoshop on the scan of an original painting.
There was only one line of text on this page, which I set high up on the left: “He found he was all alone.”
Painting on brown paper was integral to this story, but looking at an image from another book I illustrated, I can see how vibrant colour can be against white. Each book has its own language.
Keeping to my decision, I shall now send out some more feelers to try and sell copies of the book. Where it is for sale it is selling well, happily. I think all the boxes in the cupboard wore me down a tad, but then it occurred to me that they are going down slowly, and there is no set time for selling the books. At the beginning I thought everything had to be done in one great push, but of course, in self-published work this does not happen like this.
I am loth to push my work, it is much easier when a publisher is in charge of all this and you get sent hither and thither to do projects with children, which are fun, and which sell books, and all the rest of the publicity is done by the publishers’ marketing department. But this self-publishing malarkey is a slow burn. There will be a big push on my part locally just after Christmas, when local outlets start to stock up. I am not sure about the Christmas market, I think there is so much else out there this book will get swamped.
However, it does no harm to get The Midnight Hare out there in the world. And people do seem to like the story, I don’t think they are just being polite. I am grateful to the printers for doing a good job on its production. It doesn’t look cheap and cheerful, it has a certain weight, it has been printed on good paper. It feels nice to pick up and riffle through. The “feeling” of the book as a physical object has always been important to me. This is something that publishers in the US seem to get right. Their production qualities are often so good.
Enough already. Time for a cup of tea…..
This was the first scribble I did on brown paper, and I knew at once that this was the feeling I wanted for the book. Maybe I should have kept this colour as the background throughout, and painted on single sheets, crossing over both pages so as to have kept the design more coherent, instead of it being a tad hit and miss. Also I like the texture of this paper, but it is obvious from the crinkles that it is too thin for water-based paint. However this is all water under the bridge. I always like to learn. For a couple of days now my mind has been switching on to the new book. This entry is a kind of acknowledgement that I need to do some more publicity next week.
I came across some beautiful photographs by Michal Iwanowski, this image of trees (see below) has exactly the feeling that I want in the new illustrations, when Finn, the protagonist, gets lost in the woods just beyond his house. I am going to put in a small image here; I am wary of using other people’s work, and the context is quite different, but this way down the page I don’t think showing this image is too invasive of copyright/privacy/another person’s work. The photographs can be seen on the Edge of Humanity WordPress site. Of course I will be using the landscape round here, and my own photographs, as one shouldn’t us someone else’s work out of the context in which they created it; but the images of Michal Iwanowski will be at the back of my mind. When I was thinking about the illustration, there were silver birches and darkness; but this photograph is just something else:
All this time I have thought of my new book as being set in a snowy landscape, but I find I have been picking up red leaves, and dark sticks decorated with ravishing shades of lichen, and thinking these are the colours I want in the book; and this is telling me that the book is autumnal, shading into winter. There can be flurries of snow against autumn trees, but not thick snow on the ground. How strange that the spirit of a book, and one’s own spirit, sometime spring surprises.
I had a mysterious hat appearing on a snowman, but I think instead there can be a stone girl holding a bird bath in her arms, and the hat can appear on her head instead. This girl with the bird bath was in my Granny’s garden, in Chailey, many years ago. We called the stone girl Lizzie. I looked up this house. It is still called Moorings. So much of Sussex has been built up, but this part of the world still seems to have wooded areas, and the expanse of Chailey Common, where I went looking for autumn gentians with my grandfather.
Autumn does seem to be creeping into this new story.
The illustration above is out of a book written by Jennifer D Doherty and Gerald Golding called The Fierce and Gentle Wolf, published by Serafina Press, a book which I illustrated a few years ago. Not nearly as many years ago as Moorings, and Lizzie, and the autumn gentians.
This was the original page three, but I decided I wanted the hare in the foreground, and Milo full face and actually trying to approach the hare. There would have been too large a jump in narrative if I had had this as the first page, and then the second page having him chasing the hare. I think Milo changed a bit from this earlier version. But I think this page is quite pretty, so gave it away rather than leaving it in a drawer.
A couple of days I composed a letter in French, with some help from Google Translate, as it is a long time since I spoke or read French at all; and sent the letter, with a copy of the The Midnight Hare, to L’Ecole des loisirs, a publisher in Paris who published two books of mine in France, originally published here by Orchard Books. The French titles are Vingt-Six Lapins sement la pagaille and Vingt-Six lapins fetent Noel. A long shot, sending this package to Paris, as these other books were published a long time ago, but why not? I am trying to be more energetic about selling the book. And the postage was minimal.
For now, I am off to the studio to work on the new story.