My latest Picture Kelpies book came out earlier this year, and I’m delighted with the expert illustrations of Abigail Hookham, a graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London. Oran the otter spends a lot of time underwater, and Abigail is brilliant at capturing the light coming through water from above, as well as dark, stormy seas when things get scary.

Oran the Curious Otter is a rhyming story about a young river otter who goes for his first trip to the open sea with his mum and his sister Orla. They live on the isle of Mull, and arrive in a wide and beautiful bay – Calgary Bay. Naturally, to do proper research for the book, I had to spend some time on Mull, taking photographs of a tree overhanging the bank of a stream, the journey downstream to the shore, and the wide expanse of the bay.

The perfect spot for a holt where otters can live.
The stream flows along the edge of the beach down to the sea.
Calgary Bay with its white sand in the late afternoon sun.

Abigail has captured all these features in her illustrations, starting with the otters’ holt by the stream:

Oran and Orla are just waking up. They are old enough now to visit the sea…
Mum leads them downstream to the bay which looks enormous!
Oran meets a friendly seal called Camille who shows him around and teaches him a thing or two.
When Oran finds a lobster trap, Camille warns him not to climb inside.
Camille also warns Oran not to eat the plastic floating in the sea.

Abigail first shows the sun filtering through the water in a bright and happy moment when Oran meets Camille. Then, when there is danger, Abigail uses darker colours to convey a more worrying atmosphere. The most distressing moment comes when Camille is caught in a fishing net and Oran has to rush to her rescue. Abigail makes the sea grey and stormy to give us a sense of danger and uncertainty.

Two guillemots warn Oran that Camille is in trouble. The sky has turned dark and rain is falling.
The sea is dark and murky as Oran struggles to free Camille from the net.
As the sun goes down, Oran, Orla and Mum head back upstream to their holt.

Camille is rescued, and Oran rejoins his mum and sister at the end of a long and busy day. The storm has passed and the clouds are turning pink and gold as the sun sets. With this illustration, Abigail creates a sense of calm using warm, mellow colours. The final image shows Mum and the two pups curled up in their holt, safe and sound.

Like all my Picture Kelpie stories, this one has a happy ending! Oran has a new friend, and he has learned a lot about sea creatures and underwater dangers. I hope Abigail’s amazing illustrations will inspire readers to visit the isle of Mull for a bit of otter spotting!

Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull
©Malachi James 2021

I have to admit I was a little nervous commissioning Mal to design my new Twitter avatar. Would I be able to handle a caricature? Would it look anything like me? I gave him a photo of me wearing some hand-made sunflower earrings, thinking they would be a fun element to play with. Clearly I needn’t have worried – the result is perfect!

It seemed logical to present myself in illustrated form. As a picture book author, I am lucky to have many talented illustrators bringing my stories to life. They include:

Rosalind Beardshaw

Melanie Williamson

Gabby Grant

Jon Mitchell

Margaret Chamberlain

Kirsteen Harris-Jones

Eilidh Muldoon

Emma Allen

Marie-Rose Boisson

Lee Wildish

And that is only half of them! Click on any illustrator’s name above to visit their website or profile page. They are all hugely talented, and we authors should do more to promote them and give them the credit they deserve. If you want to see the full list of illustrators I have been lucky enough to work with, just visit my website at Lynne Rickards Author.

If you are tempted by the idea of having an illustrated you, I can certainly recommend Malachi James Cartoons! My daughter Anna also does cartoony portraits, including this stylish one of herself:

©Anna Rickards 2019

I love this one, which she calls Gals Vibing:

©Anna Rickards 2020

If you’d like to be illustrated the Anna Rickards way, just visit her website HERE. To all the illustrators in my life, a big THANK YOU!

©Malachi James 2020

Malachi James has always loved drawing. His school notebooks were crowded with cartoon characters, and in high school he designed and produced his own comic books which he sold to his classmates. He was determined to become a storyboard artist, and worked hard to get into a top animation course in London.

Today Mal has his dream job, working for Moonbug Entertainment. He draws on a cintiq tablet with a special pen and a two-fingered glove (so his hand doesn’t touch the screen). He works long hours on his storyboard drawings, and then in his free time he does more drawing!

Sometimes when he’s working he listens to his favourite music. One day, listening to some classic jazz tracks, he thought of a new drawing project. He could do stylised portraits of all the greatest jazz musicians! He created a series of ten drawings, and each one is unique, with so much character shining through. Most of the musicians are ones I have heard of, but a few are new to me.

©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020

I love all of these drawings, even though I don’t know much about jazz. They all have a lot of personality and convey so much emotion. Mal’s style is similar to caricature (where features are often exaggerated and stylised to look ridiculous), but these guys remain classy and cool.

Mal has a lot of talent and a real passion for his art. If you want to see more of his work, he has an Instagram account HERE. He also makes inspirational videos on YouTube to support other young people wanting to establish themselves as freelance artists and animators. You can watch those HERE. Remember the name. Malachi James is going places.

The past year has been a tough one, but I feel lucky to have been able to carry on working as I always do, from home. I miss visiting schools and collaborating with teachers and librarians, and I’m not all that comfortable chatting on Zoom. So I have just quietly worked away at a few book projects (to be published next spring) and have filled the evenings with loads of Netflix and National Theatre Online. Recently I decided on a whim to buy myself a stationary bike, and as it turned out, the timing was perfect! The day after it was delivered, we got word that a member of the family had most likely been exposed to Covid-19, and we had met them for a walk in the park around the time they were contagious. This meant my entire household had to quarantine for ten days, so we all took turns going for a stationary spin!

My husband wasn’t keen on having the bike in the living room, but how else were we going to go the extra mile (or should I say kilometre) while watching the latest episode of Superstore? The bike has settled in well between the big rubber tree and an armchair, and we all use it so often that it’s now just part of the furniture. It tells us how far we have ridden, how fast we are pedalling, and even how many calories we are burning (always disappointingly few!) It was the best impulse purchase I have ever made.

During the first lockdown we went through a phase of doing jigsaw puzzles. My daughter had decided to join us from London and stayed from March until July. I made the mistake of buying two puzzles with 1,000 pieces, and the first one nearly killed us! I thought American Gothic would be a good image to work with, but as it turned out, the circles on her apron, the endless black of his blazer and the wide expanse of blue sky were very challenging. The second puzzle was a lovely Angela Harding print, but I must admit it remains unopened…

In September, my daughter and her partner moved back to Scotland permanently, and stayed with us for a couple of months. This meant we were five in the house, and we spent our evenings playing games like Jenga, Cluedo (the Sherlock version) and Uno. I introduced a game that I had loved as a teenager in the 1970s, and had finally managed to find on eBay after much fruitless searching. I was thrilled to have an original copy of Masterpiece, in which players bid against each other at auction for paintings whose value is hidden (ranging from a forgery to £1 million). The best part about this game is that you can add extra paintings, so I have greatly extended the collection of postcards. It’s a great pleasure to buy beautiful art, even if your favourite painting turns out to be a forgery!

Just before the second lockdown, the three young people in our household decided to get their ears pierced. After waiting five weeks for their ears to heal, they finally had a chance to change their earrings, and what followed was a flurry of creativity. We started with FIMO clay, making colourful pendant earrings of various shapes and sizes. Silver hooks and special jewellery pliers were soon ordered, and then my sister sent us a big box of beads! This place has been a bit of an earring factory ever since, as you can see. We have just run out of hooks, so we are taking a bit of a break until more arrive.

With all the snow that has fallen recently, the rest of my family was keen to get out and slide down some hills on a sledge. Having grown up in Canada, snow doesn’t have the same wow factor for me, so I stayed in to do some painting instead. I used to work in watercolours, but lately I’ve discovered that acrylics are very versatile as well. I had a brilliant black-and-white photo of my husband (taken by one of the young folk) and it was perfect for a portrait. The image below doesn’t quite capture the midnight blue I used. I hope you can imagine a rich, dark blue instead! I’m very pleased with the way the portrait turned out, and it now hangs in the hall outside our kitchen. Time to think of the next creative project!

Photo ©David Russell

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in Scotland. Not only do I have a brilliant city life in a handsome Victorian neighbourhood, but the beauty of wild natural landscapes can be reached in a matter of minutes. Scotland may be a small country, but the variety of landscapes, from mountains and moors to white sand beaches and ancient woodlands, is quite stunning!

Recently I discovered a talented photographer whose work reflects his passion for Scotland and all its natural beauty. David Russell lives in the Cairngorms National Park and is a qualified wilderness guide and outdoor instructor. I love this photo of him as a young boy first trying to capture the beauty around him:

Photo ©John Russell

David spends long hours tramping though forests at dawn to catch the morning light through the trees. The key to success as a nature photographer is patience, and clearly in David’s case it pays off!

Photo ©David Russell

In addition to producing these beautiful images, David has recorded several video tutorials on nature photography, and some stunning drone videos of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Photo ©David Russell

David ventures out in all seasons, showing Scotland in autumn mist and dusted with snow:

Photo ©David Russell

Photo ©David Russell

He also produces high quality prints of his work which are available for sale on his website, Highland Wildscapes.

Photo ©David Russell

Inspired by the beauty of nature, David has put together collections of his photos with evocative poems and short pieces of writing. It’s a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings that these landscapes inspire in the photographer.

It’s good to be reminded now and then of the natural beauty right on my doorstep. Thanks, David!

Photo ©David Russell