Archives for category: about illustration
©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.

Scottish wildcat

Wildcats used to wander the whole of the UK, having first come across from Europe thousands of years ago when southern England was connected by land to the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Over the centuries, through hunting and loss of habitat these cats became more rare in England, and by the early 1900s they could only be found in the sparsely populated Highlands of Scotland. Today, even here they have become an endangered species, with only about 300 animals living in the wild.

Kendra and kitten

Scottish wildcats look quite like domestic tabby cats, but their heads are broader, their tails thicker with distinctive black stripes, and they have no white on their paws or chest. The photos above were taken by Peter Trimming at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, which has a group of wildcats in captivity. In Scotland, the wild ones are much harder to spot, as they keep themselves hidden and only come out at dusk to hunt.

The Highland Wildlife Park is just south of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. Staff there are working together with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to build up a population of wildcats that can be released into the wild. This project is being supported by an EU LIFE grant of £3.2 million, with additional funding and support from a range of wildlife trusts. The Saving Wildcats project will work to breed a healthy community of wildcats from British and European stock over the next six years, with the aim to release some into the wild in 2022. These may be released in the Cairngorms to begin with, and then perhaps in other parts of Scotland in future.

Willow cover

After writing stories about Scottish puffins and red squirrels for the Picture Kelpies series published by Floris Books, my next book is Willow the Wildcat. Willow and her brother Corrie are full of energy and love to wrestle, but when their den is destroyed by a curious sheepdog, they have to work together to help their mum find a new home. This is no easy task, especially as they have to watch out for some scary creatures along the way.

corrie and fish

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones captures the playful kittens very well.

willow and corrie

Let’s hope Scottish wildcats will continue to live and thrive in the Highlands of Scotland for many more years to come.

RRS cover

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

February 22nd was publication day for two of my recent Floris picture books! One is a board book version of Skye the Puffling (smaller and simpler than the original) and the other is a brand new story about two adventurous little squirrels.

mini Skye board book

The wee puffin board book is designed for little hands and is sturdy enough to withstand a bit of chewing! My new squirrel book, Rowan the Red Squirrel, is aimed at older readers (aged 4-6) and follows the adventures of a brother and sister, Rowan and Hazel, who are off to explore the forest for the very first time. Their mother tells them not to wander too far, but there are so many exciting things to discover that her words of warning are soon forgotten.

Rowan p2

To be fair, Rowan tries to hold his sister back, but Hazel is fearless and ready for adventure. Most of all, she is hungry, and she nibbles pinecones and toadstools and blackberries all along the way. This proves very useful when they get lost and need to look for clues as they try to find their way home.

Rowan p8

There’s a very scary moment when a fox tries to catch Hazel, but Rowan comes to the rescue by grabbing the fox’s tail. They both run off and escape up a tree, but soon it gets dark and more scary creatures appear in the shadows.

Rowan p10

When they finally make their way back to their crooked old tree, Mum is very glad to see them! They tell her all about their hair-raising adventures and promise to be more careful from now on.

Rowan p14

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

One of the best perks of my job as an author is the chance I often get when a new book is published to dedicate it to someone special. It’s sometimes hard for me to wait until the book comes out to let them know (I’m terrible at waiting!) My new book, Rowan the Red Squirrel, came out on 22 February, and I just had to tell a good friend recently that it will be dedicated to his two children. I hope Jamie and Rosalyn will be as thrilled to hear this as he was!

When my children were small, they often inspired my writing. Jack’s Bed, for example, was all about a little boy who did not like bedtime (just like my son). I was delighted when I saw that the illustrations looked very like him!

In the story, Jack’s mum buys him a soft leopard toy that holds a hot water bottle, and this helps Jack sleep through the night. We still have that leopard today, though at 18 my boy doesn’t need it any more! It was lovely to be able to dedicate that book to him when he was still quite small. I think he felt pretty special seeing his name in print and looking at Rosalind Beardshaw‘s drawings of him!

I have two children, so it was very lucky that I was able to get another book published to dedicate to my daughter. It’s important to be fair, after all! This one was called I Win!, and it was inspired by the endless competition and rivalry between my two kids when they were young. Today they are the best of friends, but it wasn’t always that way.

For some reason I imagined twins for this story, and lots of bright tropical colours like turquoise, pink and yellow. Melanie Williamson did a fantastic job, and my daughter was delighted with her special book.

My next book, Pink!, was the first proper “trade” picture book I had ever published, and it made quite a splash at the time. I have illustrator Margaret Chamberlain to thank for that! Although the story was inspired by my daughter, I had already dedicated one book to her, so this time I chose my friend and agent Lindsey. She richly deserved the dedication, as without her, the book would never have been published!

Pink! has since toured around Scottish schools and nurseries as a musical, and it has been republished by Wacky Bee Books in London.

My next two books came out in quick succession, and were both published by Hodder Books. Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet was also inspired by my children, who were not unusual in wanting to get a dog. This time I thought it was high time my beloved husband got a dedication, so Jacob is for Mark.

I Do Not Eat the Colour Green is all about a girl who refuses to eat healthy green foods (or even unhealthy ones) so it seemed a good idea to dedicate this book to my parents, who always made me eat my peas.

I haven’t published so many books that I have run out of special people for them. I doubt if that will ever happen. In fact, I still have plenty of friends who deserve a dedication!  In one case I really wanted to dedicate a book to the boy who inspired it, but that wasn’t possible. Instead, I will dedicate it to him here. For Kofi, the boy who challenged me to write a potato story.

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

Recently I’ve been doing some research about red squirrels for a new book. Despite having lived in Scotland for 25 years, I have never actually seen a red squirrel in the wild. They are the only squirrels native to Britain, but unfortunately someone thought it would be a good idea to bring a few grey ones from North America in the 1870s. The grey squirrel is larger and hardier, and competes with the red for food. As a result, over the past 150 years the red squirrel population has suffered, and now there are 15 grey squirrels in Britain for every red one. No wonder they are hard to spot!

Red squirrels are very pretty, with tufty ears and white tummies. My new rhyming story is about two young ones who are venturing out into the forest for the first time. I did a little Googling and found this adorable photo:

Photo ©AP

The first ten weeks of a red squirrel’s life are spent in a drey, which is a nest built in the fork of a tree with twigs, moss, leaves and dried grass. Sometimes these dreys are communal, shared by a group of squirrels at different times.

Photo ©wildwoodtrust.org

In my story the two baby squirrels, Rowan and Hazel, set off down their tree to explore the forest nearby. Naturally, they wander further than they should and run into a few scary creatures, including a hungry fox!

I had to find out exactly what red squirrels eat, and the Wildwood Trust website is a great source of information. Red squirrels live in forests with both conifer and deciduous trees, and their main source of food is hazelnuts and seeds from conifer cones. They also eat berries, flowers, green shoots and mushrooms. To ensure they have food to eat in the winter, they bury nuts in the woodland floor, and hang mushrooms up in the trees to dry for later use.

My little squirrels get distracted by all the tasty food they find, and soon are lost in the forest. One of the clues they use to get home again is a mushroom that Hazel has nibbled. This is a Scottish story because most of the red squirrels found in the UK today live in Scotland. The Wildwood Trust says there are about 160,000 red squirrels across the country. Of those, about 120,000 live in Scotland, 30,000 live in northern England and 10,000 in Wales. They have almost completely disappeared from southern England.

There are several organisations devoted to protecting the red squirrel, including the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. There are lots of ways to get involved if you want to help out.

I hope my new book Rowan the Red Squirrel will raise awareness about the red squirrel. I have found two lovely toy squirrels to take with me when I visit schools, but I hope we’ll never reach a time when they are the only kind left.