Archives for posts with tag: characters

Twitter is a wonderful way to make new friends. Recently a head teacher I follow drew my attention to a knitted puffin that a Glasgow teacher had put up on Twitter. She thought it looked very like one of the characters of my puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

I was impressed, and wondered if Susan the clever knitter would be able to create a fluffy grey puffling to go with me on school and nursery visits when I’m reading my new puffin story, Skye the Puffling. Through Twitter I was able to chat to Susan about what Skye should look like, and show her the lovely illustration by Jon Mitchell:

Skye coverSusan immediately set to work, and soon I was able to see my little puffling taking shape! Not being a knitter myself, I was baffled by the complex knitting instructions she seemed to be following. A fluffy little grey thing began to emerge…

knitting-skye-1Next she sent me a little bird shape and I could imagine a very cute, fluffy puffling who looked soft and snuggly:

knitting-skye-2Finally, Susan sent me a picture of Skye with eyes and a beak, with the message, “only the feet to add.” Little Skye was soon finished, and Susan and I agreed to meet up so I could repay her with three copies of my puffin books.

knitting-skye-3My fluffy Skye has already come with me to a Bookbug Library Challenge event at Drymen Library, and she was very well received! I’ve got another event tomorrow at Alloa Library, and Skye will be coming with me again, to be sure.

fluffy-skyeI was very touched by Susan’s generosity, and it was a real pleasure to meet her for a chat as we exchanged puffins. Many thanks to Joyce Hawkins who first alerted me to Susan’s impressive knitting talents!

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

While I was on holiday in Spain another knitted item caught my eye. It was a pair of soft and squishy cactus plants with brilliant care instructions: “Cactus of extremely slow, almost imperceptible growth. Easy to care for, simply give abundant morning smiles.” As my daughter is a huge cactus fan, I took a photo of them to show her. I’m glad I did, as it meant I could show the same photo to Susan. I thought she could easily knit a cactus and find a pot for it, and sure enough, she had already done it!

Susan Quinn's cactus.

Susan Quinn’s cactus.

It seems there is no end to what you can do with knitting needles! Susan is already thinking about Christmas…

squinn-tree

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March 3rd 2016 is World Book Day, and in schools and libraries across the country everyone is getting involved in the celebrations! To get kids reading, National Book Tokens have teamed up with publishers and booksellers to give everyone in school a free book of their choice. The £1 book token can be used in bookshops to buy any of the following excellent options, or you can use it to get £1 off another full-price book or audio book.

2016 book titles from the World Book Day website

The 2016 £1 book titles from the World Book Day website

On Thursday the 3rd, lots of people will also be dressing up as their favourite book character and donating funds to Book Aid International to send much-needed books to libraries in Africa. If you’re looking for last-minute dress-up ideas, check out their World Book Day Dress-Up webpage. Over the past 60 years, Book Aid International has sent 31 million books to African countries. Here’s a great video they have created called The Journey of a Book which shows every stage, from the initial printing of a book to its arrival in African schools, libraries and universities.

Book-related activities are happening all this week, and lots of children’s authors like myself are visiting schools and libraries to share their stories. I had a great time on Tuesday visiting the P3 and P4 classes at Darnley Primary School. I brought Lewis, Harris and Skye for a fun puffin-themed writing workshop. The puffin toys got a great reception (lots of ooos and ahhhs) and the children enjoyed a sneak preview of Skye the Puffling which comes out in a week or two.

puffin holiday plan

On Thursday I’ll be visiting Holy Cross Primary School, where authors and other interesting characters (such as North American hockey players and Scottish movie stars) are invited every World Book Day to share their favourite children’s book with a class. I’m going to read Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats, first published in 1968. The illustrations are in black and white and the text is quite long, so it’s very different from picture books you see nowadays. But the story is clever and very funny, so I’m sure the children will enjoy it!

A friend of mine works in a nursery, and she has invited me to come on Friday and read to the three- and four-year-olds she looks after. I’ll choose my simpler books, like One Potato, Clementine’s Smile and Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose to entertain the little ones. It’s lovely to have a chance to nurture a love of books with very small children. The sooner they discover the joys of reading a story, the better their chances of reading for pleasure when they grow up.

If you’re looking for ideas to celebrate books this year, have a look at the Big Book Off on the World Book Day website where you’ll find suggestions like making a book-based game, discovering a new author or illustrator, creating a picture of your favourite scene from a book, or acting it out for an audience! There are also lots of online games on the Play and Win page, where you can answer questions about Harry Potter or go on a Young Bond secret agent mission, among many other games. Time to get reading! Happy World Book Day!

Patrick for invoice

The best thing about being a picture book writer is seeing your ideas come alive in the hands of a talented illustrator. Two of my stories are in the process of being illustrated just now, and it’s very exciting for me to see the way they are going to look!

Most of my stories start with a central character, and that was certainly true of Pink! which was illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. She cleverly captured the personality of a little penguin called Patrick who woke up one morning to discover he had turned bright pink.

Patrick and pals

Margaret has also illustrated another of my picture books, I Do Not Eat the Colour Green. In that story I imagined a determined little girl called Marlene with curly red hair (I’m not sure why) and this is what Margaret came up with:

Marlene McKean

She does look very stroppy, doesn’t she? Luckily the story ends with a smile as she discovers she does like green things after all.

Another illustrator whose work has been the perfect complement to my stories is Gabby Grant, who illustrated my two puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero. She is brilliant at drawing animals, so she was the right choice for these two books!

cute acrobats.jpg

Lewis and Harris are puffin brothers, but Lewis decides he belongs in the circus. Here you can see him performing with his fellow clown Karla the Koala. When Lewis flies off to town, his brother Harris is left all alone. Feeling lonely without a friend, Harris decides to go on his own adventure, which of course ends happily!

Harris on his own

Gabby has managed to show Harris looking sad here, which is no mean feat when it’s a stripy-beaked puffin! She is also very good at painting water and clouds, and I especially like her bird’s-eye-view angles.

Another book whose illustrations I was very pleased with is Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet. I didn’t really have an idea of what Jacob should look like, but this story was also full of animals (a whole range of pets) which illustrator Lee Wildish has drawn with lots of humour.

Jacob O'Reilly

The publisher decided the cover should have a walrus in the bathtub (one of the pets Jacob asks for) and it’s quite a good choice I think!

Authors don’t often get a say in who the illustrator will be. Sometimes if we’re lucky we get to see a few sample drawings and say which style we prefer. As the book is being illustrated, we can usually see the rough pencil sketches of each page and help check the text to make sure no mistakes have crept in. Later we get to see the colour “proofs” and at that point it’s pretty much too late to make any changes.

Last week I was sent rough sketches for two of my books, which was very exciting! The first is a book all about healthy eating which is called Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose. The illustrator is Eilidh Muldoon and she has done some lovely things with all my characters who are trying to eat tigers and alligators and elephants!

Abigail and Crocodile

I love the way Eilidh creates sweeping curves in her illustrations. Here we have a little girl called Abigail who wants to eat an alligator’s tail. There are also children called Emmylou, Humperdink, Lola Rose and Leopold.

veg and fruit baskets

As you can see, Eilidh has done some charming sketches of all the healthy food these children should be eating, and I think the book is going to look great when it’s done! Take a look at this clever little monkey:

monkey with banana

Once the book is finished it will be given out to preschool children across Scotland as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug scheme. I can’t wait!

The other book that’s in the works is called One Potato. This was inspired both by the healthy eating theme and by a special request from a boy in P4 at Comely Park Primary School where I am Patron of Reading. One afternoon when I was visiting the school, Kofi put up his hand and told me that he and his friend Adam were writing a story about a runaway potato and an eagle. He asked me to write one too, and I agreed, thinking it would be a good exercise.

When I finally got down to writing my potato story, I decided to start with the rhyme, One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four. When the story was finished I sent it to Kofi’s teacher and the whole P4 year group spent some time doing illustrations for me!

One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Nice and cosy underground, they don't know what's in store...

One potato, two potato, three potato, four.
Nice and cosy underground, they don’t know what’s in store…

Suddenly a farmer's fork comes down to dig them out. They roll around upon the ground - what can this be about?

Suddenly a farmer’s fork comes down to dig them out.
They roll around upon the ground – what can this be about?

Then one by one they're tossed inside a bucket made of tin. Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Then one by one they’re tossed inside a bucket made of tin.
Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Thanks to Willow Reed, Olivia Kinloch and Abby Reid for providing those three illustrations. (There were lots more, so I’m sorry not to have room for them all here. I keep them all in my special Comely Park Primary folder).

The potato decides he does not want to go into the soup pot, and he rolls into the garden and tells the farmer’s wife she should put some other vegetables in her soup instead. She chases him all around the garden but he is too quick for her, and as he rolls down the road he says, “Nobody’s cooking me!”

I was delighted when my potato story was picked up for the Collins Big Cat series, so I have Kofi and Adam to thank for that! The preliminary sketches for One Potato are looking great, so I’ll let you know when that one comes out. The illustrator they have chosen is brilliant, but more about that later…

There are so many wonderful children’s illustrators out there that I could write about it all day! Maybe the next blog post will be about all the artists I would like to illustrate my stories. Seeing these two books come alive has certainly inspired me to get writing more!

After Dr Seuss, my favourite author who both writes clever rhymes and draws brilliant cartoons is Shel Silverstein. I didn’t know about him growing up, although he was writing books and silly rhymes in the 1960s when I was little. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that someone gave me a copy of A Light in the Attic to read to them. From that moment, I was hooked!

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

Something Missing, from A Light in the Attic ©1981

This has got to be my favourite Shel Silverstein poem, not only because it’s so funny but also because the poem is brilliantly written, leaving the reader to finish the final rhyme. I love the loose and exaggerated style of his pen and ink drawings, and it’s been really hard to choose which poems to show you here as there are so many good ones!

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

Me Stew is another brilliant example of Shel’s clever poetry, which often involves eating. From the same collection you have little Melinda Mae who takes eighty-nine years to eat a whale, Hungry Mungry who eats the whole world and then starts nibbling on himself, and Peanut-Butter Sandwich in which the king gets his mouth stuck shut and even the fire brigade can’t unstick it!

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

The Farmer and the Queen from Where the Sidewalk Ends ©1974

This poem about a visit from the Queen is good fun, and I think the illustration really shows off Shel’s amazing skill at capturing the essence of both people and animals in a comical way. If you haven’t discovered the wonderful Shel Silverstein already, go and find some of his books right now!

The opening page from Anna's award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

The opening page from Anna’s award-winning comic, Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Another budding cartoonist I am very fond of is my daughter Anna. I have lots of her drawings on my website, and she won the Reading Zone Picture Book Competition with this charming character Bea. I am always amazed at how she can draw with just a fine-tipped black pen, without even sketching it with a pencil first!

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

As you can see, Bea is a sweet little character, but she has hidden powers…

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Bea and the Marshmallow Menace ©2012

Anna has always loved drawing cartoons and she is especially good at conveying emotions on her characters’ faces. If you’re a keen cartoonist like Anna then perhaps this worksheet of Bea’s facial expressions will help you perfect your technique:

©Anna Rickards 2012

©Anna Rickards 2012

I think if you click on the image it should be possible to print it, and then you can practice your own cartoons. Have fun!

Most of my story ideas start with a character. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, especially from the animal world. Did the picture above make you laugh? Can you imagine the sort of personality this macaque monkey might have? She is clever, for one thing, since she figured out what a wildlife photographer was doing and grabbed his camera to take this self-portrait! If you were writing a story about her, what would you call her?

Once you have a name and some idea of what your character is like, you can start thinking up a story. What other sort of mischief might Millie the macaque monkey get up to? I think she would definitely be a naughty character, so she is bound to get into trouble! But because she is good at heart, everything would work out okay in the end.

What about this guy? He looks a bit mean, I think. I would call him Orville and make him bad-tempered and rude. And that is because he is hard and scaly and has a mean expression. Perhaps in reality he is a very sweet tortoise!

Here is another interesting individual. He is a type of toucan with intense blue eyes that stare unblinkingly at you. It’s hard to work out what he might be thinking. Is he friendly, or will he bite your finger? The shape of his beak makes him appear to be frowning, and it looks hard and sharp. His blue claws are also a bit scary looking. What sort of story might you write about him? Perhaps he feels misunderstood and really wants to be a tap dancer!

A while ago my family and I were stuck in the middle of nowhere when our car broke down. We found a place to wait for the AA man to come and rescue us, and took some pictures of this surprising sign. Adult swans can be quite aggressive, so someone must have put up this Swan Alert because of the baby swans (cygnets). A mum will always protect her babies, so it was a warning for people not to get too close! Perhaps that might inspire a story about a mother swan and her little ones.

I get ideas for characters in lots of strange places. I saw these lovely quilted owls in a gift shop in St Andrews. Don’t they look as though they’re terribly curious about the outside world? I’m sure if you gave them names and distinct personalities a story would not be far behind…

Here’s something you don’t see every day. These angel sculptures are suspended from the ceiling in the cathedral in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Thanks to Doctor Who, they remind me of the weeping angels that get closer and closer with their big fangs each time you blink! They look like they’re swooping down ready to pounce. But if you look at their faces, these angels seem sad, as if they are caught on those wires, suspended in mid-air and unable to escape. Perhaps they are gentle, unhappy angels after all. What do you think?

This last picture shows my children making silly faces behind some flat Victorian costumes on a little model train carriage. They had fun pretending to be posh Victorian train passengers on a day out. That’s another way to create characters for a story – imagine going back in time, or forward into the future! Once you’ve got your characters, just let your imagination fly…