Archives for posts with tag: Picture Kelpies

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

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.