Starsky the Rainbow Trout

I wrote this at Cleveland College of Art & Design in Middlesbrough (1987-8) when I was studying for my Foundation Certificate. I made this book dummy as part of my response to a textiles module. The brief was to buy a whole fish from a fishmonger’s, which would serve as inspiration for the duration of the project. We had to draw and ‘get to know’ the fish – we kept them in the college fridge in between classes. The studio was ripe by the end of the module.

Starsky was executed in pencil crayons and inkpen (very 1980s – everyone wanted to be Raymond Briggs back then). I was a strict vegetarian at the time, and, although I eat fish now, I’ve never really fancied trout.

As a published picture book author, I would say to my young student-self:

  • Not bad for a first try at making a story book, but:
  • Avoid rhyming text for a first book; it makes translation of co-editions tricky, but if you must:
  • Try using a thesaurus to avoid lazy rhyming stanzas.
  • Learn some grammar and how to spell ‘fly’ and ‘embedded’.
  • Fish don’t ‘shout’ – they scream silently (in the same way an uprooted flower does). They don’t laugh either. Mainly, they glug.
  • Think about page turns – who was lurking on the bank? Make the reader want to turn the page to find out. Same goes for the very last line – it would be more dramatic if it had a page to itself at the end.
  • Don’t simply illustrate the words, drop some words and let the pictures do the talking, too.
  • Try for a more imaginative title – publishers aren’t keen on ‘Sammy the Squirrel’-type titles. How about Massacre in the River Tees* instead?

I got an good mark for that module, and the tutor tried to persuade me to apply for Textile Design at degree level, instead of Graphic Design. I don’t think textiles would have been my thing. Too stinky.

*joking, of course

New picture books!

I received the most exciting long-awaited parcel from my agent yesterday - my first two children’s picture books as author. I immediately made a cuppa and sat down to read them – twice – being very careful not to spill the cuppa! Although I’ve illustrated numerous children’s books over the years, this felt like an achievement because I’d been writing for eight years before I had any manuscripts accepted, signing the contracts almost 18 months ago. This isn’t an unusual scenario among children’s writers by any means.

The titles are by Australian publisher, Hinkler Books /Bonney Press (imprint):

Roble’s Rain Dance illustrated by Gavin Scott: A thirst-quenching quest in a drought-stricken desert. ‘Roble’ is a Somali name meaning ‘born during the rainy season’.

It Takes Two to T’wit Two illustrated by Guiliano Ferri: A lonely owl searches for a T’woo to complement her T’wit.

I’m thrilled with the illustrations – this is the first time I’ve seen them all together, although I saw some roughs for Roble’s Rain Dance earlier this year. My agent sent through one or two jpegs of finished artwork throughout the year and it was amazing to see the characters that I had written spring to life. This was especially fascinating for me, having been involved in the creative process of other books as a children’s illustrator myself. As in all children’s picture books, a good chunk of storytelling happens in the pictures rather than the text, so it was important for certain visual elements to be in the right place.

I’ll follow this up with an individual blog post for each title describing the inspiration behind the stories and perhaps one about the route I took to getting published.

I think they are listed on some Australian bookselling sites, and some Amazon sites (as ‘unavailable’ at present). I’m hoping to get hold of some copies to sell myself so watch this space…