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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dazzle Ships Poetry Reading

Jane Yolen came in town the other day to participate in a reading of poems about Dazzle Ships. I mentioned Dazzle Ships in another blog post...
     Ships were painted like this during WWI (maybe also during WWII) to throw off locators trying to figure out which direction or how fast ships were going. This one was recently commissioned by artist Ciara Phillips for the Edinburgh Arts Festival, as was the poetry reading about Dazzle Ships hosted by Marjorie Lotfi Gill of Open Book at the Edinburgh Bookshop.
     Two wonderful things together, Jane and the Edinburgh Bookshop, we were so there! (And Jane got us guest tickets - yay!) Here was the program, a limited edition risograph printing by Out of the Blueprint:
The poems took on several different angles and moods. I especially liked the one about the women who painted the ships (yes, they were all women), who were able to get out of the house and wear trousers for the first time! Jane's poem was also wonderful, of course.
     Factoid: Did you know that she shares a poem every day via email? You can sign up HERE.
      What a fun evening!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Dalriada Sunday Music Jam

So I told you about that piano on the beach? It foreshadowed the music we were about to stumble into... Up the boardwalk from our picnic is a pub in a grand old house called Dalriada.
We hadn't been yet, so today was the day. We popped in for some tea and stumbled across the Sunday ritual there.
Two tables near the window said 'reserved for band' so we got the next free table over. Silly us, the band quickly grew around us on all sides.
Turns out Sunday is jam session day for whoever wants to join in. We were in the way. But the only free seats left in the place were at an occupied table. Stan asked if we could join them. They said yes. Turned out to be the sister of the main guitarist. She and her husband were visiting from Manchester.
We had a nice conversation about the music. A few of the musicians are regulars. Many play in other bands and get pretty regular work at caleighs, enough that they don't really advertise themselves, which is why I sadly can't share a website.
     I can, however, share the short video I made when they broke into an especially fun Scottish tune. Click the image to listen on Youtube.
Ironically, the fiddle player in the video, Jo, showed up at a poetry reading we attended the next evening. (More on that soon.)
     I tell you, it's so easy to make friends here, and most of the friendships begin with the phrase, "I was in a pub..."

Friday Linky List - 26 August 2016

From Nightlight: How Did Children's Literature Evolve From Prim Morality Tales to the Likes of Captain Underpants?

From Muddy Colors: 2016 Sketchbook Preview: The Gryphon Hunters and Other Adventures by Justin Gerard and Fairy Tales and Folklore by Annie Stegg Gerard

From K.D. Rausin (via Emma Dryden): The Importance of Getting Up and Trying Again

From The City of Lost Books: W.W. Tarn, The Treasure of the Isle of Mist

From The Sydney Morning Herald: The Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Awards: the winners your kids must read

From Brain Pickings: Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience

From The Scottish Book Trust: Michael Morpungo on Finding The Right Place to Write

From The Guardian: Terry Pratchett's 'artist of choice' on illustrating Discworld: As the Discworld Colouring Book is published, Paul Kidby, who illustrated the hugely popular novels for more than 20 years, recalls how attending a book signing changed his life

From Julia Donaldson at Kirkus on Going Graphic

From the Society of Visual Storytelling: 3rd Thursday Critiques (via Will Terry)

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I've become a fan of Eugen Yelchin's creations, so I'm thrilled to have him on today...
Eugene Yelchin
      Thank you so much for inviting me to share a “behind the scenes” glimpse of The Haunting of Falcon House. As with my previous books, this is a middle grade novel that could be read on several levels by both young and adult readers. On the surface Falcon House is a classic ghost story in which a protagonist uncovers a crime that had occurred in the past yet still haunts the present. However, the crime here serves to present a moral argument on a larger scale — is it possible for an individual to feel free in a society that allows one group of people to oppress another?
      The story takes place in St. Petersburg. I wanted to write a book about my Russian hometown for a very long time; the feelings that that city can stir in one’s heart could never be forgotten. The reason is not particularly the beauty of its historical center, but rather the fact that the authors like Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gogol had all used St. Petersburg as the prime location for their stories. As a result, for the dwellers of St. Petersburg, the real city and the city imagined had always blurred into one. “Below us in the waiting stillness gleamed Saint Petersburg. The churches, palaces, and bridges lay buried under the brilliance of snow. The sky shone with stars. Their pale blue flicker reflected from the frozen river that sliced the city into islands like shards of a shattered mirror.”
      “We dashed along snow-coated streets that sparkled like sugar, crossed bridges arching over frozen canals, and passed palaces gleaming with gold. Shops with enormous windows flashed by like tinfoil. The gas lamps had just been lighted, and below the lamps flowed crowds of richly dressed people. Sleighs and carriages I’d never seen the likes of crisscrossed in all direction. The crisp and frosty air rang with crackling whips, ringing bells, and sleigh runners squeaking over the dazzling snow.”
      While working on the book, I’ve collected a great deal of photographs of the 19th century Petersburg, some beautiful, some spooky, most giving me exciting ideas for the narrative. “Bewildered, I gazed at my grandfather’s death mask. The leaping shadows cast upon his aspect by the moving light of candelabrums conferred upon it a peculiar impression of a living face. His cheeks were sunken, eyes tightly shut, and the drooped corners of his mouth seemed to gather into an unpleasant grimace; was Grandfather sneering at me?”
      Because the main hero Prince Lev is the “last of ancient lineage”, I was particularly interested in the images of the Russian aristocracy. “Two piercing eyes were fixed upon me. I gasped and stumbled back. From the vibration of my near fall, the fire flared in the fireplace, light swept across the shadowy recess from where the eyes were glaring, and I saw their owner. A man hovered in the utter darkness. His body was distorted, strangely incomplete, swaying slightly in the flicker of the candles. I could scarcely breathe.”
      Prince Lev is summoned, or so he thinks, to take charge of the Lvovs’ family estate by his aunt Olga Lvovna, a classic tyrannical and highly manipulative antagonist.
      “I had seen Olga Lvovna’s pictures in my father’s photographic album. In every picture, she smiled, her eyes shining brightly, and she was always dressed in white. That little girl was no more. Olga Lvovna was my father’s older sister, but how much older I couldn’t tell; she looked about a hundred. Her eyes were circled with dusky rings, her waxy cheeks were hollow, and all that remained of her once smiling lips was but a brief thin line. Her dress was black, and she was so pale and skinny, I fancied she had spent her life in prison with neither sunlight not fresh air.”
      Given the book’s genre, I had a lot of fun writing scary passages, while trying to stay faithful to the 19th century’s supernatural style. There are chilly shadowy hallways, and candles that go out by themselves, and of course there are bats, lots of bats.
      “There was a terrific crash. The whole house shuddered. In an instant, an earsplitting shriek echoed through the shaft. A boiling black cloud rose from below, screeching, shape-shifting, and cartwheeling right at us. I sprang away from the opening. Bats poured out of the shaft, swooping across the landing in a thick, black smudge.”
      My favorite place to write is always my art studio, but this time I had to surround myself with objects that would help me creating a believable atmosphere of the 19th century Russian aristocrat’s study — period weapons, taxidermy, silhouette portraits, etc.
      And finally, to design the book as an original 19th century volume, I acquired and studied a great deal of antiquarian books —a priceless addition to my library!
     Thanks so much Eugene! To learn more about Eugene and his books, visit his website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Picnic at Porty

Like I said, we've had some gorgeous weather of late here in Edinburgh. Stan got it into his head to have a picnic at the beach. He wanted to experiment on me before he chanced experimenting on friends, so the two of us hopped on the #26 bus for the 20-minute ride out to Portobello (Porty) beach the other day.
We nabbed a good spot on the sand and set up shop. This was our view...

Stan had prepped everything beforehand. These were the provisions.
A bottle of wine went into a plastic Pellegrino bottle since glass isn't allowed on the beach.
And Stan fired up the wee portable grill which he bought at the Tesco for £2.
Twenty or thirty relaxing moments later, and shooing off a seagull or two, we had lunch. It was a total success!
Next time we'll invite friends for sure - this worked! And OMG was it delicious. Home-made potato salad and garlic-marinated cheese-burgers on gluten free buns from Sugar Daddy's Gluten Free Bakery. YUM!
     After lunch, we cleaned up and headed down the boardwalk. We came across this bizarre sight.
Yes, that is a piano on the beach. Crazy! And it ended up being a prelude to the second half of our afternoon. Coming soon...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Coloring Page Tuesday - Baby's Pet Monster

     Wow. You guys went crazy over last week's image of the tiger, so I decided to give you another one of my crosshatch pieces. This is baby with his favorite monster. What color will you make him?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

One of the best things about living in Edinburgh is the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival. It goes on for two weeks during FRINGE and it is an oasis of literary wonderfulness in Charlotte Square.

     For the first week of the Festival, I've been supporting friends and taking advantage of some free events. First was Sarah Broadley's reading in the Spiegletent. That's a new word to me, but it basically means a pop-up venue that looks like this.

     Sarah is the incoming regional advisor for the Southeast Scotland chapter of the SCBWI. She read an entertaining piece about her first pair of rollerskates, and the injury that ensued. I had a similar escapade involving a skateboard in my childhood, so I could relate.
     SCBWI also hosted a postcard wall inspired by the Illustrators' Walls at the Bologna Children's Book Fair (which I wrote about HERE).
     It wasn't nearly as big as Bologna obviously (!), but it was a really nice showing of the amazingly talented illustrators here in Edinburgh.

This was the panel that showed off my wares.

     SCBWI also hosted an editor panel with Barry Cunningham (Chicken House and JK Rowling fame), Lauren Fortune (Scholastic), and Sally Poulson (Floris Books).
     Louise Kelly and Sheila Averbuch (current RAs) asked some great questions, including illustrator-specific questions. My biggest take-away was that illustrators in the UK are mostly hired through agencies. HMMMMM!
     Mostly, it was lovely connecting with fellow children's book creators. I'm slowly getting to know folks here and am not as much the new kid as I was. That's nice.
     I purchased tickets for several more speakers next week. More on those soon...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Our sunny day continues in Newhaven

From Leith, our walk wound around to Newhaven. This is the old fishing warf overlooking the Firth of Forth. You know you're there when you come to the charming marina.
     A lovely sidewalk takes you along the old dock buildings.
From there you can look back to the wee town of Newhaven. It's lovely and there's a great breakfast place we often choose as a destination, Porto & Fi. But, we'd already eaten in Leith and our tummies were full. So we walked out past the marina. The jut out offers an amazing view of the firth - we sat and soaked up the sun for a while.
And enjoyed the view.
That's the Kingdom of Fife on the far side.
     Finally, it was time to get back. I got this one last shot of Stan on our way.
     We stopped for tea at The Starbank Inn, another fave, to fortify us for the 2-mile walk home. Yes, I was a wee bit sore by the end of it all, but gads, what a fabulous day!

VIDEO: Overwatch Dragons

This is a gorgeous animation - Overwatch Dragons by Roberto Ortiz. Click to watch at CG Society:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A sunny day in Leith

We've had a wonderful streak of amazing weather here in Edinburgh lately. About 65°F (18°C) with no humidity. It makes for absolute perfection. Stan and I had to get out in it! So the other day we did our big loop. We take the converted railway trails (to walking trails) out to Leith then circle around through Newhaven and back home again. Without tangents, which of course, there are tangents, it's seven miles. First, Leith...
     I've shared photos of Leith with you before HERE and HERE. We love this little port town.
     For this trip, we had a slight mission. A friend of ours created a fundraiser for the Scottish Book Trust, 100 Bookpeeps. Readers take photos of themselves with their favorite books and make a small donation for the privilege. We had to share my novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET! But where better than on Water Street? There happens to be one in Leith. So that was our first destination.
     Our second destination was to get a better photo of the Dazzle Ship.
     Have you heard of these? It's apparently a real thing. Ships were painted during WWII to throw off locators trying to figure out which direction ships were going or how far away they were. This one was recently painted by artist Ciara Phillips for the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Last time we were in Leith with friends, it was windy and rainy and I didn't get a good shot. Remedied!
     That done, we went to lunch at Tapa. It was an OMG sort of meal and we'll be taking our friend Melissa Libby (Atlanta restaurant promoter) there when she comes to visit soon. Stan said the Spanish guy at the next table claimed it was the best tapas restaurant in the UK. I agree!
     Afterwards, we wandered about. Y'know how in the states old hotels will claim 'George Washington slept here'? They do that here too, but the dates are slightly more remarkable.
Yeah, that says "Mary Queen of Scots, 1561"! Here is the garden she walked through. Can't you see her there?
     We also discovered several new restaurants we want to try and Tom Kitchin's Michelin Starred restaurant "the Kitchin." That one might have to wait for a book to sell.
     From there, we walked to Newhaven...

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Do you remember LITTLE ELLIOT BIG CITY by Mike Curato? Well, Little Elliot has a new adventure in LITTLE ELLIOT BIG FUN! Mike stopped by to answer some questions about it...
e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it, and what is your medium?
Usually, when I begin a book, I start with sketches of Elliot in various situations. Then, I start writing about each drawing that stands out to me. I go back and forth until a story starts forming. I don’t really set out with a theme in mind, I arrive there through the process. As in life, we don’t know what some experiences are about until we have some distance from it. Then, we can see the full picture and say, “Oh! That’s why I went through all of that! Life was teaching me X lesson.” Once I feel confident that my story has a beginning, middle and end, I start sharing it with my editor, Laura Godwin. We go back and forth with ideas for how to tighten up the book. To make my illustrations, I draw with pencil on paper, scan, and color digitally. Also, I spend a huge amount of time doing research. The Little Elliot books all take place in late 1930s New York, so I try to be as authentic as possible.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I think Heart Art is that element of an illustration that cannot be said with words (the whole reason why we need illustrations to accompany a text). A good illustration speaks directly to the soul. It’s a vulnerable truth that tells the viewer that someone else understands what they’ve been through and how they feel, much like music. This isn’t something one learns. It’s the result of the artist searching for the right visual elements that stir something in their being. It’s the part of the illustration that isn’t technical, but is more unto a sixth sense.

e: What was your path to publication?
I went to Syracuse University’s illustration program from 1999-2003, where I realized that I wanted to focus on picture book making. After graduation, I tried to break into publishing on and off for ten years, working as a graphic designer in the meantime. In 2012, I attended the SCBWI winter conference in NYC, where I was fortunate enough to win the portfolio showcase. In most of the illustrations in my portfolio, I featured a character I had been drawing for years, a small polka-dotted elephant. Brenda Bowen (who is now my agent) slipped her card into the portfolio. The next day, I received emails and phone calls from several publishers inquiring about who this elephant was and what was his story. By summer, Little Elliot went to auction and found a home with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers at Macmillan.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I think my favorite part of being a creator is that magical moment when I am able to make something that makes me happy. I don’t mean that in a prideful way, it is more about witnessing the Art Heart that you were just asking about. I have a poet friend who once told me that when she’s performing, it’s her time to talk to God, and everyone else gets to watch. It’s a feeling that’s worth its weight in gold.
     Click the image to see Mike's studio larger in a new window.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
For me, the book is about confronting fears, and how to be a good friend to someone who is afraid. Life is full of scary rides, but when friends stick together, they can get through them.

Click the image below to see a GIF of Mike's process:


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