VIDEO: Robert McKee on Story

The author of Story and probably the most highly respected screen-writer in Hollywood was recently interviewed on London Real. There is some great advice in here for writers of all media and genres. The video starts on YouTube, or you can watch the whole thing at LondonReal.

Snow in Edinburgh

I constantly tell people the weather in Scotland is just not that bad. It's temperate - rarely gets below freezing in the winter and rarely get above 75°f (about 24°c) in the summers. If you've heard otherwise, it's because a Scotsman told you and they are notorious storytellers - as in the "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story" variety. Most of them have also not experienced winters elsewhere, so they have nothing to compare it to. SO! When we get snow here, it's as much a cause for celebration as it was in Georgia (where it was usually much colder). That said, the snow is also fleeting. I promised pictures, but have to admit, our lovely snow-storm only lasted a few hours and quickly melted away. Here was the view out our front windows.

We went to our fave pub for lunch, The Ox (we've taken several guests there, so some of you might recognize this), because we wanted to get out in the snow. But as you can see, it was pretty much done by then and the sun was even peeking out. This was our view during lunch.

Ged Adamson's SHARK DOG

Ged Adamson is on a roll! He visits again to share the creative process behind his newest title, SHARK DOG!

Fantastic Beasts!
Ged Adamson

     My picture books can roughly be divided into two basic categories:
1. Odd Happenings
2. Strange Creatures
     It’s definitely to the latter category that my character Shark Dog belongs. He’s a strange creature indeed - half shark and half dog. But with his eager curiosity and lovable friendliness, it’s the dog side that seems to dominate. Who knows what weird evolutionary meanderings led to such an extraordinary animal?
      Ideas like Shark Dog usually come from a single quick drawing. I spend a big amount of time doodling things, an activity usually fuelled by coffee. The coffee isn’t essential, but like most people, I find it stimulates the thought process. Certainly, Douglas, another of my odd dog characters, was born in the same way: a scribble in a sketchbook in the café down the road. My immediate thought in both the cases of Douglas and Shark Dog was the same: could I build a story around this one doodle? But my approach to the two characters was different.
      With Douglas, I started to think of scenarios. He’s short-sighted so he’s taken to the eye doctor and he gets glasses. What happens to him then? Hmm.
      How about he starts to not just see the world more clearly but his mind and imagination open up to knowledge and ideas? He then wants to lead other dogs to enlightenment. Like a canine Timothy Leary. He holds a meeting but then the dogs’ owners organise a protest. As you can see, the story started to get out of hand. My editor at Random House, the fabulous Lee Wade, said I should have a rethink. Strip it back but keep it funny. There has to be some truth in there. When people get glasses, they suddenly see the world clearly. This is a beautiful and amazing thing in itself. Douglas doesn’t have to have a mind-altering epiphany!
      With Shark Dog though, my process was different. I thought about story of course but my focus was the feel and style of the book. I wanted to create a world around the main character that had a certain look and humour to it.
      I decided that Shark Dog would be discovered by explorers. But how should these explorers look? I thought the best and most fun way to present them would be to have them dressed in a kind of 1960s/70s style. Nowadays, travelers and explorers are kitted out head to foot in expensive, for-the-purpose, hi-vis outfits. But in the days of Jaques Cousteau and Chris Bonnington, utility gear would be mixed up with ‘normal’ clothes. So this is the look I gave to the father and son who discover Shark Dog.
      This old-school theme runs through the book. For example, on a visit to the beach, the trio are shown arriving in a Morris Minor Traveller - a  car I remember being fascinated with as a little kid because, to me, it looked like a Tudor house on wheels. 
      In another scene, Shark Dog looks forlornly through the window of a travel agents - the kind of travel agency you don’t see on the high street anymore, with a big model plane and a display of sand and shells.
      So the idea was to present the main characters’ world as something from the past. All my books have this element to a certain extent but, in Shark Dog!, I wanted to make this old school-ness a feature.
      There’s definitely a story and a message in Shark Dog! but my main aim was that children would be intrigued by this funny looking animal and laugh at his exploits and adventures in the world of humans. The idea is always ‘how would Shark Dog act in this situation?’ rather than ‘how will Shark Dog fit into this storyline?’
      You could say that the story is kind of a ‘vehicle’ in the same way you would use this term to describe a movie. 
      This continues into the next Shark Dog book, Shark Dog And The School Trip Rescue. The title sums up what happens: there’s a school trip and Shark Dog comes along for the ride, ultimately saving the day!
      I think my attraction to writing characters that are odd or different is simply due to feeling this way myself at times. Everyone has felt like a fish out of water at some point, and it’s interesting to see how we adapt in those situations. In the next Shark Dog book, we see him use both his doggy-ness and sharky-ness to help someone in distress. It’s often our differences - rather than our similarities - that educate and entertain us. What would we learn if everybody thought and looked the same?
      So next time you desperately want to fit in but can’t, think of Shark Dog and and rejoice, because, after all, we’re secretly, every one of us, the oddest creatures. 
     Learn more about Shark Dog at these blogs!

Drawing for Fun - Tam Lin

I drew this over the holidays in pen and ink - just playing. Anybody recognize the story? It's Tam Lin - Janet holds tight to her love as the Fairy Queen transforms him into all manner of beasts.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Happy 2018!

     A new year, a fresh start! I hope it's filled with good things for you and the people you love! 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 over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. 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.

VIDEO: The University of Glasgow during Winter Break

I love this video of the main University of Glasgow campus during winter closing. And if you're wondering... yes, it really is this beautiful. Click the image to watch online.

Merry Christmas Everyone!


I'm thrilled to have Roxie Munro on today to talk about her latest book, MASTERPIECE MIX. Talk about a savvy children's book creator - she has her fingers in so many wonderful kidlit projects. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person when she and her hubbie visited Edinburgh not too long ago. We'd been talking about her visiting my blog ever since. So, prepare for a visual feast from a Master herself! Welcome, Roxie!
e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through them?
I’m a “visual thinker.” I get my ideas and develop concepts often by imagery. That’s the way I start, conceive of, and develop my books. So I do a storyboard, dummy, rough sketches, and often final art before I start the text, which is a bit unusual. (Most of the research is done prior to starting the illustrations.) I write to the art, which dictates the concept, the beginning, middle and end, and the flow of the book.

I don’t do digital art. I think there are basically two kinds of illustrators. Some, like my buddy Paul Zelinsky, may use a completely different medium for each book – sometimes oil in a classical painting style, or maybe a cartoon-y method, with pastels or colored pencils, and sometimes he goes digital. I am the opposite. I use one favorite type of paper, colored inks, one familiar line thickness with my trusty Radiograph. I want to know my media thoroughly, so that my energy and brain power doesn’t go into trying to figure out new materials. To paraphrase Flaubert: “… be regular and orderly in life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I save experimentation not for different media, but for the idea, the compositions, color, pattern. The Horn Book said of my latest book Masterpiece Mix: “Like so many of Munro’s books, this one is hard to categorize.” I like that.

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?
It has to be visually rich and sometimes unpredictable. I do not “talk down” to children in my work. Children are keen viewers of art (40% of kids are considered “visual learners”). I want them to have something to really look at, to see – not to skim over, but to engage with, to become absorbed in.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of MASTERPIECE MIX?
In the late 1990s, I was encouraged to do a book about my process – about making art – by my former editor at Dutton. So I created a book dummy and gave it to her. She promptly rejected it, and I stuck it in a drawer for more than a dozen years. A couple years ago I took it out and showed it to my editor, Mary Cash, at Holiday House. They suggested a slight change in the middle part of the book, which was great – that was the “click” that it needed - and they bought it. The beginning and end and most of the book is as I first envisioned it, but the examples of great paintings were based in my first iteration on techniques and formal matters (perspective, color, use of patterns, creating volume, etc); in the new book the examples are based on genres (still lifes, portraits, landscapes, etc). The salient quote from my father – “Do what you really love” – is true. That is what he told his children.

e: What was your path to publication?
I have always been a working professional artist. Did fine art gallery-exhibited paintings and editorial work in Washington DC (for newspapers and magazines) right out of college.

I was also a television courtroom artist for the local CBS affiliate (which is great training for working under pressure, making deadlines, and honing life drawing skills). I started to take trips to New York City for freelance work and when The New Yorker magazine bought the first cover (of fourteen) I moved to NYC. After a couple years in the city, I needed more work and went to publishers to do trade book covers – maybe architecture, which I did for The New Yorker. One art director suggested I see a children’s book editor friend. I did, and snippily said, “I don’t do cute. I don’t do bunnies and bears.” But she thought I had something to offer children. A week later I woke up at 7AM with the words “The Inside-Outside Book of New York City” written in a red font across my closed eyes. I called her and said I had a title for a book, but not an idea. (I was fascinated with the city, and what was behind all those windows; what was it like to look down from the top of buildings, or down the subway tracks?). I wrote and illustrated the book, and it went on to win the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, was on Time magazine’s Best list, and more. I knew nothing before that about trim size, storyboards, dummies, what the gutter was, page turn, etc. Learned it all on the job.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I love to get an idea and see if I can make it work. A lot of my books use “gamification” to impart content – mazes, search-n-find, ABCs, shapes, lift-the-flap moveable books – so sometimes it takes a while to figure out whether the device or construct I want to use will work for the subject.
e: Is there something in particular about MASTERPIECE MIX you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
You often need to combine history and previous knowledge with new concepts, and wrap the idea around your own sensibilities. So the challenge is making the idea both personal AND universal - letting others relate, and have the Aha! moment.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Rodent Rascals, a book about rats and other such critters, comes out in February 2018 from Holiday House. The conceit is that they are all drawn actual size, which gets dicey when you are doing a beaver (three feet long) or a capybara (four and a half feet) and the trim size of the book is 10 inches by 10 inches.
      Am awaiting word right now from my publisher on a couple projects (a lift-the-flap book and an ABC concept book).
      I didn't submit the following idea to them, but when you asked what my dream project would be .... I have created and completed eight pieces of finished art for a series of complex mazes for a book called MazePlay that I LOVE doing. It’s probably too abstract (and quirky) for a regular kid’s trade book though. Visit to see more.
e: Thank you, Roxie!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Book Tree!

     What do writers decorate their tree with? Books, books, and more books! CLICK HERE for more Christmas-themed coloring pages, and if they add joy and value to your life, please...
Become a Patron!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.
     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.