Prestonpans: The Mine

Coal was mined in Prestonpans. Annemarie Allan and her husband, Jim, gave me a tour of the local mine, now long closed and turned into a museum.
My life folded over on itself as I was reminded so vividly of the Ducktown Basin Museum in Tennessee and the copper mine there that inspired my book, A BIRD ON WATER STREET.
We hooked up with a tour (Annemarie knew the employees there from her extensive research for her novel, CHARLIE'S PROMISE), and were able to go into the pump house that drove the enormous industrial-era machinery.
It was filled with Victorian iron-work and ghosts from the past.

Annemarie commented how nothing was meant to be black and dreary in Victorian times. The enormous machines were painted in bright colors. It was only later, after years of soot that the machines became the beasts that scared children who lived at the mine. Can you imagine its grooooowl?
     Next to the Pump House, was the Power House. I swear it was an exact duplicate of the one in Ducktown.
     Like in Ducktown, housing was built for the miners who worked there, and they didn't just work the mines. They manned the kilns for the brick works, they kept the fires burning to get salt from the sea water, they even had Italians come in to make Venetian glass.
     None of the houses are there anymore. They were torn down and trees planted in their place. The old WWII shelter remains, and the old train and trolley tracks. (Yes, Edinburgh - there was a trolley long before this new one! It ran from downtown Edinburgh, through Leith and all the way out to Prestonpans!)
     But what was perhaps most haunting was the coal mine itself. Imagine the buildings still standing near the lift.
This wheel and others like it pumped in fresh air and hauled the lift up and down into the mine. But it was also surrounded by stairs. The men did the breaking up of the rock, as they had the backs for it. But it was the women and children who carried the coal up in baskets on their backs. Turned out that making the grueling journey gave the men hernias. It was the women, so used to carrying babies, who were better built for the labor of carrying the coal on their backs up the stairs. And the children, of course. Good lord.
Needless to say, the air around the mine is full of whispers of what was. It's a haunting place to visit. And we haven't even made it to the story of the witches yet...

Annemarie Allan's CHARLIE'S PROMISE

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is a question that writers often find difficult to answer, but that isn’t true for my latest novel, Charlie’s Promise, because it is closely linked to my own family history.
      My father was born in Poland and brought up in Paris. He considered himself to be French, but his official designation was ‘Displaced Person’. At the end of the Second World War he was assigned to the Polish Resettlement Corps and ended up in Scotland, where he met and married my mother. In a sense, she too was a displaced person, having arrived at her aunt’s house in Morison’s Haven as an eight-year-old orphan.
      I knew all this as a child, but what I didn’t know was that my parents had a secret they did not share with anyone else, not even their children. I was only five years old when my parents announced we had a new name. It’s not something that’s easy to forget, but at that age, I easily accepted my mother’s explanation that our name had changed from Grynszpan to Grayson only because it was easier to spell. Nor did I question the fact that I had no clear idea of my father’s life before he married my mother, though I did know about the cousins I once had, who died during the war.
      I suspect they did mean to tell my brother and I the truth when we were older. We knew Dad’s family, after all, even though visits were infrequent and we didn’t share a common language. But they never did tell us, because my father died a few days before my twelfth birthday.
      My mother must have known she couldn’t keep her secret forever, or she would never have allowed me, aged 15, to visit my father’s family, armed with my new - and slightly wobbly - ability to speak to them in their own language. It took a while for what they were saying to sink in. My father was a Jew, something he and my mother had kept hidden from her family and friends. That was, of course, the real reason for the change of name - and for the vagueness of his family history during the war. Only gradually did I come to learn that that my cousins and many other family members had not been bombed, or starved or accidentally killed. They were murdered. The last contact my father’s brother had with his wife and children was a letter smuggled out of the train that was taking them to Auschwitz. It was written by Hennette, age 12:
‘Dear Madame Gillet
      I am writing these few lines in the train. We do not know where it is taking us, or where we are being deported to. We only know we have passed Metz. Please tell papa that he should not worry – we are in good spirits and hope the journey will soon be over. Papa must not worry about us. We are bearing up as I hope he is. I hope you are in good health as well as papa. We are all well. I finish this brief note with kisses for you. Please give papa a hug from us.’
Hennette and the others are not forgotten:
     I can understand that Dad’s family were angry with him for turning his back on the Holocaust, but somehow, I can’t blame my father - or my mother either, for their determination to protect themselves and their children by hiding from the past.
      All the same, I couldn’t forget the dead – especially the children. I didn’t want them to die. I wanted to save them, even though I knew it was far too late. And that’s what leads me back to Charlie’s Promise. As a writer, I could create a different ending for one child, at least, and I am very grateful to Cranachan Publishing for giving me the opportunity.
      My father’s history was the catalyst for the story I wanted to tell. My mother’s childhood in Morrison’s Haven and my own in Edinburgh provided the backdrop. And in telling how Charlie and Jean help Jozef find his way to a place of safety, I discovered I was writing a story that celebrated the people who faced their fears and found the courage to do good, not evil.

From e: Learn more about Annemarie Allan on her website. This is Annemarie's favorite place to write, at the Prestonpans Library, because "[it] is the one place I am guaranteed peace and quiet - and the staff are lovely!"
In the US, Charlie's Promise is available on Kindle:
By the way - I'm reading Annemarie's USHIG right now and love this book too!

Prestonpans - Annemarie's House

This past weekend I had a mini-adventure. I went to visit my new friend, author Annemarie Allan in Prestonpans, Scotland.
Prestonpans is a small town along the coast with a thick history in mining, salt, glass, bricks, and... witches.
     Annemarie and I first met through our mutual friend, Jane Yolen. We took the train together when we headed up to Jane's Gathering of Authors at Wayside. All the way there we talked about mythology, folklore, writing and mining. In other words, we completely hit it off and could have talked for hours. Hence, the need for a play date at Annemarie's home in Prestonpans.
      There is nothing like experiencing history through the eyes of a local. Join me and Annemarie as I share this fascinating corner of the world over the next few posts.
     First, I joined Annemarie at her beautiful home. She lives in a section of the East Preston Lodge - a humble name for one of the grandest manors in the town. The top of one of the towers is covered in decorative iron-work in the shape of fuschias. The original builder of the home was in the business of importing this tropical flower to Scotland. It has since become a mainstay of gardens across Scotland. The iron-work was a declaration of their business.
The inside of the room is equally impressive. Used as a sitting room it has views of Arthur's Seat, the Firth of Forth, and the bridges to Fife in the winter through this window.
Through the center window is the tower - more on that in a future post.
And to the east is more of Prestonpans and the Firth.
Annemarie made us tea as we sat at her lovely kitchen table and talked and talked and talked. I couldn't help but notice her collection of bones she collects from the local beach. I love bones too, they're beautiful.
Annemarie also collects bricks. It may sound like an odd hobby, but each one has a history and story to tell. And after all, that's what we're all about - stories.
Stay tuned for some good ones!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Octopus Reading

     I haven't drawn you an octopus in a while! This one is reading about Jacque Cousteau. How appropriate!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.

Random Edinburgh and friends

Some of the pictures I take don't have a story - they're just funny. Like this unicorn sign.
Or this interesting advertising campaign.
Or this car on a Sunday morning. *ahem*
Or this lovely evening walk.
I hope the friends who come visit pick up on these charming traits of Edinburgh.
     Certainly, lots of friends make it over here! I don't always remember to get pictures, but here I am with Laura Zarrin (who I interviewed HERE) with the tram in the background on Princes Street.


Greg Manchess' epic, fully painted, graphic novel, Above the Timberline is now available! Have a look at the book trailer. Click the image to watch at Muddy Colors.

Coffee in Glasgow

I'll be getting an assigned desk next week in Glasgow, but for the meantime, I'm doing some good work here.
I have so much reading to do, the train, the bus and the cafe are becoming prime reading spots!


Dashka Slater (who I interviewed HERE) has written a new book illustrated by the same team that illustrated The Night Gardener. I'm thrilled to have The Fan Brothers, Eric and Terry, here today to talk about illustrating THE ANTLERED SHIP.
e: Can you walk us through your creative process behind The Antlered Ship?
The Fan Brothers:
The first step to creating any picture book is to do concept sketches and eventually a rough dummy. The dummy is a guide for all the final art and allows the editor and art director—in this case Andrea Welch and Lauren Rille at Beach Lane Books—to offer feedback and guidance when the book is still in its formative stages. Usually there are a few versions of the dummy created to address their feedback and to refine the layouts and page turns to everyone's satisfaction. 
      There are always a variety of different approaches you can take with a story, so the purpose of doing sketches is also to refine what approach will best carry the narrative you're attempting to illustrate. For example, early on we weren't sure if the characters in The Antlered Ship should be anthropomorphized or whether they should be more naturalistic. We eventually opted for the latter, but here's an early sketch where the animals were fully anthropomorphized:
And here are some concept sketches of the ship itself:

​And finally, some examples of what the dummy looks like compared to final art:

As you can see​, sometimes the dummy image stays pretty close to the final, and sometimes it veers significantly. We originally had exotic animals on the dock, but Andrea and Lauren suggested—I think sensibly—that having animals that were geographically relevant to the deer might make the world seem more grounded and internally consistent. That change happened while we were doing final art, and we had already started the process of rendering the other animals, which never made it into the book, although we did sneak the tortoise into a later scene (minus his little hat).
e: How was this book different from your amazing debut, The Night Gardner?
The Fan Brothers:
We've always enjoyed drawing animals, and while The Night Gardener had its share of animals in the form of topiaries, The Antlered Ship was the first story we've done with an entire animal cast of characters. It's also a very different setting than The Night Gardener, since it's a sea voyage, which takes the characters to a variety of different locales.   

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?
The Fan Brothers:
"Heart Art" for us is art that engages the imagination in such a way that it opens a doorway back to our own childhoods. So we always try to create art that resonates with the part of us that still remembers that sense of wonder and mystery, and we hope that some of that feeling carries over to readers.  

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Antlered Ship?
The Fan Brothers:
I'm not sure if it qualifies as unique or funny, but The Antlered Ship was the first book we've done where we built a little reference model to help us with a couple of illustrations. We were faced with the challenge of keeping the antlers on the ship's masthead consistent, so we constructed a mock-up in Fimo modelling clay as a guide:
e: What was your path into publishing?
The Fan Brothers:
  Both of us had a rather circuitous path into picture books. We attended OCAD University in Toronto to study art, but after graduating, life took us in a few different directions. For a while we had a literary agent in Hollywood and were attempting to sell a spec script that we had written with our younger brother Devin. In the meantime we were working in non-art-related jobs and doing art on the side. When our dreams of Hollywood fame and fortune failed to materialize, we both started submitting t-shirt designs to a new website called Threadless. We were fortunate enough to get some of our designs selected, and I think this reignited our passion for doing art. When Threadless partnered with another website called Society6, we started uploading our art there, which eventually caught the eye of our agent-extraordinaire Kirsten Hall, who had just started her new agency, Catbird. She asked us if we had any story ideas she could pitch, and we remembered a t-shirt design we had done many years ago called The Night Gardener. Even though it was a standalone design, we always felt there was a story waiting to be told that we could build from the image:
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The Fan Brothers:
Our favorite part of being creators—specifically of picture books—is the possibility that our work will impact a reader in the same way that we were impacted by art when we were kids. There's nothing more gratifying than hearing from a reader who loved your work or was inspired by it—whether it's a kid or an adult. The most challenging part is to keep dipping into the creative well and hoping you still find something inspiring there. It's the same challenge that every artist inevitably faces—the blank sheet of paper.   
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
The Fan Brothers:
When we originally read The Antlered Ship, which was written by Dashka Slater, I think what struck us—beyond the core message that finding what you're looking for is sometimes right under your nose—was the open-ended quality of the story. It ends where it begins: with questions. I think there's an apt metaphor for life there. We never get all the answers we're looking for, but asking questions carries us to places that give our lives meaning and purpose. It's a particularly resonant theme for children, because children are the ultimate question-askers, and in that way Marco is touchingly childlike (but never childish).   

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
The Fan Brothers:
We just finished working on our next book, Ocean Meets Sky, which we think qualifies as a dream project since we wrote and illustrated it together, like The Night Gardener.
      Thanks for taking the time to interview us!
The Fan Brothers

e: Thank you, Eric and Terry! We look forward to seeing more of your wonderful work, including Ocean Meets Sky!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Pirate Bear

     It's TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! Arrrrrr! To be a proper pirate, you need an eye-patch, a parrot, and a good book about finding treasure! Which book do you suppose this pirate is reading? CLICK HERE for more Pirate-themed 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: Chris Haughton

Full credit goes to Travis Jonker at School Library Journal for turning me onto this video about Chris Haughton and his collage method. Fabulous! Click the image to watch on Vimeo.
Here are some of his wonderful books:

University of Glasgow Freshers Week

It's Freshers Week at the University of Glasgow. Yes, that is sunshine.
I took the train over on Wednesday to get my student ID card and get some other things in shape, and was met with the buzz of a campus-full of new students being pitched all the various student organizations/clubs and pizza!
I experienced the same thing at the University of Edinburgh when I was first starting out two years ago. But this time, I get to wander halls that look like this.
And grounds that look like this.
Truly, the University of Glasgow is absolutely stunning.
Imagine walking around a corner to happen upon a staircase as gorgeous as this. It took my breath away.
The statue is of James Dalrymple, a rather astute gentleman with a worthy history.
What a treat it will be to discover this campus - and this city! As I headed back to the subway (subway to the train), I noticed this little alley, Ashton Lane, with this intriguing building at the end of it. I had to go see what it was.
Turns out it was a pub, with this lovely sign. Your guess is as good as mine - is it a menu? A list of bands? A list of businesses? I've no idea.
People kept walking past me, so I knew the street must lead to something. Turns out, this will be one of my shortcuts getting to campus from the subway. Oh yeah.