River Kelvin

People ask me questions about the city of Glasgow, but honestly, I don't know that much about it. I catch the train over after the morning business commute (half price off-peak time) and head back to Edinburgh before the afternoon rush. So, what I know of Glasgow is primarily the areas I haunt for my studies. I suppose, therefore, it's no surprise I only just discovered that I can get to main campus via Kelvingrove Park rather than walking the main (busy) road. Going through the park means I get to cross this bridge with the war memorial at the end.
When on the bridge, you can look at the River Kelvin as it gurgles through the west end of Glasgow. Here's the view to the south.
And here's the view to the north.
Walking along, daffodils are blooming everywhere. They're up on the hill.
And down by the river.
There are doggies everywhere too, although I was too busy petting them to get pictures of them. And here's a view of another bridge that crosses the river (the one I used to take). Can you see the lovely iron-work and painted emblem? Nobody sees that unless they're down in the park. How lovely.
Needless to say, you know which path I'll be taking from now on!

Mystery Flower in Glasgow

I'm definitely one to stop and smell the flowers. In this case, I had to take a picture. These flowers were in front of University Gardens in Glasgow. I don't know what the dew-droppy, purply flowers are. Do you know?


“Be strong!” Rewriting the cultural narrative.
by Liz MacWhirter

      I’ve been going along to the Beyond Patriachy Film Festival this month at the University of Edinburgh, organised by the School of Social and Political Science. After each film, we’ve been debating the subliminal ‘deny your fear - be strong’ narrative that is currently being communicated through much of the media and many books to young women.

Black Snow Falling by L.J. MacWhirter

      It’s something I thought about a great deal while creating the character of Ruth for my debut novel Black Snow Falling, a fantasy set in the 16th century. In the 7 months since the launch, I’ve been discussing this issue at book festivals and numerous school visits (events are one of the perks of being published!). Three prize nominations, particularly the Carnegie Medal, are opening doors and providing more opportunities for talking about this important subject.

One of many author events at festivals and schools

      Many stories across the media for young people today use fantasy and magic. To overcome obstacles / defeat the ‘monster’, their characters use magical superpowers – and when it comes to portraying women, this just reverses the patriarchal narrative and creates problems of its own.
      I think it’s far more compelling and dramatic to use character-driven action instead. Character-driven stories are more effective in overturning stereotypes of all types.
      In Black Snow Falling, I chose to use magical realism to amplify Ruth’s reality: shattering news doesn’t just break Ruth’s heart – it splits apart time, where she encounters dream thieves rampaging through the years and who are now hunting her down. I decided to give her no super-powers and easy solutions – Ruth has only her intuition. The action is driven by her ability to listen to herself and discern connections between apparently random events. Ruth is no wonder-woman or witch; she’s so much more interesting.

My desk at home

      What’s more, she achieves the ‘over-coming’ together in relationship with another male character (who shall remain nameless to avoid a plot-spoiler). It’s #HeForShe feminism - equality for all, whatever the gender or ethnicity. I subverted more stereotypes, but that would fill another blog.
      I chose to do all this in a way that feels true to the prejudices of 16th century, making it historical fiction not a polemic. In writing Ruth’s story and imagining all the things that might have happened to a real Ruth, historical sources were of vital importance. 1592, the key timeline in Black Snow Falling, was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. At this juncture, under her rule, colonialism and slavery flourished; some of my characters, such as Adam Blackwood, had to take the point of view of a white western male for the novel to have any historical authenticity. Yet this was also early modern, progressive Britain, and the lives of highly educated women such as Elizabeth I and Ruth embodied the tensions of their time. Moving against them both were strong patriarchal forces.

The medical records of Elizabeth I, full of sexism

      I found astonishing, blatant and voluminous evidence of the sexism entrapping Elizabeth I. Her complete medical records are printed in ‘The Private Character of Queen Elizabeth by Frederick Chamberlain (The Bodley Head, 1922) and they are littered with misogynist comments and criticisms. One example can be seen above; despite this assertion, she reigned for 45 years. In fact, the whole premise of this antique book from 1922 is to explore Elizabeth’s supposed ‘sexual immortality’ and the charge that she made weak decisions to ‘put incompetent men into positions of the greatest responsibility… she loved these men more than she did England or its people’. Another historical source I used was, conversely, Elizabeth’s own voice. ‘Elizabeth I Collected Works’ (University of Chicago Press, 2000) contains her many speeches, letters, poems and prayers, all showing her intellect and how she responded to the forces attempting to control her. As she herself wrote, “My life is now in the open, and I have so many witnesses that I cannot understand how so bad a judgement can have been formed of me. But what can we do? We cannot cover everyone’s mouth, but must content ourselves with doing our duty and trust in God, for the truth will at last be made manifest. He knows my heart, which is very different from what people think, as you will see some day.”

‘Rainbow Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth I, courtesy of Hatfield House

      These sources, as well as Shakespeare, and researching the general history, helped me create a sense of historical authenticity in speech and numerous details.
      In Black Snow Falling, the misogynist sexism that threatens Ruth does make her genuinely afraid, if not terrified. But she shows that courage and strength isn’t the absence of fear – it’s the decision to take action anyway. This is the opposite of fantasy tropes that encourage young people to deny their fear and act strong, which, as we know, leads to all sorts of trouble…
      My hope is that Black Snow Falling is helping to re-write the patriarchal narrative in a way that helps both young women and men.

Another author perk – the publisher’s puppy!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Super Baby!

     Super Baby to the rescue!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance...
my latest picture book, Crow Not Crow - written by New York Times Best-selling author Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.
     Kirkus calls it "a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers."
      Also, A Bird on Water Street is now available in Chinese!
     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 Artist's Studio Pilar Garcia de Leaniz

A former classmate of mine, Pilar Garcia de Leaniz, has a new promotional video out (by Irene Degano) about her craft - and it's lovely. I especially liked her comment, "When I was studying my Masters, I realised that it wasn't about learning how to draw, it was about loving what you do." I agree! Click the image to have a look.

Critical Enquiries Presentations

It's hard to believe it's already reaching the end of spring semester at the University of Glasgow. As such, students in our Critical Enquiries course had to turn in their final projects - posters critically examining some particular academic topic in children's literature. Dr Evelyn Arizpe is the main instructor of the course, and since we had a lot of students this semester, we broke into two groups for students to give their presentations. I had the smaller group.
They each had five minutes to share the key concepts of their academic posters - here's Aiko talking about anthropomorphism in picturebooks.
The most amusing presentation in our group was by Mar. You may have noticed her t-shirt above? Her poster was surrounded by little silver boobies. What a fantastic way to cover "Motherhood Ideology in Children's Literature"!
When our group finished, we rejoined the rest of the class. They were still going with their presentations. The poster that received the most oooh's and aaaah's was Amy's Fairytales poster.
Probably the most clever was Eva's poster that actually folded up into a hard-cover book.
Mia turned her subject into a recipe.
And YiCing used white doves to talk about bullying in YA.
I was so impressed by all of the posters - they were so clever and inventive. We have a truly bright group of students this year and it's been an absolute joy to work with them!

Brian Attebery at the University of Glasgow

I love it when my worlds collide in wonderful ways. Professor Brian Attebery is this year's Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Glasgow. As such, he and his wife (also a scholar and expert on Folk Tales) are living in Glasgow for several months while Brian gives a series of lectures.
His expertise is in Fantasy Literature, so his talks have been fascinating. They were:
21 January 2019: Burning Harry Potter and Other Ways of Misreading Fantasy
28 January 2019: Young Adult Dystopias and Utopias
4 February 2019: Fairy Tales and Masculinity
11 February 2019: Science Fictional Parabolas: Collaborative Imagination
4 March 2019: Fantasy and the Anthropocene: From Gilgamesh to the Ruins of Ymr
I know Brian as a colleague and critique group partner from Hollins University. One year, he and his wife stayed in the flat above mine and I could hear him practising his cello through the ceiling. He's quite good and it was such a treat. So were his lectures.
Brian's talks were introduced by one of my supervisors, Dr Rob Maslen, the head of the fantasy department at the UoG. You can't tell from my photos, but the talks were sold out every time. I love having brilliant friends!

Patrice Barton's REMARKABLY YOU

I've been a long-time fan of Patrice Barton's work. I think she captures the soft sweetness of children in her art so beautifully. So I'm thrilled to have her here today to talk about her latest book, REMARKABLY YOU, written by another creator whose work I love, Pat Zietlow Miller (who visited my blog HERE).
e: Hi Patrice! What was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
I begin by reading the manuscript over and over, absorbing the story and the characters, letting it all simmer long before I start sketching.
      My illustration process begins with lots of sketching, finding the characters. My favorite medium is 4B graphite on design vellum and a Moo eraser. The vellum has a nice tooth, gives a nice tug against the pencil. Also it has a bright, clean contrast to the graphite.
     Next I start developing the spreads, taping them on the wall as I go, keeping an eye on the flow and pacing.
     Finally, I scan the sketches into the computer and work in Painter. I also scan in bits of paper, textures, watercolor, etc into my illustrations. Always experimenting.
e: What was your path to publication?
My path to publication was a winding one. After earning a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas, Austin I held a variety of jobs: house painter, needlepoint designer, copy shop tech, graphic designer, and as an illustrator for the state of Texas. Most of my time there was spent working on courtroom displays for the Texas Rangers, the Attorney General's Office, and police agencies. Although this might sound intriguing to some, I realized I was not exactly CSI material.
     My most satisfying days with the state job were the ones I spent illustrating for children: coloring books on safety precautions, bicycle safety campaigns, trading cards for the drug sniffing dogs and their Troopers to hand out on school visits. As it happened, the coloring books and safety campaigns attracted my first freelance clients. So, by day I worked on displays of fingerprints, blood splatters and crime scenes and at night at home, I freelanced illustrating for the children's market.
     After several years of building clients I took a leap of faith, left the security of my day job and went full time freelance. I signed up for a local SCBWI conference and had a wonderful time. I met other children's illustrators and writers, studied the industry, garnered a few assignments, signed with an agent and I haven't looked back.
e: What a story! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of REMARKABLY YOU?
This is Pat Zietlow Miller’s story, so we’ll have to ask her about that. I sure had a blast illustrating it!
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?

"When you bait the hook with your heart, the fish always bite." - John Burroughs
     This is one of my favorite quotes. I'm inspired by little slices of life. A baby's belly laugh, dogs being silly, watching little kids interact as they walk home from school, baking with my son, people watching in general. All those little "everyday" moments tug at my heart and influence my work.
e: It shows in your work! How do you advertise yourself?
I’m very fortunate in that my agent does a wonderful job with mailings, email blasts, and visiting publishers on behalf of all her artists. I have a website and post on Instagram, and also social media with my critique group (the Girllustrators) and PBAA (Picture book Artists Association).
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
For me, the beginning stage of illustrating a picture book is both my favorite and most challenging part of creating. My favorite because the possibilities are endless. And the most challenging because, well, the possibilities are endless. So, it’s exciting, but can also be a bit overwhelming.
e: Is there something in particular about REMARKABLY YOU that you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Remarkably You transcends the conventional picture book ages. It speaks to everyone. Be yourself, believe in yourself, share yourself.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Currently I’m illustrating a delightful picture book with an amazing author, and terrific editor and art director for Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing.
e: Great! I can't wait to see it!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Star Wars

     May the books be with you.
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance...
my latest picture book, Crow Not Crow - written by New York Times Best-selling author Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.
     Kirkus calls it "a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers."
      Also, A Bird on Water Street is now available in Chinese!
     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.

Scottish Book Trust - Bookbug Bag Books Announced!

I've been waiting to share this with all of you for a year now! Do you remember when I told you I had the wonderful honor to be a part of the Bookbug Bookbag Selection Committee for the Scottish Book Trust? Well, the selected books have finally been announced! That means I get to finally share the process behind the selections.
     Again, here's the selection committee meeting at the Central Library in Edinburgh:
Before we met, each of us received an enormous box of books to go through.
All said, it was an impressive collection!
Here they are close-up.
I read every single one, including some that were just ARCs or even just paper print-outs. I debated and hemmed and hawed.
Two books stood out to me (and the committee) as absolutely, hands-down wonderful and I'm happy to say they both made it into the bags. They were ONE MOLE DIGGING A HOLE by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt, and CAR, CAR, TRUCK, JEEP by Ketrina Charman and Nick Sharratt.
That said, all of the selected books are wonderful! And I learned so much from reading all those picture books. Truly, the special ones sing out like beacons.
     Just goes to show, to be a writer of children's books, the best thing you can do is read, read, read. And as far as the Scottish Book Trust is concerned, the best way to become a better citizen is to read and read early! I was so proud to be a part of their mission!