Wednesday, 18 January 2017

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CALL MY CAT - guest blog with Simon Philip and Ella Bailey

I am beyond thrilled to be able to welcome the creators of one of my favourite new picture books to the Book Sniffer blog today. 
I Don't Know What to Call my Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey (published by the good folk at Simon and Schuster) is a wildly funny and deliciously charming celebration of the somewhat "challenging" relationship humans often have with their feline companions.

A madcap case of identity confusion, power struggles, daring escapes and mystery solving, wrapped up in the most purrrrfect picture book package. 

NB: I must admit I am ever so slightly in love with Steve the gorilla (everyone loves a bad boy) who doesn't love an ape who so daintily plucks goodies from his nose with such aplomb and scant regard for social etiquette. I just know you will fall for his masculin charms too... 

Simon Philip is one of my absolute top picture book authors of the moment and happens to be the mastermind behind my favourite picture book of 2016 (Award Winning) You Must Bring a Hat (illustrated by the magnificent creature that is Kate HindleyHis writing is both wonderfully warm and deviously intelligent and he is absolutely adept at weaving the most witty of yarns.

Ella's detail rich, beautifully stylised illustrations made me weep with laughter and the minute details had me pawing the pages repeatedly. Ella and Simon have proven to be a creative match made in picture book heaven. 

Where/How I Work 
with Author Simon Philip 


I work almost entirely at home.  The upside of this is that I work where I live – it’s the shortest commute in the history of commuting.  I don’t, but I suppose I could work whilst in bed, meaning I’d wake up and literally be at work in the blink of an eye.

The downside is that I live where I work.  Sometimes I wake up and – BOOM! – in the blink of an eye, I’m at work again.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the cleaner did his job properly, the binman actually took out the bins, and the chef washed up his equipment after cooking, but somehow that rarely happens.

It would be fun to tell you I’m one of those glamorous writers that sits in their very own corner of a cosy coffee shop, smashing out book after book whilst looking arty, intellectual and biscuit-crumb-free.  But that would be a lie.  The truth is I’m banned from my local coffee shops for ‘drinking coffee too loudly’ and making other customers ‘uncomfortable’ by ‘staring too intently at the muffins.’  Plus, I was always covered in crumbs.  Working from home will have to do.

Luckily, I’m not short of options and there are fewer restraints than in a trendy cafĂ© or coffee shop.  For example, if it’s a warm, muggy day I sometimes choose to work in the fridge.  If I’ve hit a wall and need to shake things up a bit, I squeeze myself into the washing machine and set the spin cycle to 1800 (I’m smaller in real life than you might expect, although I still have to remove the washing first).  The disadvantage to this is that my writing can become a sloppy mess, which tends to irritate editors.

When I’m not in the washing machine or the fridge, I work at this desk in my study:

I recently moved house so the walls are still a bit bare.  However, there is this view of the cathedral from my study window:

Granted, it’s rather inconsiderately interrupted.  And I can’t see it from my chair.  But, trust me, it is still a view. 

Also, I sometimes work from this set-up in my living room:

You might notice that I’ve cunningly moved the footstool from my sofa to maximise lounging potential.  As you’d expect, I get lots of work done here: I definitely write millions of beautiful words and certainly don’t just sit there drinking coffee and watching videos of leopards chasing monkeys.  It’s a very comfortable arrangement.

And the radiator’s not on fire, by the way.  If it were, I’d just move to the fridge.

How I work is very simple.  I categorise my initial ideas into small, medium-sized, and enormous ideas. 
For small ideas, I use this delightful little golf pencil:

Medium-sized ideas require medium-sized equipment:

And if the idea I have is enormous, so too is the writing utensil: 

And on really bad writing days where none of those work and the words don’t flow, it’s normally because I’m using the wrong spoon.

By the way, just so you know, being a writer can be quite solitary.  It can make some people a little ‘odd.’

Thankfully that’s yet to happen to me...

I don’t always have a set process for how I go about my illustrations - I like to vary how I work depending on the needs and timescale of the project. Although I will very often start off by drafting ideas with a pencil and paper, I usually find myself nowadays drawing everything straight onto the computer! 

I would say that for most projects, I work 80-90% digitally, using my trusty drawing tablet and Photoshop - and this book was definitely no exception. I love the absolute flexibility that working digitally gives me, to be able to change anything, at anytime!

For the illustrations in I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat, I started of with a rough black and white outline of what I want to achieve - this was, at times, very rough! From there, I began to block everything out in lumps of colour. I find this to be the easiest way for me to work out the overall composition of an image. 

At this stage I usually like to decide on a colour palette, too. Colour is very important to my work - I love to limit myself to a few key colours, although with I Don’t Know… I will admit this went out the window a little bit!
Once I have all the shapes and colours laid out, this is when I can start to add line and details. This was an especially laborious, and extremely enjoyable, process for I Don’t Know…, as many of the pages ended up being jam-packed with detail! 

To prevent everything from looking a little flat, I have lots and lots of customised brushes that let me create all sorts of effects - I especially love chalky textures and paint splatters! I also have a library of various textures, from print effects to crayon scribbles, that I used to add depth and interest to the artwork.

The addition of texture is usually the last stage in my process for any project, and perhaps one of my favourite bits! 
A very important thing I like to be able to do at this point, is to step away from the illustration - leave it alone for a few hours (or days if possible), and then come back to it with fresh eyes! This helps me see if there are any bits that are not quite right, or any more details that can be added.

I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat was an especially fun project to work on for me - I had a lot of fun injecting as much humour into the illustrations as possible! I do, however, think I have drawn enough cats now to last me a while!
Images are attached for the post! I hope the length doesn’t prove to be a problem for you – it’s a little longer than I had anticipated it to be.

In fond remembrance of my cats past ...
Dolly, Little, Billy, Jimmy, Rupert, Ruskin, Truffle,Tabitha and Mouse...
and for my present companions Claude and Pearl

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

GUEST REVIEW by Danny Pearson and Jess the Pug!

Published by Hodder Children's Books

‘Twas the night before Christmas and Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes were off to a party in the city...’

Hold onto your Christmas baubles and tinsel because it’s time for Claude, and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock, to stumble into another adventure. This time they are in charge of trying to save Christmas. Will they be able to help Santa Claus deliver all of the world gifts before Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes get back from their party? Grab yourself a copy to find out.

Alex uses his festive skills to bring us a sparkling (literally, take a look at the glorious cover) new Claude adventure. Santa Claude is the ninth title in this hilarious young fiction series of two-colour fiction titles for new readers.

Claude won the 5-9 young fiction Sainsbury's Children's Book Award and was selected for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, the Richard and Judy Book Club and is soon to be a TV star on Disney Junior with 52 episodes airing in 2017.

Santa Claude is jammed full of wonderful illustrious and makes for a perfect festive treat, ideal for growing children’s confidence as they move from picture books to longer, independent reads. This would be the perfect stocking filler this Christmas!

Have you read Claude’s other adventures?
Previous Titles
Claude in the City
Claude on Holiday
Claude at the Circus
Claude in the Country
Claude in the Spotlight
Claude on the Slopes
Claude: Lights, Camera, Action
Claude: Going for Gold

'...illustrated with humour and elegance...' - The Times

'A handsome creation' - The C hildren's Bookseller

'Perfect for newly developing readers and great to share' - Primary Times

'I loved everything about this book' – Bookbag

'Stunning.' - The Schools Advertiser

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Christmassy picture book treats to snuggle up with!

HAPPY 1st December everyone! as the count down begins, here for your delectation and delight are a small selection of tip top picture book picks perfect for sharing in the run up to the big day!

Otto The Book Bear - In the Snow 
By Katie Cleminson - Published by Penguin £6.99 PB 

Charming duo Otto and Ernest find themselves in a pickle as they have to find their way back to the library in time for the winter party! Packed with excitement and mild peril, this is just the kind of seasonal treat to curl up with on a cold night. Katie's wonderful drawings have a magical spontaneity about them and this seat gripping adventure showcases the very best in accessible contemporary illustration. 

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiecleminson 
Buy the Book HERE

This is the Kiss 
By Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo - Published by Walker Books £11.99 HB 

This book is a warm hug on a chilly night, a delight to read aloud with a little bear cub nestled in your arms and perfect to enjoy together just before bed. With it's exquisite illustrations and simple lyrical text this will no doubt be a story to share and share across many generations. 

Follow Claire on Twitter @Pigtailshigh 
Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gabrielalborozo 
Buy the book HERE 

The Little Christmas Tree
By Jessica Courtney-Tickle Published by Big Picture Press £10.99 HB 

Immerse yourself in a picturesque winter wonderland as you are led gently through a myriad of frosted woodland scenes, Children will squeal with delight as they discover wonderful creatures and plants under the cleverly disguised flaps. 
A book to ignite a love and respect for the environment and it's inhabitants in even the youngest of readers. Bravo! 

By the book HERE 

The Queens Present 
By Steve Antony - Published by Hodder Children's Books £11.99 HB 

Yet another magnificent triumph from illustrator Steve Antony, this time filled with hundreds upon hundreds of green felt clad elves. 
We join a well known monarch on her quest to find the perfect present for her grandchildren in this all too familiar last minute scenario. Joined by a rotund and rambunctious Father Christmas and several Corgis in winter attire we are whisked on a  magical adventure across continents.
Little readers will pour over the pages for hours marvelling at the detail on each spread as they explore famous landmarks and delight in the drama of last minute Christmas shopping.  

Follow Steve on Twitter @MrSteveAntony 
Buy the book HERE

The Velveteen Rabbit
By Margery Williams and Sarah Massini Published by Nosy Crow £14.99 HB

This beautifully emotive classic sees a divine new lease of life with illustrations by Sarah Massini.
A seemingly insignificant toy rabbit longs to be 'real' and only with love, imagination and a touch of nursery magic can the little rabbits dreams really come true. 
A tear jerking, thought provoking wonderfully warming antidote to the consumerist nature of a modern Christmas. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMassini
Buy the book HERE 

Snowflake in my Pocket 
By Rachel Bright and Yu Rong Published by Walker Books £6.99 PB 
Squirrel and bear make the most wonderfully odd pairing, one ld and wise one young and full of vim. Squirrel is in raptures of delight as the first snow of winter falls but quickly realises nothing is quite as fun without bear. This charming story explores friendship in the most delectable way with a cosy comforting ending which will leave sweet thoughts with little readers as they scurry off to bed. 

The Snowman 
By Raymond Briggs Published by Puffin Books £7.99 PB 

Nothing but NOTHING compares to the first time you discover the wordless classic that is The Snowman, although I must have enjoyed this book a thousand times over it still perfectly encapsulates everything which is magical about Christmas. First published 38 years ago it has aged most gracefully and such is the nature of a true classic.
As thick snow falls over the British countryside a small boy is about the embark on the adventure of a lifetime as the majestic snowman he builds comes to life. No Christmas is complete without at least one visit to this timeless family favourite so reclaim the magic of Christmas and believe. 

By the book HERE 

Raven Child and the Snow Witch 
By Linda Sunderland and Daniel Egneus Published by Templar Publishing £7.99 HB 

Encrusted in thick luxurious glitter this book certainly catches they eye, as do the striking illustrations which perfectly compliment the wonderful folklore inspired tale. If you are looking for a wondrous haunting fairytale filled with adventure and intrigue Raven Child does not disappoint. 

Buy the book HERE 

By Tom Jamison and Mike Byrne 
Published by Macmillan Children's Books 

As a fan of the humble Brussel Sprout I was a tad apprehensive regarding the misrepresentation of this hard done by brassica but I was wrong. This mean green fart inducing machine is bad to the bone. This is a hilarious and snort laugh inducing story and the illustrations had me weeping with delight. One for the cheeky little sprout haters amongst you. The perfect stocking filler (for BIG stockings) 

Follow Mike on Twitter @TheMikeByrne

Buy the book HERE ...if you dare!