“The Next Big Thing”
Australian authors are tagging each other to write about the big project on their minds at the moment - and I’ve been tagged by the lovely Wendy Orr. I couldn’t find anybody who was ready to be tagged this week, so instead I’d like to send you off to visit the website of Ursula Dubosarsky. I also adore the work of Jeannie Baker.
But today, I’m telling you about my next big project, and that is :
I’m turning my very first book that I ever wrote, Gordon’s Biscuit, into an eBook!
Original cover illustration for Gordon’s Biscuit - first published in 1996 by Angus & Robertson
1) What is the working title of your next book?
The working title is, Gordon’s Biscuit.
Cover of Penguin edition, published in 2006
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was sitting beside the fire trying to think of an idea for a story. I love dogs and had a funny scruffy little one at the time called Meg who had wisps of fur on the tips of her ears, and whose shaggy coat used to express how she was feeling. I also had small children and I loved their relationship with Meg.
The first idea was that Ellie (who became “Ella”) and Sam, the two main characters, would be trying to do something for their big shaggy dog, Gordon, and the idea of making a biscuit for him came quickly to mind because dogs and kids all like food! I stayed with that idea, even though it evolved a lot.
The first draft was a series of drawings scribbled in turquoise ink on one big sheet of paper.
The first draft was made in turquoise ink on an A3 piece of paper - here are bits of it - you can see how the ink has gone dark in places.
The idea for the eBook came from hearing from people that they loved the book, but it has been out of print for awhile, so I want to bring it to life again myself without going through a publisher, and to learn how to make eBooks so I can start making some more!
3) What genre does your book fall under?
I suppose the genre is picture book for younger readers. Mind you, I know kids who were still enjoying the original book as they got older and older - I have put lots and lots of little extra bits in the drawings so every time you read it you may discover something else, and little stories that are happening behind the story that I’ve told in the words.
I wanted to create a book that little people and big people could read together. Now I want to create a new book which will be available on the new technologies that are in people’s lives, as well as people being able to order one if they prefer a paper copy.
I’m excited to do an eBook because it will allow me to add bits and pieces and grow Gordon’s Biscuit into a new kind of book - the original book could only have 32 pages because of the way books are manufactured, but this one can have a few more if I like! And I like!!!
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmmm… I don’t actually have any idea … but I think it would be fun watching people and dogs and a duck and ducklings try out for the parts! In fact, I was once at a school giving a talk, and one classroom was putting on “Gordon’s Biscuit” as a play! It was great!!!!
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
One shaggy dog who loves biscuits and the park, two kids who love the shaggy dog, lots and lots of biscuits, and a whole neighbourhood who come to the rescue when a new man at the park puts up a sign saying, NO DOGS.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
In the past I have worked with publishers, but this time I will self-publish for the first time. I’m very excited about this because once I learn how to do it, I’ll be able to write and illustrate lots more stories of my own. The trick is that when you make a book through a publisher, you get a talented editor who helps you turn a lump of clay into a book; I don’t want to end up just publishing lots of lumps of clay!
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft of the original book, scribbling little drawings in turquoise ink on an A3 sheet of paper, took a few hours to make while I was sitting by the fire one winter Sunday afternoon.
Making all of the necessary tweakings and fixings and developing of the story until a final manuscript was ready took two years.
First typed manuscript of Gordon’s Biscuit - this is the whole story - and was typed on a real typewriter, the one that my family gave me so they could actually read my letters to them! There were LOTS of versions after this one and the story changed a great deal.
I haven’t yet made the first eManuscript so I don’t know yet how long that will take. Most of the time will be taken in learning how to do this, but I love learning so it should be fun. I have the original scanned images from the original book, but don’t have a computer program that can read them! Oops… Luckily I still have all of the original artwork, some of which has been seen by lots and lots and lots of kids from when I have visited schools to talk about being an author and an illustrator. The images on this page are scans of the original artwork done on my little machine. It’s a bit tricky because the pages are a LOT bigger than the scanner! In the book, the background colour will be crisp white rather than the funny yellowish colour here.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’d like to think that it has a bit of the feel of a Bob Graham book in that he gives us warm relationships - and visual detail and little stories happening beside the one in the words.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My editor at Angus and Robertson, Cathie Tasker, with whom I had illustrated a few books including Wendy Orr’s Ark in The Park, asked me if I’d like to write my own book. Yes!, I said!
So that was the inspiration to create the original book. The inspiration for the eBook and print-on-demand version has come from all of the people over the past few years who have said they remember the book from their or their children’s childhood, that it was their favourite book, that they remember reading it over and over, and want more copies, and want to share it with more children. That is heartwarming.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
If people haven’t seen the story, I can assure them that they will discover a fantastical park and a biscuit shop like no other! For people who know the book, I am excited that I’ll be able to add a few new pages, including letting readers in on a lot of the other stories and ideas I’ve hidden in the illustrations. It will give everybody even more adventures to share when they read it together.
Once I’ve learned what this new technology can do, who know what else might happen?!
It’s exciting because this is a new field for me to explore and learn about, because I can add new bits, and because it will make Gordon’s Biscuit available to people again. It has been out of print for a few years now so you have to find one in the library or second hand bookshop if you want to read it.
A few weeks ago I ran into a family who loved Gordon’s Biscuit when the kids were little, and they had just been sitting around the table a week or so earlier trying to remember the names of all of the characters - then we ran into each other at my Little Firefly Gallery just before Christmas. I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to hear how much they loved the book and how it had been part of their childhood. Sigh.
(This is Gordon’s Biscuit in Korean)
It will be fun to meet up with Sam and Ella and that cuddly, shaggy Gordon again!
AND…the trailer for the movie, “Return to Nim’s Island” is just out - take a peek! It’s the sequel to “Nim’s Island” based on the book by Wendy Orr which I illustrated. When Nim’s Island was being filmed we went onto the movie set and I was hugged by Jodie Foster and kissed by Selkie the sea lion. Pretty exciting!
So all in all, lots going on!
We’re trying to decide between these two...
At the launch there will be cartoonists and paper and pens and wine and nibbles and a graphics tablet - come along to say hello and try your hand at a cartoon or two!
- enjoying the rhythm and patterns of windows and buildings and street lights and markings on the road and fences and all the other details in a city. It isn’t quite finished yet.
it’s called “Kerry Thompson - And now for something completely different...”. As you can see, I’m painting under my proper name rather than my nom de plume, “Kerry Millard”. I’m still busy doing cartoons but don’t have a book on the boil while all of my energy goes into painting and looking for different places to display and sell them.
My garden is a mess, but my wood stove is cosy to toast my toes by in the chilly evenings!
Here is one of my favourite paintings which will be going to a great new home after the exhibition has finished at the end of August...it is called Birch grove. If you want to see what else I’ve been painting, visit me next door at www.kerrythompsonsgallery.com
P.S. Happy Canada Day!
Here is the view from underneath one of those trees; the little starbursts on the left are cobbler’s pegs which hitch a lift in socks and jeans. Isn’t nature amazing? Imagine evolving to cling onto socks? How did they know?
I have also been putting a lot of time into joining up to and uploading work to Red Bubble. There are thousands of artists and artworks there. Go and have a look!
I have been having a ball painting and painting and painting. I will have lots to hang at the next exhibition from June to August at the Gordon Library, but that’s not the only reason I’m painting; I am excited to see what each canvas will end up looking like because I never know!
I put all of the paintings on my online gallery as I paint them (www.kerrythompsonsgallery.com -”Kerry Thompson” is my non nom de plume) and I leave them there even if I later paint over them. I always think it is interesting seeing just how somebody’s work changes as they develop and what came before what and what ideas pop up again later. I’m putting everything in the gallery so that the whole story is there.
I met this tree in France
Hill house, is one where the colours vibrate against each other. If I keep looking at it, it seems to separate into layers and become 3D with the white floating above the rest, and the pink hill becoming see-through like ice. Very exciting!
I’ve also been enjoying using gesso to create a lot of texture...I love its whiteness and thickness.
Spring - there is a lot of texture to the surface of this painting.
There is one tiny canvas on the easel at the moment - it is painted green and I don’t know where it will go from here...
I was a bit scared to start painting again after weeks of preparing for the exhibition and its launch- hard to explain why. What if I start trying too hard? What if I can’t paint anything? What if don’t know what to paint? What if it’s all rubbish?...
So, one day I bought some more canvases. Another day I got as far as putting on my overalls. Finally I picked up the brush and begant by playing around with a painting I’d already started, using it as a base. AND...I discovered amongst my paints a tube of opalescent orange- which looks pearly actually - and while part of me was saying it’s too gimmicky, the rest of me wanted to dive into it! I love how, as in reality, light hits it and you can see it from some angles and not others.
I was also busting to try to capture the seabed/moonscape which is nearby bush after hazard reduction burns have removed all but the trees. It is hauntingly disturbing and beautiful...which I hesitate to admit of something that represents destruction and a lot of loss of life of wildlife. It occurs to me that it may also resonate because the effect is similar to winter in Canada - undergrowth hidden under snow, only trunks emerging. This is actually the opposite - where everything is blown away and the bare bones and hidden secrets are revealed.
This one was very patterned - I like it but wanted to try a different direction.
Smoothed out a bit - removed a lot of the leaves to reflect the barren feel, even though in reality there are lots of fallen dead and burned leaves.
After The Burn
Final version, although I think I’ll do another where I go back the the earlier style with the patterned feel.
And a whole lot of fun. Bits of patterns extend around onto the sides.
Lately I’ve been enjoying using dabs of paint for reflections in water, or cobblestones, and suddenly felt like trying to make a painting as if it were woven. It was always fun at school when we wove paper strips together and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to paint that way. I decided to do a rural scene, and simply started at the top. I did a checkerboard painting, then had fun filling in the remaining white squares trying to make a ploughed field, pond, cloud, hillside, house and barn. It was challenging and satisfying choosing the colour for each square so it added to the picture and played against the other squares. To me it is weaving, but it seemed familiar in a way which I couldn’t quite place...then realised: any kid today would say it’s pixillated!
I started with a full palette then reduced it to yellow, violet and blue to pull the painting together better. I darkened the sky, then added detail to it, then made it quite a bit more dramatic.
I had light spilling onto the pavement from two windows but today realised I’d used a cartoon technique and had represented the light by a yellow glow. If you think about it, you can’t actually see light like that. Where it falls you can see the objects it falls on in their full colours, and where it doesn’t fall you see shadows with less or no colour. By knocking the glow back the emphasis is now more on the sky and chimneys, and on the faces of the buildings which delighted me so much. Now there are two theatres of interest- one up on the rooftops, the other way below in the street.
It looks better in the flesh (and at 102 cm x 102 cm the detail is easier to see)...here are a couple of photos of detail to show you what I mean.
I think I’d like to try the view again with a really really simplified version, almost geometric. Hmmm...isn’t that where I started last time?
I did a little one which didn’t work (which was painted over another one which didn’t work), turned it on its side and thought it looked like rush hour, worked on it but realised that it still wasn’t working because when I sat it beside another painting, I had no desire to look at it! It began to feel pretentious in that it depended on its title...so I decided to run white brushstrokes down to be trees, leaving bits of pattern showing through the white to be the bark. I discovered, though, that I preferred to leave strips of pattern as the trees themselves. I painted blue and white between to be blue snow and white sky (It was white snow and blue sky but I preferred it upside down). I loved it! I loved how the patterns on the trees are reminiscent of First Nations art in Canada. I’ve called it “Birch trees” because birches have such wonderful bark. I was really excited to paint a much bigger version....
I covered the next canvas (102 cm x 102 cm) with colourful patterns, just wallowing in colour. It seemed too bright, so I softened it with blue mixed with white. Still too bright so used a small roller to make greenish grey strips.
Turned on its side, it was then ready for me to apply white paint leaving strips of colour for the trees.
Some of the colour bled through from behind, so I went over the white again to make it cleaner.
At this stage I decided I preferred it with the colour bleeding through, so added touches of blue and green and yellow between the trees. Also, a friend thought the white was the trees, so I added one small branch to give a clue. At the same time, I’m learning to embrace ambiguity...it is nice if you imagine you’re looking at a colourful landscape from between white trees.
Incidentally, the tree in the middle has been felled by a beaver.
Next I wanted to do a second painting in the same way but where there would be white trees against a tapestry background, the way my friend saw the first painting.
I didn’t get a photo when I had turned it on its side and painted white strips for trees- they just didn’t work. I also found TRYING to do the same kind of painting as the one before really exhausting- the first one had been so fun - I discovered that painting is all about invention as I had to think up what to do next at each stage. I LOVE inventing. So I decided to take a whole different tack and added a few things...
The slender trees in the foreground give it a lot more interest and personality, and the highly patterned background becomes almost an afterthought, and so quite tantalising. I played with twilight sky between the branches, interlacing twigs, foreground grasses, bringing the white down to the bottom of the painting, adding little details to the bark...really learned a lot.
What I learned:
If you don’t want to look at a painting it is probably not working for you!
If it needs its title to be something it is probably not working.
Paint over stuff you don’t think is working.
Try things. Change things. Turn things upside down and sideways.
Let some things be ambiguous! This is hard for me because in my usual work as a cartoonist and illustrator, being ambiguous is failure.
Wipe the paint off your hands before using light switches.
Embossing, while trendy and cool,
Was something she scorned, as a rule.
For lumps, blips and bumps
She required no thumps,
Just soaking, till pruned, in her pool
Don’t worry, the poems which Duncan wrote for the book are much better!!!!!
I have a lot of bits and pieces to catch up on since being away for three weeks, and then...I wonder what the NEXT project will be???!!!!
And the winner is...........
Using this background and other odds and ends, the cover has finally been all put together and sent off...and approved...so now Duncan Ball and I sit back and wait to look at the final version of it and the internal illustrations before they are sent off to the printer who will go mad and make thousands of books.
It’s scary knowing that if there is a mistake, it turns into thousands of mistakes...so a this stage everybody is looking with eagle-eyes for anything not quite right. It’s still amazing how things can slip through, though.
So...although this is just a rough rough version and the writing on the back is not exactly what will be there and is all messy because it got wrecked with some sticky tape, here is the cover!!! YAY!!!!!
A book’s cover is really important because it has to be true to what’s inside the book, and it has to be appealing enough that you want to pick the book up and read it.
Sometimes authors and illustrators don’t agree with what the publisher’s marketing people say the cover should look like; marketing people know what’s selling in the current market but authors and illustrators may want to do something original. It can be a complicated process coming up with a cover that everybody is happy with.
It is always a fascinating process. Sometimes a designer might put an illustration in the middle of a space where it looks balanced,
but maybe the illustrator wants it down at the bottom to add to the feeling that it’s a teddy bear that’s been squished flat on the ground, for example.
Or the illustrator may want it up at the top to make it feel bigger if it’s the scary door to the staff room at school,
or may want it off centre and odd because the character is a bit odd.
It is a delight to work with a designer who also gets a kick out of using the positioning to add to the feel of an illustration so together we can make everything work really well. The illustrator doesn’t usually, or even often, get to work directly with the designer at this stage so it was a BLAST!
Now we’re working on finding a FUNKY pattern for the front cover!
Jake the Snake made his appearance when I did the final illustration for “My Sister Has A Big Black Beard” a couple of days ago. Just the cover to do and making sure everything is where it should be and it will be about ready for the printer.
I took some scrap paper to my French class on Thursday evening.Each student has to give a little presentation and it was my turn; I chose to give a little cartoon workshop and handed out the paper for people to draw on. It was the manuscript for My Sister Has A Big Black Beard and I think my French class was very surprised when they looked on the back of their drawings and saw bits of Duncan’s crazy poems.
A few days ago one of the poems mentioned a tortoise shell plate that somebody was eating from. I immediately thought of the tortoise, of course, and drew him, understandably cranky having had his shell snatched for a plate, but no matter where I put him or how I drew him, unless I drew lots of arrows and signs and explanations there’s no way anybody would have the foggiest idea that he’s a tortoise* let alone the particular tortoise whose shell is on the table.
(*see today’s blog re taking a class to learn how to paint things which are unrecognisable...clearly I was already there)
He ended up being left out of the book which has made him even more cranky so I thought it was only fair to let him onto this page.
This week I also met a little person with nothing to say.
Here are a few ideas that I was fooling around with as a starting point while trying to find an idea for changing clocks and watches from Daylight Savings, and another about a rather precocious Mozart. Yesterday the challenge was to find a fun one in a cemetery. You’ll notice that sometimes the images don’t mean anything yet but are just something vaguely related to the topic. Hopefully they’ll kick off thinking in different directions.
Today I get to do some more drawings for Duncan Ball’s “My Sister Has a Big Black Beard”. Yay!
I had to stop for a few days while I travelled to Manilla near Tamworth to visit friends and met a lovely painter, while I did cartoons for other people, while I crashed my old computer lots when I was trying to re-scan the drawings I’d already sent to the publisher, while I tried to find a new scanner, while I learned how to use it with my new computer and then while I re-scanned everything.
I had to re-scan everything because after sending all of the illustrations I’ve done so far to the designer to be put into place around Duncan’s poems, I discovered I’d had my scanner on the wrong setting the first time around and everything was grey and fuzzy instead of crisp black lines on a white background. Poop!!!
Then the new scans were too big to email easily so I had to learn how to send massive files. But after a cup of tea I’ll see what Duncan’s characters are up to next.
I did some housework yesterday too. I got the leafblower out and blew the dust out of the house. It’s quicker than vacuuming.
I’m having a struggle trying to get some long-nosed bandicoots to behave themselves...one of Duncan’s poems has me stumped at the moment and the bandicoots in it aren’t co-operating. I love the poem but it has turned out to be a hard one for finding an excellent enough idea for the illustration.
I won’t tell you the poem but have a look at what bandicoots are turning up. These are pencil sketches.
Duncan Ball, who is a complete nut, has written a book of poems which is called, "My Sister Has a Big Black Beard". When I heard that he had written it, and that he'd like me to do the illustrations, I was VERY excited. I was ready to sign the contract straight away but the publishers (HarperCollins) thought it might be a good idea if I read the book first. So they sent it to me as a manuscript, which is what a book is called when it is just pages of typing and before it has been poked and prodded and turned into something between two covers.
OK, I agreed, it probably would be a good idea to read it, but knowing Duncan and having heard some of Selby's poetry (Duncan writes about Selby who is a talking dog and who sometimes writes poems) I knew they would be fun.
But there was a catch! When I illustrate a novel, I read it lots and lots of times before and during the time when I’m doing the drawings. But with poetry, and I've done a lot of illustrations for poetry in "The School Magazine", I like to read a poem and draw the first ideas that come into my head. The illustrations evolve as I draw them and I invent new bits and pieces, but usually a main idea pops into my head the first time I meet a poem which is why I didn't want to read the ones in Duncan's manuscript all at once before I was ready to start sketching. So, I read a few, I looked at a few others with my eyes closed, and flipped a few more pages while looking at the ceiling, then told the publishers I'd like to sign the contract now please.
A contract is very important...it is the agreement between the publisher and the author or illustrator about what everybody is supposed to do and how much they will pay each other to do it.
This week the editor (who makes sure the words are all OK) and the designer (who makes sure it all looks OK) and Duncan and I had a meeting. The others wanted to read through some of the poems so I had to put my fingers in my ears.
I have started the drawings and am having a LOT OF FUN!!!!!
I'll show you a few bits now but you'll have to keep wondering what they're about until it has all finally turned into a real book in June 2009. I know that seems like a long time but it takes a long time for everybody to finish all of their jobs and there are other manuscripts stacked up in front of the printing press waiting to be printed first, and then the pages and cover have to be stuck together, then the books will have to get to shops and onto shelves...but it’s fun to think that a pig I draw on my drawing table today will appear on a shelf in my local bookshop in June!
I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going!!!!!