Tag Archives: Oliver Jeffers

Black Dog

Levi Pinfold’s lovely book Black Dog is a more than worthy winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is beautifully illustrated and beautifully made, with a soft, mother-of-pearl kind of cover, that just begs to be stroked.

Levi Pinfold, Black Dog

The pictures are a little in the style of Shaun Tan, with a dash of Oliver Jeffers, and you can’t go wrong with that.

The Hope family live in the most wonderful and strange house, and at times I almost forgot the story, because I was so fascinated by what their house looked like.

One morning Mr Hope discovers a black dog outside the house. It scares him, and he over-reacts quite a bit. Then Mrs Hope sees the dog and does likewise. Each time someone in the family sees the black dog it grows, and so does their fear of it.

That’s until the very tiny Small Hope takes charge of the situation and shows her family that there is no need to hide. By the time she does so, the dog is Very Large Indeed.

The Gaiman effect

WordPress sent me their cheery stats for 2012. There really does not seem to be much one can do about Neil Gaiman. His fans create havoc when they land here, and very welcome havoc it is too.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

At least the post about Neil – and Chris Riddell, actually – was written during 2012. As WordPress pointed out, some of my most popular ones are oldies, which means my writing has staying power. Apparently. They suggest I should write more about these topics. Which, apart from Mr Gaiman, seem to have been me (cough), Terry Pratchett, the Barrowmans and Cats with Asperger Syndrome.

Sort of a varied selection, then?

You came here from 162 countries, and Twitter sent you. Or Eoin Colfer, or John Barrowman. But funnily enough you were mostly interested in me (again), Oliver Jeffers, Liz Kessler, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Faraday.

Stats are weird, but then, so am I.

Here’s to 2013 when I will not be taking things quite as easy as I ought to. You can see how the W – for witch – wobbles above the fireworks. Tired already.

Wordpress 2012 blogging report

Five new Famous Five covers

I suppose we all have them; ‘our’ cover for a classic book. I suspect that just as we seem to be programmed to react favourably to the music at the time we’re the ‘right’ age, so I believe a book cover needs to be from our own period.

Famous Five 70th 01

Famous Five 70th 05

Famous Five 70th 03

Famous Five 70th 02

For me the correct cover of Five On A Treasure Island is the Swedish one from the early 1960s. It doesn’t matter what else I see, because nothing can change that. I quite like one of the old (original?) British covers, but it’s not mine in the same way.

Sometimes I have found that the copy of a certain book which I owned was older or newer than it ought to have been, and I’ve had to make do with the wrong period cover, and if I come across the right one, I go all soft and nostalgic.

And now when I see so many covers, I occasionally experience a ‘must have’ moment when something new and delicious comes along. Never mind that I already have the book. The new cover is just the best.

(Yes, I know. I’m sounding a bit inconsistent here. I’m allowed to.)

It would seem that the Famous Five are 70 this year. Wow! That makes someone like Julian a gentleman of over 80!

Anyway, we can’t all do what John Barrowman does, which is to go round buying expensive first editions of the Five, so it’s nice that Hodder Childen’s Books are celebrating their 70th birthday with new covers. Five new covers, by five top artists. They are Quentin Blake, Helen Oxenbury, Chris Riddell, Emma Chichester Clark and Oliver Jeffers. And their covers are really very nice.

Famous Five 70th 04

If I’m allowed to have a favourite it’s Five Go To Smuggler’s Top. And Five Go Adventuring Again. That’s because Helen Oxenbury’s cover is nicely old-fashioned the way the books used to be, and Oliver Jeffers’s is just so Oliver Jeffersy. But setting aside my peculiar ideas, they are all great covers.

The marvellous thing about them is that if a new reader already has a favourite illustrator, they might be tempted to try the Famous Five if they happen to see it. And I’m sure Chris and Oliver can count, really. They just won’t have seen the need to have all five Famous Fives in the picture.

MCBF 2012 has launched

Prof. John Brooks with unknown and Carol Ann Duffy

Although it will be eighteen months until it arrives. Some of us gathered at MMU last night to watch the Poet Laureate pull a curtain cord to unveil the very beautiful banner for next year’s children’s book festival in Manchester. I’m not one for banners generally, but I do like this one by Dai Owen.

The photo shows Carol Ann Duffy (for it was she) discussing the merits of different ways of pulling curtain cord with the MMU Vice-Chancellor Professor John Brooks.

There was wine and tea and mingling, and when I tired of that I went to the side and sat down in one of the exceedingly deep, blue armchairs next to the blue (post-your-coursework-here) bins, only to find everyone following me there. It seemed the speeches and curtain-cord-pulling was over that way. It explains why there were these enormous green curtains on the green wall, a problem which had occupied my thoughts a little.

James Draper, Prof. John Brooks and Kaye Tew

Professor Brooks came straight from a meeting with the government, which he hopes won’t be here for much longer. He’s tired of all the money disappearing off, including funding for the Mcbf. (To the small child who wondered why all the adults applauded: One day you will understand.)

Like the banner, the 2012 Mcbf will be bigger, bolder and better. Yes! The banner will be a fixture in the Geoffrey Manton building, as will the festival at MMU. After John Brooks’s speech the assembled women, men and children (but mostly women) repaired to lecture theatre three where James Draper and Kaye Tew of MMU/Mcbf told us what they hope to do. It’s going to be good, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival had better look out. The 2010 festival was ‘just’ a small pilot event. (But lovely, as warm-ups go.)

They will cooperate with the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester International Festival. There will be a reading relay in connection with the Olympics, the Manchester Art Gallery have an Oliver Jeffers art exhibition planned and the War Museum will be doing wartime children’s books.

As for me I can barely wait for the Flash Mob event outside the Town Hall…

Manchester Children's Books Festival Banner

After the plans and serious stuff, Carol Ann and her best friend John Sampson did their combined poetry and music show. John played more instruments than you can shake a stick at, pretended to be Mozart, incited the audience to shouting, and played the cornetto (or similar…).

Carol Ann read The Princess’s Blankets, interspersed with some of her other poems. I’m not a poem sort of witch, but there is something about having a poet reading her poems aloud. And then she went and stopped, telling us to buy the book if we want to know how it ends.

She must have been taking lessons from Frank McCourt.

Now I’ll never know if the poor Princess will stay cold forever, or if she will find true love, or anything.

Poet Laureates! Pah!

; )

Bookwitch bites #26

Noah Barleywater Runs Away

John Boyne’s Noah Barleywater Runs Away is out next week. Although it’s been ‘out’ for some time, seeing as Random handed out proofs to all in the audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival. It’s a nice idea, and one I think would be good to try more often. What the proofs didn’t have were the pictures you get in the real deal. Oliver Jeffers has illustrated John’s story as beautifully as you expect from Oliver. (I like Oliver’s pictures, in case you haven’t worked it out.) But I’m puzzling over one thing. I’m fairly sure someone told me that the story had a particular meaning to Oliver’s own life. And I don’t know what it is!

Carl Hiaasen’s Scat is out in paperback. It’s worth noting, because I really liked it, and if you haven’t already got it, now is a good opportunity. It’s the one I feel is on a level with Carl’s adult novels, minus most of the sex.

You can download a sample of The Cat Kin by Nick Green here. Not that you should have any doubts about it, but freebies are always nice, so download and enjoy and then go get the book.

And finally, yesterday brought some news in the Bookseller about The View From Here magazine. Personally I suspect someone’s made a dreadful mistake, but I don’t want to complain.

‘Do you know Donna?’

I do. Sort of. I was going to meet Donna Moore, author of Go To Helena Handbasket, and the best blogger in Glasgow, on Day 4, but she was attacked by migraine, so didn’t make it. I don’t mean she’s dead; just that Edinburgh was too much for her. But I didn’t quite expect to have one of Donna’s fans come up to me, knowing who I am, too. Bloggers are the next super stars, I suppose. Tim – the fan – found me in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square, and we had a long chat. I sort of knew who he is, seeing as he’s featured in yet another blog. Small world.

It was hard work getting out of bed on Saturday. Early start. I woke at 4.20, and just couldn’t work out if I had 30 minutes or 90 until the alarm was meant to go off at 5.50. (I don’t need answers on a post card; I know now.) First out was Debi Gliori, with her un-green dragons, whose life style threatens the survival of the planet. Recycling for the youngest readers. (Fittingly my copy of  The Trouble With Dragons had arrived in my recycling bin, when the postman failed to find me in.)

Debi had some very good photos and ideas to bring environmental awareness to the young. It’s not much fun if Father Christmas has to wade in water up to his knees because the snow melted, is it? Debi drew and read and generally educated and entertained her audience.

I’m amazed that so many people turn up so early. Andy Stanton and his Mr Gum had a tremendously long queue first thing, even though adults like Tim had no idea whatsoever of who that funny looking man might be. Adults! They don’t know much.

Malorie Blackman

That was proved when we discovered Malorie Blackman being photographed outside the yurt, just as we gobbled down our lunch sandwiches inside. No official photo session for her (after all, she is ‘just’ a children’s author), but we dashed out and begged to take a few more photos. Very pleased to find that Malorie’s minder was Random’s wonderful Kelly, who was more than helpful when she realised she was up against the witch. I was eager to undo the damage to Malorie’s image I caused with my poor photo skills back in November. The other photographers fell out of their own little yurt in order to find out what they were missing. Hah. It’s high time the paparazzi learn to recognise authors, too. Read books, boys!

Henning Mankell

Anyway, we left Debi’s talk a little early (sorry) to catch Henning Mankell who had agreed to face the cameras. I was surprised to find he didn’t bolt, but he’s a big fish these days, so maybe has to give in occasionally. We ran back to see Debi sign books, only for me to remember that her signings are the slowest in town, and she hadn’t got very far, what with all the friendly ‘doodling’ she does. (Debi –  just joking, you know. You draw, you don’t doodle.)

Debi Gliori, about to 'doodle'

This being before the previously mentioned sandwiches we were feeling a little peckish. But that’s nothing compared with the family who decided to have a picnic right on the floor in front of the unoccupied signing table in the bookshop. They all settled down and opened their bags and tucked in.

Another eye opener was the fantastic tantrum over the book Olivia by Ian Falconer. He must have just left, but his fans were still milling about in the shop. One pretty little girl was very set to have the book. Mum said no. There followed the kind of tantrum you see over the sweets in Tesco. Mum grabbed her child and threw the book on the table above the picnic and left. We stared at each other. Within minutes I caught sight of the girl again, back in the shop with another copy of Olivia in her arms. Mum explodes back as well and throws this book on top of the first, and drags her very unhappy child out. I hope there was a good reason, as you’d kind of expect people going to book festival events and visiting bookshops to be pro-book.

Oliver Jeffers

Apologies to the bookshop, because it must have seemed as if the witches had put down camp in the shop for the day. Emily from Bloomsbury was kept busy, too, with Sarah Dyer signing next to Debi, once the ruckus and the picnicking was over. When Tim found us, we were overseeing Malorie’s signing, and had managed to snatch a quick word with Oliver Jeffers, as well.

One signing we failed spectacularly with, was Michael Morpurgo’s. He had an interminable queue, but in the end we left it too long. We did, however, get a good photo session with him and his new friend Sarah. She’s the eight-year-old who won a competition to spend a day with Michael Morpurgo. Sarah got to introduce Michael at the start of his event, which she did very professionally. On the whole, I have to say that Morpurgo fans are very clever and capable.

Michael Morpurgo and Sarah

Sarah likes Michael’s adjectives, and it seems he quite likes hers, too. He spoke about the three new books that are published this autumn, but I have to protest a little here, because one of them sounded very familiar to me. It must be based on the short story he wrote for the Amnesty International anthology Free. He is also improving on the traditional Nativity for Christmas, because it seems a shepherd will never leave his sheep. As a farmer, he knows this. And there is a tsunami inspired novel out soon. Michael made the children in the audience hold their breaths, and he also has opinions about the number of books J K Rowling has written. So, a pretty mixed sort of talk.

Malorie Blackman signing

Daughter, meanwhile, listened to Malorie over in another tent, and by all accounts it was full and it was good. Malorie read to her audience, and she showed them how happy she was when her first book was accepted. And she is writing something now, but won’t say what.

By now you are all begging me to stop, and that’s what we did, too. With a heavy-ish heart I decided we didn’t have the strength to stay on to see Alexander McCall Smith in the evening. Maybe another time!

(All photos H Giles)

“Famous, aren’t you?”

It was in Publishing News last year that I first found Oliver Jeffers, in an interview with, I think, Graham Marks. I was left with an impression of handsome biker, who was also the “in” illustrator of the moment, responsible for the World Book Day posters. I wasn’t all that interested, to be truthful.

By the time Oliver materialised at the local bookshop on Friday, I’d worked up more enthusiasm, and by the time he was done, the enthusiasm level was really quite high, and not just because of the biker looks and the designer stubble. I even had the opportunity to start by translating Oliver’s request for a USB pen into something more intelligible, rendering me an aura of being almost useful.

Oliver Jeffers 3

His appeal must be fairly universal, as the people who turned up to hear him talk were of all ages, and whereas my tolerance for slide shows and power point presentations isn’t that great, this was interesting. How a picture book is made and why they are often 32 pages and how the text comes last in the printing process. And how the Americans will change his words if they don’t like them. Now, how could little boy running out of rocket fuel near the moon possibly be seen as too unrealistic?

The Way Back Home

I’d made several visits to Oliver’s website, and had had considerable problems with all the insects, until I finally worked out what’s what. And then he said he was thinking of changing it, to make it easier. I said no, not when I’ve actually got it, at last. Anyway, I’d had a good look at some of his “proper” art, and if the witch household had any spare walls, not to mention some spare cash, there would soon be a Jeffers on our walls.

Being slow (me that is), I didn’t make the connection with Hopper until Oliver mentioned it, but that will be why I loved “my” favourite painting instantly. And look, there is Hopper in the books as well. Couldn’t be better. Quite liked Michael Sowa, too, who’s another of Oliver’s favourites.

Oliver uses whatever paint feels right at the time, but seems to prefer acrylics, at least now. He also uses water colours, Dulux One Coat, and finds his white pen extremely useful. With the water colours he sloshes on too much water, adds colour and then tilts the paper from side to side, letting the colour slide this way and that. And I think Oliver said he rests the paper on a toilet roll, until the colour settles as he wants it.

He has, or had, two work areas in Belfast; one for making a mess vertically and one for making a mess horizontally. Makes sense, when you think about it. Right now he is living and working in New York, so his visit here is a short one, and supposedly so he can see his uncle. Oliver was born in Australia, grew up in Northern Ireland, which is why he has that lovely accent, and has lived in Sydney, before New York. So, very cosmopolitan. At one point he and some friends also kept posting a work of art across the Atlantic. They started with an empty book, and then added a picture, before posting it on, and on, for 36 weeks. Surprised it didn’t go missing.

How to Catch a Star

His interest in how words and pictures go together made him experiment, and before he knew it he had made a picture book without meaning to. Among his favourite books by others are Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, and Quentin Blake’s Clown. Oliver feels young children make the best critics, because they get bored easily.

Oliver Jeffers 2

I’d say he is rather like an overgrown child himself, with his ideas. For one page in The Incredible Book Eating Boy, he photographed books which he and his brother threw into the air, to let them fall in the right way, before Photoshopping them onto the page.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy

After meeting a quantum physicist he thought about how people become intelligent, and took to combining oil paintings of people, with equations. Another unusual idea is to leave his mug of coffee on the paper, letting it leave a ring and then doing a picture round the coffee ring.

Oliver did typography at university, so is very keen on doing all the lettering in his books, even when it involves writing the copyright page in Spanish by hand four times because he kept making mistakes. When asked whether it’s important to have gone to university, he says it is, because then you know all the rules, before you go on to break them.

Oliver Jeffers 1

Among things he has done that aren’t picture books, is a poster for Starbucks, an ad for the big bookshop chain, cards that the Government sends to all new born babies, and something unintelligible about Orange priorities. And a Darth Vader helmet.

It doesn’t sound as if Oliver is man who struggles, but when he does, coffee helps. That and knowing there’s a mortgage that needs paying.

His next book is, supposedly, called The Great Paper Caper, and has something to do with FSC paper, but he won’t say too much. “A children’s detective thriller”.

Lost and Found

Lost and Found is being animated, using CGI, and Oliver got his Mac out to show a short piece from the film. Absolutely adorable, are words that come to mind. However, putting his own nephew (Henry, I think) in the penguin compound at Belfast Zoo, doesn’t strike me as very nice. Henry was helping illustrate Lost and Found, but what they did find, was that he’s scared of penguins.

Well, so much for the man who wins everything or is shortlisted for everything. Good artist, but is he a good uncle? And he uses books from Belfast Central Library to paint on. Hang on; that’s what I was complaining about a couple of months ago, in regard to Daughter’s school…

And have I just lost an opportunity to interview Oliver properly in the future? This blog post is too long.