Tag Archives: Oliver Jeffers

It’s easier if the authors are dead

On that cheerful note Chris Riddell and his illustrator pals Chris Haughton and Oliver (but Chris for the day) Jeffers ended a humorous – as well as sold out – Sunday morning talk about drawing pretty pictures. The Haughton Chris was saying he finds it hard to make pictures for someone else’s words, whereas the Riddell Chris went so far as to say he prefers other authors to be dead. If he’s going to illustrate their words, that is. Apparently he’s doing stuff to Lewis Carroll at the moment. (Maybe he didn’t mean it?)

I was so tired I even forgot to switch off my mobile phone, but luckily a good event like this will perk you up. A lot of people had crawled out of bed for it, including some of the Chrises’ peers, including the Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer. I suppose he wanted to check out his UK counterpart, or to see how his illustrator Oliver ‘Chris’ Jeffers performed.

It seems they had already covered the most interesting topics in the yurt, but there was the odd snippet left worth hearing. They sort of interviewed each other, with the Riddell Chris taking the lead. (Well, he is the eldest.) The place to get ideas is in the shower or when making dinner, not sitting at your desk. The Haughton Chris has a rug project, and it now appears all illustrators want to make rugs.

Oliver got his idea for The Great Paper Caper while watching an episode of Columbo, which the Riddell Chris felt explained his coat. As for himself he often begins with the number of pages in his sketchbook. He has a naughty drawer where failed ideas marinate until they can be used. Oliver’s alphabet book came from two bad ideas, that worked when mixed together.

Chris Haughton

The Haughton Chris once had an idea about scale, which didn’t work at all, but which will be out as a book next year, with the title Goodnight Everyone. Riddell’s Goth Girl was based on one bad pun, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes.’ (I reckon you need to read the books to get it.)

They love their editors! The editors adjust the words they have written and make their books good. Oliver’s advice on quality is to trust your own ability. He is his own audience, and only wants to do what he himself likes. Chris Haughton wants everything to be as simple as possible, and keeps reducing until he gets there. Chris Riddell learned from David Lloyd that if you can’t read it aloud, then it is no good. These days he has a very useful daughter, who is quick to judge his work.

A young man in the audience wanted to know how to draw eyes, so all three showed us their eyes. Oliver Jeffers said you only need two dots. Chris R mentioned a ‘talking cockroach with manga eyes’ and Chris H is so ambidextrous he could barely decide which hand to use to hold his ‘great lump of lead.’

Asked how to deal with procrastination and to scare one member of the audience into getting on with it, Oliver told her she’d soon be dead. Chris H had talked about plans for a children’s book for so long, that in the end all he could do was buy a ticket to Bologna and then make sure he had something to show when he got there. Chris R told us about his first meeting with Klaus Flugge’s eyebrows, which caused him to pretend he’d left his story at home, allowing him just one night to write his first book.

So, paint yourself into a corner.

The three listed some of their illustrator heroes, and how you can’t really come up with anything new. You can only try and do the same, but better and prettier.

Oliver’s parents didn’t insist he get a proper job, for which he’s grateful. He and Chris H both work in places where there are many other likeminded people who can inspire and support. And Chris R has his daughter.

Chris Riddell, Chris Haughton and Oliver Jeffers

The father of a six-week-old baby, Oliver is starting to work shorter hours, when before he would do 12 hours seven days a week. You have to relax sometimes, in order to be creative. On the other hand, Chris Riddell relaxes by drawing every day, or he gets fidgety. He has a sketchpad in his pocket all the time. Chris Haughton works quite randomly, and he has those rugs, as well as sketchpads where he collects his ‘best of,’ and words and thinks ahead. Oliver has been known to stare at old notes, not understanding what he’d been thinking when he wrote it.

And here is where they came to the conclusion that dead authors are easier to work with than live ones.

Some more Saturday in Charlotte Square

The first thing I decided after travelling in to Edinburgh yesterday morning, was that rubbing shoulders with Francesca Simon had to go. It would have been lovely, but the party at the Edinburgh Bookshop I’d kindly been invited to meant returning home on a late train, full of rugby fans and festival goers. And I like my trains a bit emptier than that!

Chris Close

So it was with a heavy heart that I didn’t go and meet all those authors. (I’d like these festivals and things to be more spread out, and for me to be the only one out travelling on a weekend.)

And I actually bought a book. Chris Close who has been photographing visiting authors since 2009 (that’s when Bookwitch started bookfesting as well), has put some of them into a book and I simply needed to have this book, and Chris signed it (rather more politely than I suggested) for me as well.

Kirkland Ciccone by Chris Close

He also pointed me in the right direction to find his recent photo of Kirkland Ciccone. Kirkie wore his loveliest test card jacket and tie (disappointingly with a plain white shirt) the other day, and it’s not that Chris is a bad photographer, or that your eyesight has gone funny, but he gave Kirkland the 3D treatment. (Personally I suspect the aerial needs adjusting.)

Oliver Jeffers had an event on before I arrived, so I caught him signing in the bookshop afterwards instead. He’d been dressed as one of his characters earlier, but looked more his normal self by then.

Oliver Jeffers

After my photo session with Eoin Colfer, we encountered a small child playing with the ducks. It struck me as unusual, but very sensible. The child’s father tried to claim he was from Fife, but that was the most American Fife accent I’ve ever heard. And I could only partly explain the purpose of the ducks to him.

At this point I spied a man arriving, elegantly dressed in a mac, which I suppose is suitable for a Scottish trip. He was none other than David Fickling, followed by Mrs Fickling. And I forgot to ask what I’d been thinking I needed to ask.

I hung around hoping to take pictures of Darren Shan (you can tell it was most of the Irish boys all in one day), but that didn’t come to anything. He did wear a rather fetching t-shirt as I saw him race past before his event.

So I finished by going to find Marcus Sedgwick in his bookshop signing instead. And that was nice too.

Marcus Sedgwick

The Amnesty readings

If you feel up to the gruesome nature of what some people do to other people, you should go along to one or more of the Amnesty International readings in Charlotte Square. They are free, and they are good, but they could make you cry, as happened to one of the authors reading the other night. But then, if the people who need Amnesty’s help can put up with what’s being done to them, I reckon we can.

I’ve been to two readings this week. The first one had Dreams of Freedom as its theme, and it is also the title of a book published in association with Amnesty. It has short quotes from well known people who have been wrongly imprisoned, and it has been illustrated by famous artists, including Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell.

Dreams of Freedom

On Wednesday the authors who read to us were Dub Leffler, Debi Gliori, Michel Faber and D D Everest. They are all different people, but they all read very well, and talked about their pieces in a way to make me want to read more. To do more.

Wednesday’s writers were Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi and Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama). It’s easy to think we know it all, but we don’t. We need to hear more of what’s being done to people.

On Thursday the authors were Paul Magrs, Teri Terry, Priya Parmar and Cecilia Ekbäck. The pieces they read were all excedingly short, but no less powerful. The writers were Alicia Partnoy, Liao Yiwu, Enoh Meyomesse and Stephanie Ndoungo, and what strikes you again and again is how normal their behaviour has been, and still they end up incarcerated.

Amnesty in Edinburgh are asking people to sign a petition to free Atena Farghadani, who is an Iranian artist, punished for posting a cartoon on Facebook, and sentenced to 14 years. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they were both accused of indecent conduct. To sign you can text ATENA and your own FIRST and LAST name to 70505.

Dreams of Freedom

‘Freedom to feel safe.’

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!

; )