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Picture Books: Discover and Be Discovered

April 2, 2018

JOHN O’LEARY

A week ago, I went to the SCWBI event, Picture Books: Discover and Be Discovered, at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education CLPE where American illustrator, Paul O. Zelinski, spoke about his journey from being a compulsive child drawer to critically acclaimed children’s illustrator and Caldecott winner. During his time at Yale College, he took a class on the history and practice of the picture book which was co-taught by Maurice Sendak and it was this that inspired him to become a children’s illustrator.

Borrowing a line from an earlier talk about websites, “ It’s not about you, it’s about them,” Paul O. Zelinski tweaked and applied it to the job of illustrating. “It’s not about you or them, it’s about it,” he said, referring to the fact that each picture book cries out for its own style of illustration (or writing). Paul O. Zelinski is happy to oblige, successfully breaking the golden rule about maintaining a consistent, recognisable style.

The topic then switched to the marketing side of the business. Candy Gourlay focused on the target market and getting an understanding of just who actually buys books. She divides these into three categories; hot (dead certs – family and friends), warm (the ‘maybes’ who know who you are but haven’t got round to buying your book) and cold (those who’ve never heard of you). She stressed the importance of shifting efforts from the hot to the cold in a bid to move those on the outer reaches further down into the purchase funnel. Interestingly, independent bookshops feature high on the list of places where books are bought for all age groups up to 10, in addition to charity shops (0-4 and 5-7),  children’s book and toy shops (0-4), and bargain bookshops (5-7).

She also talked about what she termed as ‘eggs in your basket’ – what you’ve got, what you can control and what you can create? You’ll probably have a blog, website and archive, social media platforms, research, a publicist perhaps… All of these you can control, including your publicist with whom you should be building a relationship – he or she needs to get to know you. She stressed the importance of online content, especially useful information which helps to attract and grow a fan base. On Amazon, you can control the write up as well as create an author profile with an obligatory photo of yourself from ten years ago. You can create how-to videos in order to engage with fans and, if you visit schools, teachers will often show these to the children before you arrive. She added that the resources you create will also be appreciated by teachers who always need them. It’s important to build and join communities and visit schools, if that’s your thing. And it’s always useful to re-purpose existing material, create content that will increase your presence, and build and maintain relationships.

For the final segment of the afternoon, Candy put on her interviewer’s hat and spoke to Hilary Delamere who promptly dispelled the myth that agents are a tough, ruthless bunch, before discussing the search for representation and what happens once you’re taken on. Here are some of Hilary’s dos and don’ts:

  •    Think of approaching agents in the same way as a job interview.
  •    Don’t lie or be rude to the agent’s assistants.
  •    Make sure what you’re presenting is the very best it can be.
  •    Have a fantastic title and opening line and end on a brilliant line
  •    Don’t over-explain what your project is.
  •    Authors, don’t get your own illustrator on board – it will end in tears.
  •    And go for rhythmic rather that rhyming texts.
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Who wants a throwaway life?

March 22, 2018

TARA BUTTON

Tara Button, founder of BuyMeOnce, is at the forefront of the global movement to change the way we shop and live forever, championing the longest-lasting and most sustainable products on Earth.

In 2013 Tara went from depressed spendthrift to fulfilled and calm entrepreneur using a technique she calls ‘mindful curation’. In this book, she teaches the steps to master this lifestyle change. On this journey you’ll:

  • Detect the tricks that get us overspending and how to dodge them.
  • Discover why they really don’t make stuff like they used to and what can be done about it.
  • De-clutter your home and find the products that will serve you best for life.
  • Jump off the trend treadmill and build a home and wardrobe to your true taste.
  • Dig deep into your purpose and priorities to live a more fulfilled life.
  • Rediscover the art of keeping and caring for things.
  • Find happiness, success and self-worth beyond buying.

Now more than ever we need brave solutions to navigate life as a “consumer”.

In this book, at last, we have a guide.

https://uk.buymeonce.com/pages/a-life-less-throwaway

 

 

On Being A SCBWI BI Conference Volunteer

February 7, 2018

CLARE TOVEY

John O’Leary has already talked about his experience of attending last November’s Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) British Isles region annual conference at Winchester to run a workshop – an event I helped to organize, and will be doing so again in 2018. This will be my fourth year helping to organize the conference as an illustrator committee volunteer!

Planning for the conference in November early in the year with a Conference Committee meeting, which is a great opportunity to meet fellow SCBWI Conference volunteers from all over the country, and be able to “put faces to the names” that you will be working with all year. A huge amount of planning goes into making the Conference happen: it is great to be part of the talented team of 20 + volunteers who do the work.

Fairly obviously, the Conference takes up a lot of time in the couple of weeks preceding it as the final details are put in place – and the last minute glitches of suddenly unavailable speakers are dealt with. (Life happens!)

There is also intermittently a lot to do much earlier in the year, lining up potential speakers, sorting out dietary requirements, the programming of the event, work shop equipment, book lists, and so on. Luckily, I enjoy this kind of detailed work, and modern technology helps us all as a team to keep on the same page.

Then at the Conference it’s different type of work: welcoming our speakers, making sure everything is set up for them, and guiding them to the right place at the right time. Plus generally helping out with anything else that may need doing!

Experience has shown that it is important for me to map out my conference, too, and make sure I get to do the workshops and fringe events I especially want to do. (The Friday Sketch Crawl being my favourite.)

To sum up, being a SCBWI Conference volunteer is both a lot of hard work throughout the year, and a lot of fun. An extra bonus for me is that having a job to do helps me to overcome my slight shyness in crowds.

Multitasking and Collaborating.

December 3, 2017

I was asked to deliver a session on multitasking to a group of illustrators at the SCBWI conference in Winchester last week-end. Jack-of- all-Trades: How to Have Multiple Careers as an Illustrator looked at choosing the right activities to complement and benefit your core practice as an illustrator of children’s picture books, getting the balance right and recognizing the boundaries? I also ran a hands-on activity where illustrators flexed their creative muscles in a mini workshop combining pop-up design and illustration.

I think multitasking is inevitable when you’re a self-employed creative, especially when dealing with the day-to-day running of your business. However, is it a good idea to diversify creatively, to expand your activities in different directions or even to add to your skill set? It does encourage thinking outside the box, leads to cross pollination of ideas over different disciplines and helps create new income streams. However, does diversifying stretch you too thin and can the problems outweigh the benefits?

For me, what started out as a plan to be an illustrator, turned into an ambition to illustrate and write books. This was followed by the desire to add paper engineering to the mix as well author visits and family workshops.

Something that was quite simple to begin with, turned into a practice that has encompassed schools visits, talks and workshops on how to create your own pop-up books, editorial illustration, card design, pop-up picture books, public art trails and other collaborations with artists, not to mention co-creating a number of children’s theatre productions. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s all done as a joint business with an artist wife with a great deal of crossover between both practices.

I think problems arise when one strand takes over and dominates to the detriment of everything else. It can be very easy to lose sight of your initial goals and to forget what’s really important. It’s also possible to become so immersed in a project that you fail to measure what you’re actually getting out of it – it’s not always a good thing to let your passion get the better of you.

I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you hope achieve from your activities and what proportion of your time you want to spend on each thing. If one area becomes neglected, it’s time to address that. Always place your projects in order of priority and importance. With each one, you need to balance the equation: does the time, work and money spent equal the income received plus other benefits. Think about soft benefits – recognition, exposure, does it lead to other opportunities, are you gaining valuable experience?

With collaborations, sometimes you need to tread carefully. Before you start illustrating (or writing) your best friend’s story, think about whether a publisher is likely to accept the whole package. If not, would you be happy with that and is it worth losing a friendship over? With any collaboration, be clear what it is you want from it and what should happen in any given scenario – then get it all down in writing and signed by all concerned.

In my opinion most long-term collaborations have a finite lifespan; the key is to know when it’s time to stop. The ones that continue past their sell-by-date risk creating negativity and spoiling any residual benefit that continued contact and friendship generate.

Dream collaborations do happen – those rare situations where two or more people speak more highly of each other than they do of themselves in an atmosphere of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency. Egos and glory-hunting take a back seat in an arrangement where no one’s bigger that the whole picture. These are the ones you should definitely embrace.

Examples from the mini hands-on workshop combining illustration and pop-up design. The workshop recreated something I do in schools and hopefully shows that by adding something extra, you tick more boxes and increase your appeal. Pop ups by Dave Gray and Rita Lazaro

 

Golden Toast

November 11, 2017

LYNDA WATERHOUSE

Food is important to me. When I am reading a book and there is no food or eating described then I am strangely dissatisfied. I love reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books for the sugar rush. When I’m dreaming up a story I often visualise my characters eating. More often than not food equals comfort to me. A symbol of warmth, friendship and celebration. Food triggers powerful memories.

I have my mother to thank for this. She created a magical warmth around food. There was very little money to spare so Mum used her imagination to make meals exciting. Every morning as a child before I went to school she would wake me up, give me ten minutes rousing time and then make me ‘golden toast.’ Golden toast was two slices of white bread toasted on one side only with butter. The two slices were put together toasted sides facing outward making the toast both soft and crunchy.

A ‘cowboy dinner’ was a mountain of mash with baked beans on top. An ‘Indian’s dinner’ (this was the 1970’s)  was a mountain of mash with mince on top. A’ Fruit Tea’ was an apple, orange, banana and a small packet of iced gems. When I was ill I was given ‘an egg chopped up in a cup’ to make me feel better.

My favourite dish of all time is ‘Swear Pie’ – homemade whimberry pie. A flavour which I often crave and the rare sighting of a punnet of whimberries can drive me to distraction.

 

Girl Chopping Onions

Girl Chopping Onions by Gerrit Dou 1646

Pop-up Roman Kitchen

October 21, 2017

JOHN O’LEARY

I’ll be back at the Verulamium Museum (The Museum of Everyday Life in Roman Britain) in St Albans this October for another day of family workshops. If your interested in Roman Britain and making your own pop-ups, then grab your kids (or borrow some) and come along – full details below.


Back by popular demand, another opportunity to work with illustrator and paper engineer John O’Leary to create wonderful Roman themed masterpieces!  In this session, participants will learn how to use paper to create a piece of pop-up art to take away. Suitable for 8 – 13 year olds.

Wednesday 25th October, 10.30am – 12.30pm

For more details and to book a place:
http://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/roman-paper-engineering-bookable-session-457/


In this drop-in session, help to co-create a giant work of three dimensional art! Suitable for ages 5 and over. Please note that at busy times our drop-in activities can be extremely popular and there may be a wait to take part. All children need to be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Wednesday 25th October, 1.30pm – 4.00pm (last entry 3.40pm)

Further details:
http://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/roman-paper-engineering-drop-in-session-458/


Creative writing: The Haunted Dolls’ House

October 11, 2017

LYNDA WATERHOUSE

Close up image of the M R James short story ‘The Haunted Dolls’ House’ from the library in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, Windsor Castle Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

There are a few spaces available for this event. It is a wonderful opportunity to have a detailed look at Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, hear MR James’s chilling tale and create your own atmospheric dolls’ house setting for a story.

The Haunted Dolls’ House was specially written by M.R. James for the library of miniature books in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Draw inspiration from this captivating story, together with a torchlight tour of the Dolls’ House itself, and take part in a creative writing workshop with author Lynda Waterhouse to tell ghostly tales of your own.

Windsor Castle

Monday, 30 Oct 2017

18:30 – 20:00

£20.00 full price, £18.00 concessions

Adults

More details and book tickets

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