Posts Tagged 'Picture books'

New Year, New Home

2014 has brought some big changes. Big, but exciting.
The short story is … I’m moving to Canada. But that’s a bit too short.
2014-01-20

Our snowy house

The long story is this: The only regret I’ve ever carried in life is that I’ve never lived overseas. Growing up, my head was filled with travel tales told by my mum, who shifted around the globe through her 20s and 30s. My parents met in Africa, travelled across Europe, got married in England and I was conceived in Oman, all before they settled in Australia to raise my brother and I. As a family we did many overseas trips to visit relatives and friends. When I left home I always intended to move overseas after uni, but life kind of got in the way. Fifteen years later and, well, it’s about time.
I was considering England when the opportunity to move to Canada came up. I spent all of December over there, having myself a white Christmas and exploring Ottawa and the surrounds (which is where I’ll be based). There’s much to love about Canada – so much about the country and the people that have stolen my heart. It’s already left an imprint on my creative mind: I’m currently working on a new picture book about a big brown bear and a small wild girl. Plus I have a sudden urge to end my sentences in ‘eh?’ and I’m getting insatiable cravings for maple syrup.
While I’m officially making the move early March, I’ll actually continue to divide my time between Canada and Australia. It’s really important to me to keep in touch with my Australian readership and to continue to develop links with local schools and festivals (not to mention visiting family and friends!). I’ll be back in Australia over July and August for a packed two months of speaking engagements, however I still have days free in both months so contact my speaker’s agents if you’re interested in a visit from me or Squish Rabbit (links on the right).

Based on the photos, I keep getting told I look as though I was made to live in Canada. I think it’s the fair skin and pale eyes. I’m really excited about the move and love the idea of being closer to all sorts of other unique travel experiences. We already have two trips planned, first to Cuba and then in summer to the Moraine Lake Lodge in the Rocky Mountains. But instead of trying to convince you as to why I’m making the move, how about some photos so you can see for yourself?
Ottawa city and its frozen canal (perfect for iceskating)

Ottawa city and its frozen canal (perfect for iceskating)

Amazing museums and art galleries (I love this sculpture by Bill Reid)

Amazing museums and art galleries (I love this sculpture in the Museum of Civilisation by Bill Reid)

Lots of time to read and eat French pastries (in the inner city industrial style cafe 'Art Is In')

Weekends reading and eating French pastries (in the inner city industrial style cafe ‘Art Is In’)

Writing by the fire

Writing by the fire

Gorgeous outdoor installations (this lonely wolf haunts my dreams)

Outdoor art installations (this lonely wolf still haunts my dreams)

And another, this time in Montreal (called 'Light Therapy')

And another, this time in Montreal (called ‘Light Therapy’)

Did I mention the food?

Did I mention the food?

And the salmon (I could live on smoked atlantic salmon)

And the salmon (I could live on smoked atlantic salmon)

Loving the graffiti art (snow makes the bunnies a little mad)

Loving the graffiti art (turns out snow makes the bunnies kinda crazy)

An Aussie style barbecue (clearly)

An Aussie style barbecue (clearly)

Icicles taller than me

Icicles taller than me

REAL christmas trees (and all decorations I collected locally)

REAL christmas trees (and all decorations I collected locally)

Christmas morning sunrise from a cabin in the woods

Christmas morning sunrise from a cabin in the woods

Finally, I was lured to Ottawa with the promise of divine hot chocolate. And they didn't disappoint...

Finally, I was lured to Ottawa with the promise of divine hot chocolate. And they didn’t disappoint…

Every Idea is Different (or how to make life hard for yourself)

It’s not possible to get overconfident as an artist. Because every time I feel a little like I know what I’m doing – every time I get the inkling that I may have something of this whole storytelling palaver figured out – an idea comes along that makes me a beginner again.

This is no coincidence. If I truly knew what I was doing, then the project would hold no challenge for me. It would mean I wasn’t learning, and such a project wouldn’t be able hold my attention. New ideas fascinate us because we have unanswered questions that float around them – things we don’t yet understand that we attempt to grasp by carrying the project through to its conclusion.

With Squish Rabbit, it was the first time my voice and visual style really started coming together, which was such a thrill. Of note is the fact that a significant feature of my illustration style is white space. Then along came Brave Squish Rabbit … which is set at night. So much for white space. I suddenly had to create spreads using full bleed colour – deep blues and blacks, which was a real challenge.

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Next comes my latest project. It’s about a little bird on an isolated island. It has a single character (the bird) and a single setting (the island). Not a lot to work with in terms of creating a rich visual world with variety enough to carry an entire book.

I’ve spent the last few weeks storyboarding it out, and it’s certainly tested my creative problem solving. I’ve used more playful perspective, point of view and colour schemes than in any of my books yet. It’s been challenging and mind contorting and wonderful, and I certainly feel like a better storyteller for it.

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Not that this will help me with my next project. Which, judging by my track record, will likely be about a limbless lion who lives in a tree…

European Non-Rabbits

It is a well known fact that I have a bit of thing for rabbits. What is lesser known is that I actually love animals of all kinds. All picture books I write feature animals, usually as the main characters. In fact, recently I have begun working on my first picture book featuring kids, but even then they are all dressed as animals.

A few posts back I did a photo diary about all the rabbits I encountered during a recent trip across Europe. As rabbits feature a lot on this blog, I thought I owed it to all the other animals to give them a bit of blog time. So here are some of the non-rabbits that crossed my path in Europe:

These suspicious geese on a Scottish loch:

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This dog (dug) at an Edinburgh pub:

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Dogs could go anywhere in Europe. In pubs, banks, on buses and the underground. I wish Australia was more like this.

This grumpy bird (eyeing all the Geordies in Newcastle):

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This graffiti pig in Venice:

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This bizarre bronze zoo in the misty hills of Eze (France):

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Over 50 animals. Can’t imagine how they got them all the way up the mountain.

This snarly lion:

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Roar

This Scottish house for elephants:

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Actually, this is an obligatory children’s author shot (the cafe where J.K.Rowling penned her Harry Potter series)

This most enchanting stray dog on the drive from Barcelona:

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He so stole my heart I spent several days trying to figure out how to adopt him & get him back to Australia. But he was well looked after by the town & had made his home in a fuel station, greeting all passers by.

These fish in a Berlin blizzard:

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This delightful stray cat in Niguelas, Spain:

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We fed her and loved her and called her Peppi.

These noble once-dogs at Edinburgh Castle:

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These hungry goats and sheeps in a Spanish village:

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These wild-eyed things:

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You can be sure there will be picture books to come inspired by these animals. They were all quite unique characters in their own ways.

Especially the cranky bird. He had spunk.

 

Ink (or literary tattoos)

Rabbit - floatAs an illustrator I work in ink every day. I’m very familiar with it as a medium. And while my canvas tends to be paper, some artists use skin.

I haven’t got a tattoo myself, but I’ve long admired them as an art form. And being a bookish type, I particularly like literary tattoos. There are some amazing tats out there, based on work by some of my favourite illustrators. You only have to google about to find them. There are lots of Shaun Tan tattoos, based on images from his beautiful and often melancholy books. Also Oliver Jeffers, with his ‘boy’ and ‘penguin’ characters popping up regularly.

In a way, someone choosing your character as a tattoo always seemed like the highest form of compliment – that someone could so connect with something you have created that they would get it permanently etched onto their skin. I always said that I’d know I’d ‘made it’ as an artist when this happened to me. But I imagined if it ever did it would be 10 years or so down the track. But earlier this year I got an email.

From Ben. This is what he had to say:

I am currently studying Primary Education, and intend to specialise in ESL (English as Second Language) work. As a part time job I provide teacher’s-aide support at a local primary school. Last year I had a magnificent experience with the first Squish Rabbit book. I was tutoring a South American boy in year 6 and we used his interest in art to render his own edition of your picture book (which was played on a power point as he read it to the class). Since then, the boy came out of his shell, started socialising and developed so much confidence that he is almost fluent. This experience was immensely rewarding and confidence building in terms of my own professional development.

Thank you sincerely for your book. It brought great joy to my life and at least one other child’s. In the future, I also aspire to write books for children with such fundamentally simple yet such eloquently expressed messages. I think the message in Squish Rabbit bridges all cultural gaps (it certainly won my heart).

Based on this experience he decided to get a tattoo. The pictures below are evidence of the first Squish Rabbit tattoo out there in the world…

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It was truly an amazing message to receive. Quite overwhelming to be honest. I’m constantly in awe of the work teachers do with kids, and feel honoured to have been a part of that in any small way.

But as to whether I feel like I’ve now made it as an artist? Well, no. But it does feel pretty awesome.

Inside an Illustrator’s Head

So I’ve been working on a new picture book. And for the first time in a while, this one is not about a little rabbit named Squish. The other day my mum asked me what Squish thought about being ejected from my mind for another character. I think he’s coping, but he’s definitely curious about ‘the new guy’ and is reserving judgement.

This is a bit what it all looks like…

It’s a strange thing to have a little blue pig romping around your mind. A strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure where he will take me just yet, but I’m certainly enjoying getting to know him.

I also thought I’d better put up another photo, in response to this one from my last post:

There’s been a bit of contention as to what’s real. I labelled it as Squish Rabbit reading his own book while wearing a giraffe beanie. After all, it was a cold weekend in Brisbane. Some questioned whether I was being ridiculous (and to be honest, this does happen sometimes) and felt that this was actually just a giraffe toy pretending to be Squish. But here is photo evidence that the giraffe beanie does indeed exist:

I wore it at the Ekka yesterday. In public. And took a photo. I suppose this also serves as evidence that I am sometimes ridiculous.

Brave Squish Rabbit

I love mail. Bills – not so much – but letters and postcards and invites and … packages. Oh yes, especially packages. Most especially those that come in the shape of books. Or those with little white rabbits tucked away inside. And yesterday I received just such a package.

These are the final print proofs of the Australian version of Brave Squish Rabbit, which will officially be released on October 1st, just after the US release date of September 14th. And this version has a very special difference. Something we’re super hoppy excited about. Which is…

It’s glow-in-the-dark

It was all my editor’s idea, who has been looking for the right book to use this effect on. Along came Squish with his second tale, set at night and with luminous little glow bugs on the cover. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s taken quite a mammoth effort to get the printing of this book just right, and the UQP editorial team and I have spent much time together in dark cupboards testing glowing samples. Not quite how I imagined this whole publishing thing would work. But a lot of fun :)

The glow effect is on the glow bugs on the cover and the little stars on the back:

l always imagine that because I have spent so long illustrating a project and have seen it every day on my computer screen, that I wont react when I see the final book. But it’s just not true. When I opened the package I might have been heard repeating the words ‘It’s a book! It’s a book!’ like some kind of neanderthal who has just discovered the written word. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. I’m really proud of this book, and so thankful of the support my two publishers have given me in helping bring it to life.

But I wasn’t the only one in this household who was excited about the arrival. You can see what happened below:

First, Squish (who has a giraffe beanie on – don’t ask) wanted to read his story

Then my pup, Frank, got jealous and wanted in on the action

Like all good siblings, they finally settled their differences and decided to share

How to Make a Book Trailer

My second book is due out in a few short months, so this topic has consumed most of my creative time lately. Book trailers are much like movie trailers … only about books (duh). They’re short video clips used to advertise books, but for me they’re much more. The illustrator in me loves them as another form of visual storytelling, as well as an excuse to dabble in animation. They’re also a great way to reach an international audience. Being based in Australia, here I can tour schools and festivals, meeting kids and teachers and doing book readings. But when it comes to my US audience, instead I can interact using my book trailer and by doing blog tours and online interviews.

So let’s say you’ve written a book and want to make your own trailer. Here’s the good news: the hard bit is already done. Because the first thing you need is a great story. Once you have that, you have the bones of your trailer. Now the bad news: I can’t tell you exactly how to make a trailer. There are just too many different ways to go about it. But I can tell you what a good trailer needs … and how I made mine … and what I’ve learnt along the way (please feel free to learn from my mistakes).

Where to start…

  • Watch lots of trailers: I mean heaps. Good ones. Bad ones. Figure out the difference. Find a few you love and study them
  • Make a list: write down all the things you want your trailer to include. My list was: book cover, key scenes, review quotes, publisher information, trailer credits, my website
  • Write the script: write out all the words that will appear in your trailer, whether spoken or written. Then edit it. And again. Get the order and emphasis right. Spend as much time on it as you would crafting a passage of your book. Mine looks like this:

  • Choose your visuals: for an illustrator this bit is easier. I chose a few key scenes from my picture book to use. If you’re not the illustrator, you need to seek their permission to use their work. If your book is a novel, there are royalty free image sites you can google to find quality images – spend time finding ones that reflect the mood and style of your story
  • Choose your music: I’m lucky enough to work with an amazingly talented composer and multi-instrumentalist, but they don’t just grow on trees. Mostly people use royalty free music you can download from various sites. I used such sites to find a few subtle sound effects, and made some of my own (in my extremely low budget recording studio / bedroom cupboard)
  • Create a storyboard: this is an illustrating term, which means designing the visuals of the story. Draw out exactly what you want your trailer to look like, a few frames at a time. This is where you can start to think about text and image placement, as well as consider background, transitions, colour, sound effects and music. Mine looks like this:

  • Make it: Yeah, not as easy as it sounds. This point could have an entire blog devoted to it. But choose a video editing program you have, or one you can afford, then read / watch every online tutorial you can find. This is exactly how I learnt to use Flash, which is what I used to create my first trailer. This time around I was going to use stop motion animation, but it was consuming too much time so I’ve shelved that idea for another year. My first trailer involved a lot of trial and error as I was figuring Flash out, and it took me forever to grasp what I was doing. But this second trailer has been much easier (and much more fun). I’m now confident enough to play with some more complicated sequences

Things I learnt along the way…

  • Keep it short. No longer that 1min 30sec. Modern viewers have short attention spans (most of you probably haven’t made it this far in my post)
  • While my book is written in past tense, the trailer worked much better in present tense – it gave a greater sense of unfolding action
  • However long you think it will take to make the trailer – double it
  • Get the trailer ready to release at least a month before the book comes out. Book review copies are sent out long before the release date, so books often start gathering reviews early. It’s great if you can have the trailer circulating at the same time

Some of my favourite trailers…

I’ll be launching the Brave Squish Rabbit trailer here in September…

Happy Hoppy Easter

Having nursed a long and healthy obsession with rabbits, Easter holds a very special place in my heart. I’m almost equally passionate about chocolate, which may also help. But Easter is particularly special for me now, having my first book out about a little bunny. So Squish and I would both like to wish you all a very happy and hoppy Easter.

I’m thrilled to see that many have been giving Squish Rabbit as a gift to their favourite little people this Easter:

  • Over at Lavender & Lilies one very thoughtful mum has put together an Easter basket for her little girl (take a look – just delightful!)
  • My Book Corner have done a lovely review of Squish Rabbit, as well as named him as one of the best Easter books
  • The Little Big Book Club are featuring Squish all April
  • My wonderful publishers, UQP, have also been twittering Easter competitions where you can win copies of Squish Rabbit

And to top it all off, look what just arrived in the mail:

The print proofs for Brave Squish Rabbit, plus two galleys (unbound mock-ups). I am thrilled to bits with how it’s turned out! So much so that I’m even willing to use exclamation marks!! Considering the first book is all about white space, I made it quite hard for myself by setting book two at night. It meant I had to develop a more complex colour palette, working hard to create space and balance. I love how it’s come up on paper – seeing Squish swimming in all those colours. I might give you a few more sneaky peeks at the interiors as the publishing date of September approaches.

In the mean time, though, I’d better hop off to find some chocolate that I hear a very special festive bunny has left for me around the house…

The Little Big Book Club

Last month I got an e-mail from my lovely marketing manager at UQP to say that Squish Rabbit had been chosen as an April recommendation by The Little Big Book Club (LBBC). Now I knew a little about this wonderful organisation, so I felt a bit chuffed, shared the news with my dog, then got back to work. About 10 minutes later I got a call from my editor at UQP to say that the e-mail they had sent may not have quite captured how exciting this news was.

And she was right. It was only as I learnt more about the amazing organisation that is The Little Big Book Club that I started to understand just how exciting it is to have a book chosen by them. The LBBC branched off from The Big Book Club, which was established in South Australia in 2003 as a not-for-profit organisation all about (summed up best on their website):

promoting reading, the discussion of books and the promotion of Australian authors and illustrators

And they do an incredible job of all of these things. Their national program includes an initiative called ‘It’s Story Time’ where each month they select three age appropriate picture books to get behind – promoting them to parents, carers and various early childhood sectors. The program includes three age brackets: 0-2 year olds, 2-3 year olds, and 4-5 year olds. They then use their monthly book recommendations as the subject of various newspaper editorial, advertising, activity suggestions, learning time downloads, online e-books, games and many other age appropriate resources. Since the program launched in 2006 it has featured over 234 titles for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, all of which can be found on their website. You can also read more about their amazing work here.

In preparation for the April selection of books, Leanne Williams has already written a great article all about books and self-esteem for the latest SA Kids Parenting Magazine. Not only is it incredibly informative, but it also includes the most delightful photo of Leanne’s sweet little girl sleeping with her copy of Squish Rabbit! Click on the image above to see the full article.

As I was recently in Adelaide, I popped over to the LBBC office in Norwood and got to meet the crew, who are just as energetic and enthusiastic about all things books as you’d expect them to be. While there we made a series of little videos where they interviewed me all about where my ideas come from, the importance of reading for kids (and what I was like as a young reader), Squish Rabbit, the sequel (Brave Squish Rabbit) and also technology and books. It was great fun, and they should be going up on the LBBC website soon. Until then, take a little sneaky peek below:

At the end of my visit the lovely staff also gifted me the most delicious smelling hand cream. Having just used it, scents of vanilla and jasmine are now wafting up from my keyboard…

Little Cupcake Reads Squish

I had to post this. It is so gosh darn adorable. So incredibly sweet and giggle-worthy. And not just because this little munchkin is reading my book. Ok maybe it helps, but it’s pretty cute never-the-less. Even more so because she’s reading it backwards…

Here’s what Cupcake (her online pseudonym) says:

“thought he was playing…he kicked his little legs”
“big tantrum – argghhhh!”
“they broke all the rules!”
“passed him by” (then sings it again – so sweet)

My favourite part is when she makes the squishing sound when Squish nearly gets stepped on. If only she could accompany me for all my readings – what great sound effects and emotional range! Hop on over to the LibLaura5 blog to see the original post, where this little cutie names Squish Rabbit as her favourite book of 2011 (doesn’t that make it all worth it?).

Squish has also made it onto a few other nice recommendation lists for books that came out in 2011. The wonderfully talented Chris Bongers did a fun round-up over on her blog about which books to buy for loved ones over Christmas. Where The Best Books Are also did a lovely summary post called ‘A Few of my Favourite Things’ and I love the way they capture Squish’s experience of the world:

One day he was bending over to marvel at a tiny red flower and a scaly-legged giant stepped on him. Being wee, his body bounces back. But his heart? Well, the hurt of being overlooked doesn’t go away.
Squish sends carrots and tiny rabbit hugs in thanks for all the amazing support.

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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