Friday, 6 April 2018

Ten Tips for Dealing With Deadlines

By Kathryn Evans


I am neck deep in edits at the moment, and spending 8-10 hours a day typing, so I planned to write this post about practical ways to deal with deadlines.  I asked my fellow slushies for their advice and the very lovely Jo Wyton pointed out that this blog is primarily for writers still on the slushpile. Writers who long for a deadline.

How could I have forgotten? That was me,  until fairly recently. More of Me only came out in 2016 after many, many years of trying to get published.

Five years ago, if  I'd have read the post, I'd have wanted to say:


BUT we can give ourselves deadlines and I suggest that you do. You can make them feel real  by telling someone. I meet every month with a group of fellow writers from SCBWI. We set ourselves targets and know we have to own up the next month if we don't meet them. Though self imposed, this commitment  honestly helps keep you writing.

Deadlines can be really helpful. They give you focus and drive - sure, they can also make you panic and give you RSI.  So, if you don't have wether you have an imposed deadline or you self create one,  be positive about them and do these practical things  to keep your mind and body in good order!

Kathryn Evans' Top Ten Tips for Dealing With Deadlines.

  1. Get up and moving  every twenty minutes - walk, star jump, roll your shoulders -anything you like but for a few minutes, have a good old wriggle.
  2. Install a standing desk - sitting down too much is no good for your stomach muscles and they, in turn, support your back. Switching between sitting and standing  is so much better for you than sitting all day.
  3. Don't use caffeine to keep you alert -top advice from Paula Harrison - it'll leave you with headaches and a racing heart.
  4. Candy Gourlay uses Headspace, the meditation app. I use this too and find that taking 10 minutes out of my day to just breathe is really energising.
  5. Don't work at a computer screen for the  30 minutes before you go to bed, it won't help you sleep.
  6. Install f.lux on your computer It dims your screen at sunset and brightens it at sunrise helping to keep your body more in sync for sleep and preventing tired eyes.
  7. Get some fresh air - go outside and fill your lungs, look at the clouds, expand your view and free your mind.
  8. Eat well. Don't be tempted to stuff yourself with junk because time is short, your body needs nutrients. I keep a ready-cooked roast chicken in the fridge and bags of salad- super easy, healthy lunches - and I always have fruit in the house: fresh, tinned, dry and frozen. Frozen grapes are a delicious treat!
  9. Speak to someone who understands - letting off steam when you feel under pressure can really help.
  10. Take a minute to watch a cute animal video - they genuinely reduce stress! 


 Kathryn Evans is the award winning author of More of MeA gripping thriller with a sinister sci-fi edge, exploring family, identity and sacrifice. She loves faffing about on social media: find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and tweeting @KathrynEvansInk.  

Friday, 30 March 2018

In praise of rights teams

by Paula Harrison

A small selection of the Rescue Princesses books that have been published internationally
I feel very lucky. I love my job and I don't have to climb bleary-eyed on to a commuter train to London at 7 o'clock each morning. Plus I get up to make a cup of tea whenever I want. This is no small thing.

Yet when I run a course for pre-published writers, as I did in London a fortnight ago, they've heard how little writers earn, how it's getting harder to make a living as an author. This is all true. The market is difficult. Celebrity writers are gaining a lot of shelf space. Many writers are hanging on through money from school visits or sometimes teaching writing to adults. BUT there is still a lot of excitement about debuts and a new author has that in their favour.

Another thing that makes children's authors very lucky is that UK children's publishers are simply excellent at selling foreign rights. Nosy Crow, the publisher of The Rescue Princesses (pictured above) has sold rights to those books in many languages including Italian, French, Hebrew, Japanese, Turkish, Romanian and Czech. The American publisher they sold rights to has published twelve books from the series.

If you pay attention to the children's book world you'll have noticed tweets and pictures coming from Bologna this week. Rights teams and agents fly out there every March and work incredibly hard. A huge part of the work (I am told) goes on before and afterwards, following up on appointments and so on. I'm massively grateful for their efforts and thrilled each time a book in a foreign language comes through.

Top: American and Polish editions of The Secret Rescuers from Nosy Crow
Bottom: French and Spanish editions of Robyn Silver from Scholastic
Seeing your story travelling round the world is an amazing feeling. I should also mention the fabulous work done by translators such as Nicolas Ancion who translated Robyn Silver into French and the amazing artwork produced by talented illustrators around the world including Alban Marilleau whose cover artwork is pictured above.

No doubt rights teams are wheeling their suitcases back home right now feeling pretty exhausted. Well, I would just like to say a HUGE


And Happy Easter! Apologies that the blog is a short piece this week - I blame the Easter baking! I will leave you with a picture of the new Rescue Princesses book out very soon. The Enchanted Ruby is the 13th book and publishes as part of a refresh for the series. The beautiful illustration pictured is by Sharon Tancredi.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Adventures in Illustration

By Nick Cross

Vintage book cover from the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature

Over the past few months, I’ve been taking my first steps to become an actual, genuine illustrator. This has primarily consisted of taking a weekly evening class in Oxford, studying Beginners' Illustration for Children’s Picture Books. The course is taught by Korky Paul, who many of you will know from his work on the hugely-successful Winnie and Wilbur series. Korky, a thirty-year veteran of the picture book industry, has run the ten-week course for over fifteen years. It’s also very affordable, thanks to being part of the Oxfordshire Adult Learning programme.

After my first term of studying art last year, I felt very apprehensive about jumping straight into something that sounded a lot more advanced. But my work colleague (and fellow SCBWI member) Imogen Foxell had been on the course two years ago, and she encouraged/bullied me until I signed up.

One of the prerequisites of the course was a portfolio containing at least five pieces of illustration work. This was a problem for me, because I don’t really have any prior work to speak of. So, a month before the course started, I decided to find a picture book story I could illustrate.

I’m not really a picture book writer, but I was very lucky that my friend Nick Bromley (Waterstones Children's Book Prize-winning writer of Open Very Carefully) is! Nick (not me, the other one) was willing to let me rummage around in his unpublished stuff until I found a text called A Sticky Situation. This anarchic, metafictional tale of subversive sticky notes really spoke to me, and I could see lots of creative potential for the illustrations.

With the text in hand, I started work on a couple of spread ideas for the book, which I supplemented with three spreads from the illustrated YA novel I’m also working on. Although I was immensely nervous the first week (and pretty much every week) of the course, I bravely took out my five A3 sheets and showed Korky what I’d drawn. In actual fact, it turned out that I knew quite a lot about the design and layout of picture books, even if I didn’t know much about the illustration side. Conversely, many of the other participants had a lot more artistic experience than me, but needed help to organise and present their ideas.

The objective of the course is that we should come out after ten weeks with three fully finished spreads and several roughs, suitable for submission to a picture book art director. I had already chosen my text to illustrate, but Korky also supplied a wide selection of alternatives, some in the public domain and others donated by writers specifically for the course participants.

Each week of the course follows a similar structure. First, we are all encouraged to bring in interesting picture books, which are then displayed to the class and discussed. Here are some of my choices:

As you can see, quite an eclectic selection - I wanted to be varied and explore some titles that weren’t typical picture books.

After the book discussion, we move on to an appreciation of the latest illustration work that the students have produced. Korky looks at our sketches, roughs and finished artwork, commenting on composition, layout and technique. The students are working on a wide range of subjects in several different media, and it’s fascinating to see how their work is progressing. Korky tries to treat the whole exercise like an editorial meeting, giving considered and professional feedback. He does like to draw all over the artwork as he is illustrating a point, but I’m quite protective and don’t like this, even on my roughs! But once I told Korky this, he was happy to draw on a separate sheet of paper instead.

After the editorial feedback, the final part of the class focuses on one of Korky’s own picture books. He has a whole room in his house for his archives, and each week brings in a giant folder containing all of his sketches, roughs and finished artwork for a particular project. It’s very instructive to see how ideas evolve, and Korky is always keen to point out areas that changed due to editorial feedback. Sometimes, an idea that he doodled in an initial meeting becomes the finished article, other times many drafts are needed to make the art director happy. The finished artwork is particularly exquisite - Korky has such finely-detailed penmanship and an incredible watercolour technique that I’m always a bit worried about ruining his paintings. Korky is also amazing at hand lettering - a necessary skill when he worked in advertising in the 1970s.

So far, we’ve looked at the archives for books such as Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa and Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants, pantomime poster artwork for the New Theatre in Oxford, and even a couple of secret projects that I can’t talk about because they haven’t been published yet!

I always ask a lot of questions when I’m taking a course, and this one has been no exception. At times, I’ve wondered if that’s annoying for everyone else, but no-one’s told me to shut up (yet). Korky is always very patient with our queries and happy to explain all aspects of the publishing process.

There isn’t time in class for doing any actual illustration (though Korky did give us a watercolour masterclass one week). So that entails quite a lot of homework to make progress. I’ve settled into a rhythm of writing my YA novel during the week and doing illustration at the weekends. This seems to work well, especially as the larger artwork and materials aren’t particularly portable. I’m also very shy about my illustrations, so doing them in the privacy of my kitchen helps.

My chosen medium for picture book illustration is Windsor and Newton Promarkers. These are alcohol-based markers, which come in a wide range of colours:

They’re also readily available at art shops and even some branches of WH Smith, which makes life easier when one runs out at a vital moment. Promarkers are very similar to Sharpies or the Copic Ciao brand of markers - I love the vibrant highly-saturated colours you get from them. If you read my earlier post, you’ll remember how much I disliked mixing paint colours, so having something in a pre-mixed shade is perfect.

As with any new art technique, there’s been a significant learning curve. Windsor and Newton make special marker paper, with a coating that stops the ink bleeding through. However, as I discovered to my cost, this only works if you use the correct side of the paper! I ruined two carefully-inked pictures because of this, which was a “learning experience” for sure (interesting how "learning experiences" are often accompanied by a lot of swearing!)

I’ve also had problems with bleed from my ink work. To start off, I inked my pencil lines with a black Promarker, then used coloured Promarkers over the top. But although Promarkers are permanent on most surfaces, it turns out that the alcohol in the coloured markers reactivates the black, causing it to run into the lighter colours. I then tried a “waterproof” Faber-Castell Pitt pen, with the same result - waterproof doesn't necessarily mean alcohol-proof kids! Finally, after some research, I discovered that Copic make a special range of alcohol-resistant Multiliner pens, which should save me a lot of Photoshopping.

I’ve learnt a lot about my own creative process during the course. For instance, I’ve discovered that the way I draw is very similar to the way I write - I like to work iteratively. Starting in pencil, I ink the design directly on a lightbox, add colour and finally scan the page for fine-tuning in Photoshop. After Korky has given his feedback, I don’t generally want to redraw the whole thing, so I will return to the pencil work and correct it before inking and colouring again. Working digitally for the final pass makes it much easier to tweak and swap out elements, without going back to square one each time.

I’d never done any figure drawing or character design before I started the course, so it’s been a steep learning curve! I knew I wanted to do something quite cartoony - here I am trying out some designs for my main character, Charlie:

Because of my aphantasia (I lack a visual imagination or “mind’s eye”), I already knew that I was going to have to work from photos wherever possible. Google Image Search turned out to be a lifesaver here - I could literally type in a phrase like “woman wearing sunglasses in profile” and get lots of images to work from. Here are some snapshots from the evolution of one of my drawings, which shows Charlie’s mum having fun at the beach:

  1. My initial sketch. I did this completely out of my head, and you can see the results - poor body position, hands and legs.
  2. Redrew the body, legs and feet, and tidied up the hands. The bikini bottoms are much better here - she looked like she was wearing a nappy before!
  3. Inked the previous pencil drawing and coloured with Promarkers. The results are OK, although I didn’t really get on with the brush pen I was using - some of the lines, especially around the hands, are very thick. Someone on the course also pointed out that Mum wasn’t wearing sunglasses, which is the whole point of the drawing!

  1. Completely redrew Mum’s head by looking at a reference photo rather than trying to make it up. Sunglasses now present and correct.
  2. Re-inked the pencil drawing using Copic SP Multiliner pens. I used a brush pen for most of the lines and a 0.5 fineliner for some of the detail on the hands and face.
  3. The finished artwork, coloured with Promarkers

One thing I’ve struggled with is my pen control, or lack of it. I’ve found brush pens particularly frustrating - I never know how thick or thin a line is going to be until after I’ve drawn it. Fineliners are much more pleasurable and reliable to use, but they lack some of the organic flair of a brush.

Here’s the first finished spread of A Sticky Situation in all its glory:

Click to enlarge

At this scale, it probably isn’t obvious how many weeks of effort I’ve put into this! Hopefully, the following spreads will be a bit easier - in retrospect, having four separate pictures on the first spread of the book was rather ambitious.

The background gradients for sky and sea were produced by blending several Promarkers, which is quite challenging. I composited the backgrounds into the picture digitally, while still preserving a nice organic effect. Several people have mentioned to me that I could be doing all the colouring in Photoshop, but I’m really keen to learn the manual skills first. Also, a lot of digitally-coloured picture books look very glossy and artificial, an effect I’m keen to avoid.

Me and Korky Paul

Generally, I’ve been happy with my progress on the course, even if I won’t have the three finished spreads that were our objective. Whenever I’m getting impatient at my lack of skill, I have to remind myself that I’ve only been drawing for seven months!

After the course finishes, I’m going to take a short break from illustration to work on my observational drawing. I’ve bought a couple of great books on pen & ink drawing and perspective, but haven’t had much chance to try them out. I think some life drawing classes would also help with my figure work. So much still to learn, and a whole YA book to illustrate in the second half of the year. Wish me luck!


P.S. If you're interested in joining Korky Paul's Oxford course, it runs from January to March each year. The 2019 course dates aren't up yet, but they'll be published here later in the year.

Nick Cross is a children's writer/illustrator and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.
Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.

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