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Articles tagged with: illustrators

Illustrating Books Always Everywhere - a guest post by Sarah Massini

Posted by Sarah Massini on Mar 05, 2013

Sarah Massini, illustrator for Books Always Everywhere (published this week) has kindly submitted herself to our 5-minute Q&A in this month’s edition of our Books Newsletter, and her answers give such a good insight into the illustration process that we wanted to re-print them here. You can enlarge each image by clicking it.

Where do you work?
From home. We live on the edge of a village and my workroom window looks out over a lovely view along the valley.

The photo at the top of this post is my workroom whilst taking photos for this book. This was the point at which I stopped and was both alarmed and amused at the chaos around me. The set-up on the table is for the “Book Build, Book Mat” spread. Note the ink bottle propping up the cloth book, the light box and angle poise pretending to be studio lights, and books everywhere!

What was the hardest thing about this book?
The many, many little books in the book. I’m not a good photographer and so I took several photos of each book with different exposure and aperture settings, trying to ensure that at least one of them would be good enough to use.

Then, in Photoshop, I deleted the backgrounds and any text and pictures on the books.

I then softened the photos by creating rough lines and shadows in pencil; these were scanned and stripped into place.

I’ve never counted all the books in Books Always Everywhere but there are a lot and they were the most time-consuming aspect of the art. Most people don’t realise that the books are photographic, but I think they still hint at realism, and that’s important. Their hard structure counter-balances the soft line of the rest of the art and helps makes each book very much a focal point.

Here’s the finished spread:

What distracts you from work?
Everything. Working from home isn’t always a good thing. Music and especially radio dramas on iPlayer help keep me in my chair.

Can you think of something that has inspired you recently?
Not directly but I was in The Dover Bookshop on Monday which is a fabulous resource for copyright free images, textures and patterns. The shop is closing down next month and I spent about two hours there trying to decide what books I really couldn’t do without. I’m going to miss that shop!

Is there a children’s book you could never got bored of re-reading?
As a very visual person I love any book that is beautifully illustrated or designed. Library Mice asked me to select my Favourite Five books recently and I have certainly never been bored by any of my selections, and I’ve read them all countless times.

Thank you, Sarah! Books Always Everywhere is available in shops from Thursday. You can pre-order it online here, or take a look inside below:

My first book event - a guest post by Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam illustrator, Steven Lenton

Posted by Steven Lenton on Nov 21, 2012

Last week I was invited to talk at the Nosy Crow Author and Illustrator panel as part of the YLG Conference in Central London.

As the title of this blog post suggests, this was my very first book event and I was rather nervous to say the least.

I am used to talking about Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam with the Nosy Crow team, my students at City Lit and my family and friends, but this was to be the first time I would talk about my experience and designs to a fresh audience.

On top of this, I was in the esteemed company of three very successful and established authors – Tracey Corderoy, Lyn Gardner and Philip Ardagh. The cherry on top of this excitingly nerve-enducing line up was one of my illustrator idols – Axel Scheffler.

Our merry band followed an informative and humorous talk on the future of children’s publishing by Kate Wilson, where we witnessed, amongst other things, the magic of Stories Aloud.

Philip talked about The Grunts series of books whilst Axel drew a fantastic Sunny, one of the characters from said book. They made a terrifically fun and entertaining presentation which was followed by Lyn Gardner who discussed the motivation behind her Olivia fiction series.

Then it was the turn of Tracey and myself. Tracey introduced our characters and her original inspiration behind Shifty and Sam and read, again for the first time, their story which went down a treat – phew! Tracey also debuted her newest, now infamous ‘story sack’ which we will use at all our Shifty and Sam events – cleverly designed as Shifty’s SWAG bag!

I then spoke about my design process and ideas behind the two protagonists and some of their fellow dog cast in the book – it was very strange standing in front of my designs on a large screen but I didn’t spot any mistakes, again, phew!

The audience of librarians really enjoyed our presentations and we had some great chats with them during the Q&A session and beyond.

Being given this opportunity to talk about my first book has given me a taste for future book events and I can’t wait to do more of them with Tracey throughout 2013!

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam will be out in May 2013 – but you can take a look inside now!

Visiting an artist's studio

Posted by Steph on Oct 12, 2012

Yesterday I left the Crow’s Nest and headed west to Cardiff for a meeting with the lovely Rebecca Harry, illustrator of Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish, to discuss her artwork for next year’s Little Bear’s Love, written by David Bedford.

It might seem like a lot of travelling for a couple of hours of art direction, but so much can be gained from a one-to-one session. We spread out all her artwork and drawings, so we could look at it as a whole. We drew on tracing paper – well, Rebecca drew and I sketched (badly). We discussed colour, foliage, foil, fur and bears’ paws, bouncing ideas back and forth.

There is something to be said about visiting illustrators in their home or studio enviroment. They tend to be much more relaxed, and I get to see the visual bits and pieces that they surround themselves with. Sometimes you may spot something with could be brought into the artwork – a colour, or that tiny sketch on the notice board or fridge door.

Most importantly it strengthens your personal relationship, and as I have said before, making happy books is all about happy relationships. Rebecca said that for her, it’s just lovely to talk about her artwork with someone, rather than working in relative isolation, painting and then handing the work in through the post.

And to top it all, Rebecca baked the most wonderful cup cakes. . . love those cup cake cases!

Small publishers v large publishers - which is best?

Posted by Kate on May 28, 2012

Last Tuesday evening, I went to a CBC meeting. The title of the panel talk was “So You Want To Be A Publisher”, and I was speaking with Sarah Odedina of Hot Key Books and Barry Cunningham of Chicken House.

The meeting was held in the Penguin offices on The Strand. On the few occasions these days when I walk past the vast security desk, through the glass electronic-tag-activated gates and along the marble corridors, I always think how different an experience it would for an author to visit Penguin and to visit Nosy Crow. To get to us, you travel to Southwark, go through a cobbled courtyard past the bike racks to an old, brick tea-warehouse and then you climb up two flights of steep cast-iron external steps (past the geraniums) to get to our always-open door. Yes, Penguin and Nosy Crow are both publishers, but that’s a bit like saying that a platypus and a zebra are both mammals: they really are quite different.

So it was interesting that a member of the audience asked what we, as a panel, felt were the advantages of being published by a small publishing house.

These are some of the advantages, I think.

As an author or illustrator, you know everyone involved in the publishing process – quite possibly you know everyone in the company, in fact. I said that, to me, the publishing process should seem to the author more like a choral performance in which everyone is involved for the duration of the singing, than a relay race in which individuals hand off a book to the next person or department in the supply line and then stop running. When Lyn Gardner, author of the Olivia series dropped by on Friday evening to sign some books for a prize-winning child, Tom, whose direct involvement with the publishing of Lyn’s books is making sure that everything about them on the website is up-to-date and accurate, was one of the people who sat down for tea and almond biscuits, and they planned a trip to the theatre together before she and I confirmed our plans for her time at the Hay Festival. Her editor, Kirsty wasn’t there, and nor was her publicist, Dom. But that didn’t matter. We all knew her and what she was there for.

As an author or illustrator, if you are published by a smaller publisher, you’re almost certainly part of a smaller list (you definitely are at Nosy Crow) so you’re less likely to be lost or overshadowed by many and “bigger” books. When I ran bigger publishing lists, the publishing schedule was carefully annotated, dividing books into “superleads” and “leads” and “everything else”. That doesn’t happen at Nosy Crow.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that it’s a matter of our own success – even of our own survival – that we do the best for the books that we publish that we possibly can. Not every book can or will be a bestseller, and we buy books based on a range of sales expectations, but we can’t lose focus on a single one of them.

As an author or illustrator, if you’re published by a privately-owned company (like Nosy Crow, but unlike Hot Key Books which is owned by Bonnier, or The Chicken House, which is now owned by Scholastic, though it was an independent company for many years), the bottom line is that people who work in the company are choosing to spend money on acquiring your books and selling and marketing your books rather than spending it on the mortgage, or their children’s shoes, or cheese in Sainsburys.
We are, quite literally, invested in your success.

As an author or illustrator, you shouldn’t feel that anything gets seriously stuck in the works. Of course there are delays, and of course we get busy, and of course some decisions are harder than others. We can’t always respond immediately, but we try to be quick and decisive whenever we can. By contrast, there’s a major publisher we do business with who hasn’t responded to the contract we sent them since September.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that you and your book are unique. In big companies, it’s generally necessary to establish rules and processes to which books have to conform: they may have to be printed in particular formats; the costing on the basis of which they’re acquired probably has to achieve a particular projected profit margin (or “computer says no”); if they sell fewer than x copies in a particular period of time, they may have to be allowed to go out of print… In a small company, each book – and therefore each author – can be treated on their own merits.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that every book is being dealt with by someone with the appropriate expertise and experience. At Nosy Crow, the editors and designers are pretty much all old hands: to be honest, there just isn’t a junior editor to delegate to. Many of the senior people who choose to work in small publishing companies have made a decision not to work in big publishing companies. There are, of course, people who have huge skill and expertise in big publishing companies… and over time many of them get pushed up the ladder to become managers. Some of the profit from an author’s books goes to paying the management salaries in the various layers of the hierarchy in a big publishing company.

Which brings me to the final point: as an author, you should know that it is slightly easier for a small publisher to take some kinds of risk: it is, quite simply, easier for us to make a profit because our costs are lower than those of a big publishing company. When I walk along the marble corridors of Penguin, the other thing I think about is that our per square foot rental costs are probably about a third or less of Penguin’s… and we don’t have that many square feet in our open-plan office anyway. So it has, perhaps, been easier for us to take a gamble on “slush pile” debut authors like Paula Harrison and Helen Peters who are currently being promoted in major UK retailers and in whose books we’ve sold rights.

There are counter arguments, of course.

It could be said that a big publisher provides prestige, and there are a few big publisher names (not many) that it’s hard for a small, new publisher to compete with… but most readers and parents don’t buy on the basis of the publisher name.

It could be said that a big publisher has a bigger pot of money… but Nosy Crow pays (at least) market rate advances and royalties and we don’t hesitate to spend on appropriate marketing and retailer promotions. We tend not to spend huge sums on acquiring and marketing one or two “big books”, but that ties into the idea (above) that every single one of our books has to work to the level that we expect of it.

It could be said that a big publisher has a big infrastructure to maximise sales opportunities… but Nosy Crow has managed to get its books sold in pretty much every appropriate UK retailer, regardless of size, and has sold rights to or done distribution deals with publishing companies that are brand names in their territories. Publishing infrastructure (and this is the subject of a different post) is less relevant now than it’s ever been.

Authors and illustrators should – and, given the opportunity, will – do what feels right for them, often with the guidance of an agent. And every publisher is different: there are duff small publishers and very good big publishers. And there are publishers that look like small publishers but they’re actually part of big publishers.

But if I were an aspiring author or illustrator, I know, having worked in both kinds of organisation, what I’d choose.

What’s your view?

Axel Scheffler Exhibition in Germany, and a retrospective look at his work

Posted by Kate on Mar 27, 2012

Just before last week’s Bologna book fair (a Bologna blog post follows when I am feeling a bit perkier as I have come down with a post-fair lurgy), I went to Troisdorf near Cologne in Germany to a really great exhibition of Axel Scheffler’s artwork, both published art from books and magazines and unpublished art including gifts he’s given as presents, illustrated envelopes (of which Nosy Crow has several and I have many), sketches (and some of his sketchbooks) and pictures he’s done just for fun.


An envelope included in the exhibition that Axel drew for me many years ago


A picture that Axel just drew because he felt like it


A childhood experiment with symmetry and imagination that Axel drew for his father

This blog post is illustrated by a brush-pen sketch clearly done when Axel was feeling rather haunted by his most famous illustrative creation, the gruffalo.

As someone who has been published a lot of Axel’s work in the UK, I was asked to write a piece for the catalogue.

This is what I wrote:

Axel Scheffler: Hand-made Humour

I am rather proud to say that the quarter-century anniversary of my friendship and professional connection with Axel Scheffler is coming up next year.

I met Axel in at the Bologna Book Fair in 1988. I was selling rights for Faber and Faber and he’d recently completed his first book illustration work, illustrating The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell (now unavailable, but here’s the audio edition with Axel’s cover) and the Bottle Rabbit stories by Bernard McCabe. Looking back at the black and white illustrations for these books, it’s possible to see many of the things that make Axel’s work so immediately recognisable: Bottle Rabbit is very visibly the direct ancestor of Pip, the rabbit character that Axel created twenty-four years later for Nosy Crow’s Pip and Posy series.

That’s not to say that Axel’s work has stood still: there is something more … basic about everything from the line to the characterisation in these Faber books, though, at the same time, the artwork is somehow less accessible, and certainly, I would say, without quite being able to say why, less “British-looking”. And, technically speaking, too, Axel had a journey to take: other than the covers of these books, these are simple black-and-white line illustrations, and Axel is best known, at least in the UK, for his colour ink-wash-and-pencil work in picture book form.

Axel‘s first picture book, You’re a Hero, Daley B, was published in 1989 by Walker Books. Daley is yet another rabbit (and there is a distinct anthropomorphised-animal, if not always rabbitty, theme to Axel’s British book illustration). By the time that You’re a Hero, Daley B was published, I had gone to a company, Reed Children’s Books, that subsequently evolved into Egmont Children’s Books. I was still selling rights. I had a good friend there, Elke Lacey, whose background was in fiction publishing, but who, for some reason that I’ve now forgotten, was sent a text by an unpublished singer/song-writer and performer. The text was a reworking of a traditional story about an old lady who complains that her house is too small and is advised by the local wise man (a rabbi in the Jewish version of the story) to resolve the problem by taking her animals into her house. The situation gets worse and worse… until the wise man tells her to let all the animals out and she rejoices in how (relatively) commodious her house feels. It was a tightly put-together text with immaculate rhyme and scansion. The author was Julia Donaldson. I suggested that she and Axel, who was by then a friend, would make a good pair: I thought that the absurdity of the animals piled into the house (and, perhaps, behaving in increasingly human ways as a consequence) was something that Axel could capture.

Very sadly – she was very young – Elke died before the book, A Squash and a Squeeze came out, but the partnership that has been the key to the success of both parties was formed.
Some time later, I left the company to become publisher at Macmillan Children’s Books. Alison Green joined me there shortly afterwards. Quite soon after we’d started, Julia Donaldson sent a text to Axel. She knew that Axel and I were friends, and thought that it might be a suitable book for Axel to illustrate and for Macmillan to publish. The text was The Gruffalo. Axel remembers me reading it aloud to him over the kitchen table of the flat in which he lived, and my immediate enthusiasm for the text and sense of its potential. Alison and I knew it was something we wanted to publish and something that Axel would illustrate brilliantly. A multi-million copy seller in the UK and translated into more than 40 languages (I have lost count and so has Axel), The Gruffalo has been adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, and you can buy everything from a Gruffalo suitcase to Gruffalo paper napkins. In the run-up to the last election, several of the new-generation “new man” political leaders showed that they were real family men by including The Gruffalo among their favourite books.


An early sketch of the gruffalo and the mouse, before both were made less scary

That The Gruffalo has been such a success is interesting. There was something absolutely compelling about the text, and it had many of the hallmarks of great Julia Donaldson writing: perfect rhyme and scansion; a real story tightly told; and a narrative with a pattern – in this case the mouse’s three encounters with predators, a central meeting with the gruffalo and then a mirrored reprise of the three meetings with predators. However, I did slightly worry, I will admit, that it would be hard for a child to understand. After all, to really “get” the book you have to know that, at the end, the mouse knows that the gruffalo thinks that the fox (or the owl or the snake) thinks that the mouse is scary, when in fact the mouse knows that the fox (or the owl or the snake) thinks that the gruffalo is scary. That’s pretty complicated even for me to write down, and it requires a child to hold the viewpoints of different creatures in their head at once: the mouse’s, the gruffalo’s and the predator’s.

The famous Sally-Anne test suggests that children under the age of four or five find it difficult to understand that other people (or characters) may not know something that they themselves know. If the simple “Sally-Anne test” baffles such children, then even fewer, surely, would understand the layers of misleading going on in The Gruffalo?

But I have read the book to two year-olds, my own children included, and something about it works even for children who can’t unpick the complexities of the narrative. I think that one of the reasons is Axel’s extraordinarily direct illustrations. We can read the confidence on the face of the mouse as he (or she, but that’s a whole other discussion…!) leads the gruffalo away to meet the other animals. We can see the fear on the face of the snake as it looks at the gruffalo and the first doubt appearing in the gruffalo’s eyes. The book is never really scary for a little child, because the mouse, enacting his or her plan, never looks scared.

I suppose that if I had to say that there was one thing that is the reason for Axel’s success it’s that the characters he draws are extraordinarily expressive. Whether they’re snails or whales, or witches or wise men, or mice or monsters, we immediately know what they are thinking and feeling. Pip, in Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle is a male rabbit. Because he accidentally wees on the floor, he needs to change out of his clothes, but Posy, a female mouse, only offers him dresses. The illustration makes children giggle and adults smile, not just because Axel captures the situation, but because the expression Pip wears as he holds out two alternative dresses perfectly conveys his silent, tight-lipped doubt about both options.

In fact, these Pip and Posy books have very minimal texts and they’re all about feelings. The narrative and the emotion are entirely carried by Axel’s illustration skills. They are, I think, books that would not work in the hands of a lesser illustrator.

I said that the picture of Pip makes children giggle and adults smile, and this element of humour is another source of Axel’s huge success: his illustrations are funny, not just because of the expressions of the characters, but often because of peripheral details away from the main focus – the graffiti on a wall in The Smartest Giant In Town or The Gruffalo’s Child; the squirrel with his paws to his ears as Zog the dragon learns to roar; the scrunched-up face of the crow in the face of the wind that blows strongly enough to blow the hat off the witch in Room on the Broom. The humour is often in small details… and Axel’s work is extraordinarily detailed.

In ways that are hard to pin-point Axel’s art doesn’t quite look British, and this is one of the reasons it stands out in such a recognisable way in British bookshops and libraries. He is, however, working in a line-and-wash (with, in his case, pencil) style that is part of a great British tradition including great illustrators such as Edward Ardizzoni and Quentin Blake. Like Ardizzoni and Blake, Axel’s art has verve, humour, poignancy and, as I’ve said, expressiveness.

Axel’s art also, I think, looks, like Quentin Blake’s, easy, by which I mean it looks effortless. In fact, he can, and does, draw very fast. But he rejects many, many line drawings before they get to the colour stage. His colour work is painstaking and larger double page spreads takes time. The depth of colour is built up with thousands of carefully-judged brush strokes with a layer of pencil on top of that. But when you watch Axel draw and paint, and I have been privileged to see him do so more often than I can count, you are aware, I think, of being in the presence of someone completely in command of his remarkable talents, whether you’re watching the effortless fluidity of the initial lines, or the careful and slow build up of colour. Axel himself doesn’t, I think, always see it like that: I don’t think that Axel is often satisfied with his work – he has, perhaps, a vision of an ideal version of the illustration he’s working on that he can never quite realise.

But however hard he finds it, the creation of Axel’s initial line looks easy to the onlooker. And Axel’s art is “easy” in another way too: it’s easy to understand, easy to respond to. Axel is extraordinarily well-read, and aware of his own and of different illustrative and artistic traditions. Despite this, he does not, I think, illustrate to impress. I see many, many illustrators who are interested in creating artwork that they and other adults find “beautiful”, or “challenging”, or “interesting”. This doesn’t seem to motivate Axel. Instead, his illustration is wholly accessible. There is nothing difficult about it, and that’s where his appeal to children lies.

Axel’s illustrative journey has taken place at a time in which illustrative techniques have changed with extraordinary rapidity: most children’s book illustrators now use digital technology to create, manipulate, enhance or at least correct their images. This is not a tendency that Axel has, so far, embraced at all. He’s resolutely attached not just to inks and pencils but to particular inks and pencils: I’ve had to order some pencils for him from the US quite recently, as he couldn’t find them in the UK, France or Germany, and, though not a complete Luddite, he doesn’t shop online. While digitally-created artwork can have warmth, I think that it’s this very visibly made-by-hand quality – the lines uneven as the nib scratches its way along the page, the water marks visible in a stormy sky – that is another part of the appeal of Axel’s art: while it is utterly modern, it also feels very traditional, warm and personal.

The Gruffalo has been followed in the UK by other books that are also British modern classics: The Snail and the Whale, Room on the Broom, Stickman, The Gruffalo’s Child and many other books, both those created in conjunction with Julia Donaldson and those created with other authors. I’ve been involved in most of them, and, while I am proud of many of the books I have published, they are, I think, the best books I’ve worked on.

Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean - some feedback

Posted by Kate on Jul 05, 2011

Two weeks ago, we published the third of Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson’s funny, clever and innovative new Mega Mash-up series of Draw-Your-Own-Adventure books, Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean.


An alien and a mad scientist eye one another suspiciously.

We always want to know what people think about our books and apps, whoever they are.

This time, we have had some terrific feedback from a friendly bookseller. Matt Black (pictured doodling above) is Children’s Bookseller at Waterstone’s High Street Birmingham. We know him from Twitter (where he rejoices in the name @marquiscarabas). Here’s what he says:

Mega Mash-Up: Aliens v Mad Scientists Under The Ocean is by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson and well, you when you add to the pictures! If you haven’t seen any of the previous books in this fab series, then you are in for a treat. The whole point of these great stories is to bring the reader in on the action: you get to make up parts of the narrative as the story progresses, creating and illustrating elements of the story yourself. Using pencils, pens and felt tips (with hints on how you might want to do so from the authors) you can fill in the gaps in the story and pictures and make it your own little adventure.

This makes a great alternative to the usual doodle books available, which don’t have stories. Here, the narrative adds so much more to the book, making interacting with it much more fun. Also the illustration is very loose and simple – very child-friendly – which, I think, helps to encourage children to draw and to use their own imagination.

I love the idea of aliens and mad scientists being put together in one book set under the ocean: just such a good idea! Why just doodle, when you can create?”

We really like to hear from booksellers, whose role in getting our books into the hands of readers is so important… but it’s also great to hear from readers – or their parents – themselves. Yesterday, we got an email from a mum who had taken the trouble to contact Nosy Crow via our website after Nikalas and Tim did an event at her child’s school. This is what she says:

“Hi I just wanted to send you guys a quick email to say thank you for doing a talk at my son’s school, Bellenden Primary School, last Friday. He was shy about talking to you after school when we bought a couple of your books, but then was full of excitement and enthusiasm telling me all about your talk to the children and about your drawings, and all weekend he has been drawing aliens, asteroids, smelly socks and sound effects like “ZAP!”: he is totally inspired and loves your website and your books. The kitchen table is covered with his drawings and I will keep them all.

It does make a difference when you talk in a school. It gets kids excited about reading and drawing as well as making for a bit of fun!”

The first books in the Mega Mash-up series have reprinted, and rights have been sold to the US, France, Germany, Korea and Israel so far. We publish the fourth book, Pirates v Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum, in September, and three more next year.

Is there a place on UK publishers' lists for new British illustration talent?

Posted by Kate on Jun 13, 2011

Young British illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon has said that new British illustration talent is being forced to go abroad in search of work as the UK picture book market becomes increasingly conservative.

Comments on The Bookseller article reporting Frann Preston-Gannon’s remarks point out that library cutbacks and the shrinking of the independent bookshop sector are a factor in this increased conservatism in the UK market, and I do think that both libraries and independent bookshops have, historically, been particularly strong and important supporters of more experimental illustration styles in the UK.

However, from the point of view of an independent children’s book pulbisher, I’d say a couple of things:

The first is that the UK has always looked outside the UK to launch new artists. Selling co-editions (i.e. co-ordinating a single printing of full-colour books in several different languages for different countries so that some of the costs of the printing are spread across many copies, and each country benefits from a sort of “bulk discount” with the printer) has been at the heart of the picture book’s financial viability for over two decades. If opportunities for artists exist outside the UK, even if the UK market itself might not be a big market for a particular artist, UK publishers are often keen to find them, and to support new talent with international sales. So a book originating in the UK may sell better abroad. At Nosy Crow, and at other UK publishers, the UK print-run can be just a tenth of the total print-run – the rest is made up of co-editions.

Second, there are many illustrators who, initially, frightened the UK retail horses at the early stages of their career, but who are now well and truly part of the illustration establishment. Axel Scheffler is a good example. When I first published Axel, I was told his work was looked “too continental European”; that the eyes were too goggly and the noses too big. The first UK print run of The Gruffalo was very small – perhaps 1,500 or 2,000 copies, I seem to remember, and, whatever it was, UK sales were smaller! We persisted (as did Axel, of course) and great, distinctive, witty illustration won through.

Third, at Nosy Crow, we’re always looking for new illustrators. We’ve a small picture book list, but over the next 18 months it will include, among other new illustrators:

Nadia Shireen who graduated in 2010, and whose art complements a dark and funny text (involving characters being eaten) called The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock publishing in January 2012 (her first book, Good Little Wolf, published by Random House, is out now);

Nicola O’Byrne who graduates this summer and whose book, Open Very Carefully is a witty celebration of the printed book that publishes in autumn 2012.

Of course there are some publishers who play very safe, and there are others who are a bit more edgy. Not being part of their decision-making process, I can’t speak for them. But I can speak for Nosy Crow. We’re somewhere in the middle, I’d say. We need to feel that an artists work will appeal to a child (rather than appeal just to an adult), and that’s really our starting point. we have to feel that there’s a market for an illustrator’s work somewhere in the world, especially if we think that the UK market won’t rush to embrace a particular style. We don’t always agree: as in so many areas of publishing, we’re making subjective judgements based on a complicated mix of taste, experience and knowledge.

The book market – UK and international – doesn’t owe us (or any particular artist for that matter), a living: we have to publish books that are commercially viable, but, at Nosy Crow, we’re always looking for new talent, and we’re willing to take risks on it.

And we congratulate Frann Preston-Gannon and wish her the best of luck, wherever she publishes.

Julia Donaldson: Waterstone's Children's Laureate

Posted by Kate on Jun 10, 2011

On Tuesday it was announced that Julia Donaldson is the UK’s new Children’s Laureate.

Julia writes fiction for older children (The Princess Mirror-belle books, The Giants and the Joneses and Dinosaur Diary) and has written a dark and challenging novel for teenagers (Running on the Cracks), but she is best known for her rhyming (though not always rhyming: The Smartest Giant doesn’t rhyme except at the end) picture book texts, of which the best known is The Gruffalo, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has been the illustrator of her most successful picture books.

I felt, vicariously, very proud: I’ve been responsible for publishing over twenty of Julia’s books over the years. I first got to know Julia’s work in the early 1990s. She sent the lyrics of a song to Methuen (which has been absorbed into Egmont) where I was working as a rights director. An editor there, Elke Lacey, liked it. I suggested that a friend, who I’d met when he was illustrating a couple of fiction titles for Faber and Faber when I was selling rights there, might be the man to do the pictures. He was Axel Scheffler. The book was A Squash and a Squeeze. Elke was a fiction editor, and hadn’t worked on picture books and she and I worked on A Squash and a Squeeze together. But then she got ill and died, ridiculously young, just before the book was published.

A little later, I moved to Macmillan as a publisher, and Alison Green came with me as editorial director of picture books. One day soon after we’d started, Julia sent Axel the text of The Gruffalo, and, we decided to publish it. It was the resumption of what became a truly astonishingly successful partnership, though Julia’s texts were also wonderfully illustrated by other illustrators including Nick Sharratt, Julia Monks and David Roberts. After ten years, Alison and I moved to Scholastic, and Axel and Julia’s new books were published under the Alison Green Books imprint there, though Julia continued to publish other picture books with Macmillan and has had some books published by other publishers too. The first of several Scholastic Julia-and-Axel books was Tiddler, and the most recent one, The Highway Rat, comes out this autumn.

Julia is many things. She has a command of the combination of rhyme and story that is unparalleled, and that she produces excellent book after excellent book is breathtaking. She’s passionate about her work and a true perfectionist. She’s an absolutely brilliant and indefatigable performer with as much of an affinity with music (she introduced me to this, which is one of the many reasons I am eternally grateful to her) and drama as she has with words. She’s honest, outspoken (even if it’s sometimes about subjects on which we don’t entirely agree!) and approachable. She is, quite properly, famous.

I think Julia will be a highly-visible and committed advocate for reading, for printed books and – at this time of real need – for libraries, and, I am sure, for other things too, as her Laureateship evolves. She’ll be great.

Sarah Massini's Zac and Zeb come to life at Nosy Crow

Posted by Kate Burns on Jun 03, 2011

As soon as Sarah’s agent showed me these loveable pre-school characters, I knew I wanted to publish them. Lucky for me then that the rest of the Nosy Crows shared my enthusiasm! And, since having met up again with Sarah to see how she is getting on with our first Zac and Zeb book, my enthusiasm has gone into overdrive, as has Steph’s. So much so, I thought I’d better become a true Nosy Crowite, and learn how to blog. Help, Tom, is this right?

Sarah Massini and I had crafted the first story together, and then it was down to her to think about how the story might work illustratively and graphically on the page. She rocked up with a sketch book simply overflowing with thumbnail sketches for the whole book – about three times over. Suddenly, these two characters were coming to life in front of our eyes – it was so exciting! The great thing about working with an artist like Sarah is that she is simply overflowing with creative ideas and vision, as well as having a fantastic sense of graphic design and how a story should work as a visual narrative for young children. It’s so wonderful to be picking out the best ideas from a whole wealth of ideas, and I do believe that the best picture books come out of these kind of meetings. It’s often tempting to cram every single good idea into one book but that might lead to a lack of visual clarity, and Sarah was fantastically open to us cherry picking through her thumbnails. Thank you, Sarah, and at least we know the second Zac and Zeb book will also be a visual delight.

Philip Ardagh's event at the Hay Festival

Posted by Kate on Jun 02, 2011

I went to Philip Ardagh’s event at the Hay Festival yesterday. He was talking mainly, but far from exclusively, about his latest Grubtown Tales book for Faber and Faber, When Bunnies Turn Bad.

Honestly, I’d have gone even if he hadn’t been a Nosy Crow author (we’re publishing the first in his new series, The Grunts, next year, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler). His events are masterclasses in high-energy, interactive, stand-up comedy and for a child-and-parent audience, that weave together the story of how Philip became an author with lots of great scatalogical and tongue-in-cheek self-aggrandising material that had the child sitting one along from me actually falling off her chair she was laughing so much.

However professional and brilliantly prepared Philip is, he can’t predict everything, and a high-point of the event was him putting his foot (clad, as everyone in the audience knows, in size 16 shoes) through the set of one of Hay’s two swankiest event spaces:

Philip worked the incident into the event so brilliantly that even the technicians in charge of the venue were laughing in the aisles. Here he is with a triangle of broken stage after the event:

I, for one, can’t wait for the Philip–Axel The Grunts double-act.

The Three Little Pigs app for iPad is #1 in New & Noteworthy on UK App Store

Posted by Kate on May 27, 2011

Today’s a big day for all of us at Nosy Crow: our The Three Little Pigs app app is the Number 1 New and Noteworthy app in the UK App Store. It’s on the homepage! This is a real recognition of the app’s quality and innovation. The Three Little Pigs is Nosy Crow’s first app, and it has already been reviewed amazingly well, as you’ll see from the list of reviews in the Media Mentions section of our Media Kit page.

The Three Little Pigs has
appeared on the home pages of 12 continental European countries already it’s great to see it here in the UK App Store. Not only is the UK a really important market for our apps, but it is also “our” store: the one we buy our apps in ourselves.

The app also tops the “What’s Hot” list in book apps on the UK store:

Huge congratulations are due to Ed, who illustrated and animated the app; Will who did the engineering work; Robin Beanland who composed the music; Ali Muirden from Creative Content who worked with Lance England on the audio; the kids who did the voices, particularly Freya Wilson who provided the narration; and, in a last-but-far-from-least slot, Deb who managed the project and worked on the UK marketing.

We’re pleased and proud.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event at the Lincoln Book Festival

Posted by Kate on May 16, 2011

I went up to Lincoln on Saturday to talk to a group of children’s authors and illustrators (and agent Elizabeth Roy, many of them aspiring to be published. The event was organised by writer and blogger Addy Farmer (pictured here with me) for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

It was hard to know what to cover (and Kate had a scary 90 minutes to fill), other than pointing people in the direction of our “submissions guidelines” and to telling them we prefer to receive submissions digitally, which is the work of a minute. But I talked about how Nosy Crow got started, and what’s important to us: identifying the core audience for each book or app that we do and trying to ensure that every aspect of that book or app is right for that audience; bringing our own creative energies and skill to projects as we work with authors and illustrators to shape and make books and apps; embracing digital technology both as a means of creating new reading experiences and communicating with people about them; and thinking internationally, and accessing international markets through our partners in key countries.

Of course, most of the people there really wanted to know what Nosy Crow was “looking for” and that’s a hugely difficult thing to define.

But here’s a shot at it:

Print books:

Fiction for 0 – 12, bearing in mind that a lot of the texts for board and novelty books are are produced in-house.
“Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence.
Strong commercial concept-driven or character-led series novels and picture books.
Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books, but nothing too intensely high-brow.
Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty.

Apps:

While some of our future apps may be based on our books, Nosy Crow is currently focused on commissioning apps that start as apps, not as books. We are interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and really understand how, touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story experience. As we have engineers on staff, we don’t need people who can code apps, and we don’t need to see a ready-made app. Instead, we want to see really great ideas and really great art (and need art that is created digitally in layers for this medium).

I got to visit glorious Lincoln Cathedral:

And I even saw a little of the top part of the city (here are Addy and Elizabeth Roy in front of something lovely and half timbered) before leaving.

I got a couple of nice comments on Twitter, and Addy blogged about it.

Axel Scheffler talking about Pip and Posy on the radio

Posted by Kate on Apr 15, 2011

Today Axel was interviewed by 12 local radio stations about the first two books in his new Pip and Posy series, Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter and Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle , which have just been published.

Lots of interviewers wanted to talk to him about his best-known books, The Gruffalo, which he illustrated and Julia Donaldson wrote and which I published at Macmillan perhaps almost 12 years ago. The book is regularly described as a modern classic and is the basis of an Oscar-nominated short film, not to mention a merchandising phenomenon, so this isn’t terribly surprising.

The Pip and Posy books are about a boy rabbit called Pip and a girl mouse called Posy. They all explore a bad thing that happens, that makes either Pip and Posy very sad, or angry or scared, and then the books show how they resolve those problems. So in Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, Posy takes Pip’s scooter without asking and then she falls off it. Even though Pip was furious with Posy, he gives her a hug, and, though Posy’s hurt her knee, she cheers up and they both go and play in the sand pit. Though the stories are short, Axel wanted to communicate in the illustrations how angry Pip is and how sad and sorry Posy is. In Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle, Pip has an accident and does a wee on the floor. He’s really embarrassed, but Posy makes it all OK. He borrows some clothes, and the next time he has to do a wee, he does one in the potty. So every story has an low point – and “oh, dear” moment – and then, at the end, a high point – a “hooray” moment.

Axel’s ability to capture, for example, the expression on the face of a male rabbit asked to choose between two alternative dresses to wear after a puddle-on-the-floor accident is one of the reasons we think he’s utterly brilliant!

Here’s Axel talking to BBC radio Humberside:

The interview, together with interviews on BBC Humberside, BBC Ulster, BBC Bristol, BBC Wiltshire and BBC Cumbria, will be broadcast today, with others following over the next few days.

Pip and Posy books by Axel Scheffler published ... and you can win signed copies

Posted by Deb on Apr 12, 2011

What with one thing and another, we’ve not mentioned some seriously big Nosy news: the first two books in Axel Scheffler’s Pip and Posy series, Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter and Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle are out now.

And they look lovely:

Kate’s been describing the books – rather tongue-in-cheek, of course – as “when bad things happen to good toddlers”. In each story, a bad thing happens – whether it’s that Pip forgets he needs a wee, and wets his trousers, or Posy snatches Pip’s scooter without asking and then falls off – but between them, Pip and Posy are able to sort things out and, together, go on to do something nice and happy. So they very much reflect the roller-coaster of pre-schoolers’ emotional lives.

Pip and Posy’s first outing was, in fact, at the Discover Centre in Stratford East and you can read about it here, but now they’re properly published. Axel nipped into Waterstone’s flagship store in Piccadilly to draw on their blackboards to celebrate and will be talking about Pip and Posy at Stratford, Hay, Edinburgh and Bath Literary Festivals this year.

We’ve sold rights to the USA/Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Holland already, with many more languages to follow.

We’re proud of all of the books and apps we publish and of all of our authors, but it is the case that we were unusually and particularly lucky as a new independent publishing company to be able to persuade Axel to illustrate for us, and we’re hugely grateful to him for his leap of faith.

We’re marking the release of Pip and Posy with a competition to win a signed set of books.

So to be in with a chance of winning, please post a comment on our Facebook page or in the Comments field below telling us why you love Axel’s artwork. The winner will be picked at random. The closing date is Friday 15 April.

Good luck!

Selling books at the Bologna Book Fair

Posted by Kate on Apr 05, 2011

The Bologna Book Fair is many things, but the main thing it is is a market for rights and co-edition selling.

As a publisher, you have a grant of rights from an author and an illustrator, including the right to publish their work as a book. Sometimes – always if you’re Nosy Crow – you have rights that you do not want to use yourself, but are able to sell to someone else. So Nosy Crow doesn’t itself publish in Finnish, but we know several Finnish publishers who like the books we do and who would like to publish them in Finnish. So we negotiate a deal with them, and the author/illustrator gets a share of the money we make when we sell the rights.

If you are publishing illustrated books – and over half of Nosy Crow’s list is illustrated in full-colour – there is another element to rights selling: building a co-edition run. There are certain costs associated with printing a book which are the same whether you print one copy or 100,000 copies, and it makes sense to spread those costs over as many books as possible. So the aim of the game is to say to the Finnish publisher that not only will you sell them the rights to publish the book in Finnish, but you will print the books for them in Finnish too.

This makes perfect sense, because the pictures in, for example, a picture book are printed first, and then the text of the picture book is printed on top of the pictures, so you can print a whole quantity of pictures and then put the UK text on a quarter of that quantity, the French text on a quarter of them, the German text on a quarter of them, and, let’s say, the Finnish text on a quarter of them (of course, the quantity doesn’t divide into quarters because different language markets are of different sizes – Germany’s bigger than Finland – but you get the idea). Each country’s version of the book is called a co-edition.

So, in the course of the fair, two of us Nosy Crows – Adrian and me – were hard at it selling for three-and-a-half days. Between us, we had 90 pre-booked appointments with 90 different publishers from 20 countries… and a few appointments with film companies and other people too.

We were able to finalise a number of rights deals on books that had been in discussion in the course of the weeks leading up to the fair, and we have lots of interest to follow up for newer books that we had been working on in the weeks and months before the book fair that we’ll publish in 2012.

It’s bizarre to think that a queue for the loo (and the queue for the women’s loos at Bologna is always long) might make the difference between having an appointment that lasts 30 minutes and one that lasts 20 minutes… and that therefore, because you lost 10 minutes of an appointment, you might fail to make a deal that would have worked for both of you.

The skill of selling is, therefore, to cut to the chase and not waste time talking about books – however much you love them yourself – that are failing to ignite the enthusiasm of the person opposite you.

Of course, the longer you’ve been selling rights, the better you know markets, publishing companies within those markets and individuals within those publishing companies, so it’s easier to know what books to show to whom. And it’s certainly the case that there are people that I meet at fairs that I would count as friends, with whom I have been talking about children’s books for almost a quarter of a century. There are people whose reaction I can predict before I show them a book, and many people with whose own tastes and views of publishing I feel real affinity, despite the fact that we operate in different companies and countries. (And since we are nothing if not honest in this blog, there are people I have absolutely failed to connect with over years of book fair meetings. It’s a joy of being an independent company that I just don’t book an appointment to see them any more…)

So, as well as all the excitement of speaking at the Tools of Change Conference and as well as our apps deal with Gallimard and Carlsen, we got on with the solid, unflashy, necessary and very satisfying thing we do every day: we sold print books.

It's Nosy Crow's first birthday!

Posted by Kate on Feb 22, 2011

We are one today.

I’ve written about it about it for The Bookseller online, but you can read about it here too:

I’m dating the start of the company from our announcement of our existence, which we sent to the trade press and others on 22 February 2010. In some ways, we didn’t feel quite ready to announce, but our hand was forced by two things. The first was that I had been asked to judge the British Book Awards and had given my job title as “MD of Nosy Crow” for an announcement of the make-up of the judging panels that came out in the week of 22 February 2010. The second was that I’d been messing around with Facebook on the evening of 21 February, working out how to set up a fan page and invite people to it, when I inadvertently sent out a message to my entire address book for a profile that referred to Nosy Crow.

We had, from memory, just three projects signed at the time we announced, and a stated intention to acquire from established talent and from newcomers. We also clearly stated that we intended to create apps from scratch. There were four of us – me, co-founders Camilla Reid and Adrian Soar, and Imogen Blundell – in a single room in an office complex in a Victorian school building.

One year on…

We have three print titles published. In mid-January, we published Small Blue Thing, a debut romantic fantasy that was written by the colleague of the headhunter I consulted when I was thinking I’d get the hell out of the industry. In mid-February, we published Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert, innovative two-colour combinations of fiction and doodle-book drawing on popular themes by a team who came to us because I’d worked with one of them at Scholastic when he was a designer there.

This year, we will publish 23 print titles for children from 0 to 14, most acquired since February 22 2010. True to our original vision, these are books that children will really enjoy reading: when we acquire a book, we do so with a strong sense of who it’s for. Our books are by established names like Axel Scheffler and Penny Dale and from newer exciting talents. The list – and we’ll be announcing the first six months of 2012 before Bologna – will grow in 2012.

We have one e-book published. Small Blue Thing is our only black-and-white book so far and was the first ebook we created with the support of Faber Factory. I decided that we’d focus our digital aspirations on illustrated publishing and apps.

This year, we will publish 5 straight ebooks.

We have one app published. Last week, we published a cutting-edge story book app, The Three Little Pigs, to quite remarkable reviews (including one from FutureBook, The Bookseller’s digital publishing blog).

This year, we will publish at least two more highly-interactive, cutting-edge, multimedia apps.

From the beginning, we were interested in using websites and social media to communicate with potential consumers – mainly parents in our case – as well as with potential suppliers in the form of authors and illustrators and customers. We launched with a lively website that has evolved over time but remains true to our original plan. We wanted to create something with real personality, that was professional but also warm, honest and informal… and that was updated constantly: we blog several times a week to provide a window into what we do. In our first year, we’ve had a over a quarter of a million page-views from over 20,000 visitors in 129 countries, and, since we’ve had books and apps on the market, visitor numbers have risen sharply. Thank you very much for visiting us.

We’ve also used Twitter (@nosycrow and @NosyCrowApps) and Nosy Crow on Facebook to connect to the rest of the world. And we built two websites for our first two publications: www.smallbluething.com, featuring a cinema-style trailer and www.megamash-up.com, featuring videos and book-linked activities.

We’ve sold in our first list via Bounce and have promotions with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ELC/Mothercare, WH Smith, WH Smith Travel, Waterstones and Foyles. Our books are in shops from museum giftshops to Toys ‘R’ Us.
We’ve been active internationally too. In May, Allen and Unwin begins distributing our books in Australia and New Zealand. So far, we’ve sold rights in our books to Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, China, Korea and Israel with more good news lined up for announcement over the next few weeks.

There are 11 of us now. We’ve been able to attract the most extraordinary talent to work with us, from games coding genius, Will Bryan, to picture book supremo, Kate Burns. Most of us are parents; several of us work part-time; and several of us work from home and only come into our (slightly bigger) open-plan office occasionally.

There have been challenges and disappointments, and there will undoubtedly be more ahead! There has been constant, grinding, sometimes dull hard work.

We worry – of course we do – about the book market and our place in the print and digital future that is unfolding. But it’s been fun.

It’s been a good year!

Things we haven’t loved so much about this year:

  • Queuing at the post-office.
  • Being responsible for all the boring stuff like printer maintenance.
  • Cold-calling people without a big name behind us.

Things we’ve loved:

  • Being able to buy great books from authors and illustrators we want to work with as they develop.
  • Being able to act quickly and decisively.
  • Selling our books!
  • The conversations that have opened up online between us and readers, parents, creators and sellers.
  • Working with great colleagues in a relaxed and fun environment fuelled by cake.

Mega Mash-up team give a Romasaurian feast

Posted by Kate on Feb 21, 2011

The Mega Mash-Up author/illustrator team, Nikalas Catlow (far right) and Tim Wesson (next to him, first from right) gathered together a handful of privileged friends in London yesterday to serve up a Romasaurian feast in celebration of the publication of Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars and Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert.

Romasauria is the glass-domed city in Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars which Romans and Dinosaurs bicker and co-exist until their civilisation is threatened by an asteroid spotted heading towards Mars by Augustus Astronomus.

Food for the feast included mooncow and poogoid stew (no poogoids, were, however, harmed in the making of this stew, as, not being on Mars, Nikalas was forced to substitute chorizo), and the tablecloth was printed out spreads of the book. We were equipped with pens so that we could do what everyone should do when faced with a page of Mega Mash-up: read the story, and complete the illustration and fill in the speech-bubbles. I am happy to say that my camel, in the desert that the Robots and Gorillas race across to settle scores, drew particular compliments.

The books have been out for a week or so, and are being promoted in Sainsbury’s and Waterstones. They are quite unique in their combination of fiction and doodling.

We’ve had a couple of reviews so far:

Parents in Touch said: “This new series from Nosy Crow is an innovative and clever combination of novel and doodle book and I think is an absolutely brilliant idea for reluctant or struggling readers, especially that notoriously hard market – boys… Zany stories and quirky illustrations make these books great fun.”

Sarah’s Book Reviews wrote: “There is plenty of room for a child’s own imagination… I will be recommending it to friends as a great idea for their children.”

There’s a fun, interactive dedicated website, too.

Making The Three Little Pigs app: Q&A with illustrator/animator Ed Bryan

Posted by Deb on Feb 20, 2011

What’s it like to make an app? We thought you’d never ask! Recently I talked to Ed Bryan about his experience creating our debut iPad title: The Three Little Pigs. Ed’s background is in video games and before joining Nosy Crow as Head of Apps Development – Creative, he was an Art Director at Rare Ltd (Microsoft Games Studio). For the past 15 years Ed has worked on a variety of successful games titles as a 3D artist, animator and illustrator, including Kinect Sports, Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata and Grabbed by the Ghoulies.

1. What sort of products have you developed in the past and how does creating an app compare?

The games I’ve worked on in the past have all been made by more than two people! The first Banjo-Kazooie game for the Nintendo 64 was built with 14 of us, whereas my last game, Kinect Sports had a team of around 70!

As the teams get bigger and bigger, you find yourself doing less hands-on creative work and more leading and directing. With The Three Little Pigs (TTLP), I was back to doing everything, which is scary and exciting.

Something that TTLP has in common with most of my previous work, is a focus on characters, and a younger audience. I want to make things that are beautiful,, charming, funny, have high production values and attention to detail.

2. What was the biggest creative challenge of this process?

The scariest thing for me was having to draw and colour in so much art! The technical challenges of building the app are things I understand well. But proving to myself that I was up to the job of illustrating the whole story on my own was something else!

At the start I was determined to try and produce art that had the look and feel of a picture book. I wanted new poses for each character as they appeared throughout the story. Everything had to be unique. I didn’t want it to end up looking like a video game. Against this artistic desire was the constant thinking about how on earth I was going to take the art and turn it into the 3D scenes that appear in the app, and how I should draw the characters so I’d be able to animate them well.

3. How did you approach the illustration? Was there a character you drew first and then the rest flowed from there?

In March 2010, when we had our first conversations about making apps, we made a quick mock-up of the wolf knocking at the door of the brick house. Amazingly, he changed very little; I think for the final story I just gave him a new pair of trousers!

A very early version of the sister pig (Pig 2) appeared in the demo too. But she was initially a boy!

When work started properly, I worked through the story and sketched how I thought each scene would look. Once we had all settled on that, I was able to start illustrating.

The first complete scene was the pig family at home. This was a good place to start as it gave me a chance to get most of the characters out of the way and get the feel for how the app would look.

For all the other scenes, I took the original storyboard sketches, worked through what interactions would take place and started to build up the final art on the computer. I had to remember that in the app you can look behind objects, so I’d had to make sure that I coloured in everything, even if you couldn’t really see it in the original 2D illustration.

4. Do you have a favorite character or scene?

Truthfully, I love them all. I think we were able to create individual personalities for each character, not only with how they look, but also the way they move and the way they all talk.

I like how the older brother pig (Pig 1) heads the football (soccer ball) in the final scene; how the sister pig dances a lot; how the confident little brother pig (Pig 3) builds his brick house, and how poor Mr. Wolf gets stuck in the chimney – these always make me smile. It was a lot of fun putting it all together.

My favourite scene? The football (or soccer) scene worked really well, and gives a little nod to Banjo-Tooie, a game I worked on a long time ago. I think the way the houses blow over came out rather well too.

5. What was the hardest part to draw or animate?

Getting the wolf up the ladder was tricky. No matter how I animated him, it never quite looked like the image I had in my head.

I had a few scary weeks where I put off illustrating the third little pig’s kitchen. I’d already had one go, but it was dreadful. I spent some time doing other bits and pieces for the app, but eventually I had to face the fear, and get on with that last scene.

6. Have your children seen the app along the way? How have they reacted? Do you incorporate their input?

Yes, both of my children saw the app taking shape and always wanted to see the latest build. It’s always tricky showing unfinished work to anyone and having to explain that the bit they want to play with isn’t working yet, or is broken at the moment.

The watershed moment came when my eldest son, who is five and a half years old, was able to read through from start to finish for the first time. Seeing him with the app made me confident that other children would enjoy what we were trying to make.

What I found very reassuring was that both children would always be asking to read ‘Little Pigs’. My eldest would offer advice too, such as putting a big arrow pointing up the chimney, so the reader would know where the wolf was going to come down!

Towards the end of the project, both children helped to test the app too. It’s remarkable how quickly a 2 year old can break a piece of software! This final stage of development is vital, and having children using the app regularly helped us to tune and polish the final product.

Click on the App Store icon below to get The Three Little Pigs for iPad. iPhone and iPod touch versions will be available in early March.

All things Bright and beautiful

Posted by Camilla on Dec 09, 2010

‘Tis the season to be jolly and the crows got off to a good start at The Bright Agency Christmas party, a cheery affair attended by the great and the good, including Klaus Flugge of Andersen Press (who, pictured above with Kate B, Camilla and a cunningly placed Christmas wreath has something of the Angel Gabriel about him!)

Emily Bolam, Nicola O’ Byrne, Benji Davies and Ben Mantle were among the many illustrators who raised a glass to Vicki Wilden-Lebrecht and her team. Vicki, in turn, gave an eloquent and heart-felt speech in which she paid tribute to the agency’s artists and staff.

Sunny Hay

Posted by Imogen on Jun 03, 2010

Tuesday wasn’t a festival day for Kate, but a work day. We finalised the acquisition of a novel – more news later – and caught up with manuscripts.

She made up for it with events on Wednesday: Eleanor Updale and Sharon Creech, Nick Sharratt and Guardian Children’s Book Prize longlisted Ally Kennan: all old friends that Kate’s published. Their events were – in ways that reflect their personalities and the age of the children to whom they appeal – entirely different. Ally Kennan, for example, was full of advice for aspiring authors, talking about about writing 50,000 words in November and the need to “reel the muse in with hard graft”, while Nick Sharratt had the audience dancing in the aisles to the Pants song after we’d composed fish poems – we shouted out alternative rhyme words and then voted for them.

In between events, festival going children lounged and read on deckchairs in the sun (pictured). A happy day in happy Hay.

And the winners are ...

Posted by Kate on Mar 22, 2010

As we set off for the Bologna Book Fair (Ryanair, thank goodness – we don’t spaff our dosh on BA tickets, oh, no!), we are able to tell you that Quentin Blake (illustration © Quentin Blake) came out top in our survey of favourite illustrators. First published (in Punch) at the age of 16, he has illustrated more than 300 books, won awards including a CBE, and was the UK’s first Children’s Laureate. Here’s a link to his official site

Also in the top five were:

So hurray for Quentin!! And, of course, hooray for all the rest of the UK’s great illustrators. Of course, we don’t pretend that the survey was terribly scientific: the result’s based what 40 of you said. Thanks very, very much to those of you who participated.

Wish us luck in Bologna! We are excited as very, very excited people about being back there and seeing so many friends and books. We also look forward to loads of pasta; prosecco at 2.00 am in the Pink Bar; looking at Furla bags (but not being able to afford them); and buying top agent Ed Victor mortadella (it’s a long story…) on the last day.

Bologna coming soon

Posted by Kate on Mar 15, 2010

There’s a classic Arthur Ransome book called We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, and We Didn’t Mean To Go To Bologna… but Kate and Camilla are going anyway. Plan A was to go to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair properly when we had books – so in 2011 – but we had so many requests for appointments that we couldn’t keep up any semblance of professionalism without at least a table, so Imogen got us one on the joint PA stand in Hall 25, because that’s just the kind of thing she can do.

Kate spent all of the weekend and all of today getting our first novel, Small Blue Thing ready to go the to printers, so we have proofs for Bologna. But it’s done! We hope those of you who will read it like it as much as we do. It’s such a great blend of all that’s best in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Rough Guide to London and Twilight, with more on top.

Anyway, Kate can’t possibly do another post about editing (though there’s a whole domestic riff about boiler failure that might perk things up a bit), because she’s only just done one, so… just do the Who’s your favourite illustrator survey

This reminder to do the survey provides the perfect opportunity to introduce you to this really lovely crow by Christine Pym ( © Christine Pym 2010), sent to us by that charming James McKnight from the Bright Agency. It is only (hint, hint) the second crow picture we’ve had so far.

Your favourite children's book illustrator

Posted by Kate on Mar 12, 2010

We’ve received two illustrations to mark the launch of Nosy Crow. The first we received was this one, from one of our favourite illustrators, Axel Scheffler.

Thanks to those of you who suggested favourite illustrators in public comments to the web, and to those of you who wrote in directly, after yesterday’s House of Illustration post.

We said we’d do a Who’s your favourite children’s book illustrator survey, so click on the link to let us know what you think. The illustrators listed are all ones that appeared in the original post, or that you’ve suggested to us subsequently. Of course, we think all the illustrators we’re working with are great, but we felt that it wouldn’t be entirely democratic if our own choices were over-represented. We’ll tell you who your top five are next week.

Kate went to the hilariously-named Society of Bookmen dinner last night with that nice Carly Cook from Headline. The debate was, “We (or this house, or something formal like that) believe that celebrity publishing is good for the booktrade.” Carly knows her celebrity onions and no mistake. It’s a funny old society, and Kate was told that she can’t tell you the result of the debate, or she’ll have to kill you. She thought that the speakers – Mark Booth for and Liz Thompson against – seemed to hold views that were pretty similar, actually … but, of course, she’s bound by the rules of the society to conceal from you exactly what those views were. In fact, what with the secrecy thing, it all turns out to be less good post-fodder than she’d hoped …!