And today we’re very pleased to share a piece by Chris on the development of the story, which you can read below.
Thinking of a good story isn’t easy. I need to have a lot of ideas because most will end up unworkable or underwhelming. Very occasionally a good one will pop up almost fully formed and that makes me happy. But mostly they’re neither really bad nor really good, they’re often just interesting set-ups, characters or a situation. So I bark up lots of proverbial trees, asking lots of ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’ until ideas open up or close down. Sometimes I spend ages thinking about a thing and getting quite optimistic, thinking it’s going somewhere, only to realise all I’ve got is a series of consecutive events but no real story.
Out of Nowhere started like this. I’d imagined two friends and one of them is taken away or lost and the other has to go and find or save them and then maybe there’s some sort of twist. But that would’ve just been a simple adventure with a really obvious goal and wouldn’t mean anything beyond that.
Original beetle and butterfly sketch
But the premise kept bouncing around (possibly for a year or so). Eventually I thought about metamorphosis rather than disappearance. Someone or something changing rather than going away, and the remaining person feeling confused and alone. And hoping they’d be able to find what they had before or overcome it and move on.
Around this time my daughter had moved on from the tiny village school to the very big one near town and a lot of things had changed. Her group of friends had got split up and she was feeling a bit lost and nostalgic for the previous year and even for times and friends from way before. I felt really sad for her too and could empathise with her longing for what seemed like simpler, happier times.
It only occurred to me after Out of Nowhere was finally worked out and written that that’s what the story was really about. But conveying it was completely subconscious and it really showed me how you sometimes have no idea what your mind is up to or what you’re really thinking about when you think you’re trying to write a story. At the time I was constantly mulling over this idea and I didn’t realise that a particular preoccupation in the real world had seeped in again (I suppose they always do) and told me what the story should be.
In essence it’s about friendship and how it changes and how we think we might have lost it. And how we can’t always know what’s going on in others’ lives and may never do. Hopefully friends can find each other again, maybe not quite the same as they were before, but still friends.
The story as published is pretty much as it was when first sent to Nosy Crow, but it took at least a year beforehand of thinking and scribbling to get to that point. The artwork took its lead very much from the initial sketches I sent with the text. They were really quick pencil roughs and, without the pressure of being ‘The Artwork’, felt natural and not overdone.
Rough sketches of the crow and frog
Lou and Nia at Nosy Crow really liked this sketchy style, so we tried to develop that look without it becoming too sophisticated or contrived. That, as always, was difficult – working a lot on something but having the results look like they were effortless and just flew out of the end of your pencil without a care.
In fact, a lot of the hard work in my illustration comes from trying to recreate the feel of what I did right at the start. It’s bit like musicians’ ‘red light fever’. You set up in a recording studio and run through a thing five times perfectly, then the tape rolls and you either mess up in the first bar or get to the end without disaster but it’s over-cautious and lacking energy, just because you know this is ‘a take’ and you’re supposed to get it right.
Rough sketches of the frog (left and centre) and the final version (right)
But with Lou and Nia’s ever-patient direction, encouragement and expertise (this is no exaggeration, they really are amazing), the characters and environment, the textures and props were all worked on, so that they had distinct enough styles without shouting for attention. The features and stances of the animals were honed until they seemed to communicate just the right emotion.
Development of the environment and mushrooms
I’m really proud of Out of Nowhere – it looks just how I would have wanted it to when I first scribbled it out. But even though there might only be one name on the front, any book is a massively collaborative process and it’s always a pleasure to work with people you trust and that have the same feelings and enthusiasm for a good story, and one that hopefully rings true for children and grown-ups.
Take a look inside the book below:
Buy the book.