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Monday, 20 February 2017

Making Pigeon P.I.

Since my second picture book Pigeon P.I. is published in but two weeks, I thought I'd put together a little how-it-was-made.

Pigeon P.I. started life as a flash of inspiration.  I was working on ideas for my second book and I already had a pretty good one.  I wasn't sure if it was THE idea but I liked it.  With about a week to go before my meeting at Andersen Press I had an idea I was far more excited about: I was going to write a film noir picture book and call it Pigeon P.I.  It sounds so simple when you say it out loud but ideas are like that, they're exciting and instant.  It takes a lot of work to make them into something more.

Is it a mystery?  The words 'private investigator' should've been my first clue.

I started to draw using Humphrey Bogart as inspiration for Murray, my pigeon (apologies to Mr. Bogart)

The first Murray.  Sadly, 'you filthy corn husk' didn't make it in.

Faye Dunaway from 'Bonnie and Clyde' helped inspire my canary Vee.  Apologies to Ms. Dunaway but I wanted someone who looked great in hats and there's no denying that she does.

First sketch of Vee

One of many test drawings of Vee

A few more tests.  My art director Beccy and I spent a long time working on what made Vee look young and appealing.  We shortened her hair flick and really focused on her shape.   She was definitely the hardest character to get right.  

The final Vee

I didn't have a story yet but I had most of the characters and a world I wanted to build.  Most importantly I had an idea I was passionate about.  It was THE idea.  Here's some of the sketches I prepared for my meeting.

I make a lot of notes.

This neon colour test didn't make it in but I still like it.

 I was watching Chinatown at this point.

From the final book.

A little joke about a spin-off series

Take a peek under the dust jacket to meet Penguin P.I.
First sketch of the police, who nearly didn't make it when my first draft came in at 50 pages

Sadly the night watch don't feature.  They're biding their time.

 Luckily, the good folks at Andersen Press liked this idea too and we spent our meeting discussing character motivations and all things noir.  With all sorts of wisdom imparted, off I went to sit with my sketchbook to see if these characters really had a story to tell.  It's funny to look back and see how many stages a book goes through when you write it.

This pie-as-an-escape plan is one of my favourite drawings that never went anywhere

It's also amazing to see how much sticks.  One of my very first drawings has remained the whole way through as my first page, with pretty much the same first line.

Only I could think a pile of abandoned newspaper is a 'filing system'

Murray and his filing system

I'm pretty excited about the way this book turned out, it's very different to Life Is Magic but I think they've got some things in common, namely an excess of hand-lettering and background characters.

A note to myself

What I wanted to create was a satisfying mystery in picture book form, to pay homage to the detective books I've loved all my life but to make sure that I was writing it for a picture book audience, that this was a satisfying world and story in itself and not just a parody of something I loved.  I hope I've managed to do that.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2017

I'm really excited to announce that Life Is Magic has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2017 in the Best Illustrated category alongside five other brilliant books.  Huge congratulations all,  especially fellow MA Children's Book Illustration graduates Fabi Santiago and Matt Robertson.

Published by those lovely people at Andersen Press now is a good time to thank my editor and art director, Libby and Beccy, who are both fantastic at what they do and brilliant people to work with.  They really helped make this book into the best version of itself.  My lovely agent Helen also deserves a big thank you for helping shape the very first draft into something that was worth putting on a publisher's desk.   This book wouldn't exist without them.

To celebrate there's a jaunty red-lettered cover.

You can read all about the prize and see the full shortlists for every category here.
Congratulations everyone!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Life Is Magic Paperback!

Life is Magic is out now in paperback for those who like a book with a little more bend.  Hooray!

Can you spot the cover differences from the hardback?

Here's a peek at the insides...


This is Gary.  

Some magic in action.

There's now a jaunty 'This book belongs to...' page where you can write your name or whatever takes your fancy.  And the clever clogs' at Andersen Press have managed to squeeze all the additional cover artwork in too.

Available in all good bookshops and the usual places online.

I've also recently been sent a few co-editions so if you're in the U.S.A look out for Rabbit Magic.

In French we have 'Tout est Magie' (which I had a lot of fun hand lettering)

and in Danish look for 'Livet er Magisk'

Monday, 30 January 2017

Read it Again!

I'm really excited that Life Is Magic has been shortlisted for Read it Again! - The Cambridgeshire Children's Picture Book Award.  This award is presented to a first time author/illustrator and is judged by the children of Cambridgeshire.  Having lived in Ely while I was studying at Cambridge School of Art makes this doubly sweet as it's an area I'm particularly fond of.

I'm thrilled that so many school children will have the chance to read and discuss my book as well as the others on the shortlist, and what a fine list it is.  You can read the full shortlist here.

Good luck everyone!

Friday, 16 December 2016


This year I've decided to fully commit to #illo_advent (which I say most years but this year I haven't failed!  Not yet anyway)  The point, for me, was to draw something everyday as somedays are spent entirely on my computer.  For this reason I wanted to draw on paper, and to post it online no matter what it was.  I'm really not keen on showing sketches so this was to spur me into showing whatever I drew, whether I liked it or not.  The bonus of paper is that I'm able to give my favourites away.

So here they all are.  Some better than others, some have already gone to good homes.  My advent only goes up to day 24 like the chocolate calendars, at least that's how they worked when I was a kid.

For all the Christmas babies, happy birthday!

I made it to the end this year!! Merry Christmas folks. See you in the future...anytime from now.