Bologna Children's Book Fair 2016

 Not all fairs are the same.
The first one of course is an unforgettable experience, a terrifying yet delightful epiphany. The ones that follow allow us to reconnect with the wonderful people we meet; to gradually find our place, to see where and with whom our work belongs, because the one certain thing about books is that there is room for all kinds of work within them, as all kinds of people make them. 

I would have thought that 2014, the year I was first published and had my book on the shelves at Donzelli would be unsurpassable, but it's going to take something quite grand to top 2016. This year had something very new and very special. It had an actual purpose, a social dimension, that perhaps has been there all along but it took a set of coincidences, forgetfulness and connections to see it.

While having a gelato on Wednesday, where Hall 25 meets 26, I ambled  a bit and came across the IBBY Italy stand.  I saw little print out request for book donations. 

Idomeni is a small greek village near to border with Macedonia. Thousands of people are ending up in Idomeni in their journey to northern europe. But there is hardly anything there and more and more people arrive in the hope that the border will  be open.  The situation is desperate. I have often felt impotent and small and irrelevant on the face of such suffering. Refugee camps are better than death in the conflict zones, but they are still horrible places. 

Here was the opportunity to actually do something for the refugees.  I asked the person there what sort of books they where looking for and she said, "Any books." Their stand looked a bit bare. So when I finished my ice cream I walk over and asked Carmine (my italian publisher) if we could donate one of mine, and he agreed and handed me the book. I put it in my bag and then I had a meeting to rush to and, as it often happens in this place of so many possibilities, I forgot about it.

Later, much later, in the early swine bar hours of the next day I was chatting to someone, who I had just met during this fair. He was telling me how sometimes books are just given away or left at the end of the fair. And then that really important thing that had slipped my mind returned. So later that morning, on the taxi I had my book to donate and the knowledge that there would probably be a lot of books being left or given away which would not find their way to IBBY unaided.  But sharing the taxi, was one of my favourite partners in crime, my  dear friend and picture book genius, Steve Antony,  so by the time we got to the fair we had a plan: the two of us would go -with our natural cheek and enthusiasm- and ask publishers for donations and collect as many books as we could and take them to IBBY ourselves.

It was incredibly exciting. Steve and I went on a spree around halls 25  and 26 looking for donations and personally taking them to IBBY, it was a race against time as most stands go an a furious pack on thursdays getting things ready for their stands to be shipped back to their countries, and we also had to go back to Bologna to get our bags to catch our plane back home!

We started collecting a few here and there, stacking them in our arms, and then going back to Ibby.

As I mentioned before,  books are made by all kinds of people, and not surprisingly their generosity and imagination varies a great deal. Soon our wonderful publishes would make it necessary to have a trolley.

All donations, we really appreciated, but above and beyond our expectations Child's Play, Little Tigger Group, Parragon and Hachette (who lent us their red trolley) all donated boxes of books.  We don't know how many books were in the boxes but they sure were heavy!

Flying Eye Books  donated lots of beautiful books that they could have very easily sold there, as did Adrian from Nosy Crow

Klaus Fluge from Anderson Press personally chose the titles which would most help with learning to read, giving us more and more.  

We didn't need to ask Greet from Book Island, she was already donating at Ibby her wonderful Azizi and the little Blue Bird.

We met Marcella Terrusi , who is coordinating this project for IBBY Italia, towards the end of our collecting spree.  She asked us to focus our search on more wordless books (unfortunately not widely published in Britain) and beautiful books.                                                                                                                                                                         

She particularly was after Shaun Tan's The Arrival, which sadly we could not find for her on that day. You can see how his wonderful wordless book by Shaun Tan about finding new life as a migrant and reuniting with family at the end would be incredibly helpful to children experiencing the hardships of that journey. 

We then concentrated a bit more on the italian publishers, who already knew about the collection and were very keen to pick up their best books for their donation. 

Lots of publishers donated books, and I feel so proud to be part of a caring and giving industry.   Thank you all! 

You can follow the journey of the books here. (link coming soon) You can learn more about IBBY's work with children in crisis here.

For the children at Idomeni to experience beautiful books, what ever the future holds for them, to have that time inside those pages to know themselves valued, strong, intelligent, imaginative, to be able to experience the alternatives to reality that exist within all books,  to have played a small part in this project, that is going to be very hard to top.

Bologna Book Fair 2015

Ah... The Big Buzz:  The delight that is the Bologna Children's book fair:  The terrifying scale, the familiar faces, the happy reunions, the chance encounters, the enormous opportunity, and of course the ice cream!

It never seizes to make me feel alive and part of something wide and wonderful, a place of recharging creative batteries, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, reseting of goals.

This year I brought a new project, a silent book, to the fair. I was fortunate to get feedback from some of the best publishers in the world, who's view on any potential book is instant and comes from a deep understanding on the industry and a great love for their lists.  I know this is a digital age, but for me nothing can take the place of a face to face conversation about a project. Information is exchanged verbally and non verbally. The reactions upon page turning, the hesitations when something isn't clear, all those minor deep breaths and pauses feed into my understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in my work. I'm grateful for every opportunity.  After much feedback I believe that I have made a book conceptually well received but which needs a little more" baking". You get as many different opinions as people you show your book to.  But trends emerge nonetheless and I have a better map to get to wherever we're going together, this book and I.

One spread from my new book "umbrella"  turned it into fliers. 

The months of writing and illustrating and the 4 days of the fair couldn't be more different. The introspection and space needed to create something can give that something a very skewed look. But I'm fortunate to come from a very supportive community, where feedback is exchanged and work championed and celebrated in it's uniqueness. Our camaraderie is nurtured and shared from Cambridge School of Art(CSA), throughout the year on line and in real actual meetings. Some of us have made life long friendships in the course, and the fair offers the opportunity of spending quality time with the ones that come (Steve! Suzanne! Catalina!), while missing the ones that this year couldn't (Yes you there, I missed you!)

Even after we have graduated a long time ago, and our dummies are no longer at the stand, seeing the CSA new output of work is a source of great collective pride.   Seeing our tutors at the fair, Pam Smy and Martin Salisbury and Marta Altes, who are brilliant at connecting people together, always gives me great pleasure. As is meeting new people thorough them.  A highlight this year was meeting Dave Barrow a new graduate who will be published next year by Gecko Press and Fernando Perez Hernando who's book Conducir es f├ícil was shown to us on our first week at university. In the vast isles I also met author Vivian French and Nikky Gamble from Just Imagine. I'm looking forward to catching up soon!

Outside of the fair I had an awesome evening with Steve Antony, Linda Owen-Lloyd and Marcia Williams. And it was great to re connect with Sun from Some Books, whose work always opens my mind into something real and important and very different approach to bookmaking to anything else at the fair.  Meeting Peter H. Reynolds as we sat together on the plane back to London was an amazing end to another year of adventures in picture-book-making at the fair!

Here are some highlights of the exhibition.  As soon as I get hold of a copy of the catalogue I'll credit them:

Adolfo Serra

And my top favourite was this little detail:

I am delighted for Maisy Paradise Shearing form CSA who was selected as the overall winner of the illustration competition. She has done all of us so proud and I sure I'm looking forward to purchasing her book next year!

 I've returned all beans and enthusiasm for the load of work ahead. Let's see how much changes next year and what else stays the same. 

MA Degree Show 2015

It is with a lot of nostalgia that I take the yearly pilgrimage to London to see The Masters of Arts Children's Book Illustration degree show.  The opportunity to read through dozens of dummies invariably makes me ache to run back to the studio to work. Oh! But there is always one more book project to read, always another precious sketchbook or portfolio that makes me linger for a few more minutes, way past closing time.

Go and visit this show at Candid Arts (keep going left out of Angel tube station). Details here.  Even setting a whole afternoon to read through all book projects I couldn't.  So here are some observations of my limited visit.

There are very strong visual identities already developed in this year's exhibition. I loved  Maisie Paradise Shearring's Susan's School Days. It  had me hooked for a good while of my time there wrapped in a very believable world;  Jenny Duke's very distinctive mono print lines At the playground; and Joe Lyward's charming I'm going to school stood out as having a visual language of their own.

Joe Lyward

This batch of illustrators was not shy to tackle sad or difficult subjects. I really enjoyed Li-Wen Chu's You are here where she uses internal external chromatic spaces to amplify meaning on her sweet text on memory; as Lucy Wooler's divorce piece Dancing with Mummy and Daddy; and Maria S. Costa's uplifting story about adoption in her book An Odd Family.

Li-Wen Chu

Although the majority of graduates concentrated on story books it was nice to see more conceptual approaches such as Indira Margot Hamaker's pineapple variations book and patterns. A nice reminder how this course encourages independent thinking and the pursuit of individual goals.

Favourites of this exhibition were:

 Shu-Ti Liao's hilarious Birdie and An adventure at night where she uses the outside of a beam of flashlight to illuminate what the character can't see. Shu-Ti has a superb chromatic sense, pace and point of view. She has developed several books to such high and completed, I have no idea if she ever sleeps.
Shu-Ti Liao

 Morag Hood, who I hope walks off with the golden envelope tonight, had me laughing out loud with When Grandad was a Penguin and Go away, where a snail, pestered by slugs, builds them a home and sends them on their way. She combines natural storytelling with very confident  bold characterisation  and great instinct for design.

Morag Hood

There was a wide spectrum of the level at which books have been developed, from early dummies with great surface experimentation and wit like Abigail Joy Bowen's...
Abigail Joy Bowen published books such as Katie Harnett's Tras mi ventana.

Katie Harnett

Clearly fundraising efforts have been phenomenal to put together this show,  sometimes diverting from storytelling into merchandising. Nevertheless, this did not distract from the accomplished book projects, and as usual, the diversity in approaches, themes and techniques was a delight. There are woks there which will instantly be taken by british publishers and some which will sure benefit from the larger stage and wider tastes of the Bologna Children's book fair. 

My beloved old Cambridge School of Art seems to never run out of amazing talent, and both senior staff and regular visiting lecturers are ensuring that the quality stays high, to keep us alumni proud and on our toes.

Ceramics at White House Arts

I've joined White House Arts to practice some ceramics and to interact with fellow humans one morning a week. The place is nicely hidden by the river in Chesterton, a good 40 min cycle away, but the route is beautiful, and it allows me to "commute".  I arrive to a warm informal atmosphere, where tea is available to drink from all student made mugs (in all wonky shapes and sizes) and biscuits, which we mustn't give to Zeus (a mainly cylindrical sweetheart of a dog). There everyone just gets on with their own ceramic pursuits.

Slab Day: Cilinder to be pot and shapes cut.
The group fills the room but with enough space to work. All students are women of a vast range of ages. I'm getting to know some of them little by little and it makes me happy to discover shared experiences and common hardships. I suppose writing and illustrating on my own leaves me hungry for contact and exchange and I feel lucky to be in a group that is creative, generous and amicable.  Lucy, our tutor is friendly, incredibly knowledgable and with vast amounts of patience. A great advantage of the slow pace of ceramics is that it frees the mind to chat.

Underglaze- bisque fired
In the under-glazing and detailing there is room for freehand, and tonal drawing and squiggly lines, and perhaps these moments do require concentration. When I get to the point of mark making, I find myself in comfortable territory. There is however, a great delight in "shape making", a sensuality in the handmade process and in the final object. And the possibilities are mind-boggling vast.

Unlike my usual instinctive and direct approach, ceramics requires a lot more patience than I'm used to. There is an exact order and climatic conditions, and handling procedures, and a degree of witchcraft at the end. Ultimately,

The potential for catastrophe is ever present, in a long committed process. Clay is a fascinating thing with a spectrum of personalities and behaviours, (not all of which exactly match mine), but for the time being I'm hooked and I've already decided to extend my time there.


I managed to break two within an hour of leaving the place.

I quite like this cracked look.
Detail of outside. I was expecting this oxide to DO something.

This slab crank pot did not turn up at all as I anticipated. I can now see that I rushed the process and I missed a chance at leather hard to tidy the geometry.  I will be practicing when I can with some clay I bought from Bath Potters Supplies.

Will I get any good at ceramics?  We shall see in about 2 decades.

Bits and BOBS at Linton Children's Book Festival Festival 2014

On Sunday I was invited to do a workshop at Linton Children's Book Festival.
Valerie, the organiser was there to make sure I had everything I needed, alongside a beehive of volunteers, who made sure everything was in place and all authors were well fed and watered, in the right place and ready for our events.  David and Kathryn assisted me before, during and after my workshop and they made my job really easy.

35 Children and a few of their parents took part in making a wonderful wall of rainforest featuring frogs, butterflies, toucans and Bobs.  Following a reading of my book Niente Principe Ranocchio (No Frog Prince) published by Donzelli Editore, we explored some shapes of the plants and animals that live in the rainforests.

Rainforest of Frogs, Bobs, Toucans and Butterfies by the children of Linton.

Well you might be thinking, what is a Bob then? But the crucial question on the day was "Where is he?" Well you had to be there, and the answers where exciting and intriguing. The Children were engaged and were eager to participate and interact, so that at the end the wall was covered in specific character frogs and toucans with specific needs, fears, grudges and dreams.

On the tables more trees and characters where created.

We talked about the setting of the story in the jungle and about the skill of observing real trees and branches an leaves to draw them, or rather to draw the idea of them

Amazing structures of the rain forest.

It isn't enough to draw an anatomically correct frog, we need a frog to tell us a story. A frog that we can care for as a character will need a personality. We take from observation an "essential frogginess of the frog" as we see it,  and apply to it human attitudes and gestures. Children at Linton were super at this!

Is there anything as perfect as a frog that wants their own spaceship?
I hope by next festival the book is available in english, but if you can't wait you can get the italian version here or here.

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2014

For anyone involved in children's books but particularly for those of us who tell stories with images, the Bologna Children's Book Fair presents a unique chance to see the industry at large and to discover where our work fits in. Because it fits somewhere.  All within walking distance of the best ice cream imaginable!

Not every book we make will fit in with the same publisher necessarily, so the fair allows us to get a feel for what it is that each publishing house is about. If we are lucky we also get the chance to meet the people who define the character of those publishing houses.  First time round, it was so vast, so daunting, embarking on this search of mutual selection. But every year gets better, faces become familiar and meetings feel more like conversations. Although every Bologna Book Fair is great, 2014 will be hard to top for me.

When I went to the fair for the second time in 2012, I knew more or less who I wanted to show my dummy to, although I did not have an appointment. Being part of the team who started our stand (Cambridge School of Art) gave me a sense of belonging, a backstage view of the fair, and a little bit of extra courage.  All those beautiful books had been book projects once, just as mine was. 

With Bianca in front of the enormous poster of my book!

Bianca Lazzaro is my editor at Donzelli Editore. She was the first person outside of the MA to see my dummy.  From our first conversation I was completely at ease, she is an adorable person, as is Carmine Donzelli. So a great highlight of this fair has been spending time with them and getting to know them better. Both of them make me want to learn Italian more than ever as I can only touch the surface of what our conversations would be like if language allowed.  But even with the language barriers and the difficulties that come with distance, working with them has been a real pleasure and a great learning experience. It was during this fair, however, with the launch of the book, that I've begun to see just how my book fits in with what else they do.

It is clear to me that Niente Pricippe Ranocchio has their full backing and their belief gives me immense confidence in my writing (with words and pictures).  Carmine in this video gives an interview on monday, first day of the fair and mentions Niente from around minute 7:40

Thanks for this photo Zack Rock!

As Niente Principe Ranocchio was launched during the fair we arranged two book signings sessions for tuesday and wednesday and left the possibility open for another one on thursday. They were surreal!  It was an amazing privilege to do book signings between two very well established italian artists: Arianna Papini and Fabian Negrin.  It was a real treat to dedicate my books with love and care to every person who bought it.  It was nice to meet italian librarians, teachers, journalists and other illustrators (from all over) who were discovering my book right there and then.  I would have happily stayed there and signed for hours, except all the copies in the fair ran out by Wednesday noon!

But particularly special was to sign books for Steve, Daisy, Suzanne, Vic, Martin and of course Emily all of who have known this book from when it was an idea.  Drawing for them (and Catalina, Becky, Trudy, Zack, Sarah, Renata, Simona...) at the fair was the best bit by far. I dearly missed those who could not make it to the fair this year, but we will always have Bologna! The camaraderie encouraged in our course is consolidating into friendships and professional collaborations which will see us return to the fair year after year to support each other and to celebrate together our books. It was a real pleasure to see how my friend's publishers are backing their books:  Steve Antony's amazing books The Queen's Hat, Please Mr Panda (with Hodder) and Betty goes Bananas (with OUP); Suzanne Barton's The Dawn Chorus (with Bloomsbury); and so many more in the pipelines!

Thanks Emily for this picture!

Outside of the stand (and the fair) it was great to meet new people, make new friends and get an even wider perspective of those who make and value children's books. And with old friends the luxury of hours and hours...

As for the next book and what the future holds, well, a conversation with Sunkyung Cho was very timely to see my book as a step in a path that will make more sense when I look at it retrospectively. I just need to keep a clear vision of where I aim to go, even if it is too far to discern in detail.

This has been the fair that launched my first book. 

I called on Neil Burden on the last day, he is always so welcoming at Child's Play.  He asked me what it was like now that I was a published author/illustrator, and even tough we talked about it then, I don't think the realisation hit me properly until Saturday morning.  The sky was black turning into blue.  I was riding alone in the back of the taxi heading for the airport and it was at that moment, with Bologna fading into a motorway,  that I first though of myself as published. I don't understand why it happened then, but it did and it made me smile. Well, it still does.

Spring cleaning.

After much removal and filing and destroying, it turns out there is a huge surface to work on top of my plan chest. 

Here's a little selection of my much loved tools.  Third from the top is one of my old time favourite pencils. It is at least 20 years old, and you can no longer buy something this well made anywhere. Some were made in countries that no longer exist, but they still work! Ah the beauty of a well crafted useful object! Bottom ones are a more recent discovery, artist quality wax crayons. Grainy, flowy, really vibrant, a delight over acrylic.

Yeti and Eye- for loAf

Here are the two characters I have been developing for my comic "Yeti and Eye"
Yeti is actually having two forms. I'm excited about the shape this is taking, even though these two have not started plotting any threads yet.
It will come, well, it must because deadline is looming....