Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another old friend



Having a distinctive illustration style can be either an asset or a hindrance. If potential clients picture your work when they're assembling the brief, then that's good. But if you then become too closely associated with one particular style you may find yourself overlooked when said style goes out of fashion.

I've survived by being a bit of jack-of-all-trades. Most of my work is 'cartooney', in that I tend to draw an outline of some sort and then colour it in. I used to keep the above illustration of a baby blackbird in my folder, just to demonstrate to agencies that I wasn't a one trick pony and that I could work in other styles if required.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bump



On those days when you can't seem to write or draw for nuts, it's not a bad idea to revisit old friends and seek some reassurance.

I liked Bump. He wasn't my idea, but he was my visualisation of an idea put in front of me. Dennis Hooper, who at the time was the editor of a BBC kids comic, sent a note out to a number of illustrators asking them to draw him a baby elephant. The elephant was supposed to be clumsy, accident prone. He had a friend, smaller but wiser, called Birdie. The brief wasn't much more than that. I did a quick sketch, and came up with the above drawing: an elephant with a piece of sticking plaster on his forehead, and a bird.

Then, as can sometimes be the way with these things, that rough sketch took over my life. About five years of drawing very little else, as I recall. I did books, I did animation, and I did music.

The books came first - simple stories written by Dennis under the pseudonym Christopher James. Then came the idea of an animated TV seres. I'd been working with a company called CMTB in Bristol (big centre for animation, including Aardman, home of Wallace and Grommit). CMTB had produced 'Trap Door', a great claymation series with Willie Rushton doing the voiceover, and I recommended those guys to Dennis. (For those who are really into the Brit animation scene, there's a wonderful dedicated site, full of the most amazing history and detail: Toonhound)

So the BBC commissioned 26 animated episodes, for which I did all the artwork. God knows how many drawings in total. When the animation was finished, I was sent a pre final cut tape from CMTB. Right at the end was a little private joke for me, a two second clip put together by Steve Box - now Nick Parks' partner in Aardman. Steve's hand comes across the screen and neatly cuts off Birdie's head with a razor blade. The End. Well, it made me laugh...

It was a good time. I had fun, I got paid for it - but best of all I got the music. Things weren't so tightly sewn up in those days. I said I could do the music for the series and so they just sort of let me. I wrote the song, put down the tracks, got a mate of mine and his daughter to come into the recording studio and sing it for us, and that was it.

Bump never made any of us rich, but I think that owning the music has probably made me more in the long run than producing the artwork ever did. I continue to get little royalty payments coming in here and there. Both series still play on the satellite channels, and the Christmas episode turns up on terrestrial occasionally. What has been even more rewarding is the fact that the programmes were made when my own daughters were young. They were the right age for it at the time, and so now they still occasionally meet contemporaries who remember Bump. What, that was your dad....?

Kind of cool for me. Horribly embarrassing for them, poor darlings.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Pop-up




This is a pencil rough for a piece of paper-engineering. It's a type of lever mechanism, and unusual in that it's constructed of card that is thick enough for the pieces to mesh - as gears would, or as a spanner (wrench) would against a nut. The sketch is one small detail from an upcoming project that aims to re-jig an earlier book of mine, Tractor Factory (see below). The idea is to do TF as a 'moving picture board book', rather than as a pop-up book, so that by sliding various parts around on the surface of the page the picture can be changed, whilst hidden mechanisms bring other elements into play.

I'm sometimes struck by how the bits that are never seen - ie the mechanisms beneath or between the pages - are often just as interesting as those that comprise the artwork. I like the idea of someday producing an 'inside out' pop-up book, where all the inner workings are visible - or perhaps a book of pointless but entertaining mechanisms, just in white card with no pictures. Adults would probably get it, but for children it would all be a bit arty-pretentious I guess.

As always, it's good to push the chosen medium around a bit. See what it'll do and what it won't, and then come up with something beyond reader expectations. Board books are traditionally very simple, maybe a lift-the-flap, or a basic to-and-fro slide. I've never seen anybody use geared mechanisms, so there's a little challenge. Seems worthwhile.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A wand'ring minstrel I...

The calcification of the brain, along with that of the joints, is something to look forward to, but until the day comes when we seize up completely we must take what pleasure we can find.

I've been waking up at quite reckless hours recently and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan on my Zen player. Does this willingness to drink from the deepest pools of musical depravity herald - or indeed hasten - the onset of delirium wooferandum (barking madness), or is it evidence of a still enquiring mind? Maybe it's simply the fact that an awful lot of G&S question seem to have come up in the local quiz league lately.

I don't know any more. I just don't know, I tell you.

From Ali da G. to Leo da V.

I posted a couple of months ago about a kids' history book that I'd been asked to write. Originally the subject was to have been Napoleon, but then it was changed to Alexander the Great.

Writer Tom Saunders pointed out to me in this very blog that Mr. The-Great was perhaps a little too fond of children for comfort. I reported this fact back to the publishers and the project was pulled. Now they've gone for Leonardo da Vinci.

Mr. da Vinci's activities were of course entirely confined to painting, drawing, and inventing the helicopter. (Oh yes they were, and there's an end to it.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Collector's market



Yes, the strange and wonderful world of the book collector. I didn’t really know of its existence until shortly after The Various was published, in 2003.
Then some chap emailed me and asked if he could send me his copies for signing. I said sure. (What, he’s got more than one copy, I thought? He must be keen.) Then this big box arrived with about 25 books in it. I think that’s when I began to realise that there was something weird going on.
Shortly after that, somebody told me that they’d seen an early proof of the book sell at auction for about £70. I found this astonishing. Who’d pay that kind of money?
It gradually became apparent that there was a lot of interest in The Various from people who didn’t exactly fall into the 9-13 target reading age group. Some were very obviously dealers, some were private collectors, but all seemed keen to buy signed copies – or better still copies with a little doodle in them. So I’d obligingly do a sketch on the title page (grateful that the book was getting some attention) only to see the thing come up for immediate sale on ebay.
I started asking questions, and learned that there’s a lively futures market in books and their authors. Rare signed first edition copies of books that have gone on to be successful can fetch hundreds of pounds. Dealers and collectors look closely at newly published books and take a punt on those they think will be successful. So a good quality hardback book, from an emerging author and reputable publisher, is likely to attract attention from the collector’s market – the more so if the initial print run is low volume.




The collector’s market for children’s books is particularly strong. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book only had a print run of about 500, I think. Nobody could have foretold just how successful she was going to be, and so a mint condition copy of this first edition is going to be worth a lot of money. The downside of book speculation, as with all gambling, is that you can just as easily catch a cold as make a profit. Authors whose early work once seemed so promising can quickly fade away, and you're left holding a stack of signed books that nobody wants.




The most I’ve seen a copy of The Various go for is £900. This was an advance proof, sometimes known as an advance reader's copy or ARC, like the one above, in which I’d done a little colour illustration. Amazing. Since then I’ve embellished quite a few copies of both The Various and Celandine. They do still come up on ebay, but I think that a lot of people are now waiting for the third book to be finished – then I imagine that we’ll see complete ‘sets’ of collector copies coming up for sale. I’m in touch with a number of serious dealers and collectors, and I’ll very often produce work to order – a drawing of this character or that scene. I’m happy to do it. It’s just free-lance illustration as far as I’m concerned, and if these copies then go on to trade hands for big money, then I’m delighted. My primary concern is to produce the best writing that I’m capable of. Anything that then helps bring that writing to a wider public has to be a good thing for me.
They’re all mad, of course, these collector types. And I'm all for that. The world needs enthusiasts, and book collectors are among some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic people you’re likely to meet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hoxton Fine Arts

The limited edition prints mentioned in previous posts are now available from Hoxton Fine Arts and Books. The whole batch was sent to me for signing last week, and I have to say that the printers have done a very fine job. Good quality paper, and excellent colour reproduction. I went down to London to help oversee the print run and the printers in question could not have been more professional and helpful. I'll see if I can insert a link.

Hoxton Fine Arts is a new venture, run by David Hitchcock, and well worth a look for those interested in book collecting. David's a real enthusiast for this kind of thing, and a very knowledgeable man. I've been meaning to write a post about the whole book collector's market for some time. Maybe this week.

Friday, November 17, 2006

One-in-ten.






This week I visited a school in Birmingham, doing a pop-up workshop with some Year 8 students. I was telling them how it's OK to get things wrong. Most of the time - maybe nine times out of ten - I get things wrong. I try and write something and it's wrong, try and draw something and it's wrong, try and figure out some idea for a pop-up book and it's wrong.

Not only am I used to being wrong most of the time, I accept that it's an inescapable part of the process of finding what's right. Very often I can see it for myself. An idea will come up and I'll soon realise that it's no good. Other times I need an editor to tell me why it's no good - or at least why it's no good for them.


Same with getting things 'right'. Sometimes I have an instinct that I might be onto something, and sometimes I really can't tell. This little comic strip thing is a case in point. I enjoyed drawing it, but I can't see it the way somebody else would.

The above is an extract from what was submitted as a one-page strip. Twelve frames. It looks simple, but I spent a lot of development time in filtering it down to that simplicity. Easy's never as easy as it looks. (And clever's never as clever as you think it is.)

But this turned out to be that elusive one-in-ten.The publishers really like it, and so it looks like it's a goer. I'm delighted, and can now begin to get excited about how I might develop the idea. Yet if those same publishers had said, 'Steve, this is no good,' then I'd have let the whole thing go and forgotten about it within a week.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pitch




Sometimes you get offered a job outright, and sometimes you have to pitch for it. This happens a lot when you're a freelancer, whether it be for writing or illustrating. A pitch is very much like an audition. Maybe you're right for the part and maybe you're not.

There's a new weekly publication - a comic - coming out next year, supposedly a BIG SECRET, but I imagine it's more or less common knowledge within the business and anyway I'm naming no names. I've been asked if I'd be interested in becoming involved, and so I'm trying to put some thoughts together.

I've done comic-strip work in the past, and have learnt from past mistakes. The big secret as far as I'm concerned is to develop a style that you can live with week after week, month after month. It stands to reason that if you have a 12 frame strip to produce every week, and each of those frames is a full day's work, then you're in trouble from the start. Your 'pitch' may look impressive, but you're never going to meet the deadlines. So keep it within the bounds of what you can realistically achieve, given the time limits.


I bought one of those graphics tablet things, and at the moment I'm just messing around with it to see what kind of line I can produce. I haven't even thought about colour yet. Technology is wonderful, but I'm still not entirely convinced. So it's quick and convenient to draw straight from pencil roughs onto the screen. Proportions and composition can be easily altered, mistakes easily erased or rectified. But does it lose something by not being pen and ink? Don't know.

Ideas are cheap, as always. Anybody can come up with an idea. Extending an idea into something beyond the flash of its own little light bulb is another matter.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trilogy



Ta-da! Here's how the finished articles will look when mounted in a row.

Wriggle


Got a bit of a wriggle on over the weekend and finished the third piece of artwork in the Various series. I enjoyed writing this scene in the book, and so it was an obvious pick for the final print.

Now I wish I had a tree house of my own - although I bet that if you tried to build such a thing, you'd have the planning authorities on your back. Also, of course, there would be some tutting from child protection agencies for setting a dangerous example. God forbid that a kid should do something as reckless as climb a tree.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Work in progress



I'm currently producing a series of prints, privately commissioned by Hoxton Fine Arts. There will be three prints for each book title in the trilogy - three for The Various, three for Celandine and three for WinterWood - so nine in all.

Each trio of prints is designed to be displayed in a row, with the bramble motif linking them together. The one shown here will be the central print for The Various series. I was originally going to do an illustrated map of Mill Farm and its surroundings, but it seemed to work better as an aerial view - albeit a slightly distorted one.

The prints will be all be signed and numbered, and I shall put a link to Hoxton Fine Arts here and on my website when the time comes. I've also committed to producing a few hand-tinted versions of these prints. I must be mad.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Gents

Jazz is about improvisation, I suppose. Usually around a given structure, or theme. I'm very happy to play the same songs over and over, and see how they turn out different every time.

But jazz is also about reaching out into the absolute unknown, and to this end I'm tempted to suggest that for next year's Marsden Festival the Gents become a ukelele band. I think we'd be great. I love the idea of playing ukelele as a double bass - upright with a big long spike going down to the ground.

This is too exciting. I have to go away and think about it for a bit.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jazz weekend

The second weekend in October is always a good one for me. Marsden hosts its annual Jazz Festival and I get to play a couple of gigs with my old friends from Somerset, The Gents. We've known each other for over thirty years, and played together in various formations/combinations during that time. I first met the singer Paddy Mounter soon after I left art college, and we've been pretty much nose to nose ever since. We must have done a thousand gigs together, most of them with The Glad Band - a kind of jug-band outfit that's still loosely existant in that we're all alive ( to the amazement of some) and kicking. We did a wedding gig in Devon during the summer. Never again, we said, but then we say that every time.

On this occasion we fell out with the catering manager over where exactly we were supposed to be set up. (We'd assumed it would be in the marquee, where all the people were, when in fact we were supposed to be out on the cold and windy patio where the people were not. So we more or less refused. Big argument.) It's one of the basic rules of function gigging: ALWAYS stay on the right side of the catering manager, otherwise you don't get fed. We didn't get fed for a very long time. Mind you, that might have been more to do with the chef than anyone else. I never saw such a massive guy in all my life. I reckon he must have eaten the biggest part of everything he cooked, and he was cooking for a hundred and fifty. He was dressed all in white, and so you couldn't really miss him, and yet Pete Bendall, the bass player, didn't seem to be able to bring him into focus. This will come as no surprise to those who know the original Mr. Dazed-and-Confused.

'Where is he, then?' says Pete. 'Is that him over there?'
'Nah, that's the marquee,' I said. 'He's the BIG guy next to that.'

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The bells...contd.


It was my job, as youngest ringer, to climb up into the belfry and untie the clappers before practice began. Why it should be thought necessary to secure the clappers in the first place I can't say. I mean it's not as though they were likely to be going anywhere.

So I had to go up a dark and winding stone staircase, with my puny little Osram torch, and then creep among the belfry beams undoing all these leather straps. Very creepy indeed. The worst of it was, once the ringers down below figured I'd had enough time to do the job they'd make a start. Standing next to a half-ton bell when it swings into action is no joke. Apart from the fear of being crushed in the darkness, the noise is like nothing else. No wonder Quasimodo was deaf. The sound waves would actually shake your body. I'd come flying down that spiral stairway pretty much bouncing of the walls. The only time I've ever hear anything come close to that volume was in the St Pauls area of Bristol at carnival time. They'd put these great bass speakers out on the streets for the reggae, and if you got too close to one of those it'd shake you up a bit. Still not as loud as the bells though.

It all seemed worth it at the time, just to be out of school for a couple of hours at night, and to be able to walk back through the town and buy a bag of chips.

Buying a bag of chips was a risky business in itself though. It was against school rules - like talking to girls, going into pubs, smoking, all the fun stuff. You were suppose to wear your school cap all the time, so that people knew not to serve you.

I did go into a pub once, one Saturday lunchtime after lessons were over. There were about half a dozen of us. We must have been mad. I mean you could get shot for something like that, more or less. We maybe shared a half of bitter, I don't remember, but just as we were coming out our deputy headmaster was coming in - and bumped straight into us. Now this was a man with a furious temper and a merciless nature, so we knew we were done for. The sack, no question.

What saved us was the fact that he was already drunk, swaying on his feet, very bleary. He looked at us, and you could see that he knew that something was terribly wrong, desperately amiss. But he couldn't figure out what it was.

It seemed as though we stood there for a month, waiting for the anvil to fall. Finally it came. The old soak whacked the kid next to me over the head with the palm of his hand and roared, "Boy! Boy....you haven't got your cap on!"

Then he disappeared into the bar, and we never heard any more about it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The bells...the bells....


Woke up this morning to the sound of that great sixties soul classic, Sam and Dave's 'You Don't Know Like I Know'.

It wasn't coming from one of my daughters' music systems, though, or from the drubbing speakers of some pimped up BMW outside in the street. It was the bells.

Yes, the church bells from old St. Bart's down in the town had somehow escaped their normal Sunday duties - dull paeans to the Almighty - and stumbled upon the Devil's music. You...don't...know...like...I...know...You...don't...know...like...I...know... Round and round it went - a gleeful peal.
And why not? Sam and Dave were probably from a gospel background in any case, come to think of it.

It didn't last long, and the bells were soon whipped back into line - the usual tuneless and arhythmic tangle. For a moment, though, it had sounded like they'd made a wild bid for freedom.

* * *

I was once a bell-ringer. It was only for a short while - when I was about thirteen, I suppose. I was at boarding school then, and bell-ringing was a way of getting out of that prison for a few hours on a Wednesday evening. Oddly enough the church where I used to go for practice was another St. Bartholomew's.

Bell-ringing is difficult, and it can be quite dangerous when you're learning. It's a bit more complicated than simply pulling on a rope. That rope goes up through the ceiling and into the belfry, where it wraps around a huge wheel to which the bell is attached. The bell starts from an upright position. When you pull on the rope, the wheel turns and the bell swings downwards with huge force, travelling in a circular motion all the way round to an almost upright position again. There's a furry section of the rope called the 'sally' and it's this bit that you grip in order to begin ringing. You pull on the sally, and down it comes, but then, as the wheel turns its circle the sally shoots up into the air - fifteen feet or so - disappearing through the ceiling and up into the belfry itself. You have to remember to let go of the sally. If you were to hang on to it, which all your novice's instinct tells you to do, then you'd be whisked heavenwards and rammed through a three-inch aperture in the roof. OK if you happen to be a bat.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hand tinting


I don't get to do much of this nowadays, which is a shame because I really quite enjoy it. Hand tinting is just a fancy term for colouring in - crayoning, in this case. The hard work's all been done, the drawing finished and printed. Now all that's required is a bit of colour. And if you mess it up, you can always take another print and try again. So it's really not too stressful.

Knitting must be a similar activity, I guess, in that once you've acquired the necessary skill, you can knit and do other things at the same time. Talk, for instance, or listen to some music or a radio play. Or just sit and think. It's great.

Most of the hand tinting work I do is for private collectors - usually frontispiece illustrations for The Various and Celandine. I'll put up a post about the book collectors market some other time. An amazing world that I never knew existed until relatively recently. Amazing people too.

The example shown isn't all that sharp, but it was handy. I use German water colour pencils - 'Albrecht Durer' by Faber-Castell. Had the same box (a present from my wife) for about twenty years now.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Talk To The Animals...

There is a group of people who believe that animals can talk. Like the Flat Earth Society they're regarded as being a bunch of nutters by just about everybody else, but they're a well established club, whose numbers continue to grow.

I became a member of this odd little society many years ago because I'd always suspected that animals could speak perfectly good English, once your back is turned, and I was hoping to discover the truth.

From other members at club get-togethers I heard some amazing stories. The reason that animals keep secret the fact that they can talk is because they don't want to work. That's right. It suits them better to lie around all day waiting for the sound of the tin-opener than to go out and get a proper job. They know that if they once let on that they could speak, they'd be immediately shipped off to call centres and put to selling insurance and patio doors and advertising space. This would eat into their time, and so they play dumb. It's pure indolence.

I learned that not all animals have the same breadth of vocabulary. Gorillas don't say a lot, possibly because they don't need to, and neither do koalas, possibly because they're too stoned to. In fact wild animals in general are less chatty than their domestic cousins. We shouldn't be too surprised by this. Wild animals are usually either hunting or being hunted, and both parties do better by keeping quiet. Not a great idea to be hanging around the water-hole gossiping, and this applies whether you're a gazelle or a tiger hoping to meet a gazelle.

But domestic animals are naturally talkative, and it must be painful to them to have to just lie on the rug and keep schtum. Agony for fox-terriers, I should imagine, who really do have lots to say. Their choice, though.

Parrots are the truly clever ones. They play this dangerous game of double-bluff - pretending that they can talk a bit, but in such stupid comedy voices that we believe they're just mimicking our own. It's kind of funny, although I can't help thinking that it's demeaning for them, the parrot's natural speaking voice being such a deep and warm baritone. They sing very well too. Big Gilbert and Sullivan fans. Parrots of Penzance is practically their national anthem.

Anyway, after about twelve years of club membership, I finally heard an animal speak. I'll never forget it. It was a Friday night. I came home unaccountably late, and realised that I'd forgotten my door key. Damn. I really didn't want to wake the wife and kids. I mean, they're fond of me, but beyond 2 a.m. they're apt to forget it.

What to do? I wondered if I could get in through the cat flap. I was thinner in those days...

I'm joking of course. What I actually wondered was whether I could reach in through the cat flap and poke the door-latch up with a stick. It seemed worth a go. So I found a stick ( it was growing on a tree, funnily enough) and I knelt down and lifted the cat flap. The light was on in the kitchen, and I could see our little black cat, Charlie, lying in his basket, right next to the door. What luck!

"Hey Charlie!" I whispered. "I've forgotten my key. Give us a break and let me in."

So Charlie looks at me, and then he looks up at the Yale lock, which is about five feet from the ground. Then he looks back at me, and that's when I hear him speak. Clear as you like.

"Me? How?"

Then he just goes back to sleep! Like I said, bone idle. Fortunately for me - and for him - I was able to flip the latch up with that stick, but when I tried to demonstrate the same clever manoeuvre the next morning to my admiring family I couldn't do it. Even though I was on the right side of the door. All I got was a load of grief about how I'd broken the new plum tree that had only just been bought from the garden centre, and what a vandal I was.

No matter, because from then on I was a fully qualified member of The Club. I could hold my head up among that righteous group of believers who make it their life's work to spread tales of talking animals, despite the ridicule such activity brings. New members are always welcome, by the way. We call ourselves Children's Authors.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scraperboard technique


Something I'm still trying to master. Scraperboard is a type of card, about the same weight as mounting board, but with a smooth clay surface. The technique involves inking this clay surface and then working into it with a scraperboard tool - scratching away the black ink with a blade, in order that a white underlayer shows through. The blades are available in various shapes. Scraperboard usually comes ready-coated with a black surface, but I prefer to use white board and apply the ink myself. This means that I can paint in the general framework of the illustration and there will be less ink to scrape away.

I get quite nervous before beginning a piece of scraperboard work. It's pretty unforgiving, in that once you've scratched a line into the surface some of the clay has been removed and can't then be replaced. This means that if you make a mistake there's not much you can do about it. It's similar to wood cut, or lino-cut, in this respect. Hours of painstaking work can easily be ruined by a slip of concentration. Sometimes you might get away with repainting the surface and trying to scratch through it again, but really once it's gone it's gone.

A far more effective 'cheat' is Photoshop. I still like to produce artwork by hand, but I then usually scan it into Photoshop. Here I can rectify minor mistakes, adjust the composition, put in extra bits, or take 'em away again...and of course add colour. It's a great facility. I feel fortunate in having had a proper grounding in traditional drawing and painting techniques - four years at art college in the sixties - but I'm also grateful for the modern technologies.

Sometimes I think that things have gone a little too far the other way. I occasionally lecture in colleges, and find there's such a heavy reliance on computer technology that I wonder if straightforward drawing skills are being lost. During one module that I was teaching, some firemen accidentally cut through the optic cables and all the computers were down. "Right then folks," I said to my students, "get your pencils out." Pencils? They all looked at me like I'd gone nuts. Was I kidding?

The little picture of a squirrel that I'm posting here is actually a reject. I'd originally intended that it would be one of the interior illustrations for The Various, but it didn't make it. My editor felt that the style was a bit too tight and formal compared with the rest of the pictures that I'd done. I still quite like it, and it's nice to be able to give it an airing.

UPDATE: You can see some of Joseph Mendes work HERE.

Friday, September 22, 2006

From Boney N to Ali da G...

...or from Napoleon to Alexander the Great.

A couple of weeks ago a fairly big publisher ask me to write a book on Napoleon. Oh good, a commission. Usually I have to come up with an idea and then sell it. It's nice when people come up with the idea for me and then pay me to do it. I don't know that much about Napoleon, but I can learn.

Turns out the book is supposed to be written from a child's point of view - a kind of diary written by a kid in Napoleon's household. And that's OK. I can see how it could work, although it could only be a brief snapshot of one particular period in Napoleon's career. Any longer than a couple of years, and the child diarist would be growing out of the age range that the book is intended for.

But now the publishers are having second thoughts. They still want me to do the job, but they're thinking that maybe Alexander the Great would make a better subject than Napoleon. I'm trying to be flexible. Sure, I said, I can change horses (from Marengo to Bucephalus in this instance).

The trouble is, these same publishers have messed me around once already. They asked me some months ago if I would be interested in writing an encyclopaedia. It was to be titled The Encyclopaedia of Enchantment and Illusion. They pulled the plug on that idea before I'd written a single word. The 'Encyclopaedia of Enchantment and Illusion' very quickly became the Encyclopaedia of Disenchantment and Disillusion after all.

So will they get it right this time? Watch this space.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wednesday night...

...is snooker night. Yay. I get to go to the Lib Club, and drink beer, and whack a load of balls around with a stick.

The great thing about snooker - like golf, I imagine - is that you're never going to be able to master it. Once in a while you'll pull off this great shot, and you think "Oh I see. That's how you do it. Now all I have to do is keep on doing it like that and next year I'll be at the Crucible/Masters, whatever". But then, of course, you continue to play like the wazzock you always were and will be.

They make it look so easy on the telly. I liked the comment that Steve Davis made one night, after some hotshot had casually made yet another 100 break. "Believe it or not this is actually quite a difficult game."

Scenes from the books.


I've been asked to produce a series of pictures from The Various trilogy. The idea is that there will be three pictures from each book, so nine scenes in all. The pictures will then be made available as a limited set of prints, with just 100 of each printed up - I think. These will all be signed and numbered.

When I was doing the actual book illustrations I avoided drawing the characters. As a reader I'm always a bit disappointed when the picture of a character that I have in my head turns out to be nothing like the illustrator's idea of that same character.

With this commissioned series of 'scenes from the books' however, it's been necessary to include some of the characters. I think the key is not to be too specific, nor to attempt close-up facial portraits. I've just finished the first scene - the one where Midge is tending to Pegs in the barn. I'll see if I can post here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Little People

Nearly trod on a baby yesterday. I shook hands with a mate and didn't realise his newborn was lying there on the floor between us. I pulled out a chair, sat down, and still didn't see it.

"How's the baby?" I said.

"Oh, you know. Surviving - despite you and your size twelves."

Gave me a bit of a shock when I finally spotted the little fellow. I did feel that it wouldn't have been entirely my fault if I'd squashed young Isaac, though. He was dressed in blue and lying on a blue rug. I thought he was just part of the pattern.

That's thing about little people. They're very good at blending into the background.