Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Drafting a picture Book

How do you cuddle a puggle? Very carefully.

Today I have a puggle on my blog.
I’ve been excitedly waiting for this moment for weeks and he is finally here. Would you like to see him? He’s cute and small and simply irresistible.
Here he is.

What is a puggle you ask? It’s a baby echidna, an Australian native animal from the monotreme family.

This little puggle is here visiting me in celebration of the launch of Catriona Hoy’s delightful new picture book ‘Puggle’, published by Working Title Press.

It tells the story of a baby echidna whose mother dies when hit by a car. With Catriona’s gentle words and wonderful illustrations by Andrew Plant we follow Puggle’s journey towards a happy outcome.

I’ve been just itching to ask Catriona about the process of creating a picture book; where to start when the idea comes into your mind and how to shape it into the required picture book format once the idea has formulated and the first draft of words are on the paper.

Fortunately for me I also have Catriona visiting my blog today as part of her Puggle blog tour.

Hi Angela!

Hi Cat! Glad you could make it.

From following your blog tour I discovered Puggle is a story from real life. When you sat down to write the first draft, was it the character of Puggle or the plot which inspired you initially?

Puggle began with the character. A gorgeous, helpless, blind little creature which looked like a chicken fillet. I wanted to write his story and there was lots of factual information but I knew that I had to weave it into a readable story. While Puggle was cute, things had to actually happen to move the story forward. I walked around with the first sentence in my head for about six months, wondering when the rest of the story would come. ..And ironically that first sentence ended up being dropped!

What form did this first draft take? eg notes/ mind map/ poem/ prose/ scribbles on a serviette.

I have actually written stories on many scaps of paper. I wrote my next book on pieces of supermarket dockets and bits of tissue box as we drove on a holiday to Ireland, through Wales. However, Puggle was different in that I knew that to be true to the story I had to get it factually correct. So there was a fair bit of research to do before I sat down to write the story. I developed a time line of stages in Puggle's life and went from there.

How did you develop the text of `Puggle' to fit the 32 page picture book format? Did it need lengthening or shortening? If lengthening, how did you achieve this?
Now that I'm more experienced, I have that 16 openings thing in the back of my head as I'm writing. Rather than work on what goes on each page, which can actually change quite a lot, I tend to focus on whether, in my own mind, I have at least 16 or so visuals. So I tried to structure the material into this framework. It was a more laboured story than some of my others.

Did you use any visual editing aids such as a storyboard or a dummy book? How did they help?

I'm not a big one for visual aids, I'm not a very visual person...but I'm getting better. Words are my thing. I tend to write my story and then try to see where the images are and rule a line at these point, and put suggested illustrations in the margins. I don't necessarily send these to the illustrator or publisher. In fact I didn't for Puggle. Often the illustrator will make these natural breaks themselves.

Once the words are on paper, the self-editing begins. With picture books every word counts, but with `Puggle' how did you decide what stayed and what was cut?

When I'm in the final stages, I read it out aloud a lot. I like the words to sound well together. Picture story books are mostly read out loud after all. I also checked the accuracy of particular words with experts. Writing magazine articles has taught me to be really disciplined, especially with articles with word counts of 200 words. With Puggle I had the advantage of being able to put additional information into a fact page about echidnas. So I didn't feel I was losing anything important. This fact page eventually became the endpapers of the book.

The placement of the page break can create page-turning suspense and heighten tension and curiosity. How did you choose where the page turns would be? Or did the illustrator?

Different editors and publishers have different thought on whether to include illustrator notes. I find that I'm being asked to add them more and more. However I didn't add these notes for Andrew, or the page breaks. Andrew requested these from Jane and she worked on those with him. If I have particular concepts or ideas in mind, I'll make these suggestions. The text was jiggled around a bit to allow for illustrations to flow and to show the passage of time.

Once the manuscript was contracted to a publisher, what happened next? Did you have any contact with the illustrator?

Jane asked me whether I had anyone in mind for illustrations and I suggested Andrew Plant. I had seen some of his non fiction work and he had captured the imagination of my year 9 students some time ago, when I'd hired him to give a talk on dinosaurs. He is a really entertaining presenter. At that stage I was also working on a story about dinosaurs and thought that I'd like to work with him one day.

Andrew has a background in zoology and for me it was important that the illustrations were accurate. I had confidence that Andrew would do a fantastic job. At first Andrew was hesitant as often illustrators who do animals don't do humans...something I hadn't realised before. Jane, Andrew and I discussed this and that is one of the reasons that we never see much of the humans in the story, merely as a pair of hands.

Although I was overseas at the time, I was able to have a long chat with Andrew as I interviewed him for Explore. And of course I was consulted at every stage of the illustration process and asked for my input and opinion. Which often wasn't much more than 'wow that's great!'

I've just signed a contract to work with Andrew on another book with WTP...this time it's the one about dinosaurs and we had a successful book launch at the South Yarra library. So we keep in touch although he is very busy.

Thank you so much, Cat. It's been a pleasure hosting you on my blog. I now better understand the whole process of producing a picture book from start to finish. And your experiences have been fascinating.

Thanks for having me Angela, it's been lovely chatting. I'm actually having to think hard about the way I write and it's been quite eye opening for me.

You're welcome, Cat. Good luck with the dinosaur book.

For anyone who missed part of Catriona's Puggle Blog Tour, here are the dates and addresses below:

April 12 http://scribblygum.wordpress.com/

April 13 http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

April 14 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/

April 15 http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com/

April 16 http://orangedale.livejournal.com/

April 17 http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/

April 18 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/

April 19 http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/

April 20 http://belka37.blogspot.com/

April 21 http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/

April 22 http://trudietrewin.com/blog-ramblings/

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Publish That Book

In 2009 author, Louise Cusack, was approached by the Gold Coast City Council 'Creative Juices' team to run a year long series of workshops with 16 writers, the aim of which was to finish the first drafts of sixteen novels by the end of the year. This group was called "Write That Book' and I was one of the lucky sixteen to be chosen from the 70 plus applicants.

Today was the second workshop day for the 'Publish That Book' Gold Coast writers group with Louise. Our group applied for a Regional Arts Development Funding (RADF) grant last year to continue working with Louise in 2010 as we struggle to pull our first draft manuscripts into shape and learn how to edit our masterpieces.

Here is a picture of us working away.

We have become a close group who keep in contact with one another in between workshops through an online yahoo group. Five of us, who are all children's writers, also meet fortnightly as a writing critique group. This means we're all busy reading each others work and giving feedback. The feedback, however, is invaluable.

Today we looked closely at the goals of our main characters, and what their motivation is to achieve their goals.

My main character's goal is to save her friend's grandmother, who is dangerously ill. Her motivation is love.

That sounds simple I know, but it took me a while to refine it down to one simple goal.

We also discussed 'Scenes', that is, choosing the right scenes, cutting the unnecessary ones and exactly what a scene should include or not.

With our scene lists in our hands we sat with a partner and looked for the scenes which showed the pivotal points of the story.

And then we stopped and had champagne.

Well, it was lunchtime. And the cafe next door did a nice lunch.

But the champagne was to celebrate the birthdays of three of us who were all born in the same year within three weeks of each other. It's also a major '0' birthday for us. (I won't tell you which).

So I baked a cake, which is unusual for me. It was a carob and sour cherry cake from a Croatian recipe. Croatian carob (Rogac) is different to the powdery stuff. Its ground texture is coarser and it tastes nutty.

Here's a close look. Normally I would put in ground hazelnuts as well.

The three birthday girls and our cake.

Now with all that working, writing, champagne, lunch and cake we also needed coffee, but one of us needed more than most. These workshops are after all exhausting!!! Whose coffees were these?

I'm not telling, except to say they were not Louise's.

My gift

I've been working on a special present for my daughter. She turned 18 this week and to commemorate I painted her portrait (in acrylics). It's something she'll have forever and I think it captures her inner beauty and cheeky smile. Having a daughter is a gift. 

Tonight she was late home from work. It was pouring down with rain - a torrential Queensland 'shower'. When I rang her she was at the shops choosing a card for me. (It's my birthday tomorrow).
"Don't worry about the card," I said. "Just drive home slowly and safely because I love you."
"Love you too, Mum."
She aqua-planed the car on the way home, but made it safe - minus the card.

Who cares about the card? I already have my gift.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Letting the characters loose

I've been uptight for a few months. Loads of deadlines and the pressures of family have stifled my creative spirit. So when I sat down today to sketch some new characters not much happened. Tony's advice in these situations (Tony Champ is my art/illustration mentor) is to scribble very loosely. Just sketch random stick figures dancing and jumping all over the place. Don't aim for any particular pose. Just see what evolves.

In Tony's demos he begins with a blue colouring pencil and sketches a figure, then shifts to a red pencil and moves the figure to a different position, then green etc. It is similar to animating the character. When he's finally happy with a pose, he sketches over the lines in a black pencil or ink.

Here's an example:

Do you see how this little character just jumped out of the colour scribbles? Cute isn't he?

Here's another one:

Perhaps he's a victim planning his revenge. He certainly looks grumpy.

Ok, my turn to have a go.

I have to let those characters loose, relax my attitude and not be too hard on myself. Then my first happy little character danced onto the page... Minus hands, but nevermind.

You can hardly see the blue lines I drew and that's the beauty of the blue line. They seem to recede when you draw over them and nearly disappear when photocopied or scanned. This can benefit the artist who feels restricted by the darker line. The blue line lets you make mistakes and be free! Then when you're happy with it, go over it in a darker medium.

My next sketch evolved into a ballerina exercising. Don't ask me why. It was the scribble muse...

What happened after that was a surprise. The character I had been looking for and wishing for climbed onto the page and up the apple tree, where she began to swing her legs and read a book. Finally a character I could work with. Do you want to see her?

Where's the apple tree?

This blog post is about letting characters loose not trees.

Maybe next week.

Here she is:

You still want the tree?

What? You're hanging out for it?

So was she...