Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Year with Marmalade - Blog Tour

I am in love with a new picture book. Not just any book either, this one has an apple tree! 

In A Year with Marmalade (published by Five Mile Press) the story follows Ella and her best friend Maddy's cat, Marmalade, through the changing of the seasons as they grow to know and like one another while Maddy is away for a whole year. The image of Ella and Marmalade crying bitterly as Maddy's family car drives away had me hooked. I knew a wonderful story was about to unfold through the magic of author, Alison Reynolds' words and illustrator, Heath McKenzie's images.

"Ella cried and Marmalade yowled as Maddy's family car grew smaller and smaller and smaller in the distance." 

And with the whitish-pink apple blossoms featuring on the springtime page - how could I not fall in love? 

The Five Mile Press 

Besides the apple tree, A Year with Marmalade is also a delicious balance of words, images and design. From the tactile cover, adorable characterisation, calming white space, touching narrative and beautifully crafted words to the swirling and ever-surprising typography, A Year with Marmalade is a 'must own' picture book for every family library. 

If you'd like to win your own copy, there is a competition at the bottom of this post. But hurry; it closes on 1st Sept.

Today on 'Under the Apple Tree' I'll be focussing on the illustrations from A Year with Marmalade which has been touring many blogs over the last few weeks. And I'm so very excited to be hosting illustrator, Heath McKenzie. With over 100 books to his illustrated credit, Heath has talent and experience by the bin load. Today he has agreed to share his illustrative process for A Year with Marmalade and have a chat with me here under the apple tree. So grab a warm cosy drink and join us on the picnic rug. There's a treat in store!

Welcome Heath, thanks for popping in. I made apple pie especially.

Hi Angela! 

Congratulations on the release of A year with Marmalade and on the fabulous blog tour. It is one of my favourite picture books this year. As the illustrator you bring an added story dimension to Alison Reynolds' beautiful narrative. Right from the moment we meet Marmalade he shows his apprehension by taking a swipe at Ella and then proceeds to ignore her until there is a change in the season (winter) when he curls up at her feet. Were you given illustration notes with the manuscript or did you have free rein?

I had free rein! Which is nice, it's often the case that things go this way. Sometimes there'll be suggestions that can be taken on board or ignored and sometimes, things are spelt out explicitly - which squashes the creative process somewhat!

I can imagine it would! I was taken by your exquisite line drawings which complement the typography so beautifully; for example the 'apples' page where the words make the shape of an apple. I loved that. I understand the text placement was designed before you began illustrating but after you submitted a sample illustration. Were you influenced by the type and design or was it the other way around?

I was influenced by the type design purely because it was something there on the page to have to be mindful of and to work around! So I did my best to adapt any ideas I had to fitting in with the placed text as well as sometimes finding places for the designed text to sit to suit the layout I was wanting to achieve.

And the results are delightful. From the many blog posts already visited during the blog tour for A Year with Marmalade I've noted you used a Wacom board from preliminary sketches to final art. I was wondering whether you might share the process from start to finish for one of the book's double page spreads. I'm completely in awe of all of them.

I like to keep things as close to how I might work with real paper and pencils etc so it's quite a simple two step process - I start with a pencil rough (in this case on the prepared layout spread) - which can get quite messy - and upon approval, get onto drawing the finished art.

Where necessary I draw from real life to base elements on - in this case, the fireplace and mantel clock are based on the very same in my house - I like sneaking bits of my life into drawings when possible! The program I use works with layered art, so I can just draw away on top of the draft, using it as a direct reference. These step by step images probably illustrate it best!

Oh, I see. The original rough is a layer below. Then of course you're able to choose which rough lines to ignore and which to work on in the final art layer. I'm learning something new all the time.

Here below I've included the odd looking layer that is just the colours to show how much the linework helps pull them together to make them work!

Wow, that's fascinating! The line work certainly gives the fireplace depth - what a difference.

Movement and pace through the story is relaxed and gentle. Did this influence your choice of illustration style?

To be honest, I can't recall! I certainly wanted the images to be quite simple (at least in terms of things being just line art with focussed colour here and there) with most of the detail being taken on by the line. So in the end, a bit of a mix - deceptively simple but somewhat complex all at once!

As with all things picture books they are so much more difficult than they look.

Ella and Marmalade's body language to begin with shows disinterest in one another. Even as Maddy's car drives away Ella holds Marmalade at arm's length. The story's gentle pace is further slowed by Ella's character movement from right to left (mostly away from Marmalade) in the autumn and winter pages. The middle double page where Ella and Marmalade read in front of the fire together marks a visual change in their relationship. From then on they do everything together and Ella speeds from left to right on her bicycle towards the page turn. What were your thoughts during the planning process for these pages?

Use of left to right and right to left differences from the standoffish phase of the relationship through into the bonding time was definitely a subconscious decision and it's quite interesting to read your analysis of the images! So often this has happened with my work where things like that are seen by people observing the work but tend to slip into the layouts and designs without my immediate knowledge! 

Generally I was thinking more about the basic logistics of arranging elements on any particular page so as to provide an appropriate amount of white space and at the same time never overcrowd the image. A sense of open space outdoors was in mind for the outdoors scenes and a cosier sense of comfort and safety was in mind for indoor sequences.

Lastly, Heath, you chose to leave the drawings mostly uncoloured, except for Marmalade and the changing of the seasons. For me this is one of the most appealing aspects of the book. I love all the white space. It simply works! What were your reasons behind it?

Keeping things simple and letting the line carry the load! Just to do some straight forward drawing - not worrying about rendering, getting tones and colours and all that happening to create light and shade - just simple, relatively clean drawings made up of lines. I often like to try different things with each book just for the sake of experimentation (and of course, for the sake of enhancing the themes and tones of a particular story) and this story seemed to be lending itself to the approach ultimately taken.

Well, letting the line carry the load was a perfect choice in my opinion. The illustrations in A Year with Marmalade with their clean simple lines will be much loved by kids of all ages (even big ones like me.)

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Heath. I appreciate how busy you must be with book week and blog touring.

Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours.

Thanks, Angela. All the best.

Now, bloggees, aren't you all delighted you stopped by? 

There are more interview gems to be read at the blogs participating in the A Year with Marmalade blog tour below. And, don't forget to enter the competition! Details at the bottom.

Join Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie for the blog tour.

7th  August  Dee White
9th  August  Karen Tyrrell
11th August  Tania McCartney
13th August  Pass It On
14th August  Kathryn Apel
17th August  Dale Harcombe
20th August  Peter Taylor
22nd August  Susan Stephenson
23rd August  Robyn Opie Parnell
27th August  Sally Odgers
29th  August  Angela Sunde
31st August Chris Bell

Competition below!!

Marmalade’s personality really shines through in Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie's  newest picture book A Year with Marmalade. Share your favorite picture showing your cat's personality to win.

The winner will receive a signed copy of A Year with Marmalade and a copy of the picture book Lighty Faust the Lion, a book about a much bigger cat.

Upload your favourite cat photo to or email it  as a low resolution jpeg file at and Alison will upload it on

Alison can’t wait to see your purrfect photos!

Entries close on the 1st of September 2012.