Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Stuff and Nonsense

I have had a major clearout of our studio in the last few days. I love Bank Holidays and I love getting out and about, come rain or shine. But I also LOVE to go up in the attic and SORT. 

I have been exploring this drawing-writing dream of mine for almost a decade, at varying strengths and in different ways. I have accumulated A LOT of sketchbooks, notebooks, first, second, third and fourth drafts, roughs, final drawings, scribbles, notes, records, receipts and general PAPER. 

I do not need it all. 

I do not want most of it. 

Enter the bin bags and shredder. 

I have had so much fun, getting rid of HEAPS of stuff that I don't need, and making room in folders and drawers for a new season of productivity and of pursuing my dream. The kittens have also had a lot of fun, surfing the waves of paper that spread across the floor as I flung it do its destiny. I have been ruthless but considered. In the process I have gazed at drawings that were once the best I could do. Illustrations that were once so precious that I carefully filed them, trying not to smudge or rip them, now have no value to me at all. I do not wish to do anything with them and they are too numerous to keep as mementos. 

I am aware that in such cases it is advisable not to get carried away in the frenzy and satisfaction of throwing things in bins, so I did exercise due caution, BUT I had a jolly good time too. 

I hate clutter. I hate stuff for the sake of stuff. I love clear desks and tidy drawers. Things within reach and a place for everything. That does not mean that I accomplish this all the time. I often have piles AND PILES of stuff that is waiting to be put away or sorted through. But the desire is there. I love my home and I love it even more when it's well organised and the only things in it are those I choose to be there. 

It is easy to get bogged down by the compulsion or obligation to keep things, but I must evangelise that it is extremely liberating to JUST GET RID OF IT.  NOW! Do you like it? Do you ever look at it or use it? Why let it take up space that could be used for something that deserves to be there? 

I know that when I settle down to get creative or get on with some admin, I will do so without the distractions and delays that clutter brings. When I need to file an invoice, instead of wading through reams of paper, and frustratingly moving heaven and earth to find somewhere half sensible to put it and will then forget again next time, I will calmly, and with a serene smile, pick up my folder, file my sheet and put it back WHERE IT BELONGS. Three cheers. 

I hope you have fun de-cluttering and reorganising. Crack open a new box of labels and boil the kettle. You may be there some time. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Newspaper Column August 2012

'Claude at the Circus' & 'Pants on the Moon'

Today's column is out in the Mid Devon/Tiverton/Crediton Gazette and is available to read below.

Claude at the Circus
by Alex T Smith
Hodder Children's Books

Claude at the Circus is so good to look at that it might as well be edible. I devoured this one in a few minutes and then went back through it, drooling over every perfect page, every striking composition and delicious layout. It is charming, hilarious and quirky, with plenty of action, as well as little morsels of detail going on in the background to amuse and delight.

We follow the bizarre escapades of an endearing little pooch named Claude as he and his best friend, a sock called Sir Bobblysock, explore their local park. As the two enjoy their new surroundings and sample the pleasures a park has to offer, from lying in flowerbeds to getting caught up in a crowd of joggers, mishaps lead to mayhem and before long Claude and Sir Bobblysock are slap bang in the middle of a circus, wowing the crowd and winning the day.

We experience all the visual delights of a picture book but with a much more expanded story, perfect for challenging early readers. Black, white and red are the only colours used, and though you might think this palette could be a little restrictive, Alex T Smith is a master artist and every page turn leaves you reeling at the gorgeous design. I need to go and buy all three Claude books for myself, but rest assured they are all available from Devon Libraries.

Although I'd like to be helpful and tell you the age range that this book will appeal to, I honestly don't think I could give you an upper age limit. Everyone will appreciate what this book has to offer, and us librarians will be very forgiving if it's returned to the library with a spot of dribble on!

Zoe and Beans: Pants on the Moon
by Mick and Chloe Inkpen
Macmillan Children's Books

Many of you will recognise the books of Mick Inkpen, with his creations Kipper and Wibbly Pig featuring in a whole bunch of brilliant stories that are read to little children everywhere each night. Mick Inkpen has teamed up with his daughter Chloe to bring us this charming new set of adventures about a small, inventive girl named Zoe and her soppy, lovable dog Beans. This story takes us from a homely garden to the faraway Moon, after a strong gust of wind carries the pair and their washing line high up in the air.

Mick Inkpen is always pleasingly playful with language and his writing is full of subtle quirks. The story requires you to leave all scepticism behind; every cynical thought and serious viewpoint, to allow yourself to be immersed in a little child's world of endless possibilities.

 Zoe is a clever little thing and always manages to get herself and Beans out of mischief. The lines between reality and imagination are blurred and you can never tell if the adventure really happened or if it was all a wonderful game. Check your local library for previous titles and watch out for the next Zoe and Beans book coming out later this year, “Hello Oscar.”

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Something to Do - a Book Review

I had a parcel today. It contained this book "Something to do" by Septima. 

I love it for many reasons, two of which are that it's a puffin paperback from the 1960s and it is edited by Kaye Webb. In my family, those facts give a sense of excitement and trust, knowing the book is almost certain to please.  

I was introduced to this book at my friend's house the other day; she had just been making lemonade using a recipe from this book and pulled it off her shelf to show me and it was a little delight. I was thrilled to discover it is filled with illustrations by Shirley Hughes. When I mentioned it to my Mum the other day she knew of the book but had never owned a copy, having seen it for sale in the sixties when when, aged 19, she worked in a bookshop in London. People came in asking for it regularly. Septima is the name of the group that created the book, so called because there are 7 of them. Sharing a community and having 21 children between them, they pooled their ideas and experience to write this lovely book to keep children entertained. As editor Kaye Webb says in her introduction (which, charmingly she wrote for all of the hundreds of books she worked on), "Here at last is a book to fill up all the wet days and dull days that produce the question "What can I do?" in every family. 'Something to Do' has suggestions for things children can do at home, indoors and outside, without spending much money or being a terrible nuisance."

I love Shirley Hughes' drawings and she is one of the few completely reliable illustrators I know of. She has been working for decades and is a truly accomplished artist. Her figures are so true to life, full of life, expressive and believable. Her illustrations are a comfort, they are so normal and domestic. They are loose, sometimes a bit scribbly. But so RIGHT! 

But that delicious bonus aside, this is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelf of every family who loves to do nice things. Every family who values the cosiness of roasting chestnuts, who savours the taste of toffee apples, who understands the importance of doing things for yourself, doing things for free, and doing things together.

It covers the calendar year, giving a chapter to each month, and within each month it provides suggestions and instructions for interesting, seasonal things to do. Every month starts with a short poem, and is followed by a tempting selection of of craft activities, recipes and games. Among my favourites are the recommendations to get a cat, to go berry picking, what to play in bed when you're under the weather, a host of word games and skipping games.

Yes, technology is amazing and handy but there is still a place for matchbox furniture, marbles, clothes-horse dens, and daisy chains. I hope that if we ever have children of our own that we will remember to give space and time to such things and that dvds and handheld devices will not be the main focus of our day. This book is going to sit happily on our shelf and be referred to throughout the year, forever more. I hope you will discover its charms too. 

Copies are available on Amazon Marketplace, for as little as a penny, plus postage. I even bought a spare one!