Friday, 21 June 2013

Interview with the super-talented Emma Chichester Clark

I am very pleased to welcome Emma Chichester Clark to the blog and hear about the fascinating journey behind her pictures and stories. 

Emma, how did you meet your lovely dog, Plum, and what inspired you to start chronicling her antics?

I met Plum when my sister told me she was getting a puppy. Luckily there was another one going spare and so I grabbed it! It was on its way to Battersea Dog’s Home – can you imagine? That was Plum – eight weeks old. 

The diary began a few months before I put it online. I’d done a visual diary before about my own life –drawing one or two events for each day and it was fun to do but using Plum’s voice is more fun because she is very frank and uninhibited.

Have you always had pets - would you tell us about some of them?

I have always had pets. There were always dogs when we were children, as well as bantams, mice, rabbits and various insects and a very old pony that hated being ridden. When I was older I had cats, the last two – Posy and Gizmo were sworn enemies – Posy was a tricky tortoiseshell and Gizmo was white with a black blob and a black tail and almost nothing is nicer than going to sleep with one cat curled up in the small of your back and the other against your tummy – both purring. 

Tell us about your journey into the world in the world of children's books.

I had a bit of a struggle to get into children’s books. After many visits to publishers with ideas and dummies for books, I sort of gave up. At least I gave up on children’s books and went to the Royal College of Art where I spent three years on the Illustration course. It was brilliant and by the end I was working in a completely different way, using oil pastels mixed with olive oil, making pictures that were more like paintings. I worked for a few years doing adult book covers and magazine illustration until one day the phone rang and an editor at Bodley Head asked me to come and show her my portfolio. She was looking for an illustrator for a book of stories for children. My portfolio was full of dark gloomy pictures – completely unsuitable – but this editor – Rona Selby, who is now at Andersen Press – said ‘Why don’t you go away for 3 weeks and see if you can come up with a more suitable style?’ It was unbelievably exciting and I rushed off and bought watercolours and pencils. I knew it was what I wanted and I knew that the way I had been working was not really me – I knew I wanted to find a way to work that came more naturally and felt as natural as my own handwriting - and that’s what happened, and the book happened, and there’ve been lots more since then. So I was very, very lucky.

What do you look for in a really good picture book?

That is a difficult question. I think my favourite books have one thing in common and that is honesty. If I feel I’m being manipulated by the text or that the illustrator is drawing in someone else’s style or they’re too sentimental or too fashionable – too much technique, I’m not very interested. I love books that come from the heart – and they do stand out – like Beegu by Alexis Deacon, or Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley and Neal Layton – there are loads more – those are just the first two I thought of!

Whose artwork and writing do you enjoy?

I love Charles Addams – I used to pore over a book of his cartoons as a child – Homebodies. I adore William Steig – Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was one of my favourite books, and of course I love anything Quentin Blake does- The Dancing Frog, How Tom beat Captain Najork, The Green Ship – and all the recent paintings he has done for hospitals, which you can see in his book Beyond The Page. I love Ludwig Bemelmans- the Madeline books – that seemingly simple line and wash.

There are so many brilliant illustrators now. I think Lauren Child and Sara Fanelli are both wonderful and have had an extraordinary influence on the way children’s books look today. 

Where do you write and draw?

At the moment I draw in the smallest darkest room in our house but I’m about to move into a new studio in the garden. It’s not quite finished, so I’m waiting and waiting, desperate to move…

How do you gather inspiration for your stories?

I don’t know! I went on holiday in April to India and suddenly wrote three stories. That never happens. I think it’s because I’m always rushing towards a deadline or trying to think up something for Plumdog Blog, and suddenly, on holiday I had nothing to do. So clearly, I need more holidays. 

Are we allowed a sneak peek at any any drawings in the pipeline?

Here are some pictures from Pinocchio. It has been rewritten, by Michael Morpurgo and I’ve just finished illustrating it. 

I’m working on roughs for a new picture book about a bear called George and a little girl called Clementine – they look like this… 

What is your most favourite snack?

Ooooh… well, it was Twirls, but I’ve had to ban them as they were beginning to take over my life. Also croissants. So now it’s anything dreary and unfattening and healthy. Dry boring Ryvita? 

What are a few of your favourite places in the world?

I love Suffolk and I love Greece – especially an island called Hydra. I love where I live because of the Thames where I walk with Plum, and also Richmond Park. London is greatly improved when you have a dog. I never used to go to parks or walk anywhere except to the shops. 

How did you come up with the characters of Melrose and Croc?

Melrose and Croc began with Melrose who was named after the hotel I was staying in, in New York. While I was there I saw a small ancient Egyptian ceramic crocodile in an auction house and he had such character and charm, I had to introduce him to 


Of your characters, who has been your favourite to draw?

Plum is easily my favourite to draw because I LOVE her! So it gives me pleasure each time. But I did love Melrose and Croc too. Perhaps they’d be next favourite. I enjoyed Pinocchio very much – he has collaged clothes and each time I stuck them on it seemed to give the drawing a lift.

It’s always fun to revisit characters – the challenge is whether you can make them look the same each time. Sometimes they just refuse to cooperate – that Lily in Blue Kangaroo- I think I know what she looks like but then I go back to the book and she’s completely different! 

How do you organise your day and stay motivated?

My motivation comes partly from deadlines and partly from guilt and partly from wanting always to be making something. I panic about TIME. I always seem to have lists and lists of things I have to do or want to do and I’m mentally ticking them off all day while watching the clock. Before I start work I take Plum to the park where we meet all our friends – or sometimes we march along the river, so I usually start work at 10. Then I will work solidly till about 3.30 – a bit after the play finishes on Radio 4 – and take Plum for another walk… and then I’ll work a bit more. If I have a deadline, I’ll work into the evening.

I don’t understand how people manage to relax and not work all the time – I mean how do people get everything done?? After work, there’s emails and phone calls and then there’s blogging and tweeting and what about eating and seeing friends and doing NOTHING? How do YOU do it? I’d love to know! 

Follow Plum's adventures at:

and see a list of Emma's brilliant books here:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock

I love this book. Very much. 

The Front
'Dear Scarlett' is beautiful and warm and clever and funny. It is so, so perfect that I am going to rein back and not even really review it at all. (WHAT???)

I am going to give you only what the covers give you.  If this is the right book for you that will be enough. You may not have seen this in your bookshop, you may not have even been to a bookshop for a while. It may have been on loan when you visited the library.

So for all of you who have never yet met this book, here it is...

One more thing... this is one of those books, that, like "Binny for Short" by Hilary McKay, makes me so grateful that there are talented writers out there like Fleur Hitchcock who make these stories happen. Who clutch at wisps of ideas and form them into people you care about and conversations, and happenings that lead you on an adventure while you sit on your cosy sofa, and make you feel and think and smile. That is a very special gift. Thank you Fleur Hitchcock. And please write more soon!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Primary School Children's Alien Artwork

Cullompton Library is proud to present the work of young artists of the community.

Back in March this year Cullompton Library was priveleged to welcome the very brilliant Alexis Deacon.  (If you wonder "how come?" see this previous post)

Alexis writes and illustrates picture books and is a very talented and super chap. 

We invited local primary schools to come and meet him and were thrilled to accomodate over 220 children on the day, in our lovely library, over two sessions. 

Alexis was excellent; throroughly inspiring and entertaining, (for the teachers and librarians as well as the kids) and he engaged with them so beautifully, from acting out his stories with wild gestures and silly voices to the quiet one-to-one book signings at the end of the day. They were delighted by his stories, and one in particular, "Beegu," the story of an endearing little alien who crash-lands on earth.  

Alexis made some large drawings on the spot, taking suggestions from the kids as to what part of what animal to use for heads, body, legs, wings, to create "mash-up" monsters, or aliens. Much giggling was had and everyone was especially impressed by his super-speedy and very accurate head of a Komodo Dragon.

The library become an even more special place that day and something sparked in all of us, to want to keep the magic alive. The kids had such a wonderful time and loved all the storytelling, picture-making, and idea searching. Their excitement and joy was a very precious thing that both us as library staff, and their teachers, want to encourage and nurture. We want to get to know each other better, and work together to keep the kids engaging with books, to keep them wanting to read and write and imagine and create. 

So, long introduction ... at the end of the day Alexis kindly left his big alien drawings that he'd created with the kids.

I thought it would be nice to give them as prizes so devised a drawing competition. We invited all the kids who had attended, (from 4 different local schools) to draw their own mash-up alien for us. 

Today I had the immense pleasure to put up a special exhibition in the Hayridge foyer to display the kids artwork to share with the community and let everyone see the magic that happened in the library, and within the classroom. There were so many drawings, we are having to rotate the pictures over several weeks, but have started with the drawings from Willowbank Primary School. 

I am so impressed with their ideas and drawings. Each beast has been named and we are informed about where they live, what they eat and all sorts of vital facts, such as the population of their planet and life expectancy. One likes to eat beef, drink strawberry juice, and lives on a cloud. Another eats diggers and lives on a dump.

I love how each one is so unique and clearly everyone has put a lot of thought and individuality into their drawing. 

We've used the exhibition to promote a collection of brand new books by Alexis Deacon which are available to borrow. 

So come on down and try one, and enjoy seeing what they kids have come up with. 

It's not going to be easy to choose a winner. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Book Review - The Printer's Devil by Paul Bajoria

published by Simon and Schuster 2004.
I have just finished reading this book. The enticing climax lead me deep into the night before I could finally go to sleep. Yet, having drunk in all the words of this wonderful story, I was left wondering if I'd been an idiot and missed something. I still needed answers. 

It was only when I googled the author, Paul Bajoria, that I learned the Printer's Devil is the first part of a trilogy. Needless to say I'll be requiring the second and third, pronto.

I'd like to tell you all about this complex, intriguing story, but I am having to restrain myself and just give you enough to make you want to pick it up. So much of it unfolds as you read, and the discoveries are plentiful and rich. 

To enjoy this story you will need:

A sympathetic appreciation of the main character, a 12 year old boy named Mog, who works for a printer in Victorian London. 

A delight in paper, ink, printing presses and words.

An interest in mysteries, clues, risk and peril.

A love of good people who try to do the right thing. 

A taste for good prose with varied vocabulary and gorgeous phrasing. 

This story will lead you through Mog's adventure as he follows a tempting trail around the narrow backstreets and dangerous docks of London, to unearth the secrets of criminals and convicts as they dart and dodge in a desperate plot of stolen treasures and hidden identities.  
The characters are distinct and diverse, well developed and believable. Their speech is natural and lively, fitting with the London setting, which is just as vividly described.

It's a good generous, plump book that will grab you and keep you page-turning. It is aimed at pre-teens but, as with many excellent books for that age bracket, will equally entertain many adults too. I know my Mum will probably love it because she is sensible, and I hope some of you will be game to give it a go. 

As with many books I read that I thoroughly enjoy I am left with the grateful feeling that there are clever people in the world with the ability and desire to write such brilliant books. 

You can ask for it at your local library or bookshop, or if you are isolated and never travel, or have no bookshop near you, I suppost you could order it from the link below. ;)