To write and illustrate Hamish, The Bear
Who Found His Child
- 153 teddies sketched
to find Hamish
- 142 emails exchanged
with Piccadilly Press. Usually short!
- 326 hours of my
work - that's the equivalent of 8 weeks,
5 days a week, 8 hours a day. The publisher
put in plenty hours too!
- 14 versions of
the text before getting to the final one
- the publisher only saw a handful.
- First draft: 1030
words. Final text: 500-ish words.
- How long it took:
27 December 2001: approaching publishers
Children's books really excite me,
and if I do one by the time I'm 80, I'll be well
pleased. Now seems a good time to plant the seeds.
I've made up half a dozen pages of samples of
my illustrations and posted them to 20 children's
book publishers. I've indicated that I've also
written stories - being a writer as well can increase
your chances. There's a reply postcard in the
pack. I've been phoning their switchboards for
the name of who to send them to.
to the top
Jan/February 2002: publishers are
I'm getting responses from the art
directors at the publishers. Nice ones like: "I
thoroughly enjoyed your illustrations".
One where nothing was right. It was atrocious.
It began "Sorry but to be honest ..."
and I'm not telling you the rest. It made me laugh.
Some kept my samples on file, though they wrote
"not suitable for our present list".
If they say that AND return the samples, it's
a nice way of saying "***-off".
These publishers don't like hurting your feelings,
even though they get dozens of letters like mine
every day. I phone them up. Most are incredibly
kind and give me advice on developing my style.
18 January 2002: success!
No response yet from Brenda Gardner,
Publisher and Managing Director at Piccadilly
Press, so I phone her up. She says she'd LIKE
TO MEET ME! I fall off my chair. She's travelling
for a while (and I secretly want time to create
a portfolio using all the recent advice), so we
set a date for 12 March in London.
Jan - March 2002: frantic
I'm painting like mad and getting
help from my fantastic artist/teacher sister-in-law
Penny Munro. What does it mean when a publisher
invites you? A nice chat with biscuits? A job?
I throw my portfolio around so it doesn't look
12 March 2002: meeting the publisher
"We need a teddy bear book",
says Brenda Gardner. Piccadilly Press is a busy-looking
open-plan affair, much smaller than I thought.
She comments kindly on my portfolio, but she's
obviously decided to give me work anyway. We could
have met AGES ago! "What's the story?"
I ask. There isn't one. I'm to write it - well,
it's a team effort. She says to start by sketching
a main character, and then a story will come to
me. Just like that?!
I skip and hip-hop all the way back
to the top
13 to 18 March: character sketches
I've got 6 days to email Brenda
some character sketches, and in 22 days time,
she needs a dummy book to take to the Bologna
Book Fair: for this I need to think up and write
a story, draw sketches of every page, and do a
couple of pages properly in colour. Oh, and a
poster to put up at the Fair. I can do it. I'm
I start emailing Brenda some teddies.
She'd like a squat cute little thing, lively and
a bit cross. She's lent me a teddy that goes some
way towards the squat-look. If you click on the
pictures below, you can see sheets filled with
dozens more sketches. Each time, Brenda helped
me narrow down what we were looking for. She always
started with 'Yes, that was really nice' before
rejecting them. Kind people make the world go
emailed a first lot: 'Very nice. But...'
another lot: 'too cute'
'Not cute enough'
finally: 'numbers 135 to 145 are it'
to the top
17 March: starting the story
Now I've got my character, a story
is supposed to spring to mind. If I sleep a lot,
will ideas come in my dreams?
19 March: story ideas
Don't have dreams. Chloe, sweet little darling,
wakes me before I get to dreams.
Brenda's thinking along the lines of a little
teddy bear world that's quite magical yet quite
like the real world too - in a forest maybe. It's
March and it's cold. I really fancy setting the
story in my favourite warm beautiful place, gorgeous
architecture, open all hours, cafes to sit in
to sketch. Princes Square shopping centre.
The most important thing that goes on in a child,
ever since birth, is the struggle between attachment
and independence. One minute it's 'I'll do it
myself', the next they're clinging to Mummy. In
fact you spend all your life balancing your need
to grow for yourself, and your need for relationships.
Children love and nurture their teddies, so this
story could be about the attachment between a
girl and her bear. Brenda's notion of a secret
teddy bear world takes my fancy, so let's make
it a teddy bear shop with a secret world at the
back, where they all come alive. Maybe some 'peek-a-boo'
games as girl and teddy find each other in the
busy shopping centre.
Actually these ideas come through a round-about
route. You can see my scribbles here:
I suggest to Brenda the idea of a teddy who wants
to find the child that's just right for him. Brenda
thinks the concept of 'for every child there is
a teddy, and for every teddy there is a child'
really worth going for. She thinks it's original.
I've thought of something original!
23 March: poster for Bologna Book Fair
Now onto a poster for the Bologna Book Fair.
Brenda needs something to attract visitors to
her stand. The Fair is the main annual event where
publishers show each other their projects. Brenda
needs an international co-edition: publishers
from other countries who will buy the book in
another language. This makes the printing affordable
- all the colour layers are printed together except
the last layer, black, which contains the text.
All British publishers need this to be able to
afford to keep producing 8000 children's titles
needs the aah factor'
he's so sweet!
Go for this one'
to the top
24 March: first draft of story
I've sent Brenda a first draft of
the story. It's called 'How Foofy found Emma'.
It's lovely and I bet she'll be really impressed.
25 March: first draft gets slashed
Brenda has axed my story.
She's faxed me a framework
for each of the 12 pages of the book. There's
just a sentence or two per page.
She's cut out all the strands and left just
I'm off for a large piece
of chocolate. 70% cocoa.
3 April: Foofy becomes Hamish
Brenda's not keen on the name 'Foofy'
for our main teddy. She says it sounds like something
from one of the bad manuscripts that crash through
their letterbox every day. Precisely.
I go through our book of baby names.
How about Frip, Frips, Grar, Gromf, Gromph, Scoots,
Mitch, Scatch, Smif, Smifs, Smiffy, Frum, Frums,
Scottie, Kikko, Scara, Scurachic? I think I'm
digging a hole for myself here.
Brenda phones me: someone in the
office suggested Hamish. I phone my friend Nick,
expert on Scottish bad taste. Does Hamish,
along with author/illustrator Moira Munro,
suggest tartan tack? He thinks not.
to the top
4 April: dummy book
I've had a frenzy of sketching and
emailing and I'm now on time to send Brenda everything
she needs to make up a dummy. A dummy is a pretend-book,
with all the pages sketched out, except one or
two that should look like the final thing. The
text is stuck on or laid out on computer, and
the whole thing is sellotaped double-sided together
to show what the book will be like.
Here are a couple of the dummy
pages. Pictures that fill the double-page spread
alternate with pages with small vignettes, to
add some variety.
the girl changed later on
I've built on Brenda's text framework
and produced a new version of the story. My first
draft was rubbish. This one's brilliant.
13 April: Big Bear's bow tie
Brenda has slashed my story. I've
a feeling this may may not be the last time and
I'm off to stock up on chocolate.
We've agreed that the kindly big
bear, whom I originally named Fizziguff, is to
be called Big Bear. There's probably a reason
for his bow tie. He reminds me of 'Prof', my benevolent
thesis supervisor Professor Nigel Corlett.
14 April: first hurdle is over
Brenda has come back from Bologna
Book Fair and says people commented very favourably,
the book is definitely going ahead, and I should
be very pleased. I am. Celebratory chocolate.
If she'd had to drop the project
at this stage, I'd still have been paid one third
of my advance, which would have covered my time
to the top
15 April: the cover
I have to produce roughs for the
cover by early May. The designer will then work
on them. We need a strong, positive image. Here
are some of the ideas I e-mail Brenda, along with
enough representative of the story. Too
much of "Goldilocks"
you can't see what's happening.
The last one on the right, the pillow
fight, is my favourite because of the energy in
it. I think it said a lot about Hamish's character.
So I add detail and colour to make it clearer.
We're regularly exchanging new story
versions: today we're on draft number 7 (each
time I work on the story, I re-number it - but
I don't bother Brenda with every version). This
one is brilliant. Brenda will be really impressed.
20 April: the contract
Brenda has asked for changes to
the draft number 7.
I've been getting advice from the
Association of Illustrators on the contract Brenda
sent me. It's very fair and doesn't have any of
the nasties you sometimes read about. The contract
specifies royalties on book sales and on all kinds
of other uses the illustrations could be put to
(subsidiary rights). I get an advance on the royalties
- if the book doesn't sell well, it's all I'll
Royalties for an author/illustrator are
typically between 5% and 10% of the book's
price. Half if you only do the illustrations.
I'm not going to tell you what I get, but
I can say that for every two or three books
sold I can buy a decent Belgian chocolate.
I negotiate for little extras here and
there, such as an escalator clause: if the
book sells UNUSUALLY and INCREDIBLY well,
my percentage royalties will increase. This
gives me a satisfied little feeling.
I'm not going to be rich in a hurry.
I don't quite understand how others make a full-time
profession of book illustration. But I'm still
in heaven - I'm doing a book, and someone believes
in it enough to take a risk on it!
to the top
24 April: changes to the first roughs
Brenda has sent me a photocopy of my dummy with
requests for changes. Both the editor and the
art editor have had a go at it. We need more variety
for the scenes in the shop. The little girl still
ought to be seen from the back or from a distance
to avoid defining her race too much. I find this
tricky - the best I can do is to give her a nice
little neck and cute proportions. A whole new
dummy is needed by 9 May.
My super-mum does lots of extra baby-sitting,
and my ultra-supportive husband takes little Chloe
off for the week-end. Left on my own, I work for
12-hour days. I'm on a high!
27 April: my daughter test-drives the book
My daughter Chloe is just the right age to be
my guinea pig. I'm reading the story aloud to
her. It sounds clunky - it didn't when I read
it aloud to myself. She runs off. Was it THAT
bad? She returns with an armful of teddies. There's
Panda, Stripey and good old Teddy. Just the same
as in the pictures. She likes that.
Just one chocolate, and I'll attack the next
23 May: start on final artwork
The last week or so has felt odd. Nothing to
do on the book. I could get used to this. Brenda
phones - all the roughs are now fine, so I'm to
paint the finished work by 14 August. She wants
the whole lot in one go. I'm terrified she might
not approve the painting style, and then I'd have
to redo everything. She assures me that if I stick
to what I did for the poster, it will be fine.
I raid the library for art books with beautiful
pictures, in order to work out a colour scheme
for every page. I want readers to be gasp with
delight at every page. That kind of thing.
Chloe only goes to nursery 2 days a week (that
was 2002 - all changed now), but there's evenings
and week-ends. The cooking and shopping still
get done ... exclusively by Simon. It's frustrating
to lay down brushes, knowing it may be 4 days
before I can start again. I am SO keen.
to the top
10 June: the cover
We've finally got a cover we all like, with the
help of Brenda's graphic designer Paul Fielding.
There's even been a change to the subtitle, at
the very end.
Here are a few of the cover trials - the final
one is on the right.
I've repainted the final cover illustration FIVE
times. I'm obsessing over the pleats in the fabric.
I ask Simon, my ever-patient husband, to check
them. He can't see any difference between them.
Even when I point them out.
13 July: getting there ... with the help of
Phew, I've more or less finished painting. I've
re-done many pages once, that's less times than
I'd expected. So many friends have helped me with
their comments. Penny and Janet Munro (my sister
and mother in law, both artists), Dawn Crowe (graphic
designer), Ali Mills (set designer with an eye
for the mood various colours convey). My sister
Eileen and her lyric-writer/composer of a husband
Edward Hardy gave me some great sentences. My
other sister Anne, a psychologist, had already
checked the story. Maria Kearny, a teacher and
poet, spent a long evening helping me with every
word. I even asked my mum for comments (highly
dangerous, but she's all right -she uses the 'Yes,
very nice, but ...' technique.)
Nowadays, anyone walking into the house gets
used for feedback. I can't bear to make a change
without checking with someone that it's actually
an improvement. I warn people I may only use a
small amount of what they suggest. I only take
what strikes me as obviously right. Getting comments
from Brenda and editors Jane Nissen and Yasemin
Ucar is different. They know about this business.
Sometimes I've struggled over a paragraph, and
they re-write it in one elegant, effortless phrase.
Occasionally, they write something which doesn't
sound like ME at all, and I propose an alternative.
Editors are the unackowledged authors of many
books 'written' by illustrators who fancy themselves
to the top
23 July: all done!
After all my friends' comments, I made changes
to the pictures, and now everything is finished.
I'm off on holiday, and I'll give the book a complete
break. That way when I return I can do a final
check with a fresh pair of eyes.
I think I'll take my stuff with me just in case.
30 July: just a few more changes
I'm sitting in the sun on a sea-wall, enjoying
a relaxing holiday away from it all. I've got
my dummy and an armful of post-it notes on my
knees, and I'm just making a few changes to the
text. Simon is in charge of cooking, as usual.
I'm obsessed, but for a good reason. I owe it
to other parents to write as well as I can. However
awful a book is, a child may demand it over and
over again. It can be torture.
7 August: all sent off
Celebration time! I've posted all the artwork
off, along with the last version of the text.
I'm ahead of the deadline. My mum would be proud
I sit down with wee Chloe, the final dummy book
on my knee. It's only the second time she's heard
it - I wanted to keep it exciting for her. I ask
"Do you like this story?" WHY, woman,
why did you ask? What will you do with the answer?
"Actually Mummy, you'd have made better
use of these last 5 months spending more time
Thankfully, she says she likes it and could she
have her bottle of milk now.
She likes "And when Big Bear asked him to
do something, he said, "NO!!!". I knew
3 September: last touches
Brenda asked for a few more changes. She says
that "And they both loved each other more
than anything in the whole wide world" on
the last page could be a bit of overkill. Knowing
how supportive she is, I translate this as 'it's
complete barfff', fingers down throat and so on,
so I agree to the change. We're on version 14.
Luckily for her, she only saw some of those 14
I can't imagine it will take so much work next
time round. I'll be slicker, faster. Yet I've
heard that five months is quite average for illustrating
a picture book, let alone writing it. I can't
believe how kind Brenda has been all the way through.
This has been the most fun kind of hard work I've
ever done. I want to do this for ever and ever
Several months later:
Hurray, I am slicker and faster! I've
done the next Hamish book nearly twice as fast
AND had even more fun doing it. And in between
I illustrated two books for another publisher,
for which I had even less time. My brain must
be growing new lobes.
And now I'm visiting schools and libraries and
it's a delight to get children's reactions, and
then letters and drawings. An unexpected bonus
of having done a children's book! Now, several years on, with several more books under my belt, I'm glad to say I'm a lot more efficient, but it's still as exciting.
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