March 7, 2013
This wasn’t the picture I was going to put up. To mark the publication day for ‘Rat Runners’, I was going to post the cover again, but I’ve done that a few times so I’m going to give it a rest for the moment.
Instead, I’m putting up this. When I finish the manuscript for a novel, I draw up a black and white cover for it. This was the one for ‘Rat Runners’. Like the others, this was not intended as a concept for the final cover, or even an internal illustration. I draw these for a few reasons, but mainly, they’re to remind me of something.
When I was a kid, I used to fill copybooks (that’s ‘exercise books’ for you folks in the UK) with stories and pictures. I fantasized about being a writer and illustrator. Sure, I wanted to be loads of other things, but it was always really this thing. I never really felt like I had a choice in the matter.
So here I am, twenty-five books later. This is the dream. But people who aren’t in the business must sometimes be surprised at how cynical full-time children’s writers can become, and I’m no exception. I can be quite the belligerent fecker at times. To people who are still waiting for their shot, this attitude must seem churlish and even ungrateful considering we’re doing what we dreamed of doing.
We don’t mean to be negative about it, and deep down, I think most of us feel really privileged. But making it in this job can be a REALLY hard slog, unless you’re exceptionally lucky – it can lead you to be frustrated, stressed and downright exhausted from constantly trying to break through, and then you start making a living from it, and you find there’s rarely any let up, unless you reach that tiny, TINY golden percentage at the very top.
But I do not consider myself a ‘struggling writer’. I am not a tortured soul, writing to fill a god-shaped hole, or to overcome my neuroses. I am not oppressed by the demands of my muse. I write and illustrate stories to make sense of the world, to connect to something greater than myself, but when you get right down to it, I’m still just the kid making stories with pencils and markers in his copybooks.
And that’s why I draw pictures on the the fronts of my manuscripts.
I hope you’ll check out ‘Rat Runners’, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
January 9, 2013
This is a post about the small ‘icon’ illustrations I’ve done for the heads of the chapters in my latest book, ‘Rat Runners’. I do pics like this for all my novels – or at least the novels I haven’t been commissioned to do by somebody. Partly because I want the inside of the book to look distinctive as well as the outside (quite difficult with a novel) and partly because some things are best described with a picture . . . and partly because I just like pictures.
I start this process in the first read-through of the galley proofs – where the pages are first laid out as they’d be in the printed book. As I read, I note down the kinds of snapshots of images that would make a good icon for each chapter. The trick is to choose something in each chapter that will be eye-catching, distinctive, different from the other chapters and helps describe something in the story. You also have to be able to tell what each one is when it’s very small – these illustrations are only couple of centimetres squared when they’re printed, and I draw them at about five centimetres squared, so they’ve got to be clearly recognisable.
The first drawings are little more than scribbles, ‘thumbnails’ as they’re called in the trade. I do these on the proof pages themselves normally, trying to figure out what will work and what won’t. Then I move on to the proper pencil drawing. I have a standard template I work into when I start, which suits the head of a chapter; a wide rectangle marks the absolute margin for the picture, but the circle is the main frame, allowing for a bit of breaking out of that frame in most of the pictures.
I’ll use photographic references for some of these pictures – you can only find appropriate pictures about half the time, and even then, there’s a lot of adapting and simplifying.
For the Wildenstern books, I used an old-fashioned style with a lot of linework and cross-hatching. Because of the modern setting for ‘Rat Runners’, I changed the look just a little bit, using a lot more solid black with some linear pen shading, more like the very blocky black style I used in my earlier novels.
Each picture represents an image from that chapter – sometimes just a object that features, one that may not be vitally important, but gives a flavour of the text.
There are frames on these icons, though I haven’t used frames for the last few books. I do up a single frame separately (which, in this case, suggests a camera lens) then place it over each picture in Photoshop, once the drawings are scanned. Then they’re ready to send to the editor.
This is often the last piece of work I do for any book, bar the odd little text revision, and makes for a nice sign-off. It marks the end of the book and time to start on the next which, incidentally, is well underway.
November 29, 2012
So I recently finished the copy edits for the next novel, ‘Rat-Runners’. I’m starting on the icon illustrations today – those little pictures I do for the chapter headings for every novel. I’ll post a few when I’ve got them done. The cover is finished, but I’m not allowed show it yet . . . although they never said anything about showing pieces of the cover, so I’m sticking a couple up here – part of the front and the WatchWorld logo from the back. It’s the story of four very different young criminals working in a surveillance state, run by this organization called WatchWorld. The story is set in London in the near future. Their strapline: ‘If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.’
The kids are given a task by a scheming gangster, which rapidly goes sour, leaving them caught in a dangerous power struggle between two powerful enemies, each trying to get hold of a case belonging to a murdered scientist.
I’ve been letting people have sneak peeks of the cover – and later the proof copy – at my sessions, but we’ve a few different promotional ideas to bring into play before the release date in March, including a short prequel we’ll be releasing online, so keep your eyes peeled. And remember, if you’ve nothing to hide . . .
November 15, 2012
Okay, so October’s over and I’m winding down events in November, so I thought I’d run over what I’ve been up to and where I’ve been, along with a few other bits of news.
Children’s Book Festival brought its usual hectic schedule. I’ll keep just to that month, where I did (deep breath): an Ideas Shop event with Sarah Webb and Judi Curtin in Tallaght library, then four different libraries in Meath, Skerries Community College, I interviewed Anthony Horowitz in the Solstice Theatre in Navan, had to miss the Octocon convention in Dublin, four different libraries in Kildare, two more Ideas Shop events in Tipperary, St Molaga’s NS in Balbriggan, Bailieborough and Cootehill libraries in Cavan, St Colmcille’s Junior School in Knocklyon and Kishogue Travellers’ Community Centre for South Dublin libraries, Loreto College in Foxrock . . . and finally, two sessions (one with Derek Landy and Will Hill) in Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin for the Bram Stoker Festival.
So, I was thoroughly knackered by the beginning of November. Add in the fact Maedhbh’s been very ill, and the kids have been conspiring to ensure we never get a full night’s sleep, and my brain has been in danger of losing its higher functions.
I’ve also just wrapped up a night course I was teaching in a local college, and did a weekend course for the Irish Writers’ Centre at the end of September. I did a talk for Irish PEN on YA fantasy last week, with Celine Kiernan and Conor Kostick, I was in Tallaght again today with Sarah Webb, and tomorrow I’m in St Michael’s College in D4, talking to the first years. On Sunday, I’ll be back in Smock Alley with the ubiquitous David Maybury (author of ‘Frankenkids’) doing a Nightmare Club Event. That’ll be it, for the moment . . . I think.
October also marked the launch of my book for Little Island’s Nightmare Club series, ‘Wolfling’s Bite’, and my sister Erika’s excellent new book, ‘The Demon Notebook’. Like my other sister, Kunak, Erika seems to have knocked out a cracking read just to prove to their big brother that this publishing lark is a piece of piss, really.
I’m going to post a bit about my upcoming book, ‘Rat-Runners’ when I get a chance, but I’ve also started work on a TOP SECRET PROJECT that I can’t talk about (yet), except to say that it’s going to keep me busy writing for the next few months. The deadline’s ridiculously tight, which actually suits me for the moment – I do love the events, but a bit of enforced sitting-down-and-writing will be nice. And the dog will start getting proper walks again. Oh, and the painting I was meant to do for Maedhbh’s birthday is REALLY late, so I need to get that finished too.
Right, I’m off to bed. Wake me at the end of the month.
October 12, 2012
I’ve just realized how long it’s been since I posted anything – thank you Facebook, for diverting my online attention elsewhere. It’s just been easier to stick bits and pieces up as I went, rather than writing something at greater length . . . you know . . . say a few hundred words. Who’d have thought blogging would end up being considered ‘long-winded’. And let’s not even talk about Twitter.
Anyway, time for a bit of catch-up as I’m sucked into Children’s Book Festival. This summer, I did a couple of sessions at the Electric Picnic – the two pictures of sculptures are just random choices among the weird and wonderful sights to be seen there among the various stages. It was a fantastic spectacle, and because I was starting early on the Friday (I only went for the day), I got to see a lot of the stuff being set up, which – nerd that I am – I found almost as interesting as some of the shows that were on. There was muck, but not too much of it, and the widest range of food I’ve ever seen at an entertainment event. There was a lot of music playing, but to be honest, I just kind of drifted between the different areas for most of the day, taking it all in.
You could indulge in spa treatments, heated jacuzzis, various relaxation zones, literature events, a small fairground, a large family area with plenty to do for kids and, of course, a wide menu of gigs, from small indie acts to international stars.
Maedhbh and I got to go with our twelve-year old to the London Olympics too, thanks to Maedhbh’s savvy approach to buying tickets. We stayed with a mate of mine over there, and got a morning of athletics at the stadium, and . . . wait for it . . . a morning session of women’s boxing, including seeing Katie Taylor in the semi-final! That was absolutely brilliant, as good an atmosphere as I’ve ever felt anywhere. There was a chance to catch up with my agent while I was in London too. With Frankfurt Book Fair – arguably the biggest book fair in the world – on this week, she’ll have been run off her feet, and I’ve a number of different books being pitched at the moment, so we had a lot of stuff to talk out while I was in the neighbourhood.
As far as work is concerned, the last few months have been hectic, in a varied, patchy way. It’s been a real reflection of what it’s like to be a professional writer – at least one who does well enough to make a living, but hasn’t reached the stratosphere of success that challenges you with problems like juggling international flights (okay, there was London, but it doesn’t count if it’s not book-related) and fighting off the paparazzi. The summer months are normally when I get time to write for prolonged periods, but that just didn’t seem to happen this time, so I’ve been fitting in the writing when and where I could.
Given that it’s now time to get stuck into Children’s Book Festival, taking me to places like Dublin, Kildare, Cavan and Tipperary among others, I should should really be further along with the writing, and things have been coming along. I’ll post a bit about what I’ve been up to in the next week or so.
August 25, 2012
Breaking news! I’ve done a book entitled ‘The Wolfling’s Bite’ for Little Island’s ‘Nightmare Club’ series. They’re quirky little horrors for young readers, and at about 2,000 words, they’re a little longer than my Mad Grandad books. Here’s the blurb:
‘Jessie was nuts about her cute little Wolfling toy. But her brother had heard rumours about Wolflings: they could move without being switched on. They could turn nasty. He even heard that they could bite.
‘Read it, if you dare – and hang onto your nose!’
The size and format of books in this series are the kind of thing I think we need a lot more of. There’s a little upstart named Annie Graves who claims the credit for all the stories in the series, but pay no attention to her . . . she’s an attention-seeking, conniving little minx who profits from the stories of her friends.
And I’m not scared of her ‘cauldron’ either. Not much, anyway.
There’s another book coming out next month, alongside ‘The Wolfling’s Bite’, which Annie says she wrote, but I just don’t believe her. It’s entitled ‘Frankenkids’, and I think she’s got the real author psyched out. While this is an great little series, sure to disturb and horrify innocent young readers, I urge you not to buy or borrow either of these books. That little cow Graves doesn’t deserve it.
July 15, 2012
A massive thanks to everyone who entered the ‘Merciless Reason’ Competition! And now I’m delighted to announce the winner and runners-up:
The runners-up will all receive inscribed copies of each of the three Wildenstern books. They are:
And the winner, who will make a cameo appearance in my next novel, ‘Rat-Runners’ is . . .
Congratulations to all of them, and thanks again to everyone who took part!
June 22, 2012
The lovely Sarah Webb and I will be flying by the seats of our respective pants as we hold an ‘Ideas Shop’ event for the Kilkenny Arts Festival – without the calming presence of Judi Curtin. The event takes place at 3pm on the 12th of August at the Barnstorm Theatre.
In this show, we take a light-hearted approach to discussing how our childhoods influenced our approach to coming up with ideas, how we build our stories from nothing, and how we go about reaching our audience once we’ve completed those stories.
If you’re down that way, and your that way inclined, we’ll see you there.
June 16, 2012
The deadline for entering the Merciless Reason Competition has now passed! A big thanks to everyone who entered! The winner of the competition will appear as a character in my next book, and will be announced on the 15th of July. There will be three runners-up who will receive inscribed copies of all three Wildenstern books.
Thanks again to everyone who took part!
June 9, 2012
I’ll make this quick – it’s been a long day and the whole family’s got to be up at 4am to catch a plane to Germany. And I’m already a bit knackered. I’m taking part in Irischen Kinder- und Jugendbuchwochen 2012 (don’t ask me to pronounce that), a big children’s book festival in Cologne.
It celebrates the writing of a different country every year, and this year it’s Ireland’s turn. It stretches over two weeks, this being the second one. Last week, Niamh Sharkey (our new Children’s Laureate), PJ Lynch, Siobhan Parkinson, Malachy Doyle, Terry McDonagh and John Connolly flew the flag for Ireland.
On Monday, I join Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Judi Curtin, Sheena Wilkinson and John Boyne as we take Irish storytelling and illustration to the kids of Cologne.
I don’t get asked to events abroad (or beyond the UK anyway) too often, so this is a bit of a treat, and Maedhbh and I decided to upgrade it to a family holiday.
Don’t forget, the deadline for entries for the ‘Merciless Reason’ competition is the end of next week! Thanks to all those who’ve entered already, and for anybody else who’s planning to take part – time’s almost up!