Tuesday 24 January 2017

Sam Hearn On What He Loves About Writing/Illustrating Children's Books

Great to have Sam Hearn, author of the Baker Street Academy series, talking about what he loves about writing/illustrating children's books - we're excited to read Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond soon!

So, what do I love about writing children's books, you ask?  Hmm… Let me think… I should probably squeeze in a little mention about illustrating them too, seeing as I also do that bit!

I suppose the first thing I need to point out is that the whole writing part of the job really does still feel completely new to me. I know I have written an entire young fiction novel now - and even a few younger children's board book type texts as well, but it still doesn't quite register that it's actually what I do as part of my job just yet. I’ve been doing the drawing bit for around 16 years now and that definitely feels like a job! (a hard one too) In fact, when I first got a sniff of doing this Sherlock work I don’t think I was entirely aware of the fact that I’d have to write everything as well as draw it… Its almost like they made a mistake. Shh! Don’t tell anybody! However it happened, I definitely do love it though. It’s very satisfying when you get to put the final full stop at the end of a document - no matter how difficult it has been to get there - and I don’t think I’ll ever get over what a strange sensation it is to read your own words in a book. It’s as if it was all done by somebody else!

With writing, I think you get an opportunity to really bring all your ideas to life in a way that just drawing the pictures can never afford you - usually that's simply because you are illustrating somebody else's words and somebody else's ideas. If you are lucky, with the pictures - you get a good amount of input into the visual elements, but it can never compare to being the one who comes up with the ideas in the first place. Mostly, I love the fact that I can finally make some use of the random and strange thoughts that often come into my head! And I know that as long as I remember to write them down somewhere, they might just be the right bit of spark to set a bigger idea or story alight.

Another good thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere! In your bed or on the train - You don't really need anything other than a pen and a notebook ( if you're still into writing on paper, that is… ) Let’s face it, you don’t even need to get dressed. Yep, you can sit around in your pants and still get stuff done!   ( Please let it be known that I actually do get dressed before writing though. I also leave the house. )

I’m being a bit silly, I know. But for me, that’s probably the best bit about writing children’s books and the bit that I love the most. I can now legitimately have conversations with myself all day, usually in all sorts of voices - either out loud or in my head. I don’t know how other writers do it, but this is how the ideas come to me. Even though I have been just an illustrator for most of my career, I always did have ideas and write in some way or another. The problem I had though was that I hadn't learned how to think about exactly when to make a note of the ideas properly. It doesn't help that they often come to you in the most awkward or unexpected moments, like when you're in the middle of having a shower, or just about to drift off to sleep! 

Having to write for a published project ( with a looming deadline and all the associated pressure ) made me much more aware of how to catch an idea when I have it and put it down somewhere safe. It doesn’t mean that it will be any good of course - but just for a little while, I can be anybody I want to be or say anything I want to say and have a cast of characters running around in my own personal film in my head. The very best bit of all is when I can make myself laugh. I hope I can always do that! Obviously there's no guarantee that someone else will find the same thing funny, but it's always a good feeling.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Barry Hutchison's Worst Ever School Visit Moments

We are super-excited to be taking part in a joint blog tour today! Stripes are running a fabulous tour to promote TWO school stories they're releasing in January - Karen McCombie's St Grizzle's School For Girls, Goats and Random Boys (illustrated by Becka Moor), and Barry Hutchison's Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (illustrated by Katie Abey). Both of these look like hilarious reads with great illustrations! We're excited to have Barry talking about his worst ever school visit moments in this post.

2017 marks my tenth year as a full-time children’s author (I think, although I’m not very good at maths, so don’t quote me on that). As well as writing books lots of books in that time, I’ve also visited hundreds of schools, speaking to tens of thousands of children about what a jolly jape this whole writing lark is, and how books are all great an’ that.

Thankfully, the vast majority of those visits went brilliantly, with lots of enthusiastic students, teachers and librarians helping to make every event a success. Or, almost every event. Sometimes, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they could do. Take the incidents below, for example, which I present in no particular order.

1. Back in my second year of being an author, I was invited by a head teacher to visit her school. She was very friendly, full of great ideas, and we made plans for a whole day of workshops and author talks. The day arrived, and I got up at 5am to drive the 130 miles to the school, only to find out the head teacher was off sick that day, and hadn’t told another living soul at the school that I was coming. They were unable to get her on the phone, and so, unsure about this strange, six-foot-four unshaven man standing at the front door, they decided they couldn’t let me in, and I had to drive 130 miles back home.

2. I was invited to a boys-only boarding school to talk about my Invisible Fiends horror series back in 2012 or so. The plan was for me to do a talk in the evening, after the pupils had eaten dinner. What I didn’t realise was that, prior to my event, the younger boys – aged 8-10 or so – would be sent to shower and get ready for bed, and so I ended up talking about some deeply disturbing horror novels to 100+ kids, half of which were wearing pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, and clutching teddy bears. I was then asked to pose for a photograph with them after the event – a photo I hope never surfaces on the web…

3. Questions! One of the parts of an event I love and dread in equal measures is the Q&A session at the end. Questions generally range from the repetitive (“Where do you get your ideas?” “How much do you earn?”) to the probing (“Your female characters are always more impressive than your male characters – discuss.”)

Sometimes, though, there are some really memorable questions thrown my way. My favourites include:
“Do you know the queen?”
“You know you said Mr Mumbles tries to kill the hero? Have you ever killed anyone?”
“What’s the best noise you’ve ever heard?”

One question that really sticks out in my mind, though, came at the end of a talk to a group of completely impassive Year 9s, who had spent the previous 50 minutes glaring silently at me, and wishing me dead. When I asked if anyone had any questions, I was delighted to see a boy near the back put up his hand. “Yes?” I said. “What’s your question?”

To which he replied: “Can we go now?”

4. Or how about the time when I turned up twenty minutes early at Elgin Academy in the North of Scotland, and got increasingly annoyed as I was left waiting for half an hour in reception for a member of staff to come and take me to the library…

…and then discovered I was supposed to be at Elgin High School at the opposite end of the town, instead, where everyone was already waiting patiently.

And let’s not even mention the event where the 14 year old tried to punch me in the face!

By and large, though, school visits are great fun, and from my initial nervous ramblings have quickly become one of my favourite bits about the job.

Most of the time, anyway.

Beaky Malone: Worst Ever School Trip (written by Barry Hutchison and illustrated by Katie Abey) is published today, 12th January, by Stripes Publishing.