Just a quick note to tell you all that Sheena Dempsey’s fabulous artwork for Dave Pigeon is now with the incredible design team at Faber and from what I’ve seen so far, it is looking FANTASTIC!
And to top it off, it has been incredibly exciting to see Dave in The Bookseller’s Children’s Preview for April.
Suddenly, this is all feeling so real and I can’t believe that a little story about a pigeon called Dave, that I wrote back in 2014 for my then three-year-old son, is actually about to be published… (and in 65 days time)!
This is it! 2016! We have finally made it to the Year of Dave Pigeon. I have exciting news to kick of January: I have joined the Girls Heart Books family and will be blogging over there with the rest of the fabulous team. My first post will be up in February so watch this space (and that space)…
I think it’s time you met the brilliant illustrator behind Dave Pigeon. I met Sheena on a rainy day at Faber HQ. As I sat on the couch in the reception area, eyeballing absolutely everyone who was buzzed through the door, in walked an Irish leggy beaut, slightly drenched, with a look in her eye that said ‘we-clearly-watch-the-same-You-Tube-videos-of-brutish-cats’.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be working with Sheena and how brilliant her illustrations for Dave Pigeon are already looking. (Oh and yes, there will be a sneaky peek at the initial character sketches for Dave Pigeon later in this post.)
Sheena is the brains behind books such as Bye Bye Baby Brother (Walker Books) and Bruno and Titch (Walker Books). Her fun and hilariously detailed illustrative style makes re-reading her picture books an absolute joy.
Sheena, what do you love about writing and illustrating for children?
So many things – the exciting possibilities when working on new ideas, watching characters come to life, the physical action of pencil/pen/paint on paper, the fact that I can do it in my pajamas…
Can you tell us about your illustrating process?
From a practical point of view, my process (for this particular book) involves acres of sacrificial trees – I draw and draw and trace over these rough drawings on my ‘lightbox’ (a glass table with my lamp shining through from underneath), then draw some more until I have an outline I am happy with. Then I scan in this very pared-down pencil drawing into Photoshop, adjust the levels and add texture and tone with digital brushes to give the illusion of the whole thing having been done by hand. I like things to look as organically rendered as possible but I find that actually drawing and painting by hand takes much longer than is ideal and allows me less freedom to improve parts of the drawing without having to start the whole thing all over again when I (inevitably) make a mistake.
From a character point of view, the process varies. Again, it’s just a lot of trial and error but to take Mean Cat’s character as an example, I was inspired by a YouTube video of an evil cat who deliberately pushes breakable things off a table in spite of its owner’s protests.
Because Persian cats are fluffy and their noses are at the same level as their sunken little eyes, they can have these very amusing, malevolent little expressions, which I immediately thought would suit Mean Cat’s antagonistic nature.
Who are your illustrator heroes?
There are too many to choose from but some heroes include: Sempé for his sensitive, light-touch line and cloudy watercolours (I’m a fan of his wonderful New Yorker covers and he illustrated a little book called The Story of Mr. Sommer by Patrick Suskind, which is basically perfection from both a text and illustration point of view), David Roberts for his immense skill and staggering output (also, his edition of The Wind in the Willows, say no more).
I’m loving Benjamin Chaud’s bold characters at the moment and the gorgeous detail in Carson Ellis’s work blows me away. Isabelle Arsenault’s pencil drawings are incredible and Quentin Blake is a hero for inspiring my (and everyone else’s) childhood. I’m also inspired daily by the immensely talented women who are working in picturebooks in the UK right now such as Jenni Desmond, Marta Altes, Birgitta Sif, Tor Freeman, Claudia Boldt, Ali Pye, Yasmeen Ismail and Gemma Merino, to name a few. And Sarah McIntyre is very inspirational for all the time she devotes to raising the profile of illustration in children’s books.
Do you have an all-time favourite children’s book that inspires you?
Not really, again there are just too many excellent ones to choose from.
However, I recently read The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith for the first time – as an avid dog-lover, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t before – and it’s completely adorable with the most fantastic charm, warmth and genuinely hilarious doggie characterisation. Pongo and Missis are such a hoot, there was a line in it somewhere about Missis accidentally eating peppermint creams in her sleep and I must have been rolling around on the floor for a good forty-five minutes. The newly released hardback edition with Alex T. Smith’s illustrations is a thing of beauty.
What one piece of advice would you offer illustrators when working with a writer?
Hmm…I suppose it’s advisable in the first place (if you have the luxury, but of course this is not always possible) to choose texts to illustrate that you love so much you wish you had written them yourself. I think this makes it easier to draw your very best pictures. If the characters are lacking in character, I find it all very difficult.
And what advice would you give writers working with illustrators?
I think if you are working together closely (which is not always the case), let the illustrator know if you are happy with the direction they are going in. It’s lovely to know when you are in the thick of it that the author is pleased (the worry of course being that you are deviating drastically without realising). I’m generally plagued by self-doubt so an encouraging word or two can go a long way.
On the other hand, if you really hate what the illustrator is doing…shhhhh!!!
What’s next for Sheena Dempsey?
Besides working on Dave Pigeon I’m illustrating a couple of books for other authors while working on a project of my own. I’ve just been awarded a literature bursary award by the very kind people in the Irish Arts Council that will allow me to devote more time to it, which is lovely.
Sheena Dempsey is an author and illustrator of children’s books. You can follow her fabulous work over at www.sheenadempsey.com. Her latest picture book Bruno and Titch (Walker Books) is out now.
And, as promised, just for you loyal readers, here is a peek at Sheena’s BRILLIANT initial character sketches for Dave Pigeon.
It’s time to decide if you are Team Dave Pigeon or Team Mean Cat…
If you can believe it, Dave Pigeon is now at the copyedit stage. We did it!
I have to be honest the last six months haven’t been plain sailing. Back in January, following on from my editor’s notes, I felt quite lost with the book. I produced a draft I hated. I felt trapped between what I thought my publishers wanted and what I saw for Dave.
I hit a wall.
There were tears. There were repeated slammings of the laptop lid. Oh and at least three hundred hours under the duvet.
As kind and as lovely as my editor was, there was no way around it, the book had gone down a bit of a pants direction.
That’s when I realised I had to stop going it alone. This is much harder than you might think. I had so far spent the majority of my writing years alone, finding my way to publication pretty much by guessing the next step and I was hard-wired to trust only myself when it came to my work.
I called my editor and we spoke. She allayed my fears and reassured me I had free reign over my work. I had to stop second-guessing myself and everyone else. I let go and the process of writing suddenly became more joyful. I threw out the tissue boxes, said sorry to my laptop and washed the duvet cover. I’m not saying it didn’t feel like hard work but I’ve definitely learnt that if you feel like you aren’t doing the right thing by your characters, you probably aren’t.
I finished up draft four back in the first week of September and aside from the small sticking point over a character’s name, which I was kidding myself was never an issue, Dave got the thumbs up from my editor. I can honestly say (and for those of you who know me this is very rare to hear), I am genuinely proud of my book. Dave Pigeon was sent over to the very brilliant and talented children’s book author and illustrator Sheena Dempsey who put together her initial character sketches. I met with Sheena at Faber HQ and we now have Dave Pigeon, his side kick Skipper and their arch nemesis Mean Cat.
Just for you, lovely readers, here is a sneaky peek of the ultra villainous and incredibly dangerous Mean Cat:
I’m knee-deep in a second round of edits for Dave Pigeon and here’s where I’m at:
Since the last time I’d heard from my editor there had been a lot of thinking. A LOT. Everything I had changed from the original version I wanted to undo whilst still keeping the new plot I had developed, all the while updating the humour to keep it fresh. Oh and I quite wanted to change the entire writing device of the book.
And then there is the overwhelming fear that this book will one day actually be on shelves and people may actually read it. Or worse, not.
That’s why I’m glad for my agent. Mine doesn’t reassure me I’m not mad. Instead she does comfort me with the knowledge that every writer goes through this. We’re all mad! For the last few weeks, I’ve been glued to my desk, slashing away at my story and have bravely hit the ‘send’ button on my email with the latest version winging its way to my editor. Now I sit tight and pray to the writing gods that it will be well received.
This time last year I was finishing the first ever draft of Dave Pigeon, readying to send it in for the Greenhouse Funny Prize. I can’t help but feel butterflies for every writer out there who is in the same position this year.
Good luck to all the writers. Dave and I are crossing fingers and feathers for you.
Yesterday my editor sent me a sample of work from a potential illustrator for Dave Pigeon. This is beyond exciting. Dave Pigeon will be an illustrated book and it’s so important the right illustrator is chosen because the pictures do as much telling of the story as the words.
It got me thinking about the importance of illustrations and illustrators themselves in storytelling. I joined Twitter (rather reluctantly) late last year. I convinced myself for all these years that it wasn’t for me but it turned out I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a fantastic platform to get in touch with others who are as passionate about reading and writing children’s books as I am. In the few months I have been on Twitter a campaign to recognize the sterling job of illustrators has been
gaining momentum. The hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness, spearheaded by children’s illustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre, aims to make sure that illustrators are fully credited for their work.
As children, before we are able to read, we make sense of stories in books with pictures. Even though my son is now reading, we often flick through his books together, piecing the story together with the pictures. It gets him hooked on the book before we’ve started reading the words.
And then there is our family favourite We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. I can’t tell you how many times we have read this. By the age of three, my son knew all the words by heart. I remember reading an article in The Guardian by Jenny Uglow saying that ‘when he wrote Bear Hunt, Rosen… said, he imagined a line of kings and queens setting out to hunt – but Oxenbury created an ordinary family, squelching through mud, tiptoeing into the cave, dashing back under the bedclothes. The final, wordless image, of the bear trotting by the sea, a lonely figure in the dusk, is all her own’. Some of the most wonderful bits of this book that we love so dearly as a family came almost solely from illustrator Helen Oxenbury.
The skill of an illustrator is to bring the words of the writer to life. It’s a partnership to do the best storytelling you can. I really can’t wait to work with an illustrator on Dave Pigeon. Dave is already primping his feathers ready for his photo call as we speak.
After a furious three hours of sewing we have one Roly Poly Bird (from ‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake) to celebrate World Book Day. Thanks to a brilliant template and a lot of old t-shirts.
You can find some brilliant costume and fundraising ideas from Book Aid International who work hard to get books to kids and improve literacy in sub-Saharan Africa.
However you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful and creative day with your nose in a book!
I’m up early this morning and freaking myself out. A few days ago I sent off the first redraft of Dave Pigeon to my editor and it just occurred to me that a few days ago I sent off the first redraft of Dave Pigeon to my editor.
So what to do in the mean time as my nails are chewed down to stubs in nervousness? Aside from refreshing my email every ten minutes and then emailing myself to make sure my inbox still receives mail competently? My agent says whilst I wait I should write. My husband says I should write. My son says write. Everyone says write. Work on the sequel, work on something else, whatever it is, just write.
This is easier said than done. I find I’m incapacitated to move on to new project whilst another remains unfinished. How do you write something new when worlds from your previous projects take up every inch of your mind?
As tough as it has been, the truth is to curb the nerves of waiting to hear back from my editor, I have had to move on to new project and write. This has involved tapping into the part of my brain that is exploding with ideas and mentally shelving the project sitting on my editor’s desk.
It has helped greatly to remove myself physically from the desk where I wrote Dave and move to a warm cafe to write my next book. I think the physical movement of office has helped to make space in my brain for new characters and new worlds.
How do you manage your writing projects whilst awaiting feedback?