Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Story of Isadora Moon

One day to go until Isadora Moon is out and available to buy! I am so excited!


I thought it would be a fitting time to tell you the story of how Isadora Moon came to be.


Let's start at the beginning. About ten years ago!

If you know me, or if you have followed my blog for a while then you will probably be aware of a character I created called Victoria Stitch. Victoria Stitch is a character I first created on my Art Foundation course ten years ago. She was a naughty fairy type creature and she had a pink rabbit who went everywhere with her.

This is the first incarnation of Victoria Stitch:


I would have been eighteen at the time and I remember the kinds of things that inspired me back then:

- Alternative people who I had discovered on myspace - especially girls with pink hair. I was obsessed by the idea of having pink hair.

- Cupcakes. I just loved the aesthetics of them. I had pictures of cupcakes stuck all over my walls.

- Anything glittery, stripy, starry.

- Fairies. I loved fairies SO much. Everything I drew/owned had to be a fairy.

- Gothic looking things. Especially if it was juxtaposed with something sweet.

...And so Victoria Stitch was born! (and Pink rabbit too)


Personality wise she was quite a mean dramatic character. I think because I was feeling quite angst-y at the time. Well, I was a teenager! I also remember feeling very free and excited at that time in my life too. I channeled all these energies into Victoria Stitch and she became like my alter ego. She was (is) very special to me. I ended up writing and illustrating a picture book about her on my foundation course for my final project.

Three years later, on my degree, I re did my Victoria Stitch book. By that point she had changed quite a bit and grown with me. I had cured myself of the pink hair phase (by dying my own hair pink for a while and then getting bored with it) so Victoria Stitch had also got bored of the pink hair! She now had black hair and instead of traditional fairy wings, she had black bat-like wings.

This is the second incarnation of Victoria Stitch:
You can see she was still quite an angry, spiky, mean character - because that's just who she was by then. Poor Pink Rabbit! (He is much happier with Isadora Moon now but shh don't tell Victoria Stitch that!)

This was one of my favourite Victoria Stitch images from the book I created on my degree (below.) I have it hanging on my wall at home. Pink Rabbit is having a nice time for once, eating ice cream!

I was pleased with this book at the time and I showed it to quite a few publishers but I was always told that Victoria Stitch was too mean, too adult, too spiky for a children's picture book.

After my degree I continued to work on Victoria Stitch in my spare time. I always went back to her and then when I was on my MA I wrote Victoria Stitch number three, which is actually a young fiction book about her, about 65 000 words long. I was pleased with it at the time, after I finished writing it but actually now I am not very pleased with it and it hasn't seen the light of day since!

However, to go along with the young fiction book I created some more illustrations of Victoria Stitch and as you can imagine, by this time, she had changed yet again!

By this point I was drawing her with pen and ink in a slightly looser style, and only in black and pink. I was really pleased with how this looked. I really loved the aesthetic of the black and pink together.
At the end of my MA I got a book deal for I am a Witch's Cat and then I got an agent. I was busy with other work so Victoria Stitch didn't get a lot of attention for a while. But she was always there at the back of my mind! And occasionally, when I had time, I would work on her.

After I got married in 2014, my agent organised some meetings for me with a couple of publishers as I was hoping to get some extra work now that my wedding was over. I took my portfolio to London and showed it around. Inside my portfolio I had a page of my Victoria Stitch pen and ink drawings all done in black and pink. One of the publishers spotted these and said how they thought Victoria Stitch would work well as a young fiction book.


I had of course already written a young fiction book about Victoria Stitch but I wasn't very pleased with it. Also, at 65000 words it was unlikely it would be able to have many illustrations in it and certainly not in two colour, they would all have to be in black and white. I thought it would be a shame to lose the black and pink which was the thing I loved about my current Victoria Stitch illustraions.

And that's when it clicked.

I thought: I could create a heavily illustrated young fiction book for younger children. A shorter one, about 7000 words. That way I wouldn't lose the black and pink illustrations and I could have a lot of them but it wouldn't have to be as simple as a picture book.

It was like puzzle pieces that had already been there for ages all suddenly fell into place.

I felt so inspired and I immediately went home and started to create something.

At first I kept Victoria Stitch as the adult character she was and just tried to write a more simple story about her. But it wasn't really working. I knew Victoria Stitch would have be become friendlier and kinder for a young fiction book and that just wasn't her. She is who she is and it felt wrong to change her. Also she is so special to me that I couldn't just switch her personality like that.

So then I thought... I could create a new character, a young child character but with the aesthetics of Victoria Stitch. Basically how Victoria Stitch would look as a child, but not Victoria Stitch. A nicer, sweeter character.

And so Isadora Moon was born!

As soon as I did this drawing I knew this was her:


I added the little vampire fangs on a whim just because I wanted to see what they would look like and then I decided I really loved them. Already Isadora Moon was becoming a character in her own right because Victoria Stitch did not have vampire fangs.
 

I started to think then: 'why does she have fangs? And little bat wings? What species is she?'

At first I toyed with the idea of Isadora's mum being a witch and her dad being a vampire but that didn't really make sense.

Then I realised: Her mum is a fairy! Obviously! That's why she has the wings. And they are bat shaped wings because her Dad is a vampire. And then the fangs made sense too.

I loved the idea of a fairy and a vampire producing a hybrid offspring because as I said before, I love juxtaposition. I love the look of something slightly Gothic contrasted with something really pink and girly.

(Below: early drawing of Isadora Moon and her parents before their characters were finalized. Note Dad has messy hair in this picture which got changed when his personality was fine tuned! Vampires are very obsessed with looking neat and groomed. Similarly Isadora's Mum changed too. Her hair became much wilder as she is a fairy and likes to be outdoors and at one with nature. Isadora didn't change at all!)

After that everything came really easily. Isadora Moon's world was sort of already there and because of the back story of her parents being a vampire and a fairy the story just came naturally. I think it was Henry though (I must give him the credit!) who suggested that a story about a vampire fairy going to school could work well. Because which school would she go to? A vampire one or a fairy one? Where would she fit in? Would it be difficult for a vampire fairy?

(Below: early drawing)

Then there was the matter of Pink Rabbit as well. Could I take pink Rabbit away from Victoria Stitch and give him to Isadora Moon? He was such a strong part of Victoria Stitch.

But then I decided that I would give Pink Rabbit to Isadora Moon because I knew he would just work so well with her. He was too perfect not to. And he would have a much nicer life with Isadora Moon anyway. I decided that I would create a new side kick for Victoria Stitch at some point instead.


The next step was to write the book. So I wrote it. Then I started on the illustrations. At this point I was drawing the final version of Isadora a bit differently to how I ended up drawing her in the final versions. I was drawing her in a much more long winded way:



I do quite like the effect of this, it's a bit more sketchy, but it took sooo long. I used this method for the 17-ish pages I illustrated for the dummy book...


Then I sent the whole lot off to my agent and waited excitedly. I felt SO passionate about Isadora Moon and I had felt SO inspired creating the whole thing and I was really hoping a publisher would take it.

And luckily... they did!! Amazingly Oxford University Press liked Isadora Moon so much that they offered me a four book deal.

And then of course the real work started because I had three more books to write. Also on the advice of the publisher I stopped drawing Isadora Moon in such a long winded way and just started to draw her in pen and ink which cut out a few steps of the process and was a lot quicker! I am not sure how I would have got four books completed if I had been doing it the other way. Also the pen and ink gives the pictures a cleaner crisper look I think.


I find it very satisfying drawing in pen and ink.


After I've drawn the outline I fill it in with watercolours and then scan it into the computer to change into pure black and pink as the books are printed in two colour. This process actually takes just as long as drawing and painting the image but it's worth it. And it has to be done anyway for printing.


It was so exciting when I received the first proof of the first book!

And even more exciting when I received a box of the final versions of the books a few weeks ago!


I was delighted to see all the glitter on the covers.


I am just so so happy that Isadora Moon has made it into publication. Because you know, she is a little piece of Victoria Stitch! That is why I am so passionate about my Isadora Moon books. They came completely from my heart. I absolutely adore Isadora Moon and her world.


Above you can see how Isadora's Mum's hair changed for the final version. Much wilder! She loves to be surrounded by nature. This is a sketch from Isadora Moon goes to the Ballet. 

I don't want to put too much of the final artwork on the internet but here's a double page spread from Isadora Moon goes camping. One of my favourites. You can see Dad really doesn't like the sun!

I have absolutely loved every second of writing and illustrating these books. I really hope children will enjoy reading them. They are for ages 5-7, but of course anyone can read them if they wish!

I'm sure I will be posting more about them in the future but for now...

That's the story of Isadora Moon! 

Also: If you are in Hatfield on Saturday (3rd September) do come along to my Isadora Moon event in Waterstones and make a magic wand!

Here I am drawing on the window of Waterstones Hatfield last week in preparation for the event:

It felt strange drawing her so big as I am used to only drawing her very small.

Maybe see you there!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Cornwall

'Tis the season of holidays! We spent last week in Cornwall with our friends and had a great time. I wasn't going to bother doing a blog post about it as I didn't take a lot of photos of miniature scenes (which is what I usually do on holiday!) but then I realised I had quite a lot of nice photos of the holiday which I thought were worth posting. Even if they are not of creative miniature scenes! And even if they were only taken on my smart camera (I am getting so lazy about taking my big camera out whoops!)



We went to one of my very favourite holiday destinations in Cornwall - Crantock! I have been going there since I was a child. We had to go in peak season because Henry is a teacher and can only get school holidays off so it was quite busy but still lovely. We had great weather. Mostly sunny but also with wind so it wasn't too hot. 

On the Monday we were there we visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan which was very pretty. I must admit I have not seen a lot of Cornwall apart from the area around Crantock so it was nice to go somewhere new. I actually got a photo of Henry and I together which I like!



This is the only picture I took of Topaz on the holiday. She is eating a Cornish pasty on the balcony railing of our holiday house. She had a great time in Cornwall, even if I didn't document it with photographs! The truth is, I am pregnant and just didn't have the energy to plan intricate miniature scenes and make lots of props like I usually do when I go away. It was also why I didn't go surfing/bodyboarding at all this year which is something I missed! I usually LOVE bodyboarding in Cornwall and the surf was really good this year but I didn't think it would be sensible to do while pregnant.

Still, we filled our time with lots of other fun activities, eating being one of the main ones haha. We had Cornish pasties and cream teas and fish and chips. We also went out for a really nice meal one lunch time and I had the most delicious dessert in the history of the world. It's like it was catered exactly to my tastebuds. Dark chocolate pot with raspberry ganache and butterscotch and pecan ice cream. It was so, so good. I want to try re creating it sometime at home. 


I really do love Cornwall and I feel like I've had a very good fill of holidays (and driving!) for the summer now after having been to both Orkney and Cornwall. Two different ends of the UK. Henry really wanted to drive down to Lands End so that we could say we went to John O Groats and Lands End both in the same summer but we didn't end up doing that. We visited St Ives one day and the traffic was so bad, what with it being peak season, that we decided to not drive anywhere else after that. We just stayed round the beaches near our holiday house. 

And they are beautiful beaches! Sometime I think that Cornwall is like a different country.





I would love to have that on my doorstep!

So that was our holiday in Cornwall. The best of the photos I took anyway. I look forward to going back there again sometime!

Our last holidays to Cornwall HERE and HERE and HERE

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Orkney

Last week we visited the Orkney Islands in the Northern Isles of Scotland. After debating whether we should get the plane there as it is a very long way, we decided to drive. We thought that it would feel like more of an adventure if we drove and also we wouldn't have to worry about connecting flights and getting to airports etc... also we would be able to bring as much luggage as we liked if we were in our own car! 

The drive to Orkney took two full days. On the first day we did 435 miles and then stopped off at a bed and breakfast in Pitlochry. We went out for dinner that night and had a really nice meal. Then we walked around a bit and went to bed.

The second day we drove all the way up, through the highlands (I love driving though the highlands!) to the most northerly part of Scotland - John O Groats! It was right by where we were catching our ferry to Orkney.

I had to get a picture of Topaz at the John O Groats sign. There's proof we were there! As you can see the weather wasn't great at this point. Wet and rainy but it didn't matter. It made the hour ferry crossing all the more fun because it was quite rocky. 

(Of course Topaz is wearing her tartan for Scotland!)

We drove off the ferry and onto Orkney. It wasn't far to our holiday house. We stayed in a beautiful converted chapel called Herston Hall on South Ronaldsay. There were no other houses immediately nearby and behind it was a field of cows who kept coming and looking in at the window. One of them came up and mooed at me while I was sitting on the sofa!


We stayed there for one week and we had a great time going out and exploring some of the different parts of the Orkney Islands. It was a very beautiful place and very interesting. It wasn't actually exactly how expected it to be. I thought there would be more mountains and brown, heathery landscapes, being a Scottish island and I thought it would look more wild. However, Orkney is actually reasonably flat and very lush and green. There are cows and sheep in most of the fields and everywhere looked very well kept. It also wasn't as remote as I had imagined it to be. There were quite a lot of houses and towns - also very well kept! It was completely different to the Isle of Harris and Lewis where we went for our honeymoon two years ago. 

The weather was very changeable, as you would expect from Scotland but I think we had quite a lot of sun considering. One day was so hot and sunny that we were able to sit on the beach all day! We set up our beach tent thingy and had a picnic and sunbathed and paddled in the sea. The sea, although very blue and twinkly was icy cold. 


Topaz had fun collecting shells on the beach! ^

And Henry had fun looking in rockpools. He loves to look in rockpools.

Topaz did some rockpooling too! She didn't catch anything though. They wern't actually very good rockpools. There wasn't much wildlife in them. No starfish or anything. The most we saw were some little fish and a jellyfish.

The great thing about Scottish beaches is that they are not busy at all. Sometimes you find you have the whole beautiful beach to yourself!

On one of the days we decided to take a ferry across to one of the other Orkney Islands called Hoy. Henry specifically wanted to go and see a bit sea stack which is called The Old Man of Hoy. Unfortunately we picked the very worst day to do this as it was extremely rainy and grey. However, it was still nice to see Hoy. It was different to the main bit of Orkney that we had been on previously. It was much more mountainous, wild and remote. I found it incredidibly stunning. 

Going to see the sea stack on Hoy involved walking three miles round a cliff/mountain and then three miles back again. We were all prepared for this with a picnic packed, walking clothes on, backpacks, raincoats etc. We started walking the route to the sea stack in the grey, ominous weather but I really wasn't liking the atmosphere. The clouds were so black and heavy above us and it was windy and starting to rain. Then I heard a rumble of thunder and that just did it for me! I wanted to turn back. I did not want to walk three miles in round a mountain in thunder and lightening and heavy rain. I get really scared in thunder and lightening so we turned back and went back to the car. I am so glad we did as the rain started to absolutely bucket down and there were crashes of thunder and flashes of lighening. I saw some other people going out in it but it just wasn't for me! 

Iron rations! ^


The rest of the week we stayed on the main part of Orkney and didn't get ferries across to any of the smaller islands. There were lots of things to do and see. We went to Kirkwall which is the largest town and the capital of Orkney a couple of times. We had lunch there in a cafe and also looked round the amazing cathedral which was founded in 1137! We also went round a couple of neolithic sites which I ended up finding very interesting despite saying I wasn't interested in going to them before going! I am not usually a one for looking round museums and historical sites and that kind of thing but actually, I bet it is beneficial for story writing etc to do those sorts of things. I am glad we went now anyway. We saw all the tools and the houses that the stone age people used on Orkney so many hundreds of years ago. We also saw an old stone age tomb that had skulls in it. 

My absolute favourite parts of being on holiday are just being out in nature. Especially being out on the beach! We had a lovely evening one time, just sitting together on Newark beach in the sunshine, reading and looking for shells and rockpools. I realised afterwards that the book I was reading (Lorali by Laura Dockrill) was all about mermaids and the beach we were sitting on was actually famous for mermaid sightings! 

Another evening on this same beach we noticed a little stream running all the way from between the sand dunes and I wished I had brought my miniature boat to put Topaz in. The top part of the stream was all rocky like mini rapid and I think it would have been such a fun ride for a miniature person!

I think Orkney really is a fascinating place and I am so glad we went to visit it. If I could use one word to describe I'd say it is a very pretty place.

There seemed to be bright green grass and flowers everywhere...

This one was taken whilst on a cliff top walk one day. There were loads of fields like this.


We also saw a lot of bog cotton.


And everywhere you turned there was another gorgeous landscape.


It was a really wonderful holiday. I enjoyed it so much!

And it was also good for miniature people. Orkney if famous for a certain type of chair and in some of the shops they sold miniature versions of the Orkney chair! So Topaz got a nice souvenir...

I look forward to going back and exploring more of Scotland some day. It is such a beautiful place!