Michael McMahon on creating illustrations for Two Rainbows

My latest picture book, Two Rainbows, illustrated by the wonderful Michael McMahon, came out this month with Little Hare and to celebrate I asked Michael to share his creation process for the book, which he’s done in this very interesting post. Enjoy!

I was first given a draft of Sophie’s Two Rainbows by my publisher Little Hare and was asked to imagine this little world of words becoming illustrations. When reading the story for the first time there were two things that I was struck by. One was the stories unique look at colour, and the other was Sophie’s original choice of words.

Stepping through the colours of a rainbow the reader follows a little girl as she begins to notice all of the colourful differences between the city where she lives and the memories of her home in the countryside. Sophie’s words give life to a simple story that highlights both the obvious and the subtle. Comparing the vibrance of the farm meadows to a muted bus-stop poster gives the story both a realistic and idealistic twist.

Illustrations are often simply coloured in, either to express emotion or create emphasis, but it’s rare for colour to sit at the forefront of a narrative. In that sense it was a nice change of pace to wonder how colour could be used in each scene. I often sketch and then start to put together each illustration, with colour naturally following on from this somewhere near to the end of the process. However, it was interesting that colour was now going to be considered first before touching pen to paper.

 

After reading each page, I would very quickly draw the first things that came to my mind, not thinking it through too much. I would then read the next part of the story and do the same. I like the spontaneity of this. After considering each page separately, I’d then start to sketch the story again and consider it as a whole – crossing things out and moving things around until it starts to form something I feel is working well.

This is how the messy sketches begin…

 

 

After the initial sketches, I find it important to start each book with a little bit of research. In a way, I feel it’s good for storytellers to know and imagine the world of their characters, a sort of ‘reading-before-the-lines’ not just between them. I imagined the little girl in the book growing up and spending her childhood in the countryside and then suddenly having to pick up everything and shift into the heart of a very far away city. I took my time photographing the inner suburbs of my own city to get a sense of where the little girl might live. I also went through troves of old photos of famous cities to create a kind of made up metropolis. I took inspiration from a lot of different places.

This is how the sketches start to take on a little more shape…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the sketches are finished and placed alongside the text, I then start to put together the illustrations by adding more details and slowly refining each one until we have the finished book.

 

 

Cover reveal of my forthcoming picture book, Building Site Zoo!

Delighted to show the gorgeous cover of Building Site Zoo, my picture book with the wonderful illustrator Laura Wood, which will be published in October by Hachette Australia!

Here’s the blurb:

A fun, colourful book that combines two things kids adore – machines and animals!

‘Every morning on our walk we see an amazing zoo, full of astonishing animals. Come and see them too!’

A sister, brother and grandpa walk through town on their way to school, passing lots of construction sites as they go, seeing all the busy machines. They imagine that each one is an animal – the concrete mixer’s big round belly is like a hippo’s, the digger stretches its long neck like a giraffe, and the jackhammer hops up and down like a kangaroo.

Vibrant and engaging whimsical fun for machine-mad kids.

Does writers’ creative process change if they’re working on a PHD?

It’s been a bit of a trend in recent years: established writers undertaking PHDs within their own creative field, and in 2015, I joined their ranks, starting a PHD in Creative Practice at the University of New England(Armidale, NSW, Australia). This means I’m writing a novel, The Ghost Squad, plus an associated exegesis, or mini-thesis. Last year, I published a paper in TEXT about the motivations and experiences of established writers undertaking PHDs/doctorates, which was based on interviews with authors and academics. (You can read the paper here) And an issue arose during it: whether a writer’s way of working, their creative process, changes as a a result of undertaking the PHD. It was an issue which I found fascinating and which I decided to expand into another paper, by interviewing a different set of authors and academics on that precise point. My research came up with some interesting results, and great insights into how writers work.

This month, the paper was published in New Writing, the International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing. And the full text of the article is available here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/maXQXJny9PXPBkQgRGiB/full

Do feel free to comment!

 

Rachel Nightingale on Harlequin’s Riddle

Today I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Rachel le Rossignol, who under her writing name of Rachel Nightingale (‘Nightingale’ being the direct translation of ‘Rossignol’) is launching her first novel, Harlequin’s Riddle, an intriguing and memorable fantasy set against the background of the Commedia dell’ Arte. In this guest post, Rachel writes about the inspirations that came together in the novel’s creation.

Being a Bower Bird

by Rachel Nightingale

When I was in grade 2, we did a project on Australian fauna. I chose the Satin Bowerbird. These birds are well known because the male of the species builds a bower then fills it with bright blue objects to attract a mate. I drew the bird and its nest collection, using every shade of blue available in my pencil case. The idea fascinated me. Why only blue objects? Where did it find them? What did it feel when it spotted a perfect piece of sapphire glass, or a shiny azure ribbon? Now, with my first book coming out, I’ve seen the same pattern in how I gathered similar images and ideas to write Harlequin’s Riddle, a fantasy about the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players of the Italian Renaissance.

On the surface, Harlequin’s Riddle was inspired by a comment in an article about the Broadway revival of Cabaret. Alan Cumming, starring as the MC, mentioned the moment before you step onstage, when a whole world opens to you. I asked the inevitable question fantasy writers ask: what if? What if that world was real? What if actors and other artists could reach it? What would they find? What would they be able to do? The idea of Tarya, a realm where creativity can literally change the world, was born. I had a premise for my book. But that premise needed a home – a bower. And I had already filled it with a cast of characters, a collection of archetypes and dreams.

Looking back, I’ve been fascinated by the trickster Harlequin, beautiful Columbine and tragic Pierrot, for a very long time. Masks are a recurrent theme in my life – I have made, decorated, collected and been gifted them. The Commedia dell’Arte used different masks, along with their distinctive costumes, to signify the various characters. In Harlequin’s Riddle masks play a key role in enabling actors to reach Tarya. They confuse identity and ultimately are a tool of misdirection.

But foraging in my bower I found other Commedia memories. Although long ago left behind, I used to have a collection of porcelain Pierrot dolls. I had the inevitable feminine anime Pierrot poster by Mira Fujita. Pierrot evoked such sadness and longing in me – here was a character whose love was so pure and true, but who could never have what he longed for, for that was the way of the story.  I adored the musical The Venetian Twins, which is based on the Commedia. One of my favourite books, Chase the Moon, by Catherine Nicolson, is an unashamedly romantic tale of a pair of lovers who can only reveal their true selves to each other in letters that they sign Harlequin and Columbine. I had an art deco poster book with different depictions of Harlequin, in his diamond patched suit, and Columbine, in gauzy ballet dresses. I imagined the stories they lived in, the twists and turns and tricks.

Recently I found something I’d forgotten I owned – a tin gifted to me by my great aunt, with Pierrot on the lid. The tin contained a face washer and 2 soaps, long since washed away into memory. It’s likely this image was the first that opened the door to the Commedia dell’Arte.

Yet it is not the collection of items and images that I gathered over the years that triggered my writer’s imagination and led to the creation of Harlequin’s Riddle – it was what they represented. The trickster, the beauty and the sad clown promise mystery, deception, romance, laughter and song. This is what I wanted to capture in my story.

Researching the Satin bowerbird for this article, I discovered that these birds have unusual blue-violet eyes. Perhaps these hopeful birds gather all things blue because this colour represents the promise that they will share their bower with another like them. Sharing my story now, I hope I am sharing the mystery and magic that I found in writing Harlequin’s Riddle.

More about Harlequin’s Riddle

The Gazini Players are proud to present

For your Edification and Enjoyment

Tales of great Joy, and of great Woe

Ten years ago, Mina’s beloved older brother disappeared with a troupe of Travelling Players, and was never heard from again.

On the eve of Mina’s own departure with a troupe, her father tells her she has a special gift for Storytelling, a gift he silenced years before because he was afraid of her ability to call visions into being with her stories.

Mina soon discovers that the Travelling Players draw their powers from a mysterious place called Tarya, where dreams are transformed into reality.  While trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, she discovers a dark cost to the Players’ onstage antics. Torn between saving her brother or exposing the truth about the Players, could her gifts as a storyteller offer a way to solve Harlequin’s riddle?

More about Rachel le Rossignol(Nightingale)

Rachel Le Rossignol has been writing since the age of 8 (early works are safely hidden away). She holds a Masters degree and PhD in Creative Writing. Winning the Mercury Short Story competition (junior section) at the age of 16 fueled her desire to share her stories with the world. Subsequent short stories have been shortlisted in a number of competitions and a play, No Sequel, won the People’s Choice Award and First Prize at the Eltham Little Theatre’s 10 Minute Play competition. Another, Crime Fiction, was performed at Short and Sweet Manila and Sydney.

Rachel’s second passion after writing is the theatre, and she has been performing in shows and working backstage for a rather long time. She co-wrote and performed in the 2013-2015 version of the hugely popular Murder on the Puffing Billy Express, a 1920s murder mystery set on the iconic Dandenong Ranges train. The inspiration for the Tarya trilogy, which begins with Harlequin’s Riddle, began when she read a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between moment just before you step onstage, and began to wonder might be found in that place between worlds.

Published by Odyssey Books in June 2017.

www.odysseybooks.com.au

www.rachel-nightingale.info

@OdysseyBooks

@NightingaleRA

 

Five Favourites 24: Kate Forsyth

Today, it’s the turn of Kate Forsyth to select her five favourites.

 

It was so hard to choose only five favourites from my childhood, when I read so many wonderful books. But I have finally – after much agony – chosen only a handful for you.

 

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – C.S Lewis

 

This was the first book I ever read all by myself and it was, for many years, the benchmark by which I judged other books. Was it as thrilling and magical as Narnia? I love the other books too (except for The Last Battle), but this one will always occupy a very special place in my heart. There is something so wonderful about the land at the back of the wardrobe, the lamp-post in the silent snowy forest, the faun carrying an umbrella, the menace of the White Witch, the beavers with their cosy house and sewing machine, Edmund’s betrayal and eventual redemption, the lion who can play like a kitten … just writing about it makes me want to go and read it again!

The Little White Horse– Elizabeth Goudge

 I absolutely adored The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which I read as a little girl sick in hospital. I read it over and over again, and longed with all my heart for a house like Moonacre Manor.  It is filled with wonderful descriptions of the house, the garden, the woods and meadows, and of food (which was very important to me at the time, as I was living on hospital fare.) It tells the story of Maria Merryweather, who goes to live at the manor with her governess and her dog, and finds mystery, magic and romance. I still wish for a house just like Moonacre Manor – if I ever sell five hundred million books, that will be what I will buy. I also love Elizabeth Goudge’s other books, particularly Linnets and Valerians, but The Little White Horse was the first of hers I ever read and so closest to my heart.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aiken

 I cannot understand why Joan Aiken is not much more widely celebrated than she is. Her books are so funny, so surprising, so thrilling, and so beautifully written. They are set ‘at a time in English history that never happened,’ when Good King James III was on the throne and the wicked Hanoverians kept plotting to take over the country. My copy was given to me by my brother, and cost $1.15 … sigh! Wishing books were that cheap now. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase tells the story of two cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia. The first is rich and beloved and lives at Willoughby Chase, a grand manor house. The second is poor and orphaned, and sent to stay with her. However, Bonnie’s parents must go away for her mother’s health, and a cruel and devious governess comes to take care of them, precipitating the two girls into the adventure of a lifetime.

The Glass Slipper – Eleanor Farjeon

A delightful retelling of ‘Cinderella’, The Glass Slipper is full of dancing rhythms and warm-hearted humour. I remember the day I borrowed it from the library, and began to read it on my walk home from school. I became so engrossed I walked straight past my street and only realised where I was when a passing neighbour tooted me and called out to me that I’d missed my turn-off. I simply turned around and kept on reading as I walked back towards home. I loved the book so much I spent years trying to find it again, and was so delighted when I discovered a copy in an old second-hand store. I now collect Eleanor Farjeon books, and have a copy of her book Kaleidoscope (signed to someone called Kate!) which is one of my absolute treasures.

 

The Stone Cage – Nicholas Stuart Gray

A retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ from the point of view of the witch’s cat, The Stone Cage is one of my all-time absolute favourites (as you know, Sophie!) I have re-read it many times and it never fails to enchant me. The voice of Tomlyn the cat is pitch-perfect, and the mix of humour, pathos and danger so adroitly managed. I think of it as one of my touchstone books, and know that anyone who lives it (or any other books by this author) is a true kindred spirit.

 

Five Favourites 23: Katherine Langrish

Today Katherine Langrish is writing about her five favourites.

My five top books? Of course it’s really almost impossible to choose, but here are some which spring to mind

Susan Price’s The Ghost Drum (1987) is set in a far-distant Northern Czardom where half the year is summer and light and half the year is winter darkness. It’s the tale of young Chingis, daughter of a serf but raised by a shaman woman to inherit her magical powers and her hut that runs on chicken legs across the snow. And it’s also the story of Safa, son of the cruel Czar who has kept him imprisoned since birth in a single room with no windows.  “Every moment, day and night, waking and dreaming, his spirit cried; and circled and circled the dome room, seeking a way out.” One night Chingis hears his spirit crying from far away, and she sets out across the steppes to rescue him. I have read this starkly beautiful and unsparing story over and over again.

The wonderful Nicholas Stuart Gray is undeservedly neglected; I can’t think why he’s not still in print. He wrote many books and plays for children: perhaps the very best is Down In The Cellar (1961).  A family of four lively and eccentric children rescue a mysterious young man called Stephen whom they discover lying wounded and ill in a deserted quarry they were told not to visit. They smuggle him into the cellar of the rambling old house in which they are staying, and attempt to look after him.  But sinister forces are in pursuit of Stephen, and five-year-old Deirdre keeps seeing things the other children can’t – weird green lanterns shining in the dark, and a mysterious golden gate in the cellar wall. Are half the villagers really warlocks?  Where do the cats go, when they go missing? And who or what are the Spoilers? This is a very scary, very exciting and very funny book.

So is The Cuckoo Tree (1971) by Joan Aiken. On a wild November night some time in the middle of Aiken’s alternative 19th century, her gamine Cockney heroine the redoubtable Dido Twite is travelling from Bristol to London by coach, with her friend Captain Hughes of the Royal Navy. Shortly after singing this raucous little ditty:

Captain Hughes and young Miss Twite

Went for a drive – hic! – one shiny night,

If they don’t end in the Cuckoo Tree

Pickle my brains in eau d vie!

– the drunken driver overturns the coach; Captain Hughes is injured and Dido is compelled to seek shelter for them both in sleazy Dogkennel Cottages, just down the road from neglected Tegleaze Manor. She is soon up to her neck in a plot involving smugglers, missing heirs, voodoo, witchcraft, and a scheme to send St Paul’s Cathedral crashing into the Thames with a full coronation ceremony going on inside.  Joan Aiken at her wildly imaginative, quirky best. Unbeatable!

Linnets and Valerians (1964) is Elizabeth Goudge’s best book for children, better than ‘The Little White Horse’, though I love that too.  But this book is deeper, full of the harm human beings can do to one another, of darkness and loss and the waste of lives: but ultimately also of the strength of goodness to drive out evil.  Like ‘Down In the Cellar’ it features a large family of children. These – two boys and two girls – run away in a stolen pony-trap and end up living with stern but upright Uncle Ambrose high on Dartmoor, in a village reminiscent of Widdecombe.  They soon find the village is divided by old tragedy and hatreds. Is Emma Cobley, the postmistress, really the sweet old lady she seems? Who is the strange, dumb wild man who lives in a cave up on Shining Tor?  And what is the secret of the wonderful tapestry in the Manor house, and the book of black spells hidden away in a secret cupboard in the Vicarage? This hauntingly lovely book is one of my all-time favourites.

Finally I have to choose Alan Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath (1963): it made such a huge impression on me as a child. The sequel to ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, for me it’s an even richer and more exciting blend of Norse and Celtic mythology in (what was then) a contemporary setting.  So many wonderful moments – the shapeless Brollachan which flows into Susan’s body and begins to warp it, the old straight track that turns to moonsilver or curling flame, the mad, exhilarating ride of the Wild Hunt with their thrilling cry “Ride, Einheriar of the Herlathing!” and the long vigil of the elves outside the ruined manor house which is, creepily, only there when the full moon shines…  If I may add as an aside to modern publishers, the fact that aged ten I had no idea how to pronounce the Wild Hunt’s thrilling cry, “Ride, Einheriar of the Herlathing!” made not the slightest difference to my delight in the story.