Celebrating new books in troublesome times 3: AJ Collins

Today, I’m featuring a guest post by Melbourne-based author AJ Collins, whose first book, a crossover YA/adult novel, Oleanders Are Poisonous, has just been released. A recipient of first prize and several commendations for the Monash WordFest awards, AJ has been published in various short story anthologies and magazines, and was awarded a place at Hardcopy 2018, a national professional development program for writers. Her work has also been read on Radio Queensland. AJ graduated from RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing Associate Degree in 2014 and has since established a successful editing and publishing business, AJC Publishing. Previous to this, AJ had an eclectic career from managing commercial mortgages, to working in a legal tribunal, to fronting her own function band for over twenty years. A one-time devotee of adrenaline sports, including bungee, skydiving, parasailing, sky-walking, sky-jumping, and volcano climbing, AJ is now happy to be settled at home with her hubby and two fur-kids, writing her adventures instead of living them. In her guest post, AJ muses about inspiration and process in the writing of her first book.

Red soil and music

by AJ Collins

Red soil runs through my veins. It happens when the South Australian outback is your childhood playground. It’s no surprise then, it sifted its way into my first book. And later in life, when I spent hours driving through the Mallee to visit my parents, again the red soil was there, hardened and cracked with drought in summer, tempered by the buttery glow of canola flowers in harvest season.

And the music, it also runs true in my family – my father a jazz muso, myself a soul singer. But like my protagonist, Lauren, I’ve always had to fight my self-doubt and lack of confidence. I don’t think that will ever change in my music or writing. Perhaps it’s what makes my work authentic.

It took me six years to reach the publishing stage of Oleanders are Poisonous, from first words to print. It would have been four years, but a hiccup with a brain tumour put me on the back foot. For the narrative, I’ve clearly drawn from my own experiences, but I’ve also leant heavily towards fiction to make the story more accessible, enjoyable, and remove my own self-consciousness.

When I’m asked who is my favourite character in the book, I always choose Snap. He’s the light that holds the darkness at bay. Irreverent, funny and fabulous, he’s the unwaveringly loyal best friend we all wish we had growing up, though he has his own dark side, as we all do.

The stories I’ve enjoyed most in my own readings have been ones that have moved me in some way, rekindled emotions, or taught me something about myself or the world around me. With Oleanders are Poisonous, and its sequel Magnolias don’t Die, I hope to show readers they’re not alone, that others have suffered similarly, and it’s always okay to talk about your fears, no matter how dark they may be. It takes bravery to open up to family and friends, especially when we project our own thoughts of rejection in their heads, but you must do it in order to heal. I wish you resilience and joy.

Connect with AJ:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AJCollinsAuthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ajcollinsauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajcollinsauthor/

Website: https://www.ajcollinsbooks.com

Buying links for Oleanders are Poisonous:

Direct: AJC Publishing

Amazon Australia: AmazonAU

Amazon US: AmazonUS

Ebook retailers: Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd etc.

 

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 2: Sulari Gentill

Today I’m featuring a guest post by Sulari Gentill, whose new novel, A Testament of Character, the 10th book in her fabulous historical crime series, the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, has just come out.  Sulari and her family, who live near the southern NSW town of Batlow, have only just come out of devastating experiences during the recent bushfires, only for this new crisis to hit just as something positive, an eagerly-anticipated new book release, was about to happen. But in this lovely post she writes with her usual light touch and deft thoughtfulness about what it’s like to write a long series that you never really expected to embark on in the first place. (By the way, the whole series is highly recommended, and the perfect candidate for binge reading in these stay-at-home times–and you can even join Rowly’s Facebook fan club here.)

’Til Death Do Us Part

by Sulari Gentill

Writing a novel is an exercise of new love, a mad, impulsive, passionate thing.  Consuming, and while it lasts, everything.  The decision to enter into the endeavour is so often irrational, made for now with no real thought of the future.  It is probably possible to be drunk throughout.

Writing a series is a more serious commitment, a pledge a fealty for good times and bad.  It has complications.  You are creating not just one story, but an institution, you are inviting reliance and expectation and scrutiny.  It is essentially a marriage.

So why would a writer, a mystery writer in particular, choose literary matrimony over the freedom of successive new loves?  After all, mysteries are by their very nature discreet stories.  And yet the genre seems rife with long-running series.  Like all affairs of the heart, there are reasons why both writers and readers choose to commit.

The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries now comprise ten books, the seventh of which—“Give the Devil His Due”— was released in the US in January 2020.  Of course, wedding rings are rarely exchanged on the first date, and I didn’t begin by writing a series—I was simply writing a novel, a standalone mystery set against all the social and political turbulence and upheaval of the 1930s.  I wanted to talk about a particular sequence of historical events, when Australia and the world teetered on the brink of Fascism, and into that I wrote a brutal murder and the struggle of one man to define where he stood in a world of increasing polarisation.

When the story that would become my debut novel — “A Few Right Thinking Men”— first caught my eye, I was inexperienced and woefully naïve about matters of pen and heart.  I was still a practising lawyer then, and I thought I was simply flirting with the literary arts.  I would write a novel, be able to say that I’d done so, and move on to another hobby—perhaps I’d restore a vintage car, or breed alpacas…  This would be a fling between a consenting adult and her imagination; Rowland Sinclair and I would enjoy each other’s company for a while, but in the end, both the book and I would stand alone.

So what happened?  Why did I settle down?

I suppose the answer is that I couldn’t forget him.   He presented me with a personal story arc that was greater than that one story, a larger mystery about how a man stands against a world that seems to be descending into extremism and violence, where democracy is being challenged, and entire peoples cast in villainy.  And he whispered that history repeats.

A trilogy, I thought.  This would be a trilogy!  Afterwards, I’d still be young enough to meet other imaginary people.

In the second book Rowland took me abroad on an ocean liner.  Dinner suits and dancing, romance, opulence, and an abundance of all things…  including bodies.  It was glamorous and exciting and dangerous.  He introduced me movie stars, mystics, and tycoons, and to the religious fundamentalism and intolerance that bubbled beneath the surface of the era.  It was intriguing and disturbingly familiar.   I began to recognise a pattern.

In the third book I took Rowland home “to meet the family”.   I introduced him to the Australian High Country where I live, led him into the rugged mountains where more than bodies were buried. And he showed me the growing political paranoia that that had permeated west into the outback, and that political principle was often entangled with personal hurt.

At some point during the writing of that novel, I came across a newspaper article which reported that Rowland’s nemesis from the first book, Eric Campbell, (an actual historical figure who led one of Australia’s largest Fascist movements) was travelling to Munich to meet Adolf Hitler and bring European Fascism to Australia.  And the man I’d created would not let that lie.  Rowland was determined to follow Campbell to Germany, to stop him. Well, I couldn’t very well let him go alone…   and so a fourth book was added to my “trilogy”.

Germany in 1933 proved to be a game-changer for Rowland and me.  As we stood together in the Königplatz, watching the Nazis burn books, I realised this would not be over anytime soon.

In the rhetoric of contemporary politicians, the growing divisions of today, I heard an unmistakeable echo of the 1930s, and I became scared.  And so I committed to seeing  this strange relationship through every mystery, every small murder that took place against the lead-up to mass murder,  to stand by Rowland Sinclair as he carried on investigating, resisting injustice and trying stop the world hurtling towards the disaster of humanity that was the second world war.  Of course, I knew that in this last thing, he would inevitably fail, but I decided to stay anyway.  Perhaps I could give him a voice to warn a different generation.  Or perhaps he would simply help me to understand the madness of my own time.

And so here we are: the author and hero of a long-running series.  This is no longer a new love, but a marriage, based on a common horror of then and now.  Occasionally, I dally with other novels, play the field a little in other genres, but I never to fail to return to Rowland, and he to me.  There are many more mysteries to be investigated, many issues we still need to talk and write about.  As each crime is solved, each novel concluded, I remain convinced, it’s not over yet.  I confess I am often still giddy and drunk with love when writing these books, but there is a sober direction, a message and purpose to all this murder.

 

Sulari’s website 

Connect with Sulari on her author page on Facebook

Follow Sulari on Instagram: @sularigentill

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 1: Lisa Walker

This new blog series, ‘Celebrating new books in troublesome times’ is about showcasing and celebrating promoting new books that have come out this year, especially but not only those coming out in these next few months, books whose authors were looking forward to celebrating with launches and other events, which have now been cancelled in the face of the situation we all face due to COVID-19. It’s also about giving authors a promotional space with guest posts which I hope may help them to connect with readers.

I first suggested the idea in the fantastic Facebook group set up to help Australian authors with new and upcoming books, Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote. Party.Several authors contacted me about it, and today I’m featuring the first of them, Lisa Walker, who writes for both adults and young adults, and whose new novel, The Girl with the Gold Bikini  is out with Wakefield Press.

Enjoy! And remember–bookshops are still open for orders, even if online!

Surfing the words to the shore

by Lisa Walker

Writing a book with a surfer-girl heroine has made me reflect on the relationship between surfing and writing in my life. One of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami, has famously said that everything he knows about writing he has learned from running. For me, it’s surfing.

My surfing and writing journeys both started when I moved to the north coast of New South Wales. The surf was at my doorstep, it seemed a shame to waste it. My hometown is world-famous for its waves. A looming basalt headland captures the big swell and a rocky reef creates smaller waves on the inside. With such waves at my doorstep, what else could I do but buy a surfboard?

So I bought myself a beginner’s surf board – soft and fat. Each time I took it out I challenged myself to stay in the water for a little longer. I floundered around in the whitewash, falling off and getting pummelled by the waves, emerging with nostrils full of saltwater and hair caked in sand. But then I started catching little waves. I glided over the reef. I was hooked.

For twenty years now, I have surfed almost-daily. If I count it up, allowing for times when I was away from home, or the surf wasn’t happening, by even a very conservative reckoning this is thousands of hours immersed in the water.

My process of learning to write was somewhat similar. I got less sand in my hair and water up my nose but the slap downs were still painful. With both writing and surfing, you need to be able to take a pounding and come back for more. It takes hours and hours of thankless practice. You are going to wipe out. Get used to it. I wrote three complete novels before I got my first one published. That’s a lot of words. A lot of practice. A lot of rejections. Every writer and every surfer is different. Different doesn’t mean wrong. You can learn from others, but there’s no point in trying to copy them.

You need to go out as often as possible, no matter the conditions. Some days are good, others not so good, but as long as you keep turning up, you will get somewhere. Once in a while everything goes right. The waves are perfect. The words flow. Those days are rare, but oh so beautiful.

Both writing and surfing are more about the journey than the destination. You don’t surf with the aim of getting to shore. Nor does it make sense to focus on the outcome – the book, rather than the process of getting there. That’s where the magic is. There is always another wave on the horizon, another story to tell.

 

My social links are:

Website: https://www.lisawalker.com.au/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisawalkerhome/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaWalkerTweet

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisawalkerwriter/?hl=en

Blog: https://lisawalkerwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Buy links

Wakefield Press, Booktopia, Readings, Amazon Australia, US, UK

Link to Stories Connect film: and happy New Year!

I’ve put a new page on my blog for videos (of interviews and other things) and the first thing I’ve put up  is a link to the beautiful Stories Connect film, about a unique project which I was proud to have co-ordinated for the New England Writers’ Centre. Have a look at it here.

And while I’m here, I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and inspiring new year!

 

A Christmas story to enjoy: Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to feature on Christmas Eve on this blog one of my Christmas stories, and this year I’d like to feature one which was published in the fabulous anthology A Christmas Menagerie(edited by Beattie Alvarez, Christmas Press, 2017) and illustrated by the wonderful Ingrid Kallick. It’s called Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake. The gorgeous illustration featured here is from the published story in the anthology, and you can also get it as a poster, card, print, Tshirt, phone case and lots of other things at Ingrid’s Redbubble store. (By the way, the story is also available–without illustrations–at that fabulous site Read Me A Story, Ink.)

So here it is, my story of a young bear unexpectedly waking up to a surprise Christmas…Hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and wonderful, peaceful holidays to all of you, and many thanks for visiting Feathers of the Firebird in 2019!

Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake

By Sophie Masson

Barney Brown woke up suddenly. The sun shone through the windows of his den and he thought it was spring. So up he got and looked out.

‘Oh my goodness,’ said Barney Brown. It didn’t look like spring out there. Yes, the sun was shining but the ground was all snowy and so were the fir trees. It was still winter!

‘Dearie me,’ said Barney Brown, and he was about to go back to bed when all at once he spotted something bright, at the corner of the glade. It was a tree, a small tree, but not covered in snow, like the others. This tree sparkled in the sun with what looked like red and green and silver berries. And under the tree was a little table, with a little man in a pointy cap standing behind it. On the table was a tray of round dark things.

‘What’s that?’ said Barney Brown, wrinkling his nose, for just then, a smell came to him. A rich, wonderful smell! A smell that made his stomach rumble and his mouth water.

Out stepped Barney Brown, into the winter snow. He’d never gone outside in the winter before and it felt funny, though of course he had a fur coat on so he wasn’t cold at all.

Pad, pad he went, making big paw-shaped patterns in the soft snow.

‘Mmm, mmm,’ said Barney Brown, as he got closer and closer to the sparkly tree, and the little table, and the glorious smell. Oh, the glorious SMELL!

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown, politely, to the little man in the pointy cap. Now any other person might have run away, seeing a big brown bear come lumbering up, but not this person. Oh no! He was a Christmas elf, and they are not scared of anything.

‘Hello back,’ said the elf. ‘Have you come for one of my Christmas cakes?’

‘I think I have,’ said Barney Brown, happily, looking down at the table.

‘Good.’ The elf picked up a cake. ‘That will be one silver coin,’ he said.

‘I don’t have any money,’ Barney Brown said, sadly.

‘Then take a cake with my compliments,’ said the elf. ‘After all, it’s not every day a bear wakes up in winter.’

Barney Brown didn’t wait to be told twice. The cake tasted as delicious as it smelled and he licked his lips to catch the last crumb. Then he looked longingly at the rest of the cakes. He could easily have eaten them all!

‘Sorry,’ said the elf, ‘but that’s it. It’s Christmas Eve and all my other customers will be coming to pick up their Christmas cakes. Besides, they might be a bit scared if they see a bear out and about in winter.’

‘I see,’ said Barney Brown, even more sadly. But as he turned to plod off, the elf said, ‘Wait!’

Barney Brown thought he had changed his mind. But no, the elf just handed him a leaflet. ‘Christmas cake recipe’ it read.

‘Oh. Thank you,’ said Barney Brown, doubtfully.

‘Now you can make your own, with this magic recipe,’ said the elf. ‘Merry Christmas!’

Back home, Barney Brown looked at the recipe.

‘Flour, butter, sugar, eggs, dried fruit, nuts,’ he read out loud. ‘And some honey,’ he added. ‘It doesn’t say honey in the recipe, but I’m sure that’s a mistake. All cakes must have honey.’

He opened his cupboards. There was plenty of honey. Jars and jars of it. And some flour and sugar. Even frozen butter he’d forgotten in the back pantry. But no eggs. No dried fruits. No nuts.

The elf had said the recipe was magic. But how?

Barney Brown waved the recipe about. ‘I need eggs, fruit and nuts,’ he told it. Nothing happened. ‘Abracadabra, eggs, fruit, nuts!’ he tried again. Nothing happened.

‘Oh dear,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I think the elf made a mistake. The recipe isn’t magic at all. Now let me think. If it was spring, I could go into the forest and find birds’ eggs. If it was summer, I could find berries. If it was autumn, I could find nuts. But it’s winter, and I don’t know what I can find. Maybe I have to get someone to help me. Someone who is usually awake in the winter.’

He went out again. The table was gone, and the cakes, and the elf. But the sparkly tree was still there. And a fox was sitting under it. A fox with a beautiful white coat.

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown.

‘Hello back,’ said the fox, a little surprised to see a bear out and about.

‘I wonder if you can help me,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I’m making a Christmas cake, and I don’t have any eggs or fruit or nuts.’

‘Well,’ said the fox, ‘There are some hens I know. They’ll give me eggs.’

‘Really?’ said Barney Brown, politely. ‘That is very kind of them.’

‘I will bring you back a basket full,’ said the fox, and she trotted off.

How nice people are, thought Barney Brown and he was about to plod off again when a voice said, ‘Has Belladonna gone?’

‘Er—maybe. Only I don’t know who Belladonna is,’ said Barney Brown, looking around for the person who had spoken.

‘That fox,’ said the voice. A lump of snow moved. Only it wasn’t a lump of snow, it was a hare, with pure white fur.

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown.

‘Hello back,’ said the hare. ‘Why aren’t you sleeping? Bears always sleep in the winter.’

‘Yes. Only today I woke up. Because I smelled a smell,’ said Barney Brown. ‘Christmas cake smell! And now I’m going to make my own. Only I haven’t got any fruit, or nuts.’

‘I’ve got some fruit,’ said the hare, at once. ‘Blackberries in a jar. Will that do?’

‘Oh yes!’ said Barney Brown. ‘That will do very well.’

‘Then I’ll fetch it,’ said the hare, and off he bounded.

People are really very nice, thought Barney Brown, just as a squirrel hopped down from a branch of the sparkly tree. She had been hiding behind a red bauble almost the same colour as her fur.

‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Hello back,’ said Barney Brown.

‘I heard everything,’ said the squirrel.

‘Oh,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you.’

‘Not at all,’ said the squirrel. ‘Now then. Snowy has blackberries, and Belladonna has eggs. Guess what I have?’

‘Nuts?’ asked Barney Brown.

The squirrel looked a little disappointed that he’d guessed so easily, but she nodded. ‘Yes. I have nuts! Lots of nuts! A pantry full of them! How many do you need?’

‘I think a few,’ said Barney Brown, cautiously.

‘Very well. I’ll bring lots!’ said the squirrel. ‘Never let it be said that Hazel Conker is stingy!’ And off she scampered.

People are very very nice indeed, thought Barney Brown, as he went padded off. Now I can make my Christmas cake.

Back home, he took out a bowl, and put in the flour and the sugar. He melted the butter. Just then there was a knock on the door. It was Belladonna, with six eggs. Two brown eggs and two white eggs and two speckled eggs.

‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay,’ he added politely.

Now came another knock on the door. It was Snowy the hare, with a jar of blackberries. ‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay.’

Snowy looked at Belladonna warming herself by the stove. ‘It’s all right. We are all friends here,’ said Barney Brown. ‘Isn’t that right, Belladonna?’

‘Of course,’ grinned the fox.

Just then came the third knock on the door. And there was Hazel Conker, with a bag of nuts that was almost as big as she was.

‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay.’

While his new friends watched, Barney Brown chopped and mixed and beat and stirred. In went the nuts and the fruit and the eggs, joining the butter and the sugar and the flour. ‘And last but certainly not least,’ said Barney Brown, ‘in goes the honey.’

‘It looks wonderful,’ said Hazel and Snowy and Belladonna, crowding around to look.

‘But the smell,’ said Barney Brown, anxiously. ‘What about the smell?’

‘You have to wait,’ Belladonna said.

‘For the cake to cook,’ said Snowy.

‘Put it in the oven,’ said Hazel.

So Barney Brown did. While they waited for that cake to cook, they played cards and drank pine tea and talked. When night fell and the stars came out, it was time for Barney Brown to open the oven. All his new friends crowded around, sniffing the air.

‘That smell!’ said Belladonna, as Barney Brown lifted the cake tin out.

‘That amazing smell!’ said Snowy, as Barney Brown put it on the table.

‘That is the best smell ever!’ said Hazel Conker.

But Barney Brown could not speak. That glorious smell was filling his nostrils and he had new friends around him to share the delicious cake they had made together. And it seemed to him he could hear an elf’s voice on the air: I told you it was a magic recipe. Merry Christmas, Barney Brown!

Conferences, exhibitions, launches: a very busy few weeks coming up!

Later this month and into next month, I am going to be having a very busy and very interesting literary time!

First up is the wonderful Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference, which this year is being held at the University of Western Sydney in Parramatta, Sydney, from October 25 to 27. The biennial HNSA conference is one of my favourite literary events: there’s always really interesting speakers, a fabulous program, and a warm, collegial atmosphere. This year’s certainly no exception, and I’m privileged to be involved with the Conference in several ways: as a speaker, a workshop presenter, judge of the HNSA short story contest, and, a great honour, being the Conference Patron as well. Looking forward so much to it! Tickets are still available for this fantastic event, so check out the program here.

Next up is the Artstate Festival, to be held in Tamworth, October 31 to November 3. I’m involved in this in several ways, as an author, a small-press publisher, and a contributor to an anthology and an exhibition, both of which will be launched in Tamworth during that time. On October 31, wearing my Christmas Press hat, I’ll be participating, with my Christmas Press partners as well as  fellow local publishing house Little Pink Dog Books, in the Creative Hot Spot Publisher Pitch Day, which will give children’s writers and illustrators an opportunity to pitch work to one or both publishing houses.

That evening, I’ll don my author hat again, as a contributor to the fabulous anthology Dark Sky Dreamings: An Inland Skywriters Anthology, which is themed around people’s relationship with the sky in all its aspects, and which will be launched at a great astronomy-themed event, in conjunction with the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club, at Bicentennial Park in Tamworth at 8.30 pm: telescopes and stars will be a feature of this unusual launch!

Then on November 1, I’m speaking at an Artstate/Arts North West event called Authors’ Cafe, where authors chat with readers and other interested people about their work. That the evening, I’ll be attending the opening of an exhibition called Art Word Place, which is an Arts North West project, where New England-based writers were paired with New England-based visual artists to create joint works. I’m one of the writers, and I had the good fortune to be paired with the fantastic painter Angus Nivison. His visual response to my poem is just extraordinary! If you’re in the region, come check it and all the other works out, the opening is on at the Tamworth Regional Art Gallery at 5.15 pm on November 1, but the exhibition itself is on till December 8.

There will be other events later in November that I’m a part of, in Armidale, Sydney and Melbourne, but I will write about them later, in a separate blog post. It is certainly a very busy time!

 

Creating There’s A Tiger Out There

Today is the official publication date of my picture book with Ruth Waters, There’s A Tiger Out There(Little Hare) and to celebrate Ruth and I have written pieces on the creation of the book. Enjoy!

Creation of the text, by Sophie Masson

There’s a Tiger Out There began in a dream. In the dream, I was in my house, looking out at the garden, when I glimpsed her: silent stripes gliding through our garden, yellow eyes shining. And with a grip of the heart that was half thrill and half fear, I knew there was a tiger out there and that if I went out—who knew what would happen? Now, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for me to have big cats—lions and tigers, especially—suddenly appear in my dreams, but in this case, it felt different. It felt like this tiger was different, her eyes fixed on me, and when I woke up, I knew why. It was because she wanted to be in a story!

So I began work on transposing her from the realm of dream to the realm of imagination. The first words came quickly, and the first draft was quite simple—just pretty much recounting that dream glimpse and that mix of feelings on seeing her savage, elemental splendour in the midst of our humble familiar garden. ‘There’s a tiger watching me with eyes as bright as sunrise/’ I wrote, ‘There’s a tiger sleek as shadow/stripes of midnight on her fur.’  After I showed the text to my agent Margaret Connolly, who loved it and sent it to Margrete Lamond, who was then the publisher at Little Hare and also loved it, that first draft went through many changes, in collaboration first with Margrete and then, when she left, with Alyson O’Brien, who also loved it and helped me bring the text to its final form. Early on, the draft had transformed from a simple ‘I’ eye-view to the point of view of two siblings, one older and bolder, one younger and more timid, who see a tiger ‘out there’ and react in their different ways—with a twist at the end, of course! It was a story, I realised, about sibling relations, about imagination, about love and adventure and mystery—and the thrill of a good scare!

When I first saw Ruth Waters’ gorgeous collage images, I was so excited! She had completely understood the spirit of my text and created a richly-imagined, warm and distinctive visual world, where the tiger as much as the siblings was completely at home. It was as if that was how I had always seen the world of my story: not only a perfect fit, but extending and expanding it in the most satisfying way.

And of course I just adore the finished book, with Hannah Janzen’s gorgeous design!

Creation of the illustrations, by Ruth Waters

I remember the day I received the email from Alyson from Little Hare Books. I had to re-read it several times. You want me to illustrate a picture book? Me? I had previously written and illustrated my own story but had been waiting for the opportunity to work on someone else’s tale. That said, I opened the manuscript with some trepidation – what if I can’t connect with the story?  I needn’t have worried. As I read each line, I instantly pictured who the characters were, how they looked and what kind of personality they had. A little bit bossy, know-it-all, older sister. A younger brother who adores and does anything she tells him.

The first stage of the making process was to create a series of character sketches in pencil.  Since I work in collage, I also created a collage version to give Alyson a better idea of how they would finally look. I sent these off and waited for her comments. We went back and forth until we were both happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Sketches

The next stage was to figure out how the text should be split across 32-or-so pages and come up with a rough idea of how each page would look. I had already made the decision that the ‘real’ tiger should only appear on the last double page spread. This way, not only the children in the story but the reader would not be entirely sure whether there really is a tiger. Another idea was to give the little boy a cuddly toy tiger – this would act as a visual tool to help the reader conjure up the idea that there is a tiger out there. Another idea, inspired by the line ‘cross my heart’ – which appears throughout the story – was to place a hidden heart-shape on every page. Sometimes the heart shape is made from a blade of grass or appears as a ripple in the water.  I also spent quite a bit of time making sure there was enough variety in terms of perspectives – wide shots verses close-up, double page spreads verses one page of illustration.  At this point I also decided on the colour palette – I decided we should go bright – to match the vibrant orange of the tiger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storyboard and colour palette

 

 

The storyboard was then sent to Little Hare and over a few weeks we made little tweaks. Once I got the thumbs up – I made the final sketches to scale and then got to work prepping the paper.

Final sketch and prepping the paper!

 

To create the collages, I first roll acrylic paint on to a variety of textured paper. Then, working with the final sketches, I trace, cut and stick! All of my illustrations are made entirely by hand. It is labour intensive but I much prefer it to using a computer. The other plus about collage is it’s flexibility as I can keep moving the pieces around until I am happy and, only then, glue them down.

Every time I finished a double page spread, I would scan and send it to Little Hare for their thoughts. To me this proved to be an efficient way of working as it allowed me to make tweaks as I went along, rather making lots of changes at the end – when time is tight.

Watch videos of the making process:

 

 

 

 

 

Overall the entire project took about 3-4 months. Much quicker than usual due to my own time constraints (normally I would allocate 6 months). I then packaged it all up and hand delivered it to Little Hare’s production office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole project was a joy to work on from start to finish. And I learnt so much along the way.

Ruth Waters | http://www.ruth-waters.com | https://www.instagram.com/ruthpwaters/