For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books.
The Fisher Prince is another story co-created with Mollie Macgregor-Kinnis, and again it’s based on one of Mollie’s dreams, about a prince who’s only interested in fishing, and who holds a fishing-themed ball as a means of finding himself a bride. Ayumi, the lake-keeper’s daughter, and Wendy, the serving-girl who works at the palace, were both lifted straight from Mollie’s dream. In fact the whole story, with its proper fairy-tale atmosphere, was pretty much ready-made in Mollie’s dream, and all I had to do was write it out.
The picture of the magical golden fish which lives in the lake is adapted from one of Mollie’s glassware designs. My other favourites are of Khota, Ayumi’s father; and of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books.
The Long Grass is co-created with Mollie Macgregor-Kinnis, and based on a couple of Mollie’s dreams: the idea of being told not to go into the long grass but then going anyway, and visiting the Queen of Hearts who turns out to be horrible, was in one dream; the black snake was in another dream.
I spent most of a summer making charcoal drawings of long grass, weeds, nettle patches, brambles and so forth for this book. It’s a kind of innocence and experience story, and in a way it resembles Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are. My favourite pictures are the ones of Peter the Hare in the long grass; and Alice, the girl in the story, setting off into the grass on a hot day, with her house hazed over in the background.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. The Goose Money Box (2020) represented a change of style for me – I wanted more texture, more of a handmade feel to my illustrations, so instead of creating them entirely digitally, using Inkscape, I started drawing them by hand and then using Inkscape to add colour.
Perhaps because of this, The Goose Money Box is one of my personal favourites. The idea for the story came from a little girl called Martha, who told me that she’d got a money box shaped liked a goose, which moved when she put any money in it. Lots of the pictures in the book are closely based on my house and the surrounding area. The one of geese flying over a field at sunset is basically the view from our upstairs window.
If you’ve ever wondered what the Queen gets up to in her downtime, this is the book for you. Apparently she sits around in a bungalow, eating pizza and watching the soaps on telly. In this story she also gets mixed up with a lost dog called Scruffy who has somehow managed to get a priceless object stowed in the little bag attached to his collar, and who is therefore being pursued by three dopey burglars.
Sprightly comedy for kids: good fun throughout.
Peter McCarey has just announced the completion of his monumental work The Syllabary, which comprises one short poem written for every single-syllable word in the language – 2281 short poems in all.
I wrote a review of this back in 2006, at which point he had already been working on the project for several years, so in total it has taken him more than 2 decades to complete. I’ve gone back to it regularly, and it remains one of my favourite works of hyperliterature. My impression is that it’s got funnier, pithier and more Scottish as it’s gone along. You can find it at http://www.thesyllabary.com/. You can find my review, now somewhat out of date, at http://hyperex.co.uk/reviewsyllabary.php
To celebrate the completion of The Syllabary, Peter has just published two short books of poetry, Orasho and Pogo, both of which are available from Red Squirrel Press.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. The Stream is an experimental piece – four miniature folk-stories, and a philosophical reflection, on the subject of a little stream that runs through the woods just close to my house.
The writing is accompanied by a series of photographs, all of which have been digitally reprocessed in one way or another.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. The Doubter’s Mysteries is actually an illustrated book rather than a picture-book – in fact it’s a series of fourteen one-act plays, based on Bible stories, with fourteen accompanying full-page illustrations.
The idea of the project was to write plays based on Biblical stories in a down-to-earth style with very little staging, like the Medieval Mystery Plays; but written from a modern, sceptical, non-religious point of view.
My favourite illustrations (apart from the picture of Eve and the Serpent which is on the front cover) are the ones for ‘Cain and Abel’ and ‘Samson’ (the Samson design is loosely based on the Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup tins I remember from my childhood).
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. The fourth title is The Christmas Robins. Three robins go looking for Christmas. Their names are Robbie, Rupert and Ropey.
This one was based on some robin decorations Mollie made. She brought three of them to work one day, and as soon as I saw them they looked as if they were marching along, and a story started to emerge. My favourite picture is where they meet a grumpy camel belonging to one of the three Kings. He’s very upset at being dragged away from his nice hot home in the desert.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. Third up is I’m a Parsnip!, a light-hearted look at the transgender experience. Penny the carrot realises that actually she’s a parsnip. She has to explain this to her family and friends, then apply for a procedure to get herself changed. The process turns out to be long, bureaucratic and frustrating. The book’s based on the experiences of a close relative of mine. Essentially it’s about someone trying to be true to themself. Transgender readers themselves seem to like it, so I’m quite proud of it. My favourite pictures are the ones of Penny’s dad receiving the shocking news, and of Penny herself after her successful procedure.
For the next few weeks I’m doing a retrospective of my picture books. The second one is The Cake Maker of Transylvania, a vampire love-story, co-written with Mollie Macgregor-Kinnis.
Hugo the vampire wants to be a baker, because Lydia, the girl he fell in love with when he was small, loves bakers and their cakes. Being a vampire, he fulfills his ambition in a vampiric way – he steals the hearts of beautiful women and bakes them into his cakes to make them extra-delicious. But then he finds himself having to bake a cake for Lydia herself, and instead of stealing her heart he wants to give her his own.
This book, like Pilchards, originated in one of Mollie’s doodles, of a vampire-character cutting into a cake with lots of blood or jam oozing out. Later on she did another doodle which I also transferred into the book – she found a clump of turquoise thread on the floor, glued it to a piece of paper and added arms, legs and a face so it turned into a picture of a girl dancing.
To be honest I find the book as a whole slightly unsatisfactory. The balance between words and pictures isn’t right: too many words on some pages, not enough on others. The pictures themselves waver between cartoonish and realistic. But there’s some good writing, and the idea of cutting out people’s hearts, then offering them back to their owners as gourmet delicacies, has a satisfying symbolism to it. My favourite illustrations show Bangers the butler standing at the front door in the pouring rain, and Lydia in her turquoise party frock doing a little dance with a slice of cake in her hand.