Bagley Book Club- The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight review

nibblesome_02Author: Elli Woollard

Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher: Macmillan

It’s a corker this week from wordsmith Elli Woollard and the ever brilliant Benji Davies. I picked this number up at the Power of Pictures panel event at Foyles in London a week or so back, so it only seemed fair to rock it into the spotlight, while I’ve still got Davies’s insight fresh in the old noodle.

A tried and tested formula, The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight is a tale of  surprising and unlikely friendships. Sent on a fledgling flight to gobble a knight of his very own, we are led by Dram, the utterly fearsome-less and totally huggable wee dragon, into the heart of a storm.

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nibblesome_01In a beautifully drawn and tastefully coloured sequential spread, our little chap is blown off course. Frankly, I defy any human with a beating heart not to express even the tiniest of concerned, cooing syllables here. Davies captures such peril in the wide eyes of the reptilian baby, there just isn’t a homosapien alive whose heartstrings are sturdy enough to withstand a good tug. It’s a perfect Attenborough moment. Yeah sure, the bloodstained and ruthless lion has been out for an afternoon’s killing, but look how FLUFFY the babies are!

Humorously mistaking the beast for a duck, our compassionate (and equally adorable) knight James discovers the disheveled castaway in a pond. The pair grow a bond as James nurses his unknown foe back to health through  Woollard’s charming and lyrical story.

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So he took off his armour and said with a grin,

‘I’m coming to help you’ and he waded right in.

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Known for her witty poetry, it’s no surprise that Woollard’s text is such a delight. Free from any hint of forced rhymes or lyrical-cheese, the text flows from page to page with a real smoothness, wit and charm.

One of my pet peeves in children’s books, is a poorly paced tale. Often confined to strict page counts of 32 or 40 pages, there’s sometimes a feeling of being desperately hurtled by the words through the story to reach the conclusion before the page count cuts it short. If so inclined, illustrator s then have to desperately compensate with enough additional narrative to halt the reader for a bit; a decision I’m not at all adverse to, might I add. As highlighted many times, pictures SHOULD have their own tale to tell, it’s the key magic of a picturebook to contain a duel narrative. But equally, no matter how fine the artist, it won’t ever fully patch up the holes of a lacking author.

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But THIS is where the Nibblesome Knight really shines. Both Woollard and Davies are in full control of the flow of the narrative. Davies’s pictures are a brilliant partner to Wollards’s poetry prowess, with enough characterisation, heart and little environmental joys in every image to give them depth, yet without so many additional details that derail the reader from the pace of the story.

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The poem is so smooth and funny, it’s only right that the illustrations work with it to maintain the swing of the lyric, and Davies has done so masterfully in this example.

nibblesome_13And it’s true, his interpretation of the characters make this tale. Adorable with a capital ‘A’, I demand plushy merchandise of the innocent duo (I am DESPERATE to hug this dragon!) The pair are subject to a good number of emotions as they build and reveal their, unknowingly forbidden, friendship and even with he simplest of facial details, Davies creates the full, emotional spectrum with precision. For a story all about the value and strength of relationships, empathy and compassion, characterisation and humanisation were key and Davies nailed. it.

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‘Come to the woods and I’ll fetch you some honey.

It makes a good medicine, all soothing and runny.’

It’s worth saying too, how strong the artwork in general is. The palette is bright and full of life yet without being nudged into the realms of gaudy. The scratchy ink marks are loose and organic looking, yet clearly drawn with clear precision. The depth of the painterly lines give this tale a much more shadowed darkness than Benjies previous works and it works brilliantly in the Ye Olde world of knights and Dragons.

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The classic narrative ends as it should; happily ever after. Predictable? Yes, but who on earth cares. As far as children’s stories go, this is a solid, classic example. It breaks no boundaries, it holds few surprises but it’s charmingly written, witty and funny and the characters are endearing and beautiful. The world is consistent and the imagery is breathtaking and it’s another brilliant example of the ‘classical reworked in a contemporary world’ kinda deal. It’s definitely worth a look, but don’t be surprised if you explode into a mass of whimpering, gooey “Awwwww”.

It is inevitable.

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The Illustrator that came to Tea: a Visiting Talk from Living Legend

Not to indulge too dramatically in hyperbole, but I think I might have actually witnessed a real life living legend in real life this week. Seriously and for real.

Yep, as part of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival (of which I have been a devoted attendee for the  past 3 years) I attended a talk by none other than the charming and, quite frankly, utterly enchanting Judith Kerr.

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Apologies for the camera, but the lady herself shot of our glamorous, Bath Guildhall.

An absolute staple of British children’s bookshelves everywhere, Kerr is one of those awe inspiring talents whose timeless works effortlessly span generation after generation, capturing imagination and breathing life into young minds with simple tales of simple pleasures. And really, who can’t relate to those?

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From her magnificently quirky tales of enigmatic tigers and their casual visiting habits, to the familiar madness of cats, old ladies and, most recently, baby seals in the bathtub (yep), Kerr’s work has inspired and excited so many from the pages of her timeless titles, that I simply couldn’t be expected to resist the opportunity to see this godlike mother of charm in the flesh.

And what was she like? Well, she was everything I hoped she would be. She was an embodiment of her books; a perfect personification of charm, wit and warmth.

She was the perfect house guest, she was the maddest aunty, she was the reckless old lady and she was the sweetest grandmother. She was peculiar and adored and she was creativity in it’s purest form.

Led by the insightful questions from, Julia Eccleshare, Kerr wove elegantly from story to story, recounting memories and experiences that eluded to a, seemingly remarkably strange, lifetime; extractions of which formed the basis of every one of her tales.

Yet, as she spoke, with her enchantingly perfect comic timing and an unchallenged humbleness, it occurred to me with warmth that she was a true genius of creativity. Because really, her life had not been so grand or elaborate as first thought. Certainly not as much as you may expect from someone born in such turbulent times. Do not get me wrong, there had been interesting events most certainly, but I challenge any full life not to suffer a few of those during it’s progression.

No, I honestly believe that the true magic of Kerr’s work lay in it’s simplicity. It was her own wonderful eccentricity, that enabled her to extract those marvelous tales of curious wonder from family memories with the green bean obsessed cat. It was her interpretation and examination of the minutia of everyday life, and vitally the people in it, that transcended so well into, seemingly magical stories and eccentric, yet inherently familiar characters. Every one of us can conjure memories akin to those of family outings to the zoo, observations of adored yet barmy pets or childhood fondness of strange artefacts in our parent’s studies (admittedly a stuffed seal is a bit of a weird one), yet it is only a true genius of creativity that can take these everyday occurrences and use them to build tales of so much whimsy that they can, without fail, capture the imaginations of every reader lucky enough to consume them.

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From this week’s brief insight into the world of Judith Kerr, I feel I came a step closer to understanding and sharing in the magic of her books. Throughout the course of the evening, a simple and charming truth became apparent. The magic of Kerr’s world was not due to a incomprehensible and unreachable grasp of the imaginative process, but rather a reflection of her own personality. Her books are a public extension of herself, in all her quirk, enigma and warmth. From the moment she began speaking, I was entranced by her. The presence held by her slight and delicate physical frame was instantly eclipsed by the immediate reveal of her sharp wit and, subsequently, her strong and enigmatic character. I could not help but draw parallels between this wonderfully sharp storyteller in front of me and the enigmatic whimsy I associate with her name.

She was seemingly  as timeless as her stories; a testament to the strength of result when the illustrator becomes a personal presence within their work. Perhaps some, no less talented, practitioners do write and illustrate successful worlds on queue, do create independently of themselves, simply to fulfil the goal of entertaining an audience, but I struggle to deny the magic of writing for yourself, with the joy of appeasing your own indulgences. It is through this process that one captures a genuine joy in order to share with others. I think it is these books that communicate a timeless magic. An honesty that cannot be manufactured.

Disappointingly, as there was no book signing a this one, I did not get to meet Judith. But her presence was so entrancing, I felt as though I had. A personality like hers is a joy to come across and I only hope one day my own work, and indeed myself, can speak with such as unique yet universal voice as hers.

And even if this is all just starry eyed hyperbole, one thing is for sure. I would absolutely love to have Judith Kerr over for tea. And I wouldn’t complain a bit it she emptied my cupboards.

What a hero.

she is

Emotional Animal ABC gets its first customer review on Amazon!

I love the customer review function on Amazon. I use it all the time when I’m buying and researching things and I ESPECIALLY love it when it’s all about ME!

Having only gone live a short time ago, I’m super pleased to say that the very first (and I do hope not the last!) review has come in for the Emotional Animal ABC book I illustrated for the psychologist, Renee Jain, Published by GoZen Ltd.

It is SUPER positive and really is a great first response for the little book, so a huge well done to everyone involved (including me!) involved in the project! I really hope more people enjoy the book as much as our first fan did!

Read the full review here!

Kidding Around: Work for Picturebooks

I want this post to do two things.

A) share some things I’ve made recently

B) Muse a little bit about things. I just feel like we never talk anymore. The blogosphere can be a lonely place.

So first up, here are some pieces I’ve been working on this past week. They’re not projects as such, simply drawings and characters I’ve had kicking about in my head for a while. Glorified doodles.

A Koala is Not a Bear

Bears aren't good petsWashing  Day

Night Shift

If anyone is familiar with the work I’ve been making over the past few years, you may have noticed a shift in the nature of some of the more recent bits. (If you have, seriously big old kudos heading your way! I owe you a cookie.)

Firstly, I think the art is beginning to be a little more consistent. That battle I’d been having before and right the way through university to develop a “style” is finally being won. And, while I thought that would feel stifling or limiting when I did eventually settle into it, it’s actually feeling pretty happy. I feel a bit safer almost. Comfortable. Yet I’m also confident with it, because I know that other styles and ways of working to me are possible should a given brief call for it.

Secondly I think my characterisation has been coming together into a different direction recently. The work I make is usually figurative in some manner, but I’ve definitely been inspired in recent months to approach this a little differently when it comes to transcribing the characters I’ve seen/ invented onto the page.

The reason for these changes, I think, it simply that life has changed. As it does.

Making pictures is, like any form of creativity or visual media. It’s a snapshot of your life; a representation of the way you see the world, the things you know and the lessons you’ve learned at any given point in your existence. Mine has changed dramatically over the past nine months and is, now, once again on the verge of changing again.

Firstly, university and the life and structure I had while I was there, ended. My friends moved away, the rigorous and consistent marking system ceased and regular access to tutors, mentors and facilities went with it. Since then, I moved back in with my partner and invested in one of those full time job deals, working as a designer in children’s publishing.

I can’t put into words how much I have learned. Nine months in the exact field I had wanted to be in (albeit a slightly left of field job) taught me more about myself, my work and (dare I say it)  the market that governs it all, than three years of formal university education even touched on. And now, as my contract with the publishers finally winds up to a conclusion and I prepare to push on into that expansive gulf of possibility, instability and fear that everyone else met with some time ago, I have never felt more confident.

Somehow, it turns out, working a full time job and having the time to devote to your work torn out form under your feet, made me even more determined to find the time to devote time to my work. I draw more now than I think I ever have and every image feels like it has a real purpose or audience. I’m no longer jumping through hoops and making work for marks, but making work for me and it feels easier than it every has.

That’s not to say I begrudge uni anything. I loved being at school, but it’s only now that I realise how much of it I wasted worrying about making the right work instead of just making the work that works!

The job I’ve had has been doing all the background research for me, and is one of the reasons I’ve loved it so much. I love the world of picture book publishing and, actually, I really loved being a designer. But as the contract nears its end and the job winds up, I feel like it’s time to get it together and start approaching the industry from a different direction. The right direction. I am an illustrator at heart, I always was. Now I’ve had the good fortune to be afforded an insight into how to be the best illustrator I can be. I’ve seen behind the scenes, I’ve got to grips with the structure of it all and I know for sure it’s publishing I want to work in.

So, nerve wracking as it is, let’s give it a go. Let’s make pictures. After all, the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out. To me, that is a thousand times better than wondering “what if.”

A Very important Post and Definitely NOT any kind of Procrastination

Want to see a thing?

I’ve actually been sitting on this one for a while, but thought, as I desperately do NOT want to get involved with my summer project, I’d go ahead and load it up for your viewing pleasure.

It’s not procrastination okay? I’m providing a service.

yeah, alright.

But those of you who have been with me for a while, will remember when I actually DID my university work and didn’t simply ignore it in favour of baked goods and birthday presents. One such example of this was one of my last illustration projects in which I produced a set of sequential linocut prints (to be found hiding here).

In the end, they were presented on a board in a simple layout. I had wanted the images themselves to do the work in terms of communicating the story without the distraction of any further, novel presentation.

But you know me, why make one set of prints when you can do TWO?

And since this project, the duplicate prints had just been sitting about in tissue, getting a little bored and generally feeling a little abandoned (I don’t know that they did feel this way. I never asked them, but it seems like a plausible emotion for an inanimate object to have.)

And that was how they stayed, sad and forgotten.

BUT THEN I had to move out! And suddenly there was a whole wealth of jobs and thing that I really, really, desperately did NOT want to do. And suddenly I couldn’t take the fact they were so, very forgotten. They didn’t deserve such a fate, it was really, really important that I get out all my book binding equipment and allow the little prints the glory they were owed!

And that decision DEFINITELY wasn’t procrastination. The Prints were in NEED! It HAD to be taken care of immediately, and all those silly, little things on the to do list, things like packing and locating various vital documents and repairing any damage in the room I may, conceivably be charged for, could all just wait while I took care of the really important stuff.

I take the welfare of my work very seriously.

So I did a wee bit of book binding. A concertina book, so when you stretch the whole thing out, you can still view the images in sequence, and the story is not lost or interrupted by the physical act of page turning.

The Prints travel down, like a hanging.

I wanted the book as a product to communicate all the research I’d done for the project and adhere to the thematic choices I’d made when designing the prints. It had centred around this wooden mask and I wanted the element of natural to come across, hence my decision to use earthy tones and loosely knotted rope for the belly band.

The choice of title had been a factor I laboured over, probably more than I should. In the end, I had decided on Knots for three reasons. Firstly, as the theme of wood had been such a strong factor in the creation of the project, it refers to the knots you get in the bark of a tree. A lot of my supporting sketchbook had been drawings of these and woodgrains, so it seemed very appropriate. Secondly, the story had to convey an element of home, something I had dealt with by showing our little character flying off to find home in an airship very reminiscent of an old galleon, the captains of which would measure a distance in knots. And thirdly, the object I had been asked to base my story around had been a mask, two images of which show the creature untying the string knots of, in order to remove it and fashion it into the figurehead for his journey.

It’s a one off, firstly as I only had one more copy of the prints to use, and secondly because it took me so frickin’ long . But it’s got quite a nice, handmade feel to it. Quite different from the heavily photoshopped stuff I usually crack out.

It’s nice to have a change sometimes.

Definitely time well spent.

B

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Doing Birthdays Correc-e-tolly Part I

I like birthdays. Not really my own, I’ve grown a little tired of that one over the past 22 years. It’s always on the same day, SOOOoo unoriginal. But I like the birthdays of those nearest and dearest because it’s one of those occasions where it’s acceptable for me to force my work, baked good and other forms of general handmade nonsense on people and they HAVE to pretend to be grateful. This year has been no exception to this rule, and I dread to think of the amount of hours I’ve clocked up in the past eight months crafting nonsensical felt characters, photoshopping bizarre and often totally inappropriate cards and drawing and printing over ambitious comic books.

Yes the number of people on this earth who have been subjected to some kind of Bagley-Original has risen quite dramatically over the past few months, and with the onset of my kid sisters birthday recently, I decided that there was no call to stop now!
It’s always a little frightening when the people you remember being small enough to fit in the kitchen sink like it was yesterday, suddenly turn around and announce they’ve decided to be fifteen now. I actually find it disturbing to the point that it’s a little bit rude, but she decided to do it anyway. And luckily for me, Rhianna (yes, yes, like the singer except she actually manages to spell it right) is in possession of a similarly questionable take on the idea of “being grown up” to my own. In that you shouldn’t really do it because it’s boring.

So in the spirit of our shared view on the legitimacy of adulthood, and the fact that this is the first time I’ve been home for her, rather inconsiderately placed summer birthday, for quite some years, I decided to make a bit of a fuss and theme it like an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party.

Considering it was only really me taking care of the birthday business, as my parents had to work on the day, it turned into a comparatively elaborate affair, and as such the retelling will be done in two parts. For now we’ll just have a little chat about the present I made her: The Doormouse’s Hints and Tips for Life; A tiny, leather-bound charm on a necklace containing numerous questionable facts and general helpful nonsense for life.

Key and Lock Necklace found in a Charity Shop.

I gave it to her by tying helpful, directional luggage tags (“Follow Me”, “This Way”, “Just a Little Further” etc) to a long length of string that ran all around the house, in and out of doorways, along banisters and finally into the kitchen where the tea party was arranged, and finally into the sugar bowl where it was hidden.

This was then placed in the sugar pot for her to find.

Made from handmade paper, faux leather, a gold marker, left over cogs from Tick and a lot of glue.

Happy Birthday Nan! May this little gift serve you well throughout the adventure you’re about to embark on. Next stop Sixteen, when the tips for life start taking a bit of a different bent.

But for now, just enjoy the fun of nonsense and all the creativity that comes with it. And don’t forget to clean behind your ears.

Love from your Big Sister.

x

Hands up if you Hate Bedtime?

We got set a project a few weeks back to pitch some kind of product to a panel of “judges” (tutors). Dragon’s Den Style to those who are familiar with it.

It was a pretty neat project, I decided to be completely unadventurous and one hundred percent predictable and stick with what I know. SO I put my efforts into producing a pitch for a series of children’s books, kind of like a dark Mr Men (not Little Miss though. We all know they were just a cheap money-making move. Little beetches more like…ahem)

And thus these guys were born. The Little Nightmares.

The idea is (yeah, there was one of those) that it’s a brand aimed at tackling bad behaviour in children come night-time. It’s like a whole subculture or misbehaviour; there’s so many variations of getting out of going to bed that I thought I’d characterise them. Each of my Little Nightmares is a different personification of night-time issue, and each book follows a short story about them being naughty and, ultimately, rectifying the behaviour and becoming well behaved.

Well, that’s the plan anyway. Obviously we only had to present the idea so the books haven’t TECHNICALLY been written yet. But some pretty artwork’s been done.

And that’s the important thing…right?

The one who WON'T STAY IN HIS OWN BED.
Fraidymare is afraid of the Dark. He's not so much naughty, but is still disruptive.
This Guy is the kid who always asks for a glass of water, or another blanket, or a this, that and the other.
Monstermare is the one who makes you search for monsters under the bed, in the cupboard, under the rug etc. Every night. For 45 minutes.

  I pitched it at four books currently, although the intention is for the series to expand exponentially.

It’s one of those great things that can keep going for as long as kids are misbehaving…so pretty much until the end of time.

I also went on a lot about the potential for merchandise.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make money off the back of books (specifically independently published books) but I’m telling you now, it doesn’t happen. Any return that would be made on this mythical Dragons Den money we were asking for, would most likely have to be made almost solely on the subsequent merchandise that the brand could potentially generate. Luckily, as it’s all about the night-time, it leaves itself open for that kind of thing. Not only in toys, bed covers, night lights etc, but also in company collaborations with various institutions that specialise in either children or  night based products. For example, getting the characters on toothpaste and toothbrushes etc.

(See? I thought about stuff!)

But the books weren’t the only aspect to my brand. I did a fair amount of research into the issue of kids misbehaving at bedtime and realised there isn’t actually a whole lot of help for parents who have these problems. There’s websites like the NHS and shows like Super Nanny, (I slagged off the Super Nanny website A LOT. Because it’s shit.) But they seem to talk about bad behaviour in general and I’ve known kids who are perfectly well-behaved 90% of the time, but just hate bedtime. (Understandably I think. It’s boring.)

So I included a website plan in my pitch. Somewhere that has the aim of, not only furthering the child’s relationship with the characters but helping parents too via a parent portal of hints, tips, advice, forums etc.

So that was more or less my project. I hadn’t actually intended to take you through my presentation, I really just wanted to share the artwork, but apparently today is a digitally enhanced verbal diarrhoea day so there you go.

I’d like to carry on with the idea to be honest. There’s no reason why the books can’t be made and added to my ever-growing list of books and fanzines I’d like to sell. Won’t be in time for Comiket this April, but that’s just one of many event’s I’d like to take part in, so keep your eyes peeled in the future.

Now I just have to actually write them….huh.

Fraidymare said it.

B

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