Monday, December 29, 2008

Theatre Rats

Here's a picture from a few years ago for a story I never wrote after all.

These guys are preparing for a theatre performance, I believe.
Can you tell what the play will be? Gold star merit if you can...

Cats Rule...

I'm looking through my old sketchbooks for just the right sort of a picture for something or other, and am baffled at some of the stuff that turns up... what is this one all about???

Very odd.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Writing for Small Children

I'm working on a couple of lectures, and my head is full of stuff to say about picture books... I'm going through the notes and mails I've written on the subject, here's a bit I like about writing for four-year-olds (which often seems so very difficult and restrictive)

Age range is often a problem, many people find it hard to keep it "young" enough, but there's a neat trick to hit it (I think).
Don't think of it as something for tiny children to enjoy by themselves.
Remember the parent, too.
The age range you're aiming at with picture books is four-year-olds, and the thing they will love most is grown-ups having fun while reading out the book, because then they'll read really well.
Writing picture books is really like writing a script for an amateur performer (the parent) with helpful illustrations for the audience (the child). Write the book so you enjoy reading it out, and if you find yourself quoting it randomly in the day you are doing well, and if your housemates start quoting it back to you you're winning.

That's actually one of my favourite things to have worked out, and the main reason I enjoy making picture books - they aren't just to be looked at, they are meant to be performed, and how much fun is that!
But even though you might be writing to include a parent, the book itself remains the property of the child. Parents are invited, yet the actual core of it must address emotions important to the child - big things like loss and friendship and adventure. And with the pictures, you are talking to them directly - that's where you can bring in all the stuff that you know you would have got excited about as a child, whether your parents understood or not.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Kind of Person You Are

Years ago, an ex-boyfriend of mine who had a knack for saying things like this told me: "Since we broke up, I have discovered a lot about myself. Like that I am the kind of man who likes his coffee with cream."
I didn't say "You never complained about the foamed spit", or "What's wrong with lard then?"
I probably said "Well that's Great!"
The point being - all my adult life I've been the sort of person who likes her coffee with cream. No self-discovery needed there. Yet, I also always have been the sort of person who is deeply grateful when she manages to get a clean cup, boiling water and a spoonful of instant in the same place in the morning. The thing is, the kind of person you are isn't so much about what you enjoy, but about what you actually manage to keep stocked in your life. Which in my case definitely is not cream.

This morning I was drinking some of the lovely coffee I got for Christmas from the lovely cup I got also with the last bit of milk from the fridge, and I thought about what sort of person to try and be next year by way of self-improvement, and I decided to be the sort of person who keeps milk and cereal stocked so I can be the sort of person who has breakfast.

Friday, December 26, 2008

That went well!

I can see the nose of a mouse poking out between the floorboards by my desk. I think it's smelled the Christmas Chocolates.
I ate a load of leftovers, felt completely happy and warm and stuffed and fell asleep for hours, and now my stomach hurts a bit and I am declaring the festive break from work over. I'll huddle up with my notebook with a bit and scribble down some ideas for the new comic I'll be starting next year, and I'll check over my diary to see if all my plans are actually physically possible without warping space-time and endangering the Universe.
I got only brilliant presents this year. I think it's because there were less of them. Somehow people gave me a complete kit for a brilliant day with all the things I could need to be happy - my landlady gave me a pack of fine coffee with a beautiful large cup, my flatmate gave me my very own fake fur trimmed parka so I can stop borrowing his (it's my size and all!) and a jar of artichokes, and my mother gave me prettifying things and generally I got tasty food - and lovely surprises from abroad - and an embroidery set featuring the sleepless princess on the pea which I can mindlessly work on when I get bouts of insomnia. I feel completely cared for all round now! And I even very surprisingly was put in charge of the goose, last minute... but thankfully that is one task I have been trained well for by my gran and my mum, and I trussed it and cooked it and roasted it and glazed it and grilled it and it came out shiny and brown and tender and tasty. I am particularly proud since the cleaning lady some time ago scoured all the temperatures off the oven, so I had to work out for myself where 170C would have sat on the dial. - I am not very good at cooking meat, I think it's because I feel too guilty - no meal seems to be so much better than veg to me to really, really warrant a dead animal, but when someone hands me a whole dead goose I feel like it is incredibly important to make the greatest effort and get it as close to being worth-while as I can, and that overrides all else and I just get into some sort of slightly disturbing ritualistic mind-set for the next four hours.

Off to do some drawing now.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I got back into oil paints and now I'm painting a doggie... it's not finished yet, I'm contemplating what to do with the background.

Am determined not to overwork it this time, I expect it will take some more short bursts of inspiration... shall leave it like this for today anyway.

(Blurry for lack of daylight.)

Christmas! Here it is already! Yay...

I do apologise for the distinct lack of drawings this month! There has been a lot of paperwork instead, that's why.

It's going to be German Christmas today, that is, Christmas eve everywhere but here that means not much and back in Germany people will be unwrapping presents. I still find that a bit odd, but got used to it over the last ten years to a point that I don't get melancholy any more. It used to be kind of disturbing to have Christmas twelve hours late, getting dragged out of bed bloody early when I was still recovering from a night of trying to feel reasonable about it all, and then being made to play party games before I'm allowed to open one present at a time while everyone is watching (feeling a bit like Gollum wanting to go ssssh, my precioussss, grab the lot and scamper off under the kitchen table instead). And the mistletoe sprigs, lurking everywhere - someone told me if you don't spot them in time people are legally allowed to physically assault you in any way they like, and when I first saw a room decorated with them all over I got very frightened. I mean, no one bothers to explain all those customs in detail, right? And how are you supposed to know which ones are sacred, the paper crowns or the carrot stumps by the chimney, and are they going to suddenly all go WHOOP and set something on fire? ARRGH they are!!! I still get freaked out for a second every time the pudding lights up, before I remember it's not a dangerous accident.

All in all, my beloved time of dark, quiet unwrapping and squirreling away of presents and then falling asleep in a nest of them and waking up late to a day of feasting turned into something other and thoroughly menacing. But like jet lag, it faded. And also I am allowed to open as many presents as I like on Christmas eve now, and strangely I find I quite enjoy saving them up another day instead. And the moment after the panic about the burning pudding is passed is actually one of happy greed and joy thinking that it's been waiting for months getting nicer and nicer in a dark pot just so I'll be allowed to eat a huge chunk of it. And no one makes me play games any more, all in all, people are very kind to me, and this year we even baked some German biscuits... and I found myself wondering how I ever had the discipline to freeze the butter first and make the dough hours or days in advance and rest the biscuits for days after baking. And we didn't, and they came out very nice indeed, although I was quite happy no fellow Germans were around to be scandalised by the irregular shapes and the sticky Barbie glitter icing gel.
I shall take them around to a friends' house tonight and be merry, but first I'll cook the red cabbage for tomorrow, with apples and goose fat and cinnamon and cloves, which is my Christmas job, what with being German and all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Plans

I am thinking about what to do in the new year... I've already made some plans. For one thing I want to try and stop dyeing my hair because by now the roots looks so gray that I think it would look distinguished grown out. Then I want to have my favourite long coat fixed and re-lined in a nice colour, and I want to get some more clothes and shoes, but they all need to be absolutely comfortable and nice and plain because I am fed up with mornings when all I can find are weird shaped clothes. You know, the sort that looks harmless enough but then turns out to be diagonally cut with shoulder pads and a collar the size of your head and screams "decorate me with vintage jewelery and take me to a gallery NOW" when you just want to get on with your life.

And I want to draw a whole lot more comics in the new year! Yay!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Plans and Birds

I just put more birds into the Christmas tree... my parents sent a box of glass birds including a parrot, and Alexis' mum brought a box of yellow little birds from today's Christmas shopping. Now I have fulfilled my ambition of decorating a whole Christmas tree with nothing but lights and birds. And bells on the lower branches.
There's a new chocolate shop across the road that I shall hit tomorrow for a round of extra presents... they have the most exciting flavours, last time I spent a long time just tasting tiny chocolate slivers.

I am also putting together all sorts of samples... next year I am applying for a part time job (or some) doing workshops and such, so I need a portfolio at last. I'm just getting a bit bored doing all my work at the same desk by myself, really, even if it involves grand voyages of the mind and invisible friends. I want to go out using my legs and work with visible people now and then.
But first - a big plate of tasty pasta.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cloud Raccoons and Sky Boats

You should really head over to Eric Orchard's shop and grab copies of his beautiful mini comics about Harry and Silvio the cloud cartographers. Look at this!!

I hope some big publisher makes him draw a whole graphic novel NOW - because I want one.

Good Morning!

Strange days I am having! Not sleeping much, writing loads of biographies and blurbs and trying to work out what pictures to send to people who ask for "just some pictures" and in-between the phone rings and people tell me "your book was mentioned on radio 4"! And I get emails telling me about Christmas roundups my books have been included in or asking me to give lectures and workshops and it is all very strange and exciting, and keeps me awake at night... and I realised that I am almost unable to stay away from the computer now, the source of all these exciting and important news, I keep worrying that I might forget to reply or reply badly due to sleep deprivation... so yesterday I hid out at my friend Ellan's house and we walked in the park, listened to Christmas music by the tree and admired the kittens. And I slept more or less soundly from one thirty to eight, for the first time in a month or so, which is like an early Christmas present. There is hope this blog will resume featuring drawings and happy thoughts about other things besides reviews now!

Oh, by the way, it was Emily Gravett who mentioned me as her first pick of Children's book of the year... I am very happy.
And "Timothy and the Strong Pajamas" was just listed one of best picture books of the year in The Washington Post. And the Glasgow herald printed a double spread from the cat book. And Alex Milway blogged nice things about my launch and so did Sarah McIntyre. I hope to meet up with them and draw things and chat next year.
So that's what makes my head buzz. And now I will turn the computer off more or less until Christmas so I can recover!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The launch went well! I had a great time and was very happy that the whole team from Walker books could make it.
I handed out some badges to some kids who seemed to rather like them (and to grown-ups who did, too). I knitted a whole cat (minus arms and tail admittedly) while still managing to chat - I was a bit worried that it seems a bit rude to meet nice new people and knit at them, but all in all it seemed to make sense. I was very glad that friends old and new turned up, too, so there was a grand mix of people who make words, pictures, music, theatre and all sorts of art. And Gus the dog, who is a particularly lovely dog. It's his shop, really, he lives there. I hope he had a good time too, what with not being allowed any cupcakes.
Thank you everyone! My first ever launch went well and I am happy!

Click here to see Laura Kidd's report, with pictures.

Monday, December 15, 2008


AAAAH my badges just arrived! I had silently been dreaming they might still come in time for the launch... they did!!!! Aren't they ace!!!


NOW it will be a good event!

Things I just made

Here's a small polar bear I made two nights ago.

small bear

And here are some of the cup-cakes I'll be offering up at my mini launch in a few hours. I think they look a bit frightening, especially since most of the icing ended up pink. They are tasty though.


Now I need to find my good trousers, and have some coffee, and start being charming.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Matthew Robins - FLYBOY

So, as promised, here is a review of the show I went to see the night before last: Matthew Robins' latest tale of Flyboy, my favourite lonely mutant. (Lonely when Mothboy isn't visiting, that is.)
It was part of a Christmas variety show at the Barbican, also featuring Jarvis Cocker, and pine and turkey fat smells cooked up by Heston Blumenthal. - I really just went to see Matthew, and I honestly think his twenty minutes were the highlight of the evening.

Matthew's Flyboy stories are presented as episodes of song and shadow puppetry. The filigree-cut-outs are incredibly beautiful, I can't quite understand how he makes them, and with moving parts, too... this one shows Flyboy feeding some buns to an elephant, part of the Christmas story...

... just about everything else I saw that evening was a downer - as they promised, in a way, the whole thing being about the darker side of Christmas, the annoying, sad and lonely part of it... but Matthew's story was about being as lonely as you can be, and places colder than Pluto, and it still featured aliens, haunted snowmen and made me smile and cry and be happy. And that's what I want from my Christmas show, thank you very much.

So... if you can catch one of his shows which happen every now and then in assorted London locations, you really should! Here's his website:

and here's a bit of one of his performances - a strange dream Flyboy has one night...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Experimental Eyelashes

I'm not sure I'll be keeping those lashes on. And I should have waited a bit before stitching on the crumpely eye-doilies, now I feel there should be a stack of doilies behind the eyes. Might have to un-stitch some. But anyway, here is the very non-threatening beast so far. He really needs ears and some tassels.


There's no way I'll finish the whole thing (blanket body and all) for the exhibition, but I've decided that I'll try and draw the comic it goes with this weekend. He'll be fine half-finished anyway since the story is about him being made. Also I don't think I'll put him up for sale, I wouldn't want to sell him unfinished. I'll sell the comic though!

I realised this week that my decision to do public appearances in the coming year (despite the fact I always go blank when more than two people look at me at the same time) means writing an amazing range of Biographies and CVs tailored to each event, to go into catalogues and such. I still feel like I want to write a new one every time, so I have this growing file of biographies of mine, it's quite frightening, like living with an invisible famous person who has done all these assorted weird things, I can't quite believe that's actually me because I feel like all I ever do is have coffee and then tidy up and do some stuff inbetween, but over the decades that stuff really has added up to... something. SO anyway... 2009 should bring assorted workshops, lectures and events for me, and I hope I'll do them well... I'll definitely try my very best!

Which reminds me, I must find out if we can have mulled wine at the launch/signing on Monday. The shop is quite small and I think people would want to hang out in the lovely outside area a bit and clutch a hot Christmassy drink...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Birds

christmas birds

Just got out my tree decorations to check them over... all still have beaks, good!


Just signed a stack of books at Hatchards on Piccadilly, which is a nice old shop... one of the books had a torn jacket, so I put an extra cat on it so they wouldn't have to send it back to be destroyed (seems harsh, just for a ripped dust jacket).


Then I bought some Sushi from the Japan Center and ambled back home, losing my way somewhat and ambling through Whitehall, which I put down to sleep deprivation. It's not the worst place to get lost, it's kind of fun to turn a corner and suddenly face a palace guard on horseback (well, face the horse, really) or find myself in Scotland Yard or, in this case, on a bench in St James Park, watching the Pelicans and drinking hot Miso soup and having squirrels peer over my shoulder to see if there were any croutons perhaps maybe.

I am a bit tired because I saw a lovely Christmas performance by Matthew last night and then had to run across the City of London like a mad thing to catch the last train, and lost my way twice in the dark, and... but that's all a bit boring really, except for the performance, I'll blog about that properly later.

I think I'll have a snooze now and then go and buy drinks and cupcake ingredients for the Monday launch.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nights of the Morsicant

So I discovered that I can top up the four hours of sleep I get on average each night with two or three hours of crocheting, filling in the gap between when I wake up after about an hour going WARGH about some odd dream and when I fall asleep again just before dawn or so.

face, almost

and in the process I finally realised what the story is that goes with this piece, and what shape it should be - I think it will be a head attached to a crocheted blanket, like a bear-skin, only as if one had somehow defeated the granny blanket monster of insomnia and turned it into a trophy. Once the head is finished I'll write it up and make it into a short comic.

Man, I am awake but not with all of my brain.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lovely Reviews

Today my books got two great reviews. One from the Sunday Times (I really got that on Sunday but didn't notice) - they put "There are Cats in the Book" on their books of the year list. Yay. (And I wish I knew someone who gets the Times because I haven't seen it in print yet!)

The other one is for "Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure", from Bookiewoogie, as of today my favourite literary review blog in the world. Not only do they feature in-depth discussion of the books by experts, they also have pictures. Here is one by Lily:

used with kind permission. I remember how hard this monster is to draw and am impressed.
There are more on the site, including brilliant VERY SMALL cuttlefish - go see quick.

Now that made my day... actually, my week, I'd say.

Granny Squares and Nostrils

SO yesterday I decided to cover the Morsicant puppet completely in crocheted squares instead of stripes. Remembered that craftycrafty posted a link to a granny square tutorial... wouldn't you agree that these make great "scales" for a toothsome yet cuddly monster?

And today I find I have so much work stuff lined up that isn't actually drawing that I could stop drawing NOW and still have work to do for the whole week, so instead - I will be drawing stuff today before I forget how! - I just got invited to maybe do a talk somewhere, which would be my first proper talk, so that is frightening and best ignored for today! In fact I have been crocheting most of the insides of the nostrils of the Morsicant while trying hard to ignore prospects of a 45 minute talk about my work in the near future. Harrgh.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I am hereby inviting all my nice friends and colleagues to the launch of "There Are Cats in this Book" at the Review Bookshop in Bellenden Road, Peckham, on the 15th of this month, 4 to 7 PM, bring children, bring friends, bring knitting, eat cupcakes, browse books, chat and be merry!

I'll be emailing and posting and speaking proper invitations also, but since it's short notice (next Monday already!!!) It's time to spread the word now!

Also, quite shamelessly, I am reminding you here that "There are Cats in this Book" together with a knitted cat or three or just some wool and a knitting pattern makes a very crafty Christmas present, and without is perfect to amuse any small people or cat lovers in your life. And if you come to the launch, I'll sign copies as prettily as I humanly can!

Oh, and there might be badges... and cupcakes, I did mention cupcakes?

Weekend things

Some things I did this weekend... knit more teeth for the Morsicant: he exists now, if just as a mouth so far, I would say. And he's going to be HUGE when he's finished. Argh.


I must hurry up because I want tos ee what he looks like so I can draw him for a short comic (on the theme of biting things) I also need to work out how to cover his back in spines.

I also threw out a lot of cosmetics I never use - like nice-smelling shower gel and shampoo that I have decided are responsible for me feeling itchy all over. I "forgot" them at the local pool and got some soap-free perfume-free stuff instead...

And now I am cooking the third cabbage stew in a row. I love cabbage. I love stew. I love cabbage stew.

Oh, I must post something much more important, hang on...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Going to the V&A

So I did go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it turned out to be quite exactly four times as big as I thought it was on my last visit.


They have an amazing collection of status symbols through the ages... especially things that a master craftsman made to show his skill and then gave to royalty and then probably dropped dead from sheer exhaustion. Like the masterpiece of a Parisian craftsman, a trilobite shell set in gilded silver to make a tiny tall ship with all the rigging, carried on the back of a small silver mermaid... and only when you look very very closely you can see that by the main mast two people the size of thumb-nails are playing a game of chess. Yes, you can just about tell that it is chess.

This chair, however, is not unique.


I made sure to sketch it BEFORE reading what it was, just to give myself a chance to capture the utter weirdness of it (don't think I quite did). I called it The Uneasy Chair, because that's what it looked like quite exactly. It's upholstered in black velvet, and made completely from horns and antlers otherwise, spilling sharply in all directions, with screaming hog faces carved into the ends. - Apparently (as noted down here) it was the kind of thing one would have in a German hunting lodge around 1860 if one could afford to have it made. Which made me wonder - surely under any circumstances sitting in one of these would instantly unleash something to turn you into a minor Dark Lord? Was that intentional? Must have been.
Which got me thinking about status symbols, and how through the ages and places of the human world they have some similarities... you want something portable if possible (or else furniture) that you can whip out or flash for some reason (short sword covered in silver octopi with back-of-dragon-misted blade, owl-shaped teapot, silver time-piece), made from rare materials, tiny tiny or with incredible detail at least (miniature portraits, samurai armor, that silver tall-ship with rigging and chess) or insanely massive (cast of a roman column that only fits into house in separate parts) - but tiny is better on the whole because you can have more of it. If it's intimidating (the dark lord's screaming hog and antler uneasy lodge chair) you're good. If it is the final effort of a legendary grand master of his craft, you're likely the Queen of the Empire.
Which makes me wonder if somewhere out there are a load of people racking their brains how to get mobile phones made by old master craftsmen. Or rather, how to train someone for ten years in the mountains somewhere to make mobile phones.

Anyway. Here's a silver cow creamer and a Taiwanese tiger warrior.


I could have spent the whole visit just looking at the samurai stuff. I never realised before that if you look at a samurai armor from far away, it makes a good shape - then you get closer, and you notice it's made out of different parts which all make shapes - then you get closer and it's made of silk and leather and fur and tassles - then you get closer and the leather is actually fish-skin - and even closer it is embossed with tiny dragon-flies... then you bump your head on the glass display case, and you'll never know if there's a Japanese novel inscribed along the hems.


Got some research done in any case, and as you see, the Sleepwalkers are gearing up to return, and because drawn objects are free, they will have some really, really good kit, and the Sleepwalking house will have some interesting new rooms.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008




Last night's character drawings... new Hamster-based project, you see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Milky Eye Moonpie

Last night I finished the cat I started knitting in the Bookshop - I cheated a bit and didn't follow the pattern completely, made the limbs a bit shorter and gave it a paunch, and then Alexis' mother rooted through her button collection to find some eye buttons - and found a chipped old cat eye and a gold rimmed, milky button... so now instead of giving this guy away for Christmas, as planned, I am keeping him for myself, because I am greedy, and I want to make outfits and hats for him now, and an eyepatch.

One Eyed Cat

I'll be off to the V&A in a bit to do some drawing and thinking - I bound a lovely new sketchbook for the occasion, all sorts of paper in a leather cover. Hang on, I'll show you...

desk today

so there ought to be some drawings to show soon.

I changed the studio around yesterday, which is a great improvement (as always). I think there are people who get unsettled when anything around them is moved at home, and who like to keep it all the same all the time, and people who get frightened if the furniture stays in the same place when the seasons change. I'm the second kind. So yesterday I stripped the big pin-board completely and got rid of one of my tables because it wasn't useful any more, but just collecting clutter.
It's funny about things staying and things changing, isn't it, I've never been able to work out some basic stuff in my life, like when the best time to work is, when one should eat a big cooked meal (Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Midnight?) and where clothes go if they aren't clean any more but also not dirty yet (on your chair, someone told me. What?? All of them??? Where am I supposed to sit???) I am in awe on all the people who can say: "I am in the habit of taking my breakfast of grilled tomatoes at seven thirty" or "I always finish what I start" or "One doesn't wear tights after sun-down" whatever happens in the world... they say once you lay down the rules it kind of runs itself, but how? I've sometimes tried to acquire habits I like, like listening to classical music before bed, and tried to stick with it until the soothing joy of repetition kicks in, but I never manage. I can't even explain to myself convincingly that nights are for sleeping and days are for everything else. Hey, maybe that's the way to break my insomnia, stay up until I'm actually tired...

Never mind, I am rambling, off to town to look at treasures!