Last Friday was the Spring meeting of the Victorian SCBWI group. We had two member speakers (both illustrators) Marjory Gardner and Andrew Plant – and a guest speaker, Kaye Keck who is the Director of Dromkeen. Usually we hold these meetings on Saturday afternoon and this was our trial of a Friday night alternative.

Marjory and Andrew inspired us with their passion and their experience and then once more with the examples of their work. It’s fantastic to hear how others work, how they started, how they continue. It’s also interesting to learn of the myriad pathways into our industry, Marjory through Graphic Design, Andrew through Zoology.

We build in a long break in the middle to facilitate that wonderful beast ‘networking’. Call it what you will, there’s a chance to catch up with familar faces, match faces to known names, and to meet new people. At this meeting we had visitors from NSW and New Zealand and a medical illustrator in addition to mostly familiar faces. And sometimes, as occured this time, attendees happen upon people they’ve known in a ‘previous life’.

Kaye Keck spoke about Dromkeen, wonderful house and gallery in Riddell’s Creek, just out of Melbourne, and their collection of children’s picture book art. The collection includes more than 7000 items and includes sketches, roughs, dummy books, storyboards as well as finished artwork. Kaye brought some amazing miniatures (detailed dummy books, sometimes in colour) that stand as art pieces in their own right. Dromkeen is well worth a visit, with sculptures scattered around the grounds and galleries inside. Kaye also mentioned they are establishing links with ‘Seven Stories’ in Newcastle UK and the Eric Carle Musuem in the US.

…and the point of the pic above? None really. I just like it.

Morning Tea

I occasionally host a writers and illustrators morning tea at my house, including one this morning. There is no agenda, and it’s not a crit group. There is no prerequisite publication history to limit attendance.

We talk about the industry and various projects. We talk about marketing and how to do it better. It would be challenging to measure ‘outcomes’ but it’s always great fun. I think it’s the sense that we’re all doing the same thing, and that so many of our experiences are similar.

I like to think it’s the writer and illustrator equivalent of gathering to sew a friendship quilt.

From little things, big things grow

The last few weeks have been busy with school visits, editing bits and family events. There’s been little time for generating new ideas. This is always a scary thing, because trapped almost-ideas become like bees buzzing inside my head. I don’t want to forget that wonderful thought I had, so I repeat it over and over in my head, against a time I can write it down and test it. Add a few more thoughts and the humming becomes almost audible.

Last week, I travelled to the country to visit some young students. I was on the road before sunrise, driving through the waking city and beyond. The trip up was consumed with ordering my thoughts for presentations and doing vocal warmups. A child in a session asked if I’d considered a sequel to one of my picture books. No, I said. I hadn’t. But I will now. Then it was morning recess and a conversation over a cup of tea with one of the teachers set the bees a-buzzing. The sessions all went well (Thanks Preps for your wonderful letters) and the 2 hour journey home gave me thinking time. I stopped at a cafe for lunch and wrote down the bones. By the time I reached home, I’d loosely plotted two new stories.

Time will tell if the stories will work. But it was just magic letting the stories out.

Spring Cleaning

Anyone who knows me well will attest that my name and ‘spring cleaning’ are seldom linked in a sentence, unless it’s by something like ‘anathema’ or ‘what’s that?’. But in fact I have been spring cleaning this week.

My computer threw a hissy fit early in the week and refused to start. First aid measures failed and I high-tailed it to the computer shop, where some of the first aid was pronounced to have made things potentially worse. Computer man did some tests and pronounced the computer comatose rather than dead and sent me home with advice on how to avoid similar unwellnesses. Days later, computer data backed up and almost everything reloaded, I decided it was time to clean out the email. No one’s email folder should be THAT big.

Slowly and not quite surely, I’m culling the inbox folders. Some stuff has to stay but quite alot of it doesn’t. Already it’s leaner and quicker and it encourages me to continue. Next stop, some of those old ideas that just never developed…

And as for the other sort of spring cleaning, yes the house does need it, especially given the impending 21st happening here in less than a week. So what am I doing here? Doing what writers seem to be so good at. Procrastinating, of course.

Sheep and Goat

Illustrations are in the early stages for my next picture book, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate. I’m starting to plan how I’ll share this book with school groups. I’ve developed a few strategies, one of which involves using stuffed toys as props. (not sure whether or not to make a creaking gate!)

Easy. Not. Easy to find sheep in all sorts of sizes and shapes, from cartoony to realistic. But goats? Not so easy. There are a couple around, but they’re quite big and the sheep I have is only about 15-20 cm tall/long. The poor old goat just doesn’t seem as popular in the stuffed toy department. Hmm. Not sure whether to try and make one, or to resort to just a picture of one. Would be quite nice to have a 3D version… Will think some more.

I was at a lunch today with writers and illustrators and we were talking about school presentations. They all agreed it would be good to see how other people present, partly to learn about their work, but also to inform their own presentations. While no one was planning to steal anyone’s killer opening, we were keen to see how other presenters engaged their audience right at the opening. There must be a way to do it.