Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A guest blog by the very clever Des Campbell, Illustrator and custard cream fan

"Hi, my name’s Des and I’m the illustrator for the Things with... series of books that the talented (I think  that’s what it says, I can’t read her writing) Rachael Phillips has written. I’ve been asked to share my process for bringing an illustration to life.

Before I go to bed at night I leave out some paper, pens and some colouring pencils and elves appear and produce a completed illustration ready for the morning when I wake up… oh, wait. That’s how I get my shoes repaired. Cobblers, you cry!!! Easy, tiger. It’s just a story!!
Well, I thought it was just cartoonists that like to read about how cartoonists do stuff but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t get out much and enjoys this sort of thing then prepare to have your socks blown off. What’s that? Quickly, go and put some on.

Having read through the text for the book and enjoyed a few cups of tea and a sizable quantity of custard creams I produce a series of very rough ideas. I then draw these up into something that matches what I can see in my head and get these emailed to Rachael. Two cups of tea and rather a lot of custard creams later, Rachael responds that the sketches are wonderful and I can go ahead on the finished artwork.

The sketches, having been scanned into the computer are then brought into my favourite computer program in the world, (until they invent a custard cream program) Corel Painter. The process for all these illustrations is the same so for this example, bats, the sketch is enlarged to the size of the finish artwork. I then “ink” over the sketch using a Wacom tablet. No brushes or pens were harmed in the making of these illustrations, the inking is done digitally using a couple of “brushes” in the program that mimic actual real media. One big benefit of inking this way is that I can separate foreground and background elements, which is a huge plus if I then colour the lineart in a different colour.

After more tea and custard creams (you can see a pattern forming, can’t you!!) I then add the colours, using different “layers” for the background, bats, and effects. The moon, added towards the end, is just a circle coloured in a colour very similar to a custard cream now that I think about it!!! I then added a soften filter to give it that moony look.
All the shading, shadows and highlights are added next until the illustration has a more painted look.

Once I’m happy with it (I’m never happy, no illustrator ever is) I “flatten” the image and send it off to Rachael who, I’m sure, thinks I’ve trained a monkey to do these illustrations but then thinks, life is too short, it’ll do!!!

After eating so many custard creams I start to feel guilty and watch Silence of the Lambs on DVD to cheer myself up. The above process is repeated for each illustration and people with shares in biscuit manufacturers jet off to Vegas to spend all the extra money I’m providing for them!!!
So there we have it. Anyone still awake, please turn the lights off and put the empties out for the milkman. Time top put the kettle on…  

Des Campbell"

 If you want to see Des' fab work in the completed book you can download 'Things with Wings'  Print version coming very soon.
Des also created the cover artwork for all the Larry the Liger stories! 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Things with... excitement!

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post but I have been very busy making preparations for something exciting... 

It's a double whammy for news today!  I have finally ventured into the realms of Createspace and Larry the Liger - the Winter Surprise is now available to order from Amazon as a print book.  It is also available at other stores and I hope to arrange for local libraries to lend it too!  In case you aren't familiar with this story it is a lovely winter's tale where we find the liger cub wondering who he will play with as all his friends go inside for the winter.  There is a surprise in store for little Larry which makes for a magical ending to this seasonal story.  Not sure it can compete with the Sainsbury's Christmas Ad though!  It is available now on all Amazon territories IN PRINT (in case you missed it!!)

The second bit of news is brand new excitement as I am finally unleashing my new series of illustrated rhyming books on the world!  I wrote the Things With... series when my first child was a baby and she is now almost 7 years old so they have been a long time coming, you could say.  I am very proud of these rhymes and they mean a lot as my late Dad got to read them.  Sadly he only got to read one of the ten Larry the Liger stories...
Things with Wings is the first illustrated rhyming book in the series and is available to download as an eBook from Amazon.  I am working on the print version and will let you know as soon as this is available.  It will look fantastic in print as it is beautifully, and humorously, illustrated by the talented Des Campbell, who also illustrated Larry the Liger.

With Things with Wings you can share a rhyming adventure learning all about winged things.  The illustrations and rhymes are great fun for any age group so it makes for a great book to read to the children.  Each illustration has an extra thing with wings to find so it should engage most children... and adults!
I am very happy to have finally got Things with Wings published on Amazon.  I really hope you check it out and I would love to know what you think.  The next in the series are coming soon along with the print option. and all other Amazon territories
In other news I have been planning parties and making party bags.  I have been preparing party games and buying party food.  My youngest daughter, Amy, was 4 on Wednesday and it is her party tomorrow.  She is very excited and I can only hope all my planning pays off and makes it a seamless 1 1/2 hours!   My eldest daughter, Ella, is 7 in December so I have been buying lots of sweeties to make lovely sweet filled, cellophane cones with lots of ribbon!  I am enjoying being creative once again.
What a great way to end the week.  I hope you will join me by reading my new creation in Things with Wings and why not order the print version of The Winter Surprise too.  Happy weekend everyone.
My next journey has begun...

Monday, 22 September 2014

At long last...

"Well at long last Anastasia was NUMBER 1 in horses on Amazon through the weekend and until the early hours of this morning! Rachael’s first book, The Horses of Boughton Lodge, has made it after about two years and eight months! It ousted “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell and that is some achievement indeed! Well done to Rachael!

Horses is the most difficult category to conquer in my opinion, for what it is worth. It really is so competitive!

When I was a schoolteacher with Primary children there was a Story Time period every day. The book most sought after was Black Beauty and I can envisage my Primary School colleagues, years after my retirement, are now reading Anastasia. Not just one but 17 of the first 32 listed. The list runs for 100 books but Rachael has the following positions 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31 and 32. That is some going!

Beauty is as Beauty does! You may have heard it somewhere before dear reader.

I am delighted for Rachael’s success and I know if her late father had still been alive he would have been so proud of her. I am so very proud of her and I do wish her well in her next venture as a solo author.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Fergus writes... about a fantastic journey, inspiration and the world of writing

It has been a fantastic journey with Rachael and I am delighted she is to revisit her previous work and have it illustrated. Rachael and I have been together now for approaching three years and based on the latest figures, from a couple of days ago, she has the top aggregate sales figures for all her books for animals on Google. Rachael has 44 books and the gentleman who was the leader had, I believe, half Rachael’s sales but for just one book. Rachael’s total sales based on last week are double.
What have I contributed to Rachael’s success? Well practically nothing as far as Larry is concerned. The Story starts before Rachael was born, back in 1967 in the Basel Zoo in Switzerland. I was about 18 at the time and working as a Courier taking school children on holiday from England to Austria but doing the return run from Basel to Innsbruck where they were shooting The Sound of Music at the time.

Having a half day to kill I treated myself to a visit to the Basel Zoo where I found a Liger! I thought a spelling mistake! I spoke to a lady zoo keeper who knew the history. 'His father was a Lion! His mother was a Tiger!' she said. Where did he come from? Bohemia was the answer. Hence the Mad Professor from the Prague Zoo!
That’s my contribution full stop. The rest is all Rachael!

From 1967 until late 2012 I carried the idea around in my head for about 45 years! Rachael was working on Anastasia The Epic when I visited her and to be honest I was too scared to mention it in case she was not receptive. However, I plucked up the courage; how wrong can you be? Larry was born on 1st December 2012 and is now part of the considerable collection of Rachael’s books on Amazon.
Perhaps a few words of encouragement might help would be authors and here I am targeting mothers with little children at home. Many mums want to get into print. That is very healthy but a few words of caution might assist. Identify a story that is going to sell! That is the businessman in me coming out. Is the product marketable?

The Acid Test is sales!
We started with Anastasia as a young girl. She is still 16 and has been for the past 2 years! If you are marketing a series then the cover has to be easily identifiable.

If you are writing horsey stories for girls then you will have considerable competition. “Black Beauty” – what a great name! Anna Sewell sets the standard. “Polly Rides to Town” will never compete with “Anastasia and the Palomino Foals”, “Anastasia and the Russian White Stallion”, “Anastasia and the Puppy Farm”. You must capture the reader in the title. Then you must recapture her in the first sentence. ”A magnificent Palomino pony stood outside Polly’s house”. What a great start! Compare with “Polly was preparing her picnic to ride to ….” I have fallen asleep already!
Take time to consider the market. Horse books for young girls is an extremely competitive market? Could it make a film or TV Series? Have that in the back of your mind? Is it merchantable like Larry the Liger?

Your family must come first? Do you have enough time? Ask yourself this? Will it interfere with family harmony?
Neither Larry nor Anastasia have a bad thought in their heads. They have old fashioned values of good and bad!

When you write books you must write books people wish to read! Rome was not built in a day! It has taken about three years for Rachael to get to where she is today.
Children must be literate and numerate. That is the key to a successful life.

If you produce a book that gets children reading you will have done a considerable service to the education of primary children.
Fergus Wilson

Friday, 12 September 2014

It's been a while! School holidays, reading and somewhere beneath the sea...

It certainly has been a while since I last wrote a blog post for which I apologise to those who read my blog!  Bizarrely, while I have been away people are still reading older posts which is great and it is nice to see there are regular readers and new ones too.

So what have I been doing for the last few months?  I honestly cannot account for all the time because it is all a bit of blur if I am honest (mummy brain - all mums will understand this!).  I have been writing bits and bobs but certainly not writing as voraciously as I was before.   I suppose I have been keeping my hand in.  The school holidays with young children make it difficult to focus on anything for too long but I have been jotting down ideas and writing some poetry.  I have also been setting the wheels in motion for a new project or rather an old one revisited! 

A few years ago I wrote a series of poems for children but after numerous rejections from agents (seemingly the only route to decent publishers at the time) I put them on the back burner (not literally as that would be silly especially as they are on my laptop!).  However, since mid-May Anastasia and Larry the Liger ebooks have begun to sell and sell very well indeed.  There were always some sales but never at such a consistent level and I know most of you will have seen my Facebook page posts ( about this.

When I worked with Fergus on the Anastasia and Larry the Liger series' it was the first I had heard of self publishing on Amazon.  I was unsure of whether this route to market would be a success however I was willing to put in the hours of formatting, cover creating and uploading to try it out.  Then the many hours of marketing on social networking sites and websites followed, often so many it would cause arguments in our house as I was spending almost my entire weekends writing and marketing.  Something had to give so I backed off a little and harmony returned to the household (well most of the time anyway!).  School and preschool visits were a pleasure; sharing Larry the Liger with children and seeing their reactions was fab.

I have recently instructed the extremely talented illustrator, Des Campbell, who also created the Larry the Liger illustrations, to create the visual interpretations of my poems. 
The preliminary sketches are just brilliant and I know I have found the perfect illustrator.  He interprets what I want and brings to life the words even better than my own imagination could!  I know the illustrations will bring joy and fun to children and to adults who read the books with them.

So what has inspired me to venture into picture books?  Well, during the long, school summer holiday period we went on a road trip and camping adventure that took us through four different countries.  I knew the long car journey would be tough for a 3 and 6 year old so I loaded my Kindle with all things suitable for the girls.  I made sure Larry the Liger was on there for Ella and some picture ebooks for Amy as she can't yet read.  The Kindle Fire is such a great device for reading and is wonderful for viewing images.  The Kindle Reading App can be downloaded to any tablet, smartphone, iPad and pc so the potential reach for ebooks is phenomenal!  I highly recommend it. 

I was very pleased to receive an email a few weeks ago about the new Kindle Kids Book Creator App.  Having never uploaded an ebook with images inside I was unsure how to go about it.  It isn't as simple as inserting an image as the text and images are uploaded separately however I won't bore you!  So the new App is just what I need hopefully and I look forward to trying it out.  I will let you all know how it goes and if it is as easy as it sounds!

As for the last few months well I can say this: I am amazed at the Euro Tunnel!  The journey was so quick and was over before I knew it.

What a great way to travel: under the sea!  Jason shook his head every time I said amazing which was quite a lot!  We were leaving England and arriving in France in a flash and soon driving through France, Belgium and Holland.  I can also say that 5 nights camping isn't for me but I would do a shorter stint because the girls loved it.  It was great to camp in a foreign country along with people of a variety of nationalities.  Ella made some lovely friends even if they couldn't communicate effectively!  Despite language barriers they still managed to play hide and seek, have fun in the playgrounds and collect pine cones in the woods.  It was rather idyllic in many ways.

I also had the pleasure to take Ella to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End.  She loved it, as did I, although the music is certainly not as memorable as either of the movie versions.  The staging was amazing and it was a visual treat and yet another inspiration for visual books!

Schools and preschools are now back in session which means I have some time once again to do what I love: writing.  My head is brimming with ideas and inspiration from our summer which is exactly how it should be.

The journey, and the next chapter, has begun....

Monday, 16 June 2014

World Cup Wonder

The World Cup has well and truly begun!  If you are a football fan you will be glued to the screen for every game and I can visualise many parents trying to find ways to amuse their children during the matches.  It's been interesting in our household to watch the girls asking their Daddy questions about the teams, etc.  Ella, my eldest daughter, approached me earlier with a pouty, sad face saying, "Portugal didn't score 1 and Germany got 4!  And we've got Portugal at our school!"  The schools in our area, and probably around the country, have been allocated a team to watch out for during the World Cup.  Maybe it's the Education Authority attempting to get our children interested in the 'Beautiful Game' because, let's face it, in many households they may not get a choice!

Now I personally am not really watching yet but I am sure that if England do well I, like many other English people, will 'jump on the band wagon' so to speak and suddenly take an interest.  I used to be an avid football supporter and knew the dates of every fixture, every team member, what strengths each player had, etc.  But for some reason I lost interest and I'm not sure when that happened...

So with the build up to the start of the World Cup recently something happened and it wasn't what I expected.  Maybe it was the thought of endless nights of football being on the television absorbing the attention of many.  Or maybe it is just a coincidence.  But I suddenly felt really inspired...

To those who follow me closely on my blog, twitter or my facebook page you will have noticed my lapses with the world of social media and blogging.  I don't know why this happened but I do think I needed a little time out.  So I have been a bit like Czechoslovakia in the 2014 World Cup: absent!  Maybe the players were too busy reading about Larry the Liger in Prague to bother training hard enough to qualify... who knows?!  I have been gathering my thoughts after completing a series of ten Larry the Liger stories.  I have written so many stories over the last three years, with the Anastasia stories too, I think mentally my brain needed a little respite break. 

I think I also needed to work outside of the house as my writing journey has kept me within these four walls.  So recently I have been working in a job that is very, very part time, helping out with exam invigilating at a school.  I was hoping for inspiration and was looking forward to working with real people around me again!  It's been a positive experience and I look forward to doing it again in the future.

So back to my point about the build up to the start of the World Cup, well I really wanted to share more of my writing for children again.  I had done a reading of one of the Larry the Liger books to a preschool in a nearby town and they listened wonderfully and enjoyed the stories and some asked me, 'Where are the pictures?' despite me having large Larry poster boards to pique their interest.  I explained the images were in their heads and many got this concept and described some things well.  I think it started a little cog in my mind that began to whirr from that moment on.  My stint of working outside the home also made me realise that I enjoy the world of writing and sharing stories for children.

I wrote some children's poetry a few years ago which I only ever shared with family or close friends.  I read through them once again recently and realised I had to share them and they had to be picture books.  Now, don't get me wrong, I wrote Larry the Liger stories as chapter books because I wanted to spark the imagination of the reader with the descriptions and this has been received well with young readers.  When I read to a local primary school last year they loved the stories illustrated purely by the text.  It was magical to see.  The poetry I am speaking of now, like Larry, would also be enjoyed by children of all ages because the poems encourage awareness of the world around us.  With Larry his image was burned in my mind from the lovely covers illustrated by Des Campbell and I know my eldest daughter could visualise everything as she read the stories and that is Larry's gift.

But... to produce a picture book would be wonderful and do you know what?   I may well to do it!  I am in talks with Des about working together again and I have such a good feeling about it.  I will obviously let you all know about this new writing journey and I am really looking forward to sharing news with you all... 

As if my renewed motivation wasn't enough Larry the Liger has been selling well, very well indeed!  He is currently number 1 through number 8 in the chart on Amazon for Children's books>Animals>Zoos!  Maybe it's because parents everywhere are downloading the stories to keep their children occupied during the World Cup or maybe it is just Larry's time to shine.  Whatever the reason it feels grrrreat (sorry!)  So all that effort, all the hard work I put into not only researching and writing those stories but also the hours of marketing are finally paying off. 

It is a wonderful feeling and for those of you who aren't sure what that might feel like... well it's a bit like how many would feel if England win the World Cup!  My writing journey is continuing and I'm taking a gentle bend in the road in my stride.  Good luck World Cup teams.  Come On England!  And Go Larry!

(While spell checking this post it did strike me as ironic that the blog spell checker does not recognise the words 'blog', 'blogger' or blogging'!)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Evolution of a Poet-like Species - Guest blog by Lorna Riley

Poetry is for you
 by Lorna Riley

You know those hedgehogs on Madagascar that aren't actually hedgehogs?  Even though they look like hedgehogs and act like hedgehogs.  And probably smell like them too… 
But, they're not hedgehogs at all, they're tenrecs - a whole different species altogether.  Well, I'm a tenrec poet.  Although, I wouldn't be offended if you ever mistook me for a real one, quite the opposite.  But, I promise you, I'm not.  I evolved on a completely different island, cut off from the world of poetry since I left school; occasionally coming up with the odd ditty that I didn't take very seriously, whenever the fancy took me.  Until, I decided to start writing down a story that had been milling around in my head for quite some time.  Just to see what happened.  That story turned into an 80,000 word novel, which wasn't bad.  It wasn't Thomas Hardy, but, considering the fact I'd never done it before, it wasn't bad.  Anyway, ever since then, I've been well and truly bitten by the writing bug and I couldn't stop now, even if I tried.  And, actually, I have no idea how I ever managed to get through life without it.

So, when my gran saw an advert for a free writers' day at the local library, she phoned me up to tell me all about it.  And I went along.  Several local authors were there, offering their advice and insights into how to get published.  Unbeknownst to me, a local poet called Longfella had also been invited.  He shared a number of poems, including A Girl Like, Y'Know, which you can watch by clicking on the following link:  
A Girl, Like, Y'Know by Tony Walsh, Longfella (some strong language so please check with an adult if you are under 16 years old)

Which made me cry like a colicky baby at bedtime.  He also performed one called Poetry is for You, which was particularly significant because I took him at his word.  And he's right, you know.  Poetry isn't just for the higher echelons of the intellectual superiors.  It’s for you.  And me, too.

The story doesn't quite end there, though.  At that writing day, I also made two new friends - Tara and Sarah.  A few days later, Tara sent me a message to tell me about an alternative open mic night at The Snowgoose called Speakeasy.  Where you can share almost anything, including poetry.  It all sounded a bit daunting to me, but I figured I would just go along and see what it was all about.  Now, I don't know what you imagined when I described Speakeasy, but I'll tell you what I imagined - a room full of women with flowery skirts and dangly earrings, giving off an aura of intellectual prowess.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  They were, and are, the loveliest bunch of ordinary people (women AND men) from all sorts of backgrounds who invited me warmly into their group.  Not a flowery skirt in sight.  And, nowadays, I only need half a pint to get up the courage to share what I've written!  Honestly, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough, should you ever fancy giving it a try. 

So, one day, when a poem popped into my head completely of its own accord, I decided to let it take me on a journey.  And that is how my picture book for 3-6 year olds, Sir Nibbles, The Famouse Cupboard Raider Extraordinaire, was brought into being. 

But, no matter what, don’t ever be fooled.  I may act like, look like and possibly even smell like a poet, but I'm a tenrec poet.  That's all.

About Lorna Riley
Lorna Riley was an average mother of two… until one fateful day when The Stories, mischievous little creatures that they are, crept into her brain whilst she was sleeping. And she’s never been the same since. Sir Nibbles, The Famouse Cupboard Raider Extraordinaire, is Lorna’s first foray into self-publishing and, with the help of the fabulous illustrator John Balsley, it should be ready later on in the Spring.
If you’d like to say hello, here’s Lorna's website and she can also be found twittering here. Sir Nibbles is on Facebook and is due to have his own website later on in the Spring, too.