Blog Visitor – Megan Higginson on Writing and Illustrating

Today’s writing guest is Megan Higginson who loves to write and illustrate stories of monsters, aliens, and mind-blowing places and asking questions like, ‘What if?’ She hopes her stories and illustrations will help readers to look at their life and the world around them with new eyes. 

I have come to know Megan through the Duck Pond community, of Jen Storer and also through Creative Kids Tales. I was thrilled when she illustrated one of my poems for the Creative Kid Tales Story Collection 2.   I am delighted to have her as a special guest on my blog.

1) What motivates you to write? What keeps you writing?

I always have characters talking to me and wanting to go on adventures. When I was a kid it took me until I was seven or eight to learn to read. After I learned to read, I was a total bookworm but never thought I was a writer as I have dyslexia and thought I was too stupid to write stories. In class I would write a story for a class assignment (primary and secondary) and it would be so different to everyone else’s I always thought I did something wrong. And the class usually ended up laughing at my story too. I realise that I just approached life differently and my stories where actually offbeat and funny.

As I child, sometimes, I would close the last page of a book and all these different characters would talk to me and we would go on adventures. I never told anyone as I thought I was nuts. For me it was another form of escapism. Yet, I’ve since found out that this is what writer’s do. In answer to your question, I have so many characters chatting to me about this adventure and that adventure they’d like to go on, I think I’ll be writing until the day I die and still have another story begging to be written.

 

2 a) You illustrate also? How long have you been doing that for? How do you prepare for your illustrating jobs?

In 2017 I joined the 52 Week Illustration Challenge at the encouragement of Giuseppe Poli. In fact, you can read about my journey to this point in a blog post, How I Overcame My Fears and Dived into the World of Illustration.  At that stage it was about practicing and learning about illustration, so I also took Nina Rycroft’s inaugural Illustration eCourse in 2017. I’m friends with an illustrator as well, so Ester de Boer has helped me immensely by giving me feedback on my art pieces, areas to improve, and different exercises to enable to me to get better. I’m a member of Creative Kids Tales. Therefore, when Vol.2 of The Creative Kids Tales Story Collection was announced, I decided I was ready to put myself out there as an illustrator. All nine of my illustrations were accepted and now published in the collection available now, including one I did for your poem.

For June Perkins, ‘Sleipnir’s Children’

 2 b) So, how do you prepare?

For the collection I read over the story and then I pretty much just dumped whatever came to mind onto the page. Lots of really scribbly pictures, and half-formed ideas. From there I weeded out what I thought would work and what didn’t. Then I moved onto planning the piece and getting it down onto the page in pencil, and gradually worked it up in layers of paint/pencil/ fine liner, whatever medium I’ve decided was best for that story, until I was happy. And then I finished them off in Photoshop. If I’m stuck on something and can see it’s not working, I ask Ester and she can always spot the little details that are problematic which I’ve missed. She always knows a work around. I fix it and then the picture pops.

I’m about to illustrate my first picture book and I’m doing the same sort of thing. However, in addition to my usual dumping, scribbling and refining the characters and composition, I will be mentored through the process of illustrating my first picture book by well-known illustrator Nina Rycroft, along with Ester de Boer. So, lots of support.

3) Tell me about your self published book?  Why did you choose to self publish?

‘Raymund and the Fear Monster,’ was originally written for some children in a Philippine orphanage whom I’d met while on a mission trip in 2013. However, I realised it had broader appeal. About the same time, I started writing other stories and decided that this was what I wanted to do seriously. In 2015 I took a Writing Picture Book course with Cathie Tasker at the Australian Writer’s Centre. I tried to make ‘Raymund’ fit within the parameters of a picture book. I tried to shove it under 600 words. It was like trying to shove a huge fluffy pillow into a tiny box. It just didn’t work. I did come up with a shorter different version which is now published as Freya and the Fear Monster in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection Vol 2. Things that Go Bump. Yet, I knew Raymund’s story still needed to be told. I kept reworking it. It kept popping out everywhere until I wanted to throw up on it, burn it, and never see it again.

In 2016 three things happened within a week. 1) I read Jen Storer’s blog post, Right Story, Wrong Format. Why it’s important to stay true to the story. I also attended my writer’s group where we did a dialogue workshop. I played around with some dialogue from Raymund and I finally didn’t want to throw up on it anymore. I actually felt excited about it again. And then I read a picture book about a dragon who ate children (I know. Weird right. Fun story though) and realised I had started the story in the wrong place. I went and rewrote Raymund and it was so much better. I submitted it to one publisher who I thought if anyone would take it, they would. They didn’t. Probably because it is waaaay over the current trend in word count and a rather niche topic. So, Ester and I decided to partner up and do it ourselves. Penny Springbrook at Bookcover Café helped me polish ‘Raymund’ and I am so happy with how the story ended up.

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4) What have been the highlights of the journey?

I think watching my story come to life under the skilled hands and creative brain of my illustrator has been a major highlight. It’s a different style to what is normally used in picture books. However, when we’ve taken the illustrations and even the mock-up into schools, it’s been warmly received by the students and teachers. And that’s before it was published

5) What have been the challenges?

I think for me personally, has been the wait. We started this journey in late 2016 and it’s now 2019. Ester was busy illustrating other picture books she’d been contracted to at the time. She started planning December 2017 and began the illustrations in January 2018. However, having said that, I was happy to not be a pushy author and just leave her be and work at her own pace. Ester’s work is incredible and the amount of research she put in, and the details of her illustrations are amazing. I thought our book would look wonderful. But, not in my wildest dreams did I think it would look this incredible.

I think it’s also been a highlight, as well as a challenge working with a graphic designer. Ester and I had very clear ideas as to how we wanted our book to look and I’ve discovered it can be hard work putting a picture book together. However, it’s finished and it’s how we envisioned our book would look like. It’s a fun book.      

 6) What/Who are your major creative influences?

Writing: I love Anne McCaffrey, Frank Perretti, Wendy Orr, Jen Storer, Tony DiTerlizzi, Adam Wallace, Dee White, Jackie French, Alison Reynolds, Allison Tait… well you get the picture. Each of them has influenced me in various ways.

Illustration: As a child I loved the impressionist era (Of course, I didn’t know that it was called this at the time). As a child I loved the bush and was captivated by the artworks people like Tom Roberts, and how they captured the light of the Australian bush. I thought it was incredible and I always wanted to paint like that. I’m learning.

I didn’t know it as a child, but I loved Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. I would pour over his work for hours, studying his line work and detail and wishing I could draw like that. Tony DiTerlizzi is another one. I love his imagination and I love that he’s current and I can get online and see videos of him working on an illustration.

Aaron Pocock is another artist whose work I love. Hmmm. I’m sensing a theme. Fantasy. Anyway, Aaron is so versatile. He does cartoons, and huge gorgeous oil landscapes. However, it’s his fantasy artwork I adore. So, from him I endeavour to use colour well and think how to use colour to portray emotion. Ester de Boer’s work I admire. Her imagination is insane, as are her detailed line work. So, from her I’m learning to let my imagination run wild, to play and have fun, and to always add little details to my illustrations.

Thanks Megan for sharing your story!

How to Illustrate a Children’s Novel

Captain Astra

Regular visitors to my blog have met Karen, today’s guest, before but for those who haven’t I’ll introduce her.

Karen Tyrrell, is an award winning children’s resilience author who recently launched her second book in the Super Space Kids series, Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra, an action-packed FUN space adventure for kids 7-12 into the cosmos.

We first met at Writelinks a writing group for Children and Young Adults which we both attend; I have been following her writing and publishing journey ever since, as well as attending her fabulous workshops on writing, distribution, and publishing.

Karen is a dynamo, and her outlook on life infectious.  She inspires children, teachers, writers and countless more with her stories and I am proud to know her.

Today I was really interested in asking Karen how she found and worked with the illustrator of her Super Space Kids Series.

1.June: How did you locate a suitable illustrator for Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra?

Karen:  Luckily for me, Trevor Salter illustrated the animated cover of my children’s novel STOP the Bully.

AND he created the cover and the internal illustrations for Jo-Kin Battles the It , Book 1 in the Super Space Kids series. Kids loved these illustrations so much, I begged Trevor to illustrate Book 2, Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra, Trevor loves illustrating robots, monsters and aliens so he was keen to create my next heroes and villains.

If you are searching for a new illustrator, you can follow a process. First research what illustrative style suits your novel. Discover which illustrators portray your style and genre. Ask those in the know to recommend the most suitable and talented illustrators. Seek quotes from two or three illustrators by sending your brief of the intended project (details of the timeline and what you want the illustrator to do).

2.June: How did you choose which scenes to illustrate for Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra?

Karen: Select scenes that children will love and will add extra pizazz to your story. Children love to see what their favourite characters, monsters, robots and aliens look like. Choose scenes bursting with humour, action or on the brink of an exciting turning point.

Pic 1 Commander Nova pressures reluctant hero, Jo-Kin to leave school and to save his little sister Pandora and the galaxy.

Commander Nova & Jo-Kin

Pic 2 Meet Joshua’s embarrassing family: Dad, Mum, sister Stella and brother Marty.

Jo-Kin's wacky family

Pic 3 Meet Lord Terra in one of his evil disguises and his stinky side-kick Prince Poison.

Lord Terra ( in disguise) & Prince Poison

3. June: What’s the illustrative process from brief to publishing for Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra?

Karen: I created a detailed brief describing each scene and characters in detail so the illustrator had a clear picture of what to draw.

The illustrator roughly sketched each drawing, requesting my feedback. I then commented on how to improve the drawings so they reach my vision goal. When I was satisfied, the illustrator created a final high definition version.

4. June: What are your top tips to create the best illustrations?  

Karen:  1-Find the BEST illustrator you can afford, who suits your style and genre. 2-Choose the most exciting scenes to illustrate the text. Ones which will bring your story to life. 3- Visualise each scene.  4-Describe the characters and their emotions …and the scene in precise detail in the brief.

 

Terra OUT NOW

Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra, an illustrated humorous novel for kids 7-12 r is eceiving *5 STAR reviews. Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra, is available at Dymocks, Riverbend, The Book Garden, Angus & Robertson Mary Ryans, Amazon and selected stores.

Connect with Karen Tyrrell here:

Website Facebook  Twitter

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Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra Blog Tour 23 May–I June

To celebrate Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra  launch Karen is hosting Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra Blog Tour and Book Giveaway. Co-hosts will share out-of-this-world book reviews, interviews and blog posts.

Karen will zoom away signed copies of her book Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra and galactic prizes via the websites below. Please leave a comment on the websites to WIN.

23 May Amazon & Blog Tour Launch www.karentyrrell.com

24 May Writing Kids Comedy, Melissa Wray http://melissawray.blogspot.com.au

25 May Create a Powerful Hero Character, Alison Stegert https://ali-stegert.com

Magic Fish Dreaming interview

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You can read an Interview with Ali Stegert on Magic Fish Dreaming HERE.

Magic Fish Dreaming is a children’s picture book project written by my friend and crit-buddy June Perkins and illustrated by Helene Magisson. Today, I interview the author about her beautiful work and her dream of bringing the project to fruition.

A Dreamy Book for Youngsters

Ali: “A dreamy book for youngsters” is my five-word description of your book. How about you describeMagic Fish Dreaming in five words?” HERE.

For Our Children – The Illustrative World of Helene Magisson

This blog originally appeared on Magic Fish Dreaming.  Visit the blog to read other interesting posts about the project.

Join the facebook page or blog to be informed about the kickstarter.

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For Our Children

Helene Magisson is a Children’s book illustrator, who graduated from the painting restoration school “Art et Avenir”, Paris (France).

She was also trained in the art of medieval illumination, exhibiting her work in Europe and teaching the history and techniques of medieval miniature in primary and high schools, both in France and in India, where she lived for a few years.

When Helene settled down in Australia, she decided to start a new career in children’s book illustration. Her numerous trips in Europe and Asia, as well as her childhood spent in Africa inspire and enrich her work. She believes that travelling is a fantastic source of inspiration.

Helene was awarded the first prize in the illustration category at the 2013 CYA conference. She has illustrated her first book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco.

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Helene in India

How did you come to work on the Magic Fish Dreaming Project?

One day, I got a message from June Perkins. A long message describing her project with precision. Her approach was clear, smart, graceful and engaging.

She was talking about poetry, places of Far North Queensland, about multiculturalism, team work, and respect. It immediately resonated to me.

So I wanted to know more about her, who she was, and I discovered an incredibly creative and talented woman. I felt that this project could take me into a new world like a door opening to a part of Australia which I was thrilled to discover,  through June’s eyes and words.

I had no doubt about the project, no hesitation. It was like something absolutely natural.

Then she sent me her manuscript, and I had this wonderful feeling when each poem suddenly sparkled in my mind. My imagination was flying far away.

The connection was done straight from the first poem.

What appeals to you about this project?

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Many things appeal to me.

I always wanted to illustrate poetry for children because there is no limit for the imagination. It is playing with words and images. I think it is a fantastic way to make the children aware of the beauty of the language and the words.

And I love June’s poems. They are so rich – with a mix of humour, gentleness, mystery, depth and a lot of love and admiration for the Far North Queensland environment. I also can feel the soul of a country in it. There is the mystery of a tree, the beauty of a majestic bird, many strange animals, and also children from different communities.

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When June approached me I really liked the fact that she highlighted one of my illustrations I called “For our Children”. It is an illustration I did a little bit after the terrorist attack in France.

There are nine children coming from all over the world (India, Pakistan, France, Ireland, Australia, Kenya…), children I have met in the different countries I have been living in or visited, and they are altogether, smiling, teasing, hugging. There are in peace and happy.

June liked it for its multicultural dimension. She wanted to highlight that in the project and that really touched me.

I love the idea to mix Aboriginal, Italian, Torres Strait, English,  and Australian children.

It is poetry for all and everyone in a beautiful and peaceful environment.

I feel so fortunate that this project came to me.

What kinds of things did you do or are you doing in illustrating the poetry text for June?

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I ask June to tell me more about the poem I start working on. What is behind the text, and how she came to it. She also sends me some photos (she is an incredibly talented photographer too). I collect a lot of ideas from them.

In her photos, she sometimes focuses on a detail, a beautiful detail seen from another point of view. I also see that in her poetry, and I try to transmit this idea in my illustrations.

Then I work on a few ideas, keeping in mind the authenticity of the Queensland environment but then I try to “translate it” in a way to appeal children with the choice of the colours, adding amusing details, hiding animals.

I propose a few roughs and we decide altogether (including June’s editor Matilda Elliot) which one will work the best before I start working with colours.

What is your background with working with understanding illustration that is appealing to an audience of children and their families ?

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I studied restoration and history of art and worked as a painting restorer for a few year, this gave me a strong background in my art work but there was no place for creativity.

I think I always loved children’s books. It started from my childhood in Africa when my mum was reading to us all the Andersen, Grimm and Perrault’s tales, even a little mongoose was coming very often to listen.

for June (2)So I did the same for my children when they were still small, reading all sorts of stories at bed time. I wanted them to be touched by the story but also to be open and sensitive to the quality of the illustrations. And there are so many incredible books that inspired me to pursue this dream,

Also when I decided to illustrate children’s books I spent many hours reading and looking at picture books because I wanted to understand how the illustrations process was working page after page and how to create an interesting relation between the text and the illustration. The more I discovered, the more my passion grew.

And when I felt ready, I attended the CYA competition in 2013 and was delighted to win First prize in the illustration category.

A bit later, I illustrated the beautiful and very well-known classical tale “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams Bianco, published by New Frontier. And I am excited that next year three more books I have illustrated will hit the shelves, including with the help of all our supporters, Magic Fish Dreaming.

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You can find out more on Helene’s work here:

Helene Magisson Facebook
Helene’s Website

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