Illustrated Letter 11; For My Favourite Pirate

My challenge for 2013 is to rekindle an interest in the art of letter writing. That’s hand written letters, slipped into envelopes and popped into post boxes. I’m attempting one a day for the year. But not just words, each letter will contain an illustration; a Ziggy Elf.
So far they have travelled to Australia, USA, Germany and the UK.

Letter Elf 11 is the first to stay in the North East of England and is going to Louise who lives in Stockton-on-Tees. She is the creator of YellowHighWayLines a lovely blog full of her miscellaneous musings, photos and more. Louise also happens to work with me at Seven Stories, the children’s book museum. We spend a lot of time dressing up at work, and by dressing up I mean costumes; fairies, vikings, astronauts, gorillas, Christmas Elves and the like. But Louise’s default costume is Pirates and is now known as “Cap’n Corky”. So, although I can’t show you the content of her letter, it would spoil the surprise for her, I have illustrated the envelope with a pirate and skull and cross-bones. It couldn’t have been anything else!

 

Illustrated letter11 Louise

In order to complete my challenge of 365 handwritten illustrated letters I need people to send them to. If you would like to join in the fun and receive a Letter Elf you can find all the details here.

 

 

 

Dear Elf Children

Goodness me, but what a busy weekend it has been at work. We had well over a thousand visitors to the museum and I think I spoke to all of them. Our theme was animals as we were celebrating 30 years of the picture book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. We had animal inspired crafts and story times and the front of house team dressed up. I was a giraffe. I’ll leave you to ponder on that one.

Of course with so many visitors it’s very easy for elves to slip through reception without being noticed. But they can’t get past Ziggy. I took a few minutes rest to sketch a couple of elf children that were in the Attic.  Nice to see elves taking an interest in reading though.

 

 

Fact or fiction? You decide.

 

 

Constable and Toop; Me and Mr Jones

 I love it when I find myself immersed in the world of a book that I feel reluctant to leave. And when I reach that final page I feel exhilarated yet a little melancholy because I’ve got to say goodbye to some fabulous characters. Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones left me feeling exactly that way. Set in Victorian London it follows the fortunes of Sam Toop, a fourteen year old living and working with his father in a funeral parlour, and Lapsewood (deceased), a quill pushing clerk who works in the Dispatch Department of the Bureau. Sam has an unusal talent; he’s a “talker.” That is, he talks to ghosts. They seek him out and unburden their miseries on him or ask for his help in contacting the living. However, it is a gift that Sam would rather live without preferring to lead a quiet life. Much like Lapsewood, who loves his predictable and structured life, or should that be death, sorting and filing paperwork to keep the world of ghosts in order. But through a series of ghoulish, wicked and often bloody events both find themselves drawn into an adventure to save London’s ghosts. Above all, this is a very witty tale, crammed with a huge cast of well written characters that move the story along at a cracking pace. Ooh, and there are dogs in it…and you know how much I love dogs.

Ghostly sketch of Gareth

So it was with great delight that I went along to Seven Stories to meet Gareth P.Jones himself who’d popped by the museum as part of his promotional Ghost Tour 2012.  Looking every inch the dapper Victorian, dressed as he was in a three-piece suit complete with top hat, he entertained the group reading an interactive Gothic Ghost story. Set in Highgate Cemetary Mr Jones introduced us to Helly Hoxton and a ghost chicken, pausing periodically to ask the audience what should Helly do next? The children in the group eagerly discussed the character’s dilemmas and then voted on which action Helly should take. Just like Constable and Toop, the story had twists and turns and comic moments giving a wonderful flavour of the novel for those who had yet to read it. Mr Jones then picked up his ukulele (as well as being an award winning novelist he has mastered a variety of stringed instruments) and taught us the chorus to the Constable and Toop song. He likes to write songs for all his books and we enjoyed singing along. A Q & A session revealed he started writing short stories at secondary school,  after university wrote a novel and a children’s story that were never published but found success with The Dragon Detective Agency. And his advice to aspiring writers? Learn to take critisism….especially from your wife! We finished off with some more singing, this time The Meercat Rap inspired by Mr Jones’s Ninja Meercat series, which involved alot of Kung Foo “hi-ya’s” and clapping. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and joined everybody down in the fantastic Seven Stories bookshop to get my copy of Constable and Toop signed.

You can find out what Gareth thought about Seven Stories and his trip “Up North” here.

Well, it wouldn’t be a Ziggy Shortcrust post without an elf, and the very lovely and charming Mr Jones gave me permission to create his “elfter ego.”

I would highly recommend this novel, be you teen or adult. And if you can purchase it in an independent bookshop so much the better.

How to Train Your Baby Dragon

It’s always a busy and exciting time at work as we say goodbye to one exhibition and welcome in a new one. Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books, has just bid a fond farewell to “Daydreams and Diaries; The Story of Jacqueline Wilson” which has proved a huge success over the past year and I loved the Nick Sharratt illustrations, as you’ll know from a previous post here.

Well, the new exhibition is entitled “A Vikings Guide to Deadly Dragons with Cressida Cowell.” The main focus is on Cowell’s How to Train your Dragon series, with lots of original artwork and manuscripts but there is also going to be items on dragons in general and their place in myth and legend. You can get a taster here.

The other day I was chatting to a friend and colleague about the exhibition and my fondness for dragons and how much fun it would be to have my very own pet dragon. Imagine my surprise when she came to work the next day with this little chap.

He had just hatched and needed adopting. Did I want to take him on, she asked. I was overwhelmed. Of course I would take him. I’ve named him “Sedgwick” after my favourite author Marcus Sedgwick and he will need quite a bit of training.

He is very small.

Tries to camouflage himself against my laptop. And is very inquisitive.

I thought he would be meat eater but he has a strange fascination with vegetables.

(I grew that pumpkin)

He has also made friends with the skinny dogs…..sort of.

Arggggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!

Poor little Sedgwick! He was understandably rather frightened and flew off to the vegetables and hid in a cabbage.

Where eventually he went to sleep.

I think that part of his training should be to avoid cabbages as it would seem, given this video, Brassica can be fatal for dragons.

 Hopefully, Sedgwick will be well enough trained to leave the house in order to see the opening of the new exhibition at the end of October. I’ll keep you posted.

Collecting Authorgraphs

I am very lucky to be able to spend my working days at Seven Stories, a unique museum that collects and preserves original manuscripts and illustrations from British children’s literature. Authors and illustrators visit on a regular basis and I stalk my hero’s and heroines to get my books signed.

Most of the illustrators like to include a little doodle.

 

This is from Paul Hess. I spent a day at his illustration masterclass and learned so much. He stamped the gold crown then drew the face.

I’ve chosen this illustration from my copy of The King with Horses Ears because look…..there’s a skinny dog!

Next up is Emily Gravett and of course I had to get her to sign my copy of Dogs.

And yes…….more skinny dogs!

I am a huge fan of Jane Ray so was delighted to the spend the day with her when she visited last summer. This time I got a delicate little bird.

Sleeping Beauty from Fairy Tales by Berlie Doherty illustrated by Jane Ray

 

We were delighted to welcome Shaun Tan to Seven Stories last year. The Artist’s Attic was full with people eager to meet the award winning author and illustrator.

 

I had to queue for this authorgraph!

 That is his actual finger print. A nifty way to sign a book eh?

A page from Eric, my favourite story from Tales from Outer Suburbia

Anthony Browne delivered an illustration masterclass earlier this year and you can find out all about my day with him here.

My very own Willy the Chimp

This is how Anthony signed my book, a reminder of a brilliant day with a brilliant man.

 

Detail from Little Beauty

 

And finally, my favourite illustrator ever is Shirley Hughes. I know she is not particularly fashionable these days but I love her sketchy, observational style. And my favourite picture book happens to be Dogger. A friend bought it for my daughter for her third birthday (she’s nineteen now) and we read it over and over. It was first published in 1977 but for me, has lost none of its charm.

 

A couple of years ago, Shirley Hughes created a special illustration for Seven Stories fifth birthday. Kate Edwards, the chief executive, travelled down to London to collect it from Hughes and very kindly took my rather tatty copy of Dogger to be signed. Even though I didn’t get to meet the author and illustrator myself this is one of my treasured literary possessions.

If you could choose an author or illustrator to sign a book, who would it be and why?