Illustrator Eaten By Python!!!!!

Well not quite, that's actually a fib.

But he is an awfully big snake, and could easily have swallowed me whole, if he fancied a snack. Yes, this could have been me....

The photo was taken in Vietnam, and I have to tell you, he weighed a ton! He was perfect inspiration for Class Two at the Zoo, featuring our red and yellow friend above. Here's the python again, in close up (he's the scaly one):

I spent a couple of weeks travelling around Vietnam about 3 years ago, and would thoroughly recommend it, because the people were lovely, but mostly because it was a visual feast.

I embarked on a bit of an experiment, and left my camera behind, in favour of a sketchbook (ok, John had a camera, so it wasn't so bad). I always sketch when I'm away, but this was different. Normally, when you only have 5 minutes to spare, you take a photo but, because I couldn't, a did a very quick drawing instead.

I filled two fat sketch books and, though I say it myself, by the end of the fortnight, I'd got really good!

If you want to see more sketches from this trip, click here or check out my other travel sketchbooks.

The highlight of the trip was a ride on the back of an elephant. We were staying in a tiny rural village, beside a massive lake. With the guide sitting bareback on the elephant's neck, and John and I on a small howdah behind, we set off for an hour long walk out of the village and into the local landscape.

It was tricky sketching, because elephants lurch back and forth the whole time. And of course everything was constantly moving.

We didn't think too much of it when the elephants started to paddle into the lake, but were amazed when they kept going. The lake turned out to be very wide but not very deep, and the elephants waded right across and out the other side. This was taken by a friend. I am the one on the front elephant, in the cap.

Where The Wild Things Are

Jennifer Morris recently posted a lovely blog showing all the wonderful wildlife on her doorstep: snakes chipmunks, salamanders... All I get is sparrows, squirrels and the odd cat. Jennifer inspired me though to show you some of the wildlife I have encountered elsewhere.

Starting with this. Yep, it's real. And that's my finger too, to give scale. Am I brave or what?? This fella was on the porch of a bar in the Daintree, a rainforest area in Queensland. The owner let it stay specifically to freak out the tourists. That's Australians for you!

This is inside the bar. There was also this tree frog clamped to the back of a Baileys bottle. I didn't believe he was real until the owner let me touch him. He lives there, and keeps behind the bottle out of sight, to hide from snakes that slide into the bar to hunt at night!

This is also Oz, but much further south, in the Blue mountains. We were staying in a cabin. Early every morning, wild parrots would flock down to be fed and happily mob you for seed, as you can see. I should have worn a hat, because their toenails really needed a trim!

This is me with my friend Sharon. It was her wedding we went to Australia for. This massive lizard lived in her back garden and liked to come out for a stroll round the poolside.

We do have some wild things here at home though. This creature is another friend of mine, Matthew. You don't want to upset him, not with those massive horns...

They were mounted in the wall of a B&B in Scotland, at just the right height.

And finally... is it a sea monster, up from the deep?

No, actually it's me looking very silly in my special wimp's snorkelling mask, in Cyprus. It has a full face glass, so I absolutely, definitely won't get any sea water up my nose by mistake!

I did some sketching when we were in Australia, mostly of landscapes rather that creatures, but I'll pop some into the gallery sometime soon, for you to see. If you're interested to see some animal drawing though, there's all sorts in my Namibia sketchbook on the website. Cheetahs, zebras, elephants, ostriches, giraffes... I can't recommend Namibia too highly as a place to visit.

A Real Life Lark In The Ark

As promised (see Brand New Photo Blog) on the right is what I am drawing in the photo below, at the boatyard. Actually, I'm not sure if this is the exact sketch, as there were various similar boats, but it's near enough.

This day of sketching filled half a sketchbook, so I'm only putting a sample on here. It was a pretty magical place: a secret oasis hidden at the canal side, tucked out of sight, below the level of the rest of the world. There were not just boats in various stages of restoration and repair, but piles of bits of this and that everywhere, most of which I couldn't identify, but which looked sort of useful, in a twisted, vaguely rusty sort of way.

When I first got the Lark in the Ark project, I knew I wanted the illustrations to feel like they were rooms within a boat, not just a house, which was tricky, as the bedroom scenes (which take up most of the story) had to be filled with very 'ordinary' furniture for the animals to hide amongst. I worried about it for a while, before I got the idea of the wooden canal boats, and couldn't believe my luck when I found a restoration yard, full of really old boats - perfect!

You can see above where I got the idea for the decorated, hinged hatches on the outside of the ark, as well as some of the cupboards that you'll find in Noah's bedroom inside the book. I also got the chimney idea and the potted plant on the roof from actual boats. I'm pretty sure I made up the weather vane and the knickers on the line though!

Of course I collected loads of reference that I never used, but the 'feel' of the wooden interior and the colour schemes I found were certainly inspirational, and you can see from the illustration of the ark interior I drew for Lark in the Ark below, how this found it's way through to the final book. Can you see on the sketch above where it says,

'fold down double bed!'? The hinged door of the cupboard flaps across the narrow, central aisle and joins up with a shelf on the other side. You sleep with your head in the cupboard and your feet on the shelf! Ingenious, but not desperately comfy I shouldn't think.

Notice the lamp on the wall in the illustration too - that was a lamp from the interior of Chris Dixon's boat Forget Me Not, which you can see in my sketchbook here. Like everything on the tiny boat, it was a very clever space-saving design, on a hinge so it could be swung back out of the way.

By the way, this is Chris who, as I mentioned previously, bears a remarkable resemblance to Noah... Sorry Chris, you were just too perfect for the role! I think it was the hat that clinched it.

Everyone at Ashton Packet Boatyard was really friendly and helpful, and I'd like to say a special THANK YOU to Chris, Robert and Tony - long may your boats be buoyant!

Getting Ready For Heaven

I cannot take credit for this lovely drawing. It is an illustration by Pam Copestake and is here because I would like to share something with you.

After a storytelling a while ago, I published a drawing of Smudge the Mouse by the rather talented little Georgia Lindsay (see

Tameside Libraries).

Her Grandad, Peter, recently made contact with me and it turns out that Georgia has quite an artistic family. These drawings were done by Peter's sister in law, Pam, for her husband, David Copestake's funeral. He too was an artist, hence the idea.

I was so taken with the drawings that I thought you might like to see them too. She is now in her 70's and lives in Aintree outside Liverpool. She has never been a professional illustrator but Peter tells me she's just won a local art competition on the theme of Liverpool as City of Culture.

Well done Pam, and thank you for letting me share your lovely drawings with others.

Clever Squirrel

Today I was making a sandwich for my lunch, when I noticed out of the window that something was going on at the bird feeder on the far wall. Moving to another window, to look closer, I found it was this squirrel, tucking into the bird's seed.

We have had him in the garden before many times. Usually he trots along the top of the vine frame you can see below and hangs upside down from his toes like a bat, arms hugging the feeder you can see in the foreground, with his head rammed into the seed hole. But as you can see, it's empty today: the birds have tipped all the seed out onto the ground (very annoying), so I'm refusing to refill until they peck it up.

Squirrel came at breakfast time, realised the feeder was empty and left. I didn't think for a minute he'd be able to get to the one hanging in the middle of a sheer wall. He obviously went away to think about it...

He stayed for at least 20 minutes in that position. I had to go and get on with my work, so I didn't see when he left. Notice by the way, the pigeon who arrived to hoover up the bits he dropped.

He didn't come in commando style on the washing line, as it's a lot further in front than it looks, and the ivy to the right is very flimsy, so he must have walked up (or down) the wall like spiderman. He deserved his lunch I think - I wonder if squirrels get stiff legs the day after?


OK, something a bit different for you now...

You may not know this, but one of my main passions, outside my drawing, is dancing. I have always loved a bit of a bop about, and flirted for a while with belly dancing (which is the most enormous fun girls, and suitable for ladies of all shapes and sizes, as there are no blokes around to look at your belly!). But nearly 5 years ago, I was introduced to jiving by a friend and there is nothing quite like it. If you get the chance to have a go, I would seriously recommend that you try it. The wonderful thing is that, as a woman, you only need the most rudimentary ability, as long as the man you're dancing with is experienced. You just have to relax and he can make you feel like you are flying!

These first two were taken at a recent hen night. The hen was a girlfriend I go to jiving with, so we dressed up in 50's dresses, with the proper petticoats that make your skirt enormous, and twirled the night away at a blues club in London. This man in blue was a bit of a show-off, and is dancing here with two of us at once! By strange coincidence, he originally came from Sheffield. He said that, back then, he'd have got a punch on the nose for monopolised two girls at one time.

This last is from the Jazz in the Gardens event, held every year in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens. There are a series of live bands and everybody takes a picnic, or wine. Both times I've been, the evening has proved a great success, with a fabulous turnout, covering the entire top section of the park with blankets, picnic chairs and happy faces. Despite the promise of rain both years, we have remained dry throughout.

Most people are just there to lsten to the music, but there's no stopping jivers: given half a chance we're up and twirling! The final photo is me dancing with a friend, Steve. Unfortunately my husband won't jive - he doesn't know what he's missing!

How To Look A Complete Idiot...

I have got my sunglasses flipped under my chin here, instead of on top of my head like a normal person, so that I won't flatten my spiky hair. I have no idea how ridiculous I look!

This photo was taken in Lucca in Tuscany, during a walking holiday. Where are the walking boots, I hear you cry! Well, we took a day off at the end, to rest our feet a bit and do some sightseeing before heading home. This is what I am sketching:

Lucca Cathedral, like the rest of the city, is very old and beautiful. The cathedral was rather big and grand for drawing in a little sketchbook though, so as you can see, I decided to concentrate on details.

This is another Lucca sketch from that day: the main square, which isn't in fact a square at all, but an enormous, circular area, lined with the obligatory cafes and spotted with pigeons. We unwittingly booked our sightseeing day on a Sunday, which meant that unfortunately lots of things were closed, but it was a huge advantage for my drawings, as things were not as packed with visitors.

This drawing is of the view behind me, from where I was standing in the photo at the top.

Lucca was dotted all over with these stone towers, one of two of which you could go into. These pictures below were taken from the top of one. I have always found these views of old, tiled roofs rather lovely and can never resist taking far too many photos!

Although we were walking from village to village during the rest of the holiday, half way through we did stay more than a single night at a tiny place called Fornovolasco, again for a day of rest, so I got the chance for a bit of sketching. This is the window of our room (in the only bar / restaurant / guest house in the village).

And this is one of my favourite sketches of the trip: the view from that window.

There was also a lovely view from that little balcony in front of our window, down into the leafy corner of the village square:

If I looked over to the left instead, the view was up the main street, towards the mountains, where we did do a round walk the following day, before continuing the trip. Fortunately the mountain wasn't quite as scary as it looks in this photo!

The village was clamped onto the side of the mountain's foot though, which meant the street was incredibly steep. Notice the drainage channel down the centre.

We arranged the holiday through a company called Sherpa, who move your main luggage for you from village to village, so you only have to walk with a day-sack. An excellent idea. They provide you with maps and book your accommodation, but other than that you're on your own.

CWIG Conference sketches

Anyone reading my main blog will know all about the CWIG conference at the weekend. On Sunday morning, those of us who had stayed up late the night before were feeling rather bleary-eyed, and I for one was struggling to concentrate from time to time. In an attempt to keep myself awake, I did little biro sketches of the people sitting in front and on the stage, and here they are:

I'm pretty sure that is Anne Fine and Celia Rees top left. Not sure about the others here, although I thought the man below was great to draw.

This selection below includes a rather iffy one of Graham Marks (standing), Alan Gibbons sporting the beard and glasses, and Michael Rosen top right, who happened to be sitting just a few rows in front of me before he got up to do his talk, about his role as the current Children's Laureate. The ones below are him a few minutes later on stage.
If you want to read about some of his projects, take a look at the website

This last sketch is a pretty dreadful likeness of Philip Pullman. He was so animated that he just never stood still for a second.

This was because he was speaking about the new proposal for age-banding on children's books, something which he is passionately opposed to. His feeling is that labelling them with ages pigeon-holes those books that are very wide in their appeal, but will subsequently appear suitable for only a narrow age group. Other opposition comes from those who fear that a label such as 5+ on a picture book will mean that it won't get bought for 3 year olds, for many of whom it would be perfectly suitable, but also not be read by 7 year olds, who would worry about appearing babyish.

The argument in favour of age labelling seems to be that it makes it easier for childless people, or non readers to buy books as gifts, and easier for supermarkets to sell them without needing to employ staff capable of offering advice.

The debate rages on, but many major authors are up in arms and demanding to have the labelling removed from the covers of their books.