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the new neighbours: creating the artwork

I've been signing 100 bookplates to send off to lovely Stephen Holland, the owner of Page 45 indie bookshop in Nottingham. (I got them printed at printed.com, on their heaviest 'gesso' paper, and they turned out well!)

Stephen's running a special offer where the first 100 pre-orders of The New Neighbours (in hardcover or paperback) will get a bookplate edition. He says the orders are coming in fast, but you might still be able to get in there if you order now. (He ships worldwide!)


People often ask me how I make the artwork on the pages of my book, and it varies, from book to book, depending on what I think might work best with that story. Here are my four stages of illustrating The New Neighbours:

1. Thumbnail roughs: I started with very rough versions of each two pages (or 'double-page spreads' as they're called in the book business). This version is called a 'thumbnail', because often it's very small, like a thumbnail. These just have to be detailed enough to give my David Fickling Books editor - Alice Corrie - and my designer - Ness Wood - a very basic idea of what will go on each page. I scribbled them with my mouse pen on a Wacom tablet, leaving room for the words I'd been working on with Alice to get just right:

Thumbnail rough

2. Pencil rough: For this stage, I cut some thin, plain cartridge paper to 110% of the size that the actual book page is going to be. This time I drew more carefully, and tried to make sure nothing important (such as a character's face) might disappear down the middle of the book, known as the 'gutter'. I also didn't want to draw anything important too close to the edge in case it accidentally got cut off when the printers trimmed the paper. Sometimes when other publishers reprint the book in other countries, they slightly resize the pages, and I needed to give them a little bit of wiggle room.

Pencil rough

3. Final pencil outlines: When Alice and Ness were happy with the pencil roughs, I moved on to working on the final artwork. I drew all the basic lines in black watercolour pencil, to try to capture some of the softness of the bunnies' fur and get some more texture than I usually get with black ink. I drew the words and speech bubbles on a separate layer and added those in Photoshop, but you get the basic idea here. (The reason the text has to be added separately is because the book will be translated into different languages, and they'll need to remove the English words.)

Final pencil art

4. Adding colour: After I scanned in the pencil art, I started building up layers of colour in Photoshop, and the occasional collage bit, such as the kitchen linoleum (which is from a photo of the kitchen in the house where I grew up!).

Final colour art

This is the stage where I e-mail all the double-page spreads to Ness (300 dots per inch, full size), and she adds the final text and creates the InDesign file to send to the printer. This time we sent the files to Toppan Leefung in China, who printed and bound the books, using Forest Stewardship Council certified paper from responsibly managed forests.

The New Neighbours launches March 1st, and I'm very excited! If you can pre-order if from an independent bookshop, that will help the bookshop a lot - so they know how many books to order - and help me, too, because the numbers from first-week sales let other bookshops know to stock it! (Here's that Page 45 link
Have you seen this Illustrator's Survey, taken of 1200 illustrators, by Somerset-based Ben the Illustrator. He does a terrific job of making the survey results clear and engaging, and even if you weren't interested in the numbers, they're great questions to be asking yourself if you're an illustrator or are thinking about working in the field. A lot of that stuff really resonated with me! (Read about the whole survey here - it's even printable as a PDF.)

And here's an article about the survey in Design Week, by Sarah Dawood.

Do you remember how I went to Liverpool last October as an Read for Good UK Ambassador to the Liverpool Readathon? (Oh yes, and Doug the Pug went, too.)

Well, the Readathon results are in! By doing sponsored reads, the children of Liverpool managed to raise over £16,500! (A bit more money is still trickling in, but that's quite a feat!) Well done, Liverpool!

Schools taking part will get 20% of that to buy books for their own school libraries, and the rest will go toward bringing books and storytellers to children in hospital, including local Alder Hey hospital, and toward Liverpool Learning Partnership’s wider work establishing after-school reading for pleasure groups for vulnerable pupils. You can find out more about the Readathon from this 'Made in Liverpool' television footage:

The Liverpool Readathon 2017 from Read for Good on Vimeo.

Liverpool have a reputation for being a 'City of Readers' and it was great to see the kids getting stuck in to books and helping other kids in need. Children really seemed to connect with the idea of helping kids in hospital; they can all imagine how boring it would be to be stuck in hospital for months on end, and how much good books and engaging storytellers could be uplifting.

Do consider donating to Read for Good. I get stretched a bit thinly with lots of charity requests, so I've decided to focus solely on Read for Good because I know it really helps kids in very concrete ways:

Click here for more under the cut!Collapse )

stories behind 'the new neighbours'

My upcoming picture book, The New Neighbours, is set in a tower block. Tower blocks make for great drama in stories; everyone's living close together and has to get along... or not.

Pre-order a limited bookplate hardcover or paperback edition here!

In the block of flats where I live in London, we've had people living here who have come from all over the world: Portugal, Nigeria, Cameroon, China, Italy, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, the United States (that's me). As a fellow immigrant, I love to find out where people used to live and hear their stories. But in the current anti-immigrant/Brexit climate, it's getting harder and harder to ask people, 'Where do you come from?' because people worry I might be judging them, or think I'm implying they don't belong here in Britain.

I remember a few years back in our hallway, hearing new neighbours speaking a foreign language and trying to pinpoint it. (I studied Russian, and I'm fascinated by the sounds of different languages.) When I asked them where they'd come from, they looked very uncomfortable and, at last, said "Romania". Happy that I now could identify the language, I said something like, "Oh, that's cool!" and the woman looked surprised. "People don't usually say that when we say we're Romanian," she said. "They think we're going to steal things." I felt gutted for her. (And they turned out to be good neighbours.) I had a British friend once tell me that when he hears an American accent, he immediately thinks the person must be at least 10% less intelligent than he did before they opened their mouth. That hurt.

The New Neighbours was inspired by this sort of encounter, although it's set in a world populated by animals, not people. In the story, the animals live in a seven-storey tower block and most of them know each other fairly well (and have had adventures together in an earlier comic book I made called Vern and Lettuce).

The picture book story kicks off when a pigeon brings news to the bunnies playing on the roof that new neighbours are moving in: rats! The bunnies are excited by anything new - perhaps new playmates! They hop their news downstairs to their big sister, Lettuce, who thinks they ought to go welcome the new arrivals. The bunnies and Lettuce go downstairs to share the news with their friend Vern (a bachelor sheep):

Click here for lots more under the cut!Collapse )
Last week my picture book co-creator Alan MacDonald and I visited Chestnuts Primary School in Tottenham, north London as part of the run-up to the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards ceremony. (It's always great to have an excuse to hang out with Alan!)

Two fab publicists from Scholastic UK, Bea Fitzgerald and Kate Graham came along with us and wrote up our event on their blog, which you can read here!


Big thanks to the school's excellent librarian, Tanya Efthymiou, who organised an enthusiastic welcome team for us!

Click here to see photos from the Lollies award ceremony!


Sarah McIntyre

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