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People from all over the world come to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair; many who now live in Abu Dhabi itself, Dubai, or other Emirates states (Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain - and yes, I know this because as a child I collected postage stamps and the Emirates had some of the most colourful). And it's not only the publishing world who turn up, it's everyone who loves books, because almost all the books you see on display there are for sale. So it's one big amazing bookshop, with authors, artists, translators, entertainers and more... and people STOCK UP.

This was the first year the fair had a festival running alongside it, and the Dubai Lit Fest team came in to help out. When the festival invited me to Abu Dhabi as a speaker, I had no idea of what to expect, or even to pack; I thought it might be very similar to my Dubai experience (which I wrote about in 2017 and 2014). But Abu Dhabi was very different to Dubai, with its own unique flavour and enjoyable in different ways, so I thought I'd write up tips for people who might be going as authors, artists, translators, potential authors, or even as visitors and book buyers.


Thanks to Ras Al Khaimah-based children's book author Maitha al Khayat for the lovely cloak!

1. Pack business cards!

You never know who you are going to meet. In England, I've pretty much stopped using business cards and when I meet someone I want to stay in touch with, I tend to follow them on Twitter and take a screenshot of their profile. But people in Abu Dhabi LOVE business cards, and it feels rude not to have something to give in return. Fortunately I'd packed some publisher post cards with one of my book covers on it, which seemed to work just fine. You only need to put as much contact information on it as you want to give away: at a minimum, your name and website. I met very few people there who were on Twitter, but a lot of Instagram users. Another tip: take a photo of the business card with the person standing behind it (if they don't mind), and when you get home with a stack of mystery cards, you'll be able to attach a face to a name. Or if you lose the cards, you'll still have photos of them on your phone.



2. Visit the Grand Mosque

As a festival guest, I had some time to do a bit of sightseeing, and the festival booked guides and buses for us on a couple of the days. The architecture of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, is amazing and a real pride of the city. But if you're a woman, be sure to bring appropriate clothing. I thought my red kaftan in the top photo would be covering enough - it goes all the way to the floor - but when I moved my arms, it left the lower half of them bare, which was a no-no. So I ended up walking with my arms tucked under the black cloak, and our Dutch guide fretting in case my wrists popped out. Just bring long sleeves, a long skirt or dress and a head covering, and save yourself the worry. (And try not to roll your eyes too much as you see men going by in shorts and short-sleeves shirts.) It is worth the visit, have a look at these views:





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Congratulations to Jan Pienkowski for more than 50 years of creating over 160 beautiful books!



Yesterday morning, as one of BookTrust's former Writer-Illustrators in Residence, I got to go to the Lifetime Achievement Award celebration in the Barbican's Garden Room.



I first met Jan in 2006 at John Huddy's Illustration Cupboard, but I hadn't seen him for several years and it was great to see him again.



You might know Jan for his much-loved Meg & Mog books, or perhaps his beautifully silhouetted fairytale stories.



Quite a few of my other illustration heroes showed up, too! It was great to see Helen Oxenbury, who won the award last year, together with her late husband John Birmingham.



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My new picture book, GRUMPYCORN, has been well and truly LAUNCHED in the most amazing place imaginable, a storybook castle in Ireland, at the Towers & Tales Lismore Story Festival.


Hat created by Eddie Smith, dress by Esther Blessed

Lismore Castle really is like being in a fairytale, no unicorn could resist it, not even the grumpiest unicorn.



And we made books! In the story, Unicorn is trying to write 'the most fabulous story in the world', but he can't figure out where to start. The children and families who came along to the launch were much less inhibited and we came up with some great cover ideas, inspired by Grumpycorn.



And I had some of my all-time favourite illustrators around me! Here's the amazing David Roberts (whose books include Suffragettes, Dirty Bertie, Ada Twist Scientist) at the writing desk in his room. (To be honest, we'd need to stay another week to get much writing done; we were too busy exploring.)



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the seven stages of GRUMPYCORN

My brand-new picture book, Grumpycorn, is all about Unicorn who is trying to write the most fabulous story in the world. So I thought I'd give you at a little peek at how I made (what I hope you will think is) this fabulous story! Here are the steps the book went through:

1. CONCEPT: It all started with this drawing, which has lots of the elements of the story in it.



2. STORY: I originally wrote the story on my phone, then typed it up when I got home. My agent Jodie Hodges sent it along to my editor at Scholastic, Pauliina Malinen, together with the single picture I'd drawn. And as soon as Scholastic gave me the go-ahead, I started making little notes on it and sketching possible layouts.



3. CHARACTER: I spent awhile trying to decide how Unicorn would look. I know a lot of unicorns look glorious and magical, but I wanted him to look a bit more comfortable and bumbling. He's dressed warmly against the sea breeze in his favourite purple jumper.



4. LAYOUTS: After Pauliina, Designer Strawberrie Donnelly and I agreed on how Unicorn, Mermaid, Narwhal and Jellyfish would look, I started doing thumbnail roughs of all the pages.



5. TECHNIQUE: Artistically, I wanted this book to be a little different to the books I'd done previously (Dinosaur Firefighters, There's a Shark in the Bath, etc). So I started playing a bit with brown wrapping paper to see if I might do something digitally with scanned textures.

Then I thought, what am I doing?? I hate doing all my artwork on a computer screen, I'd much rather muck around with real art supplies. So I started playing around with tissue paper collage. But... wow, was it MESSY. Bits kept smearing, sticking to my fingers, then bits I didn't want to wrinkle would wrinkle, and other colours would disappear into the glue. And when I scanned it, all the pinks came out white. So I had to go in and recolour them digitally and, by the end, I thought, this is ridiculous. This double-page spread looks all right, but I knew I couldn't keep it up for a whole book.



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GRUMPYCORN's writing cottage

You know what really inspired GRUMPYCORN? The most inspiring things of all... a DEADLINE.



Here's what happened: I was travelling from London to meet up with my family in Seldovia, Alaska. It's a long journey and I was very conscious that I had a picture book text due when I got back. I thought, I really ought to make good use of the time, but you know how your brain gets into a sort of fug when you're travelling for too long? Mine was like that, and I couldn't think of anything. I didn't even have my sketchbook; I'd accidentally packed it in checked luggage. So I got out my phone and started typing into it the first thing I thought of, a story starting with someone who couldn't think of a story idea.

And then I thought it would be funnier if the story's main character, the one who couldn't think of an idea, was a Unicorn. When I got to Alaska, I was further inspired by all the beautiful houses on stilts in the water. Here are a couple paintings I made of them.



I thought, if there was anywhere that would be a dream writing retreat kind of place, it would be Seldovia. So that's where I set Unicorn's writing cottage.



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