So what am I working on right now? Well, this is the first time I've ever illustrated a chapter book instead of a picture book (Oliver and the Seawigs, with Philip Reeve), and I've been trying to get my head around the differences between the two formats. With a picture book, it seems pretty straightforward: I have 32 pages (including covers) and I need to fill up every single page with pictures. (Unless I am the super-cheeky Viviane Schwarz and can get away with leaving THREE SPREADS blank (or nearly blank, after editing). And still get nominated for the Greenaway medal. See There are NO Cats in This Book, below.)
But with this Seawigs chapter book, there's more flexibility in the number of pages, and how many pages I illustrate. I want lots and lots of illustrations, but I have to think of how they will work best with the story - not to overwhelm it - and also consider how much time I have to work on the book. I didn't really know where to start - there's no official way to do it - so I started drawing tiny versions of some pages I thought could appear in the book, and submitted them to my editor, Clare Whitston. (I have two editors, and a designer, but they were all on holiday and Clare was manning the fort at Oxford University Press.) Here's a sample page. There's a gap where I drew one but didn't like it and couldn't be bothered to shuffle everything around. Things are changing a bit as I take these tiny thumbnail drawings to full-page-size pencil sketches; you can compare the third thumbnail here with the next-stage pencil sketch at the top of this blog post.
Just to compare to another book I've done, here's the first set of thumbnails I sent to my my Scholastic editor and designer for You Can't Scare a Princess!. It's remarkably similar to the final book, but everything's drawn very simply, in case I need to make changes.
Picture book secret: A lot of people who want to make picture books with publishers for the first time don't realise there's a very set formula the publishers prefer to use. It's all to do with cutting paper. If they make books in blocks of 8 pages - 16 pages, 24 pages, 32 pages, etc - it means the printer has to waste the least amount of paper when they cut off the edges. So you don't absolutely have to make a book in 32 pages, and there are ways to fiddle the exact page count with adding extra endpapers and things. But unless you have a very good reason why your book shouldn't be 32 pages, if you stick to this template, you'll have a way, way, way better chance of getting your book published. It's worth printing out a template and actually writing your story into the template.
It can be quite comforting, having this template: it's one less thing to worry about, you know your parameters. So no template for Seawigs, I'm venturing out into the Great Unknown. Seawigs features exploration, so this challenge is a good thing, really.