Happy New Year everyone!

2019 was an eventful year. It started in Chennai, India with my parents and took me on a journey to festivals and conferences across the world.

I was in Houston to participate in Texas Book Festival, then at SCBWI Europolitan Conference as a keynote speaker and had a quick stopover in Dubai for the Emirates Festival. Each festival gave me different perspectives on reading, stories and more. I met children from many different backgrounds, writers with aspirations and passion to tell new stories and although journeys are tiring and routine-breaking, they bring new energy into the writing.

I had six new books come out in 2019, that I’ve been working since 2017 and 2018. They were all different and challenged me in new ways.

I took on new challenges like writing a theatre show that I performed with a wonderful friend. I was part of a theatre devising group and we performed to an audience of five. I was briefly on BBC talking about diversity in children’s books.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-london-48225791/bame-the-children-s-bookshop-selling-diversity

I visited many schools, met with teachers and librarians across the world, told stories, inspired new tales with young people of all ages.

2020 is gearing up to be a busy year too. I can already reveal the cover of two new books that I wrote which will be published. Here is a quick glimpse – I’ll be posting more info soon. Watch this space.

While fake news, nationalism and climate crisis threatens goodwill and existence of our planet, this is a time for stories – to imagine a better life, to mine for wisdom from lessons learnt in the past and sculpt a new world for our future generations.

I wish you all a wonderful 2020 in which hope reigns despair and acceptance wins over hatred.

Fantastic News!

Have you heard? We are celebrating!

Poonam Mistry, the illustrator of this gorgeous picture book published by Lantana Publishing, has been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

This is her first children’s book and what a remarkable achievement. Congratulations!

Poonam Mistry at the Shortlist announcement

If you’re shadowing the Kate Greenaway judges or inspired to pick up this book and read, then here are some wonderful resources to add to your experience.

Read Poonam’s interview about her art here.

Get colouring sheets (created by Poonam), puzzles and word searches here.

And if you’re no longer scared of thunderstorms and want to read more about them, find two poems about thunderstorms here.

Are you a teacher? Here are some wonderful classroom resources created by the publishers Lantana Publishing.

So what are you waiting for? Get the book and start reading!

The Launch Celebration of You’re Snug With Me

Yesterday we launched the second book You’re Snug With Me in the You’re With Me series at Chestnuts Primary School in North London.

It all began when the librarian Tanya Efthymiou of Chestnuts Primary and I tweeted to each other about a school launch for the next book. It would be fantastic to share the new book You’re Snug With Me with children and parents, and teachers, we thought.

And the idea was born and we took it to the wonderful team at Lantana Publishing who embraced it with wholehearted support.

Then we decided on a date that worked for everyone, we designed an invitation, we planned the day and it all came together wonderfully yesterday.

First I met with Reception and Y1 children before the big event in the evening. Then we decorated the hall with the help of amazing library helpers who had read the book and wanted to be part of the launch.

Y6 had done a project on plastics and the ocean and had used art work inspired from both You’re Safe With Me and You’re Snug with Me. It was brilliant to see how the books transcend from the confines of its form and reaches the readers.

As the bell rang for the final time that afternoon, parents and children started filing in.

We started with a storytelling from the book in which children joined in enthusiastically and then Alice Curry, publisher of Lantana Publishing spoke about books for under-represented children and why reading the 1% was so important.

Then it was party time – colouring in masks and colouring sheets kindly given to us by the illustrator Poonam Mistry, who couldn’t make it to the launch (we missed you!). I signed loads of books for parents and children, the school and the library too.

What a surprise, I had an author friend Paul May who came to celebrate the launch with me too!

All in all, a wonderful way to celebrate the publication of a new book. My heartfelt thanks to everyone at Chestnuts Primary School who came to the event, helped us make it a success. A special Woot-Woot to  the head-teacher Mrs Katie Horwood and librarian Tanya Efthymiou who hosted us.

An Interview with fabulous illustrator Poonam Mistry

Poonam Mistry is a freelance illustrator living in the UK and graduated in 2010 with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire.

Her style incorporates her love of nature and her Indian roots and explores the relationships between pattern, shapes and colour. Poonam’s upbringing and childhood have heavily influenced her work, in particular being surrounded by Indian fabrics, paintings and ornaments. She loves folklore tales and stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and these have been a rich source of inspiration in a number of her illustrations.

Poonam creates her beautifully intricate images by hand using fine liners and then digitally alters them.

 

Poonam and I have worked together on two books and I wanted to ask her some questions on everyone’s behalf. So here is my interview with Poonam.

  • This is your first illustrated book. How is it different from creating your own artwork?

It wasn’t so different actually. I think this was because I tried not to approach the project as a children’s book. I didn’t want to ‘dumb’ down the images just because it was aimed for children. With ‘You’re Safe With Me’ I wanted the artwork to feel more like art/wallpaper rather than your standard children’s book and the pages to reflect the metaphors and imagery conveyed in the text rather than just illustrating the actual narrative. The illustrations were made to appeal to both children and adults. The story is so beautiful it was important for me to focus on that and really get that across. I think it was a case of trying something new too. The great thing about working with Lantana was the creative freedom they gave me for this book. It was such a natural enjoyable process so it was like working on my own personal work.

There were just a few things I had to take into consideration unlike my own art. I think the 3 biggest differences were size, the amount of pattern I used and of course time. With my own art I have no deadlines or guidelines really. I allow myself the freedom to let the art take its own direction and natural course which is exciting because sometimes I haven’t even sketched out or planned what the final art will look like. With ‘You’re Safe With Me’ the rough sketches are similar to the final pieces. I can go quite crazy with the amount of pattern I draw in my own work. I don’t think that’s a bad thing but with this book I tried to get the balance right.

  • What is your process for interpreting the text into spreads?

First of all I read the text multiple times so that I knew the story well. I then went through each spread and highlighted anything that I thought visually summed up the key elements of the text. I sketched out multiple ideas for each spread in pencil and then narrowed these down for 2/3 ideas for each page highlighting my favourite ones.

 

Alice Curry then picked the ones she thought worked well. I sketched these out neatly in pencil and drew over them adding details and patterns on thick cartridge paper using black ink pens. I scanned these in onto the computer and added colour and the final details on PhotoShop. My process is a mix of hand drawn elements and digital work. Ideally I would love to do all my work by hand but it is time consuming and would take months.

  • Does your art follow a traditional folk art pattern?

Not necessarily. I love folk art. It is a huge source of inspiration for me but I am fascinated by many types of decorative arts celebrated across the world. I use a lot of dots in my work, which is taken for Aboriginal art. I also adore African masks and totems, Scandinavian art and design and ceramic tiles. It’s a combination of lots of things really.

Mostly I take inspiration from Indian folk art. It is stunning and something that has had a huge influence on my style. Kalamkari textiles are the biggest influence in my work and the patterns I use. I would love to try this process one day or have my work applied to this. So much craftsmanship and skill goes into this and I am just in awe of it.

  • What do you like drawing best? What do you find challenging?

I love drawing birds and rabbits. They feature a lot in my work, especially my personal work. Animals in general are fascinating to draw, especially strange unknown ones. I loved drawing the pangolin for ‘You’re Safe With Me’. It was something I had never heard of before and it was fun to try and translate it into my style.

I confess my strength has never been people. I remember once drawing my Dad and he asked me after I had finished it if he had a big nose. I think that completely put me off! Strangely I find Hindu Gods and Goddesses easy to draw in my style. Recently I have introduced human figures into my work and surprisingly I feel I have found a way of drawing them that doesn’t scare me. It’s quite exciting now. I have always been so comfortable drawing animals but I feel that drawing people and adding them into my patterned landscapes has added a new dimension to my work. It could be something seen more in my illustrations in the future.


You’re Snug with Me, the second book in this series is out on November and is available to pre-order now. Please find out more here.

Inspired by India – An event with Nehru Centre

Lantana Publishing and the Nehru Centre had arranged a panel event to discuss two recent books in 2018, created by writers and illustrators of Indian origin.

Poonam Mistry and I talked about our first book together – You’re Safe With Me. Ranjith Singh and Mehrdokht Amini discussed their book Nimesh the Adventurer. The panel was chaired by Alice Curry, publisher and co-founder of Lantana Publishing.

The event started with a short intro about our growing up with photos and a little taste of our Indian influence and in Mehrdokht’s case her Iranian upbringing. We also talked about whether we had started writing and drawing at an early stage.

Alice asked us questions about our books – especially about the setting. While You’re Safe with Me is set in an Indian forest, Nimesh the Adventurer is set in a London neighbourhood similar to Southall. We talked about how creating books for western audiences differ from writing for an Indian audience. We also discussed the benefit or hindrance of labels and being known as “Indian” creators, rather than creators who happen to be Indian.

It was wonderful to see so many friends, well-wishers and industry peers and professionals who attended the event. Apart from signing books, we also had the joy of enjoying the art gallery currently on display at Nehru Centre.

Here is a quick preview of some photos…

The highlight of the evening was of course illustrator Sarah McIntyre drawing us as we spoke. You see above the panel in her artwork. And here below is a very accurate picture of me, in my new sari from India.

Thank you Sarah