Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.
This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.
World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.
When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.
From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.
If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.
Throw a giant pumpkin, a jar of mango pickles and a storyteller together into a bookshop, sprinkle some cake, mix some friends and family, garnish with praise from the publisher and editor and what you get is one amazing book launch and a chuffed author who is busy writing more stories.
Maybe you missed the noisy chatter on Twitter or my invite in the newsletter or perhaps you had relocated to Mars to escape the pollution on Earth -but if you have not heard, I celebrated the launch of two new books last Saturday (8th Oct 2016) at Pickled Pepper Books, London with storytelling, orange and yellow mini cupcakes and a room full of people who had come from far to celebrate with me.
I’ve gone to many book launches in the past few years and I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do when it was my turn. I was worried there won’t be any photos. I was worried that I’ll forget my words during the storytelling. I was worried. It was like your baby being sent to nursery or the big school for the first day. Shiny and new into the hands of others. Would they love the stories as much as I do?
I watched the door as people trickled in. I watched as people on the street walked past and it wasn’t a familiar face. As friends started coming in, I slowly relaxed. As the time came to tell the stories, my story genie took over. She knew the stories, she loved them, she grew up with them. And I hope those who were there liked the stories.
So the books have left the docks and floated away into the hands of readers. A story lives again when it is told and it grows and changes and lives over and over again when retold many times. And I hope these stories live those many lives through the readers and the listeners they read to.
Pattan’s Pumpkin was published in the UK, Australia and NZ on 1st September 2016. It was conceived as a book in 2013.
The book waited over two years for the perfect illustrator. It waited for Frané Lessac.
Frané is an award winning American artist who has exhibited her paintings in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. From film school in California she went on to live on the Caribbean island of Montserrat where she began her career as an author and painter. She loves to travel and create books based on her journeys. Frané has published more than forty children’s books and has won many international awards including the Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She joined the National Year of Reading initiative as a State Ambassador in 2012 and a Room to Read Ambassador in 2014. She currently lives in Fremantle, Australia.
Janetta Otter-Barry, our publisher extraordinaire, was looking for the perfect illustrator who could bring the pumpkin to life. Click here if you haven’t read about how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be. Unlike other picture books where the illustrator goes away for a few months and the comes back with a Ta-Da, Frané gave us a little peek at various stages and discussed key cultural aspects throughout the creation of the art. So I thought I should interview Frané Lessac for my blog (and hers) to find out more about her process and how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be.
Here are my questions and Frané’s answers with show and tell of illustrations!
Pattan’s story is from southern India. Have you visited this part of India before? What kind of research did you have to do for the landscape and the animals?
I’ve travelled several times throughout India including the south coast of Kerala, but I’ve never visited the Western Ghats mountain ranges. It’s now at the top of my list. To research the flora, fauna and landscape, I looked at rare books and online resources.
Pattan is from a tribe indigenous to the Western Ghats mountain ranges. What kind of information did you need to know before you start drawing him and Kanni?
I researched the Irular people from southern India, who regard themselves as descendants of Pattan and Kanni. Their story that has been passed down from generation to generation and Chitra captured the complete essence of the story. Her retelling was a visual feast for my imagination. Creating a picture book is always a collaboration and with the “team”, editor, art director, Chitra and myself, we communicated throughout about our main characters. We needed to ensure we had overall cultural authenticity.
I like your little secret message of the ants and the two white birds in each spread. Do you decide on these little details early on or does it happen as you start drawing.
I add little details in my painting at the very end. When I was a child, I loved books with lots of details to explore and being able to discover new bits on each returned reading. I got a kick out of painting the bird and the frog asleep on Pattan and Kanni’s bed and all the other animals fast asleep under the bed. The portraits on the wall are funny too.
Can you show us a sample of your roughs and your step by step process?
The first step was to create thumbnails of every scene with sometimes 2-3 ideas for each one. The team decided which was their favourite.
Next, I sketched up sloppy copies, also known as preliminary drawings, to size and made a dummy book. The team went over the drawings and we tweaked further.
The palette to create the final art, was inspired by the many colours of India. I also used opposite colours side by side which made the art stand out. I then rendered each scene using gouache paint, taking up to 3 days to complete each one.
Do you love pumpkins? Was it different for you to visualise pumpkins in a non-Halloween scenario?
I love pumpkins and have the best pumpkin soup recipe and make a mean pumpkin pie! Growing up in the United States, the only pumpkins I knew were orange. We’d carve the biggest one we could find every Halloween. It wasn’t until I moved to the Caribbean that I discovered that orange ones weren’t readily found in the rest of the world.
When I wrote the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, and learnt about how the region of Western Ghats is protected as a UNESCO heritage site, it got me thinking how Pattan’s message about conservation is an important one. What did you take away from Pattan’s Pumpkin? Did Pattan tell you a secret?
Pattan’s secret message to me was to plant pumpkins. Lots of them. My garden will soon be taken over by hundreds of pumpkins. I want to grow one as BIG as the one in the story! Wish me luck.
Thank you Frané – we enjoyed seeing the work in progress, and amazed that each rendering took three days to complete. Wow! Pattan and Kanni would love the book for sure. You should share your pumpkin pie recipe with us sometime. Find out all about Pattan’s Pumpkin here.
Today we are celebrating the publication day for Pattan’s Pumpkin! A journey that took three years and nine months. I’m proud to be an author in the stables of Otter-Barry Books and in partnership with the fabulous Frané Lessac.
Just like Pattan does in this story, I’m going to take you on a rollicking ride with me over the Internet to tell you more about Pattan and his amazing pumpkin. Over the next few weeks we will be talking about the Western Ghats – a UNESCO heritage site, conservation, ancient stories passed down from one generation to another and the history of surakka (the humble bottle gourd) and amazing pumpkins growing in this world.
I’ll be talking about the inspiration to this book, the importance of telling this story and the message I hope children will take away from reading this tale. We will have an interview with the illustrator Frané Lessac, a confession about my stationery habits and of course some pumpkin recipes straight from the land of Pattan.
And if that’s all not enough, you will be soon invited to the book launch in October and I’ll be telling Pattan’s story to you all. We will have colouring pages, craft stuff to do and even take away recipe cards. If you are interested in attending the book launch and want to be included in the invite, fill in the form below and I’ll drop you an invite by email.
Librarians, teachers and literacy coordinators – you can get your hands on posters, activity sheets, lesson plans and bookmarks too. So if you’d like to receive a pack please do fill in the form below and tell me if you want me to post them or if you would collect them at the launch.
So without further ado here is a leaflet about the book.
The book is available from all good bookshops across the UK. If you are coming to an event, I’d be happy to sign your copy too.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up and climb aboard Pattan’s Pumpkin!