Category Archives: illustrating

book launch!

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. When I began this blog a few years ago it was with the dream of becoming a published author, yet this weekend when I finally found myself holding a novel bearing my name, it was as an illustrator!inside cover

As you can see in the photo, the book is The Mystery of The Disappearing Underpants by Nikki Young. It’s aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best friend James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. The premise immediately appealed to me because my brothers and I often pretended we were spies when we were kids and I loved the way the story started off light-hearted but ended up with a real mystery that’s genuinely exciting.

The book was released last week and on Saturday I went to the launch party! The journey down to Kent from up here in Northumberland was a bit of a trek – especially with a  two and a half hour train delay which led to me arriving rather more than fashionably late – but it was worth every moment. The launch was brilliant with pink fizz, book signing, cupcakes with my illustrations on them and conversations with some really lovely people. I’m so impressed with Nikki for all the hard work she’s put into the book and really happy to have been able to work with her to add that little extra something.

book launch

I left the launch full of optimism, cupcakes and bubbles and, as if that wasn’t enough, then went immediately to London and met my oldest friend for a meal. A night away by myself is a rare treat indeed – with no kids tea or bedtime to have to think about, I was so giddy I could barely find my way to the restaurant, but I got there in the end and we had a wonderful evening. I then went to check-in to my hotel, was told I’d had a free room upgrade and found myself with this view:

kings cross at night

Wow. It was a little louder and brighter than the moonlit fields of home but for the one night it was totally perfect! The next morning I had a leisurely breakfast (avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and not a child in sight – not my usual experience!) and then strolled off to meet my writing friends for lunch. And when I say ‘lunch’ I mean a six hour long food and drink fest where we utterly put the world to rights. Ah, bliss.

What I'm Writing meet up May 17

Finally, on the train home I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years and had a really good catch up. It was the perfect end to my weekend way. I arrived home and was able to give my sons a copy of Nikki’s book each. My middle son was so excited he’s now cleared a shelf of his bookcase for “Books illustrated by Maddy Bennett (my mum)”. If that’s not a reason to keep on drawing in every spare moment, then I don’t know what is. I fully intend to make sure he ends up with some books written by me on that shelf too. One day.

You can find out more about The Mystery of the Disappearing underpants (and buy it!) here.

books illustrated by Maddy Bennett

illustrating for the Story of Me

cameron's dragons cropYou know the feeling you get when you’re involved in a particularly inspiring project? Something that’s not only fun, interesting and exciting but that bit special too?

I’ve had that feeling recently about an illustration project I’ve been working on. It’s called The Story of Me and is the brainchild of a friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher in Scotland.

Sus – or, as she is generally known by a classroom of children, Mrs Jeffries – is one my oldest friends and someone who never fails to amaze and inspire me. She’s not only a teacher and a mother of two, she also writes for the TES, sits on the boards of creative companies and is studying illustration. I don’t know what powers her (although I suspect creme eggs or party rings might play their part!) but to top it off she’s always full of amazing ideas. The Story of Me is no exception.

The idea is based on a study which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence. In other words, when you’re teaching kids to read, they’re more likely to remember words in stories about them.

Knowing how well children respond to images as well as words, Sus designed a project where the children in her class would work (remotely) alongside illustrators to create stories that they were the subject of. You can read more about the details and expected outcomes here but the basic idea was that the children would provide sentences for the illustrators to work with and by the end of the project, each child would have a short illustrated book about themselves which would help them learn and remember target words. A book that they’d co-created – how cool is that?!

I was one of the twenty illustrators who were a part of this project and I worked with six-year-old Cameron. He wrote a sentence or two a week for me to illustrate and the project evolved as it went along – I was never sure what Cameron would write or how I might respond and was often surprised… by both of us! There was something so lovely about illustrating for a specific child and feeling I was helping to create a story that meant something to him. I’ve heard from Sus that he loved what I did and that means loads to me.

Anyway, as the project draws to a close, I thought I’d share our little story:

Cameron's dragon's 1cameron's dragons page 2Cameron's dragon's page 3Cameron's dragons 4

I have to admit, when I got the first sentence I wasn’t sure how to illustrate it at all and figured all I could do was draw Cameron (I had a photo to work with). After that it became easier; the dragons came to me the moment I read his ‘dun dun duuuuuuuuun’ – I mean, clearly there was something exciting going on so… dragons!

I absolutely loved the way Cameron took the dragon idea and ran with it. Dragons playing hide and seek was loads of fun to draw (and apparently the whole class of kids enjoyed looking for them in the picture) and the idea of a dragon that would trick him with a drawing of itself was brilliant. He really gave them – and the whole story – personality!

The kids are all going to receive their final pictures and finished books after the Easter holidays. I’m looking forward to finding out what Cameron and his classmates think about them! It’s been a fab thing to be involved in! :)

Illustration news!

I’ve been quiet online recently for various reasons but, listen up, I’ve got some exciting news to share!

Remember how I said I’d been working on an illustration commission? Well, I can now announce that ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants‘ by Nikki Young will be published on April 28th, complete with illustrations from my very own pen!

Nikki’s book is aimed at 9 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best mate James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. Things start off fun and light-hearted but then events take a sinister turn…

You can find out more about the book (and see my own review of it) here but I can certainly recommend it. My nine-year-old son is desperate to read it and I can’t wait to give him a copy!

dog and people final for instagram

 

Nikki has also written a short story introducing the characters from her novel. This is called ‘A Special Day’ and is available as a FREE ebook over on Nikki’s website with cover illustrations by yours truly. Why not pop over for a read?

I’ve loved creating the illustrations for both books, and working with Nikki was a joy. I can’t wait to attend the launch of ‘Underpants’ (as it is affectionately known) next month! It might be worth keeping an eye on my instagram feed as I practice making underpants-themed cupcakes… undercakes? Cup pants? Erm… maybe I’ll just stick to biscuits.

Happy Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve! What a week it’s been since school broke up! We’ve baked and crafted and partied, drawn pictures, done jigsaws and spent days building a big festive lego scene. We’ve been to the cinema (Moana – best disney film in years! – and It’s a Wonderful Life), seen The Snowman with a live orchestra (amazing), been for bracing walks and watched a zillion Christmas films. And incase that makes us sound like the Smug Family from Planet Unbelievable, I can assure you that all of this delightful family harmony has been sprinkled liberally with arguments, tears, shouting and the downing of festive booze. Christmas to a T.

Anyway, I’ve also squeezed a bit of drawing in here and there (most of it’s on Instagram which seems to be the only social media I use at the moment) and I thought I’d share this little piece with you here. An illustrated poem should probably be created words first, but I drew the snowflakes a few nights ago then decided to add a poem (it started life as a haiku) in around it today. It’s how I feel when I wake up to an overnight snowfall – I love that feeling! Am hoping 2017 starts with snow…

sparkly-snowflake-poem

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful Christmas and a joyful new year!

getting by with a little help

snowflake-baubleSince early this year I’ve been doing an illustration course with the London Art College (this isn’t remotely a sponsored post though, just an honest shout-out). I’ve been really enjoying it and my tutor, Spencer Hill, has been great – really understanding and supportive despite my rather slow progress through the course! His comments on my last assignment were really helpful –a careful balance of confidence-boosting and constructive that left me motivated and with lots of new ideas. All in all, just what you need in a correspondence course tutor.

Over the last few weeks though, Spencer’s gone above and beyond what I would have expected and I just wanted to share that here because, y’know, it’s Christmas and he’s a bit of a shining star really!

In my post last week I mentioned I’d been working on an illustration commission – my first ever, which was very exciting! I was offered the work without much notice though (sometimes that’s just the way things go) and that, combined with my lack of experience, had made me wonder if it was really wise to take it on (yes, the self-doubt demon came a-calling). I contacted Spencer for advice and he got back to me really quickly saying he thought I was totally capable but that only I knew if I could do it in the required timeframe. He gave me lots of suggestions about what to charge and other stuff and said to contact him if I needed anything more.

As you know, I decided to go ahead with the commission. I also took Spencer up on his offer of further advice and over the following week, a fair few emails flew back and forth between us. It made a massive difference to my confidence knowing that he believed in me and that I had someone to turn to with all those issues that you never consider till you’re actually working on a proper commission. I won’t go into them now, but let’s just say it was good to feel someone – a professional illustrator, no less – had my back, and I am extremely grateful.

Another person I turned to for advice was the lovely Teika from Mother’s Milk Books who was also full of useful information and suggestions. I definitely felt lucky to know someone who worked in the publishing industry and was willing to help me out that way.

And the end of the story is that I got the commission done bang on schedule (having learned masses in the process), the author loves the illustrations and I’m so looking forward to seeing my work in a real, actual book in the spring! I’ve had a little look on my kindle (not that the book’s been formatted properly yet) and that was exciting enough!

There’s probably some kind of moral in this little tale somewhere… ‘don’t doubt your own abilities and be willing to ask for help because people are lovely’, perhaps? Anyway, the whole thing has definitely made me feel full of the goodwill of the season.

I’ll finish with a sneak peek at one of my illustrations!kindle-illustration
Writing Bubble

costume chaos and illustration news

frosty-fieldOk, so it’s really late and I’m really tired and I have about thirty seconds to write a post for ‘What I’m Writing’ tomorrow. Not that I have to write a post for my linky I suppose, but tomorrow it’s the one hundredth week of ‘What I’m Writing’ so I don’t want to miss linking up when it’s such a nice, round figure!

So… It’s late because I’ve been really busy this week. I’ve been writing stuff for work, I’ve been doing an illustration commission and, given it’s December and I’ve got three kids, I’ve been running around in a kind of Christmas frenzy trying not to drop the ball on nativity costumes, social events, presents, parties and end of term thingymabobs. This morning I was frantically trying to assemble a snowflake costume for my three-year-old for the dress-rehearsal of his school play. He ended up in a thermal vest and a cellular blanket. “It will do, it will have to do!” I chimed until I got to the classroom and realised the other kids were all adorned in flashing lights, glitter, home-made wings, amazing headwear, baubles, tinsel and perfectly carved ice sculptures. Ok, I made that last one up but blimey, it took all my powers of ‘cool, parent-of-a-third-child zen’ not to rush home and construct an elaborate walk-in ice cave for him to wear for the performance tomorrow (shhh but I’m still thinking there might be time in the morning… )

So, did you notice that bit just up there at the top of the previous paragraph? The bit where I said I was working on an illustration commission? I have been and it’s my first ever! Well, strictly speaking it’s the second I’ve been asked to do, but I’m not due to start the first one till the new year so the one I’ve been working on this week is the first I’ve actually done, if that makes sense? Probably not. It’s even later at night now. Anyway, I’ve just finished the commission and sent it off to the writer this evening. It’s illustrations for her middle grade book which is coming out next year… more info to follow… I’m dead excited, truth be told!

Right, it’s really, REALLY late now so I’m definitely posting this and going to bed!

Writing Bubble

 

why labels are important

starlight-illustration-sketches

Some of my sketches for a song illustration.

Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.

These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.

But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:

“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”

He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”

Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.

I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.

An actual illustrator.

It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.

Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate. :)

Writing Bubble

looking back, looking forward

autumn-walkSo, half term approaches!

I’m not sure how I feel about that really, it’s been a funny old six weeks since the kids went back to school. It’s been busy, really busy – one of those times when all the different aspects of my life need attention – and I’ve been floundering a bit trying to keep on top of everything. A feeling of mild bafflement and a low level sense of ‘WTAF is going on?’ have been my stalwart companions.

I was saying to a friend on the school run this morning that I’m only just starting to feel like I’ve got a handle on what our new daily routine is and knowing which books need signing, which homework requires parental comments and who and what needs to be where, when and why. Of course, only seconds after making this announcement I realised my son had left his P.E kit at home… then, when I went back to fetch it, I realised he must in fact have left it at school last week (all damp and muddy and festering… ) because it isn’t anywhere here. So I guess we haven’t *quite* reached a stage where we’re sailing perfectly along. I’m still prone to getting caught off guard by a gust of wind and having the boom crack me round the back of the head.

But progress has definitely been made. I mean, I made it to the school harvest festival on time (despite a dash home for a forgotten swimming kit, and a disgusting dog poo emergency), I’ve finally met my son’s teacher (middle school is so much more ‘hands off’ than first school!), I’ve written copious comments in various reading journals and even spent a very happy couple of hours yesterday helping my eldest create some 3D art for some ‘enrichment homework’ that we thought was optional but turned out not to be quite as optional as we thought!

On this basis I’m sure that after half term we’ll have all our rigging in order* and just sail seraphically along until Christmas. Because I’ve got this school thing nailed now. Oh yes. No more capsizing for me.

So I now have three more days (mornings) to try and do all the things that I can’t do while the boys are around. Then it’s a week off from the school run (yay!) during which we’re off to Harry Potter Studios! But shhhhh don’t tell the boys – it’s a surprise!

My plan is to tidy the entire house (clearing out all the junk that’s been building up for years), complete another module of my illustration course, research agents and send my picture books off to another batch, submit some work (that I haven’t written yet) to a competition that’s caught my eye, return to my novel and write another ten thousand words, write some more limericks and… oh, ok, probably none of that.

I have three mornings. I’m going to have coffee with some friends. I’m going to do some hoovering. I’m going to draw some pictures. It’s enough, I think.

I’ll leave you with a drawing I did last week as part of my course, the next module of which is on illustrating poems. One thing I really struggle with is speed – I’m an over-thinking slow coach – so I decided to have a go at illustrating a poem without any planning at all, just to dive in. This is one of my favourite poems. It’s by Elizabeth Jennings. I (re)read it then drew a picture. This is what appeared on the paper:a-child-in-the-night-poem-illustration

Writing Bubble

 

*I don’t know why I’m sticking with the sailing metaphor… I don’t even know why I’m using it at all, I know NOTHING about boats!