steve simpson | on illustration

The talented Steve Simpson has kindly given an illustrators view on working in children’s books. Steve has worked with Irish language publisher An Gúm and recently finished a book with Scholastics in the US - as well as working with An Post and countless others. Who better to ask!?

On Irish and UK publishing:
It’s possible that picture books are becoming inviable in the UK but I can’t imagine there has ever been much profit in Irish picture books for a long time. The market is very small and many of the books that do make it into the bookshops are obviously published in Ireland, lots of Irish names, Irish references, Irish towns and green postboxes. This mostly makes them unappealing for export.

As the potential market is tiny, the fees paid to illustrators are, to say the least, unappealing (others might use stronger language). Some of the fees I’ve heard are far below the national minimum hourly rate and with that they expect to retain all copyright (and even the artwork in some cases). If you want to make a living as a children’s book illustrator you need to look further a field.

On working in the US:
I’m only just entering the market but my dealings so far have been very good. I’ve been able to keep my copyright and the contracts seems quite generous by Irish comparisons. I haven’t heard of any pessimistic forecasts.

A little encouragement for the newbies:
Children’s book illustration is a fantastic area to be involved in, I can’t think of a more idyllic career path. Getting started is always a struggle though. The current Irish scene may appear unattractive to established illustrators, however it can be a great opportunity for upcoming illustrators. You might not make too much cash but you will be published. Just remember to hold on tight to your copyright.

(Thanks again to Steve for answering my rant-like questions. You can gawk at his work, here, or read more from him over at Scamp)


On picture books | more

Sorry to go on about picture books but it is something that has gotten my goat of late. **I recently started sending out a picture book manuscript to publishers. That’s probably what has my goat’s knickers in a bunch.**

I crept into a launch last night (more on that here) and had a chat with a heavy weight publisher or two. They dropped me a few statistics that didn’t sound too optimistic and perhaps more importantly, one let me know that he was no longer taking on picture books from new writers.

(Naturally alarms bells went a-ringing - I’m a new writer and I’ve written a picture book and I have no definite publisher yet. What do I do now??)

As a different take on the issue, this publisher doesn’t see the decline as a result of the readers’ embarrassment but more to do with the parents’ unwillingness to buy the books. As a business indication this is even more hair raising - children reluctant to read picture books at a certain age is one thing, but parents unwilling to shell out for the books initially is worse. As this particular publisher put it:

All the talk from parents on how they love their children reading is just that, talk.


Comic Lark | Artemis Fowl and picture books…

Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series has really become a massive success - I holed up over Christmas and reread the whole series, including the new graphic novel. It was a nice way to unwind over the holidays, honest.

The graphic novel raised a few questions with me though - especially with how some of the characters looked (Butler didn’t look too Eurasian - or even realistic for that matter). All the same, the book is as gripping and fast as the original - only this time it comes complete with an artist’s impression.

At a talk over the weekend, Barry Cunningham and Mary Byrne mentioned Colfer’s new venture as a possible reintroduction for readers to picture books. I can’t see it becoming too much of a reality - my guess would be that the general reader of Artemis Fowl would go from there to comics. The overall outlook seems to be that there is a damaging stereotype amongst parents surrounding picture books preventing sales increases - and readers over reaching themselves by trying to read Philip Pullman aged 8 and Wilkie Collins at 12 because they’re too embarrassed to be seen reading illustrated books.

I fell into the same category - luckily I’ve out grown it…

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Some links that might make you weak at the knees. Probably not, but maybe:

Steve Gerber | Fans paying tribute through downloads
David Fickling has a new comic | DFC
Indy is given a facelift | Potato Head
Why cant writers master the art of drawing
Susan Bradley and Typography at Pixar


three quick reviews | David Almond


What do you get when you cross a frog with a rabbit? A bunny ribbit. So, what do you get when you bring ten children’s writers together and ask them to write a book for Amnesty International? Click. Brought together by an opening chapter from Linda Sue Park and her characters (Maggie and Jason, the grandchildren of photo-journalist George ‘Gee’ Keane) nine writers were asked to bring the story forward. David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Tim Wynne Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan and Gregory Maguire all follow suit with a chapter that each follows a different character related to Gee. A jump novel has got to be a great challenge for a group of writers - to move the story along enough to keep the reader interested without making things too difficlut for the next writer. One worth reading - especially for Roddy Doyle’s Dublin snap shot.

My Dad’s a Birdman

How does the saying go: If you want something done, ask a busy person? There can’t be anyone busier than David Almond. Last year he published three books (I think), including Clay, which is sitting by the bed waiting to be read, Kate, The Cat and The Moon and My Dad’s A Birdman. - I wonder if he’d do my homework too…

My Dad’s A Birdman is illustrated by Polly Dunbar, who delivers amazing pictures of birds (of all kinds), interfereing aunts, dumplings and flying machines. The marriage between the images and text is great - even before you read the first word of the story Dunbar’s illustrations and the circus text let you know that something spectacular is coming. Go on, have a read.


There is something very special about going back to a book nearly ten years after you read it first - the emotion behind the words is given a deeper nostalgic meaning. Skellig, David Almond’s first novel, doesn’t need my extra emotional weight on top of the already laden pages. Even in the first reading there is something familiar about this book, finding an old friend, that makes it worthy of so much praise. There isn’t much I can say about Skellig that hasn’t already been said - it is an intense read that pulls you in quietly. There are friends, threats and one or two other surprises but it’s not my place to reveal any of them…

The book was listed as one of the ten most important children’s novels of the past 70 years in 2007 and the film adaptation is due out later this year according to IMDB. Read this one before the movie.


monday music 101

Thanks to everyone for their comments and suggestions - Goon Moon and Guggenheim Grotto are on the playlist in the next few weeks.

Right-so, all this week I’ve been listening to Joanna Newsom. (Newsom was a complete discovery for me. I picked up two of her albums last week and she has been plucking away in my ears ever since.)

At first her voice is a bit startling - especially mixed with the lightening speed and amazing sound that comes from her harp. But after a week of jumping between her albums (Milk Eyed Mender and Ys) I have come under her spell completely. The story like songs are vividly written and have a completely unexpected use of language. Brilliant!

Of the two - Ys is fast becoming my favourite. Anyway, no point harping on about her here - go and have a listen.

Written by david. in: Listening, Review, linkage, music | Tags: ,

factoid | on making money

John Scalzi has ten practical money tips for writers looking to make a career out of writing. Scalzi has written a lot about money and writing on his blog - and the points he’s making are interesting:

  1. You’re a writer. Prepare to be broke. Sad but true. And even more unfortunate is the news that even Edison died broke and he was a genius.
  2. Don’t quit your day job. Best way not to be broke (see above point). You know it makes sense.
  3. Marry (or otherwise shack up with) someone sensible with money, who has a real job. Scalzi has come under fire for this one. Personally, I couldn’t agree more. Having a partner who is smart with money has saved my ass more times than I can count.
  4. Your income is half of what you think it is. This is one of those things that should be obvious - not that I had ever thought about it. There is one nice thing about Ireland - writers don’t pay taxes on money earned from creative works.
  5. Pay off your credit cards NOW and then use them like cash later. How many have fallen for that trap?
  6. Don’t have the cash for it? You can’t have it. Reluctantly I agree. No matter how shiny it is…
  7. When you do buy something, buy the best you can afford — and then run it into the ground. This point just makes sense, whether you’re a writer or not.
  8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco. I’d make a case on this for Dublin too - except that I live there.
  9. Know the entire writing market and place value on your own work. Charge what you’re worth, not a penny more or a penny less. If you don’t know what that is - ask the union.
  10. Writing is a business. Act like it. Wear a shirt and tie to work? No. Just take it seriously.

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Something else worth reading: Harvard papers are to go online - free.

Written by david. in: Writing, factoid | Tags: , , ,

linkage | party punctilios

A nerdish link dump - on par with the Grand Poo-bah* himself.

> Never be caught in the embarrassing situation of mispronouncing a writers name again: Hold your head high at parties.

> Since you’re already sounding smart - why not drop a reference to the Large Hadron Collider (The Atom Smasher) and the new developments in atomic physics. Sinead can enlighten you.

> Eventually at this party nature will call. Don’t get caught out by the urinal game - use the divider provided.

> And finally once you’ve had a skin full: Get mad and demand that everyone at the party be versed in interweb etiquette.

*Rick O’Shea is NOT affiliated with name Grand Poo-bah, yet. Who knows, he might stick it on his name tag at the blog awards. Or he might not.

Written by david. in: Blog Awards, Free Time | Tags: , , ,

Miss Julie | Project Theatre

I’m not sure what it is about stage performances that I have never been able to adjust to - everything seems forced (staged?). Someone crying on stage is just short of rubbing clenched fists under their eyes or a new character entering a room will nearly stomp for attention. The current Frank McGuinness adaptation of Miss Julie, Strindberg’s play about class, is no different.

The set built for the run was impressive - the kitchen is reproduced brilliantly with almost neurotic detail - but is it a good sign if all I can really praise is the stage and lighting? The actors - Catherine Walker, Declan Conlon and Mary Murray - deliver powerful performances at times but not until much later in the play.

I was dissappointed by McGuinness’s adaptation - the BBC Drama version was almost identical - except for the Irish-isms that have been injected. It was good, but not “an extraordinarily fluent and very earthy adaptation” as one review reports.

Dermod has a different take on things over at bonhomie.

Written by david. in: Reading, Review, Theatre | Tags: , , , ,

interviews and questions | comics

The Alan Moore publicity machine is being rolled out at the minute to push the publication of Lost Girls. I’ve yet to pick up a copy (saw a hardback over the weekend for a steep €75 so I’m in no hurry). However - the launch of the book means more interviews and encounters with the bearded one - including an interview in Word where he gives his opinion on the current state of play in the graphic universe. Turns out he ‘aint too pleased.

Mr Moore likens Heroes to the cliched X-Men of yore, before going on to bemoan the last twenty years of comics’ development. Noting a few flaws in the climax of the series he goes on to say:

if we are ever threatened with a scenario like that in real life I hope the superheroes aren’t American because we’ll be sunk.

Much like Cloverfield.

Katherine over at Whereof one can speak has a look at what influences comic artists where she outs a dirty little secret: comics don’t influence each other in the same way that books guide other books.

It is an interesting question on how comic artists look at their own work. If it’s true that the artists’ are more inspired by other media could it be due to their own misgivings about the medium? Does the public opinion of other media effect how the artists view their own work? The film industry, for instance, receives large public interest and generates hours of debate in universities. What do comics get in comparison?

More questions than answers.



> Freak Angels - Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s new webcomic.
> Comic Art Battles - mixing art attack with Mexican hen fights.

Written by david. in: Comics, Reading, linkage | Tags: , , ,

monday music 101

I know shit about music. There, I’ve said it. I can can blag my way through conversations sure - but that is only with the help of blogs like Sigla, Analogue, Nialler9, On The Record, The Indie Hour and many others. The Sigla Musical Rooms series and Analogue’s recent post on where to find new music filled me with jealousy and shame. My ignorance is not something I’m proud of but it is something I can fix. So to appease the music gods: Monday Music 101 is born. (I can work on the name. Effective alliteration though)

My first leap into the unknown comes by way of Ken McGuire. We saw Clive Barnes live (courtesy of KilkennyMusic.com) last September. Barnes is amazing to watch as he plays and is a natural born storyteller - each introduction captivated the hushed crowd in Cleere’s theatre before a single chord was played.

Apparently Harry Guerin has said that “Clive is a lap slide guitarist who can make one acoustic sound like six“. I don’t know about one guitar becoming six but he can definitely create a hypnotic and familiar blues sound when his fingers find the strings. Clive Barnes is the first music 101 recommendation: the few tracks up on MySpace don’t really do him justice but his spot on Other Voices is still live.

Written by david. in: Reading, linkage | Tags: ,

factoid | on submitting picture books

Drawn! has a post on submitting picture books to publishers - recommending that anyone interested should read The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Childrens’ Books. Adam also hits on a fact that I had never heard before - DO NOT SEND A PUBLISHER ILLUSTRATIONS.

It seemed a bit strange so I did some digging around on publisher websites. Turns out that even the publishers who will read your work don’t want to see illustrations. Chicken House are quite clear about it: ‘…for a picture book, [send] the whole story. There is no need to send illustrations for picture books.’ O’Brien Press specify no original artwork and Scholastic and Hodder Headline don’t mention anything about artwork, only manuscripts…

Coming after those that will read your work are the publishers that are not accepting submissions. Amongst them: Walker Books, Harper Collins, MacMillan, Bloomsbury and Puffin. In these cases you will need to get yourself an agent or make some contacts on the inside.

If I wasn’t worried before, I am now.

Update: Interesting piece on publishing over at Pound (mucho gracias, loosetooth)

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Statistic of the week: a children’s fiction writer told me last week that his picture book (which took a total of two hours to write) has outsold his two young adult novels (which, combined, took more than 4 years of blood, sweat and research) at 30:1.

Written by david. in: Publising, Writing | Tags: ,

Writing doesn’t pay bills

Jessica Johnston over at the Kenyon Review blog has a piece on writers’ lifestyles, including teacher-writers, parent-writers, waiter-writers, beekeeper-writers, lighthouse keeper-writers, farmer writers, construction worker-writers, librarian-writers, software engineer-writers, grocery clerk-writers and puppet wrangling-writers in her list of possibilities.

Tad Williams’ biog reads as a CV: band member, shoe salesman, financial manager, newspaper boy, military manual designer, DJ/Broadcaster, TV/Theatre producer, teacher, co-founder of a television company and a writer. David Eddings was a buyer for Boeing rocket ships and a grocery clerk. Thomas Lynch works as an undertaker. Dannie Abse is a doctor.

Alongside the weird daytime experiences out there are the ‘writerly’ jobs. Lecturing in creative writing or English literature or Poetry. (Heaney, Palahniuk and countless thousands of others). Editing journals. Sub-editing. Journalism. Ghost writing. Visiting schools/libraries/arts centres.

A few writers have recently stressed to me how important they found their day-job. The routine of getting up in the morning (or having to go to bed), coming across different places or hearing and talking to people.

I can’t see the attraction. Not working sounds ideal.

Written by david. in: Free Time, Work, Writing | Tags: , ,

other peoples words | linksoes

Neil Gaiman is celebrating his seventh blog birthday and his publishers have kindly agreed to a great big online book give away as part of the celebrations. There’s about a week left to vote for which novel you want to read on your computer screen. So go get yourself voting. (or click here to see the results of the vote at the minute)

Harper Collins are handing out free e-books at the minute. Some interesting titles are up for perusal including Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello and Erin Hunter’s Warriors: Into the Wild. (via NYT)

DC/Vertigo are dishing out a free downloadable PDF of Swamp Thing #21 - Alan Moore’s first (technically second) issue. And on the subject of Mr Moore there is a brilliant and surprisingly long documentary on him online at altertube.

Sinead continues the Musical Rooms series with the Delorentos - interesting insight into how the band work together. There’s a great homemade poster in the background. One for mass production maybe?


Kung Fu Rodeo has a breakdown of the Watchmen movie stills (from ‘extremely reliable source‘ - no more rumour spreading for me). Looking forward to seeing Rorscach’s mask and Doc Manhattan’s clothes (all CGI). A picture is worth a thousand words. More from the Watchmen Official Blog.

Drawn! has the news that Six Word Memoirs book is out and available to the wider world. This is a fantastic idea for a book - collecting snippets of insight from writers. There was a poetry competition a few years ago judged (I think) by Paul Muldoon. He gave the overal prize to a six year old for their poem (of not quite six words):

The Turtle moves movey movey.

And finally a weird and wonderful Vittel ad with the many faces of David Bowie:

Many thanks to Lili Forberg for the title: -soes is the new -sies. (Congratulations on the nomination!)

Written by david. in: Comics, Free Stuff, Jealousy, Magazine, Reading | Tags: , ,

blog awards shortlist

The short list for the 2008 Blog Awards is up online. Congratulations to everybody listed - here’s quick look down the list for Best Arts and Culture (sponsored by Poetry Ireland) :

Could it be three years in a row for The Sigla Blog? Or will there be a new winner this year? Either way, I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at the awards in March. Best of luck!

Written by david. in: Blog Awards, Jealousy, Reading | Tags: ,

Mongrel | gone to the dogs?

Has Mongrel magazine hit the rocks? (a rumour started by Indie Hour) The January issue (not pictured) seems to be up on the site, but has anyone seen it in hardcopy?

Aoife has heard, through an unnofficial informant, that the operation to fill the streets with a smile and some much needed sarcasm is Missing In Action.

Is this all hearsay and speculation? As a reader of quirk, I hope so.

Update: The dubious character of E Mordino claims he has a copy of the January issue. That said, the numpty could be lying.

Update: The Chancer is calling out for Larry. Larry, call home.

Update: Mongrel is still alive and kicking. The fact that none of us managed to get our hands on the issue is probably due to faults of our own. Crisis well and truly over.

Written by david. in: Magazine, Publising, Reading | Tags: , ,

Willesden Herald | Result

The Willesden Herald International Short Story competition has, after more than 800 entrants, decided that it could not find a suitable winner.

In Zadie Smith’s own words:

…in the end – we have to be honest – we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for.

I didn’t enter the competition, lucky me. But for a series of judges to come out and tell writers (of any age, race, gender or nation) that their contribution was just not great, or even good, is execrable. Have Zadie Smith and the other judges written such superior masterpieces that they are free to comment?

I’m not a hurt entrant, bemoaning my lost chance at glory. I am however very curious to know what kind of story the organisers expected to receive. Their principle mantra for entries was ‘MAKE IT GOOD’, not the most specific of entry requirements, just enough to let the judges out of choosing a winner. This was a bad decision, and not one to be celebrated.

In the words of one commenter (taken from the guardian)

As for the ‘pseudo-literary ficto-tainment that dominates our chain bookstores’ (quoting from Zadie Smith on Willesden Herald site): every Zadie Smith novel or any anthology with the Zadie Smith brand name attached will end up in pride of place in the picture windows of said chain stores. So what does that say about her (and the WH) stance? Isn’t it hypocritical as well as unrealistic?

Update: The prize (unceremoniously) will be divvied out amongst the shortlist due to pressure from the outside world.

Written by david. in: Competition, Writing | Tags: ,

Dublin Book Festival

The Dublin Book Festival website is up and has a full list of events. It will be running from 7 - 9 March and will act as a showcase of new and established Irish writing talent.
I’ve come up with a few highlights from the three days including:

Friday 7 -

> Author reading with emerging writers - Geraldine Creed, Alison Foster and David Maybury

> In Conversation: Anthony Cronin

> Author reading with Liam Ó Muirthile, Colm Breathnach, Deirdre Brennan and Cliodhna Cussen

> Up For Discussion: DeValera VS. Collins with Ryle Dwyer, Mary Banotti and Dr. Martin Mansergh TD, chaired by Eoin Purcell, Mercier Press

Saturday 8 -

>Treats for Kids with Tom McCaughren

>10th Birthday Celebration | International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY)

>Author reading with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Medbh McGuckian, Pat Boran and Joan Newmann

Sunday 9 -

>Author reading with Kevin Barry, Geraldine Mills and Mike McCormack

In case you missed what I cleverly did there, have a second look at the first event on Friday. It should be an interesting weekend - so if you’re around drop in and have a read/listen to what ever is going on.



Right, so.
I’m back online and carrying a near-finished manuscript under my arm. The plan is to convince a publisher that it will be worth their while taking on my little book. So far I’ve had some success - one London publisher is curious. Not bad after only showing it to two people.

I spent last week in UCD library punching out 2000 words a day. It was strange - some of the time my fingers couldn’t move fast enough and at others, the words didn’t come.


I love writing, sometimes it just doesn’t love me.

Written by david. in: Writing | Tags: , ,

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