Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fantastic comic creating fun with The Etherington Brothers - The Story Museum, Oxford

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As many blog regulars will know, we're massive fans of Robin and Lorenzo Etherington. The Etherington Brothers not only create some of the most fantastic epic comics (including many you've probably read yourself like Transformers, Madagascar - you name it, they've probably worked on 'em) but tons of amazing strips for The (sadly defunct) DFC and The Phoenix.

We got to know their work through The Phoenix and we've steadily collected their own published stuff too (but have loads and loads to catch up on).

We heard they were coming to Oxford, to the fantastic Story Museum for a couple of brilliant comic workshops, letting us into some of their secrets.

Some of you will already know that Robin and Lorenzo host a brilliant interactive show, teaching us would-be comic noobs how to perfect our plots, carve out our characters and mix genres like we're putting 'em in a blender and hitting the 'frappe' button.

"The Greatest Comic Making Show on Earth" - Really can't argue with that (oops, took this pic before we were told not to take any pics!)
Robin and Lorenzo traded places on stage, with a hilarious collection of quickfire gags, improv and character acting (with both Charlotte and I giggling like nutters throughout).

Things we learned: 

- Mixing genres is hilarious fun. Ever seen a romantic comedy with a Zombie in it?

- World building is awesome. Make the world your characters live in as interesting as possible and the stories will practically build themselves.

- Props turn an ordinary everyday character into something a bit more groovy. Think of how cool Harry Potter is, but how doubly cool he is when he's carrying his wand.

- Robin is flipping hilarious, as is Lorenzo. Give those guys their own TV show and it'd be even better than Art Attack (and that's definitely not faint praise!)

We finally got to meet the guys, a real honour and could've spent all day chatting (but figured the rest of the people queueing up for autographs and fantastic drawings might've got a bit peeved!). The guys kindly signed some of our graphic novels and Lorenzo even managed to do an uber-quick sketch of Charlotte's comic crush, Von Doogan. Totally brilliant!

If you're lucky enough to get the chance to see Lorenzo and Robin in action, we'd heartily recommend you do so - in fact if you're doubly lucky and they come to your school, you're in for a heck of a fantastic comic-creatin' time.

Huge, huge thanks guys, you really made our days, so great to meet you both at last!

You can keep up with The Etherington Brothers' comic adventures over on their excellent blog, packed with tutorials, comic tips, awesome art and tons of news about Robin and Lorenzo's publications and events. Go get some!

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The Children's Garden by Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan (Sasquatch Books)

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An amazing book about a truly amazing place, that might inspire you to have a go and get stuck in out in your own garden. Here's "The Children's Garden" by Carole Lexa Schaeffer and Pierr Morgan
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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two new books perfect for animal fans from Animal Planet and Liberty Street Publishing

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Young animal fans might find it a bit difficult to get inspired in the long school summer holidays but fear not, innovative publishers Liberty Street and Animal Planet are here to save the day...!
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Monday, August 14, 2017

Black - An Artist's Tribute by Santosh Kumar Das (Tara Books)

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Wow, this is definitely one of the most jaw dropping and 'different' children's books we've seen in a long time...
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Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

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What is normal? What does it mean? When you're a child, that can be one of the toughest questions to answer...
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Friday, August 11, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th August 2017: "Desert Thieves (Sky Thieves Book 2)" by Dan Walker (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

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Our Chapter Book of the Week this week once again delves into Dan Walker's fascinating world of steampunk-intrigue and devilishly twisty-turny plots in "Desert Thieves" (Sky Thieves Book 2)
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th August 2017 - "Fluffywuffy" by Simon Puttock and Matt Robertson (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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We utterly love books like this. Books that deceive you with covers that bely their AWFUL TERRIFYING INSIDES!!! Our Picture Book of the Week this week is the awesome "Fluffywuffy"...
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Bear Hug at Bedtime by Jana Novotny-Hunter and Kay Widdowson (Child's Play)

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Ah, the perfect bedtime hug, is there any better accompaniment to a perfect bedtime story?
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Writing to be published vs writing for pleasure - Sometimes you just feel like giving up - A ReadItTorial

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After kicking back on holiday, and poring over the copious notes of inspiration I made while on holiday I got back into the serious business of writing children's stories again.

I've been taking the approach of 'bottom drawering' certain stories, stuffing them away for weeks - sometimes months on end before reassessing them with (hopefully) a more critical eye. Pulling them out to share with a fantastic bunch of writers I've somehow managed to fall in with really does help too.

But...the more I do this, the more I am coming to the conclusion that writing to be published is eroding the real main reason I love creating stories. Because it's fun, because it's enjoyable, because it's creative and ultimately because a grin or smile of approval from my daughter is actually worth more than a book deal.

It sounds like I'm probably treading on the sour grapes a bit here, and swilling the wine from those grapes around in a glass before gulping the whole lot down to drunkenly have a good rant (but I'm teetotal so I guess I'd have to draw a line under that analogy and think of something else).

You see, the more I get involved with the process of pushing a story out there, getting feedback from editors or other writers, getting endlessly rejected, getting absolutely no response at all, the more I realise that when it comes down to it, the numbers involved are stacked against you even before you start to think about that one in a million chance of writing something that 'sticks'.

Basically if you're the sort of person who has a half-full glass when it comes to writing, you might want to look away now...

  • Most agents take on a tiny, tiny handful of new folk a year, and prioritise writers who have provided 'the goods' previously.
  • Most publishers take on even less, even in open submission sessions (again priority is given to authors and illustrators who can provide marketable books, obviously).
  • Most editors know exactly what they are looking for, so unless you're a mind reader, you are going to have to be EXTREMELY lucky in order to predict what that 'something' is
  • The majority of new authors (and this is mostly borne out by talking to folk who eventually get a book deal after years of trying) might get one shot, and then never get anything published again. 
  • As hopelessly addictive the idea of joining the amazing throng of new children's writers that seem to live an amazing life of trailing around literary festivals, attending school visits, talking to the media (on very rare occasions when the mainstream media bothers with children's fiction and non fiction) or attending workshops sound, it's going to happen to such a small number of folk that again you'd have to be extremely talented and very lucky to get in on that. 
  • There seems to be a growing trend for new writers to end up opting to pay for editorial work, mentorship, help and steerage (which is fair enough and worth considering if you really do believe you've got talent that needs shaping). Quite often the prices involved are pretty hefty, so again it's worth asking yourself if throwing a huge amount of money at this is worth it for what you're hoping to achieve. Certainly if you're some sort of crazy lunatic who imagines J.K Rowling sized pay packets and global sales and think that this will somehow offset your initial spend, think again as that's an even rarer occurrence. Really do not enter into children's publishing for the money!
I've taken a good long hard look at my own work, and I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that I probably just do not have what it takes.

I know for sure that time is one of the biggest factors here. Even with three weeks of holiday I still struggled to find quiet moments to sit down and write, or draw, or kick my brain into creative mode and I think even if I do my level best to devote every spare hour in an evening after work towards sorting out my stories, I'd need to burn the midnight oil and then some.

Being realistic - I don't feel I've got the talent. I've got some good ideas perhaps, but just can't seem to 'stick to the rules' enough to make them work, I find even the most wonderful editorial help in the world (thanks, you know who you are) utterly frustrating to try and apply to my writing, and I keep coming back to that list above and just hanging my head in woe.

There's still a tiny shiny grain of optimism in me that keeps saying "Don't give up, it's never too late, work at it, but REALLY work at it" but dang, that little tiny shred of light is dimming day by day, it really is. I won't abruptly stop writing or drawing, and I'll always want to come up with new ideas, but I am beginning to feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall when it comes to cracking the children's book market, even with a lot of help from well meaning and very patient folk. 

Perhaps I'd better just accept that being wildly enthusiastic about telling stories or reviewing children's books just doesn't translate in any way into being able to write them, and call it a day.

Writing for pleasure, even writing stuff you know you're never going to show to anyone is akin to therapy, but trying to get something to fit into such rigorous standards really seems like an impossible mountain to climb.

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Invent It by Rob Beattie (QED Publishing)

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Fancy yourself as the next Elon Musk or Sir Tim Berners-Lee? Here's a fantastic book to inspire young inventors!
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