Category Archives: Reading and Literacy

Hooray for the Summer Reading Challenge!

I gather this year has been a good one for the Summer Reading Challenge, a scheme to keep children’s reading habits going over the long summer holiday. I don’t think that was ever a problem for me as a child – always happy to go to the library for another Enid Blyton – but I must admit, I’d pretty much forgotten everything  else I’d learned at school from the previous year, come the first day of the autumn term!

Prize giving day for the Summer Reading Challenge at Bream Library – Forest of Dean



I posted once before about how I was involved in the first ever Summer Reading Challenge, an idea dreamed up by Andrea Reece at Hodder Children’s Books. So I’m always very happy to be asked to play a small part over the summer.

Last week, I went to Bream Library, just down the road, where I told some stories and handed out the medals and certificates to all the children who had completed their Challenge this summer – Well done all!

It seems the challenge has been a bit oversubscribed this year – probably due to the fallen value of the pound and everyone staycationing – I guess Brexit has a had a small positive influence on something after all!

The all new Christmas Stocking Joke Book nearly ready

The Christmas Stocking Joke Book came out nearly 30 years ago! I’ve been revising it and updating some of the jokes that either aren’t funny any more or just don’t make sense. I’ve also completely re-illustrated it too – I must be mad!

Back then there were no computers, internet or mobile phones – even Santa has caught up with the times! This is s screen shot of the new cover. I’m hoping to put the whole project to bed this weekend and get it off to the printers, well in time for publication day – 5th October

The scintillating life of an illustrator

Working on the illustrations for my new Collins Big Cat title – Nibble Nosh and Gnasher

Social media presents a constant stream of images of the wonderful lives other people are leading right now, while you are doing not a lot.

This post is to let you know that I’m not leading a glamorous life in the sun, surrounded by adoring fans, drinking champagne with famous people around a swimming pool or driving fast, red sports  cars.

I’m sitting in my studio/shed at the bottom of my garden, working away, painting artwork for a book that must be completed before I go away on holiday. Days are drifting by as the finished pages stack up in my plan chest drawers.

One of the main requirements of being an illustrator is the ability to spend long periods alone with one’s thoughts in a shed at the bottom of the garden. That alone would drive many to distraction, boredom or madness.

An illustrator needs to be able to handle deadlines, coping with the constant mental readjustment of how much time is left and how spread that time across the drawings yet to be drawn and painted – fitting in the family commitments, the not-to-be-missed events and appointments at which half their brain is screaming to escape back to the studio.

While working on this book, I’ve listened to three audio books so far. I used to have BBC Radio 4 on all day long, but ten years ago or so, I found I couldn’t listen to the constant, inane gabble any more, nor any other talk radio shows either. I hardly listen to music these days either, so I often spend long periods in silence, with just my thoughts for company – that would certainly drive most to madness these days!

I think I’ve developed a more intimate relationship with my pens and pencils and papers, observing textures and interactions between the tools and media I use – this keeps my mind busy, just watching what the brush or pencil does.

Then there are the future stories I’m thinking about. The internet is always on hand to follow up trains of thought, I suppose I spend quite a bit of time each day, just Googling stuff that floats into my brain.

Then I have some lunch and go back to do a bit more and then, suddenly it’s tea time and I think I might do a bit of gardening… after I’ve just painted that little bit in the corner which takes over my concentration completely, and suddenly it’s supper and time to watch some telly with Mrs Rayner, if she’s not working the night shift at the hospital. If she is, then it’s back to the studio till bedtime, if not then I doodle in my sketchbook while we catch up with TV… and then to bed, where I close my eyes and plan the next day’s work as I drift off to sleep. Obsessive? or just fully engaged?

To many, this lifestyle might appear a little boring – maybe not something to post about. Certainly not glamourous.

And yet, while I paint and draw and mumble to myself, I’m well aware how lucky I am and I know that many would really love to do what I do. So to a few, my boring-looking life is, in fact, quite glamorous and aspirational.

Either way I’m grateful that I have the life I lead and the little shed at the bottom of the garden where I can go and make my books and write posts on my blog.

But I’d better finish now – I have a deadline to meet!