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The Midnight Peacock cover reveal! Plus an interview with illustrator Karl James Mountford

I am so thrilled to share with you the cover of the fourth book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series! Behold the loveliness that is The Midnight Peacock:

Midnight peacock back cover

As with The Painted Dragon, the cover art is the work of the super-talented Karl James Mountford who has also created the fabulous interior illustrations for the book. Karl worked with Egmont’s senior fiction designer Laura Bird on the book’s artwork.

I think I’ve probably said this for each new book in the series, but I really think this is my favourite cover yet. The combination of rich purple and silver foiling is so sumptuous, and it’s lovely to see Sinclair’s itself on the cover for the final book in the series, and to peep inside its windows once again!

What’s more, the cover perfectly captures the atmosphere of The Midnight Peacock, which is set at Christmas and is a wintery mystery – I love the silvery icicles, the swirling frost, and the hints of festive decorations we can glimpse in the windows. It also conveys all the opulent splendour of Mr Sinclair’s magnficent New Year’s Eve Ball, which has such an important part to play in this story.

You can find out a bit more about the book (as well as enjoying some more of Karl’s wonderful illustrations) on the back cover:

Midnight peacock back

I’m really fascinated by Karl’s creative process as an illustrator, and wanted to know more about how he creates artworks like those for Midnight Peacock – not to mention other books like The Uncommoners by Jennifer Bell, his peep-inside fairytale books or picture book The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth.

With this in mind, I asked Karl if I could interview him about his work, and about illustrating Midnight Peacock in particular. He was kind enough to agree and also to share some of his work-in-progress. Here’s what we talked about…

KW: Can you tell me a bit about  your creative process when illustrating a book? Where do you start? How do you go about creating a book cover, and what are the key things to think about?

KJM: It starts with the brief from the art director/designer from the publishing house. I tend to get a proof of the manuscript with chapters or text highlighted for reference and study. But the first thing I do is make my own list of all the illustrations needed for the project and make really rough tiny sketches before even researching. Book covers are my favourite type of illustration work, so I automatically want to do best by the author’s imagination. With the Sinclair’s Mysteries, I get sent a template of the design and I doodle on that to get the ball rolling. The key thing is to read, whether it’s the full story or character description and the brief. ‘The more you know’ as they say!

Can you talk about what tools you use – do you work digitally, or with paints etc?

I draw/sketch everything in my sketch books or loose paper to figure things out; once the design/illustrations have been given the ok, I then scan them into the computer and use photoshop to colour them up and fine-tune. I use a lot of textures like paint marks or scrap paper to make digital brushes.

What’s your workspace like?

At the minute, it’s a bit of a mess (I’m moving studios).

Who are your favourite children’s book illustrators?

Shaun Tan is without a doubt the best in my opinion. Maurice Sendak also, not just for his artwork but because he was honest in his storytelling for kids – it all gets a bit safe these days. And there is a huge number of current illustrators who are also incredible of course, but those two are my personal heroes.

Is there a children’s book you’d especially love to illustrate?

I’d love to illustrate His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, like a special edition type of deal, they are some of my favourite books. I’ve thought about this before – I’d make screen print covers with limited colour palettes.

What advice would you give someone interested in getting into book illustration?

Erm… it’s tough getting into book illustration, not an overnight thing for sure, so don’t worry about rejection – it’s just something that happens. I’d suggest you make work you love because you love it so. Start with your favourite books, redesign the cover, illustrate chapters etc, but do it because it interests you. And be a little tough on yourself, ask yourself ‘Does this look like something I want to pick up off the shelf?’ and above all – stick at it.

Let’s talk a bit about The Midnight Peacock! The book is set in winter: how did you get the wintry effects on the cover? I’ve heard that snow is particularly tricky in illustration – did you find this?

Yeah, snow can be tricky, especially when the colour palette is singular. I used light purples against darker ones with a textured ‘speckled’ brush, I went for a frosty look/feel on The Midnight Peacock because the typical trick for snow is to add it on the sills of windows but with this series the windows are key to front of the book and I didn’t want to lose the details of the action in the windows, covered by snow.

 

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Final character designs for The Midnight Peacock

 

I love the way each window has its own cast of characters, and tells a story of its own – which window would you most like to eavesdrop beside?

I think the top left, the one with Lil on the moon. I’d have a few drinks and enjoy the party.

What was the most difficult aspect of this cover to get right? How do you test the effects of foiling?

The most difficult aspect of this cover was the design of the Sinclair’s building, since book one already featured the front of the department store (by illustrator extraordinaire Júlia Sardà). I didn’t want to just copy the existing design, so I used it as a template and changed a few details so it feels respectful to the original but it’s got my own stamp on it. I don’t actually test the foiling, the good folks at Egmont and Art Director/Designer Laura Bird are in charge of that. I do have to keep all the ‘foiled’ aspects on separate layers when illustrating the covers though.

roughs of cover plus colour testRoughs of The Midnight Peacock cover plus colour test

 

How much did the design change from your roughs to the final artwork?

Not much really, a few details and positioning of characters. I think the biggest change was on the back, as I’d drawn chimneys and windows in the bottom left-hand corner, but with the barcode added on, it would have looked a little off. So we replaced it with a brick wall to frame the existing covers.

How do you choose which scene to depict on a cover (front and back)?

With the Sinclair’s books, the team at Egmont send me a really detailed brief of what they think will work best for the overall cover.

final book designs smallFinal book designs for The Midnight Peacock

 

I love the incidental details – the poster for water on the wall of the building the gang are scaling, the lamppost, the trays of tiny canapés, the brooches and hatpins. How did you research the visual look of 1909 – are there any period sources you found particularly helpful for those details?

I used the brief’s details to research items of the time. I went to the library and got a few books out on ladies’ fashions of the 1900s; and some of the stuff I just googled, particularly the invitations and newspapers of the era.

At the end of The Painted Dragon, we see an illustration of Sophie and Lil for the first time, and in this book we see the whole gang – is it challenging depicting the main characters in a book? I love how the physical stance of each figure in that final image is so true to their character!

It can be difficult, as you want to do justice to the author’s imagination. But you can’t really pick the brain of the author in this type of work, which is a shame. I do get sent the manuscript of the books so I can research and read the story – it helps massively to read the book as you can really build an idea of the characters. Although I avoided the manuscript as much as possible this time, because I’m invested in the story and want to find out how it all ends as its reader rather than illustrator!

development of characters smallDevelopment of characters

 

It was a thrill to spot ‘KW’ on the spine of the books in the library – are there any other hidden details you could tell us about – or at least give us a clue as to what we might look for?

Yeah, in that one particular illustration, some of the books have spines with titles of the previous books’ creatures on them: a bird, moth and dragon. There is also an open sketch book with a drawing of the main character Sophie in it. I leave sentimental rubbish in all my work sometimes – for instance, the date on one of the newspapers is my Dad’s birthday. Just daft things like that.

details on small illustrations smallDetails on small illustrations

 

I also love the Indian pattern at the bottom of Miss Pennyfeather’s letter – it feels like just the kind of stationery a colonial lady would use. Was it based on a real-life artefact?

It was a last-minute decision on my part – the decorative part of the letter was already in place, but we had to rejig the lettering so it read in a certain way. I was flicking through the text-heavy illustrations and just thought it would be nice to add the elephant motif so it keeps your eyes interested. I researched ‘decorative writing paper’ – a lot of it back then was heavily decorated, especially if you were ‘well to do’.

These books involve lots of letters in different hand-writing, flyers and business cards – do you enjoy working out different typographical effects? Again, I love how each is done so exactly in the character of the letter’s author.

It’s one of my favourite things about this job, I’m not just illustrating it but designing things too. I actually hand-wrote a lot of the letters with a fountain pen/ calligraphy set…it took forever but I think/hope it adds an authencity to it. It’s pretty hard to write out of your regular handwriting style continuously, so for some of the letters I used a font.

lettering and design smallLettering and design

 

What have you enjoyed most about illustrating the Sinclair’s Mysteries? Do you have a favourite character to illustrate or a favourite illustration?

I’ve enjoyed reading the stories a lot, it makes it really special to illustrate once you’ve read it. I think I enjoyed the mix of illustrating and designing. My favourite character…I think it might be Billy…or Lil.

Finally, thank you for your illustration of quite the most lavish teatime spread – which cake is your favourite, and shall we split one?

Oh, I think we should! It’s gonna sound lame but I really like carrot cake at the minute.

Thank you so much Karl for a totally fascinating insight into the process of creating your amazing artwork! Find out lots more about Karl and his work on his website here.

The Midnight Peacock is published on 5 October and you can pre-order a copy now from Waterstones, The Hive or Amazon.

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The Sinclair’s Mysteries are coming to Germany

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Say hello to Kaufhaus der Träume (Department Store of Dreams)! Das Rätsel um den verschwundenen Spatz (aka The Clockwork Sparrow) will be published in Germany by Ravensburger on 27 August.

It’s been translated into German by Katharina Orgaß, and the illustrator is Alessandra Fusi. I love how different the cover is from the UK and US edition of The Clockwork Sparrow, whilst being just as gorgeous with its luscious Edwardian fashions and delicate Art Nouveau-inspired detail. How lucky am I to have another incredibly lovely cover?!

Pre-order Kaufhaus der Träume, Band 1: Das Rätsel um den verschwundenen Spatz or find out more on the Ravensburger website.

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Cover Reveal: The Mystery of the Painted Dragon

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This week we revealed the cover for the sequel to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth! Say hello to The Mystery of the Painted Dragon!

As you might guess from the title (and the graphic above) the third book in the series takes Sophie, Lil and the rest of the gang into the Edwardian art world. The story centres around a priceless painting that has been stolen in such baffling circumstances that even our young sleuths don’t know what to make of it.

Can Sophie and Lil find the missing painting, unmask the villain, and prove themselves detectives to be reckoned with? You’ll have to wait until February 2017 to find out…

For now, let’s take a closer look at the incredibly gorgeous cover art, created by amazing illustrator Karl James Mountford.

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Karl worked closely with Benjamin Hughes, Art Director at Egmont, to create this stunning cover, which features beautiful shiny copper foil. I think it’s going to look so lovely on the shelf next to Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth.

I’ve also been lucky enought to have an early peek at some of the interior illustrations that Karl is creating for this book, which are so special. I can’t wait to be able to share the finished book!

Visit Karl’s website to see even more of his amazing artwork and find him on Twitter.

UPDATED: You can now pre-order The Mystery of the Painted Dragon from:Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon.

Add The Mystery of the Painted Dragon on Goodreads.

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Our Second Greenaway Special

An-illustration-by-Willia-008One of our earlier Down the Rabbit Hole episodes, broadcast this time last year, was dedicated to celebrating the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.  The Greenaway is (together with its partner, the CILIP Carnegie Medal) one of the oldest and most prestigious prizes for children’s books. It’s named after the 19th century artist and illustrator Kate Greenaway. and is awarded for distinguished illustration in a book for children.

We absolutely love talking about children’s book illustration on DTRH. One of the things that most surprised me when we started the show – and continues to surprise me now – is how joyful it is to talk about illustration on the radio. It’s always wonderful to hear illustrators talk in glorious, unrestrained detail about page spreads, colours, techniques. We all get excited, talking about layout and typography and production. The radio mics pick up the sounds of fingers eagerly flicking pages and lovingly smoothing the texture of the paper.

I suspect that one of the reasons it still feels so exciting to talk about illustration on the radio on DTRH is simply that we hear these kinds of detailed discussions of illustrators’ work so rarely in the mainstream media. Sarah McIntyre’s #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign has recently been doing sterling work to raise the profile of illustrators and ensure they get properly credited for their work. I like to think that on DTRH, in our own small way, we’re doing our bit to help by providing a space in which illustrators can talk  about illustration as an artform, where we can acknowledge artists’ amazing work and the important role illustration plays in children’s books, as well as (hopefully!) bringing children’s book illustration to a wider audience.

Given all this, it felt particularly appropriate that June’s DTRH was our second Greenaway special. We were joined by two fantastic picture book creators for the show – Steve Antony, whose books include Please Mr Panda and The Queen’s Hat, and Helen Hancocks, creator of Penguin in Peril and William and the Missing Masterpiece (the second book about cat detective William, William Heads to Hollywood, is published today) – to talk about this year’s Greenaway shortlisted books.

In particular, we discussed this year’s winner – the stunning Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, pictured above. The show also featured an interview with William, plus comments from some of the children who took part in this year’s Carnegie Greenaway Shadowing scheme about what they thought of the books on the shortlist. You can listen here:

Down The Rabbit Hole – 30th June 2015 by Resonance Fm on Mixcloud

Find out more about all the books we discussed and the Kate Greenaway Medal on our website. More from DTRH next month!

Dispatches from the Bologna Book Fair

Fiera del Libro 2015 - Bologna

Last week I headed to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for a very special gathering of Children’s Laureates from around the globe.

The UK Children’s Laureate was the first such post anywhere in the world, but since it began in 1999, many other countries have set up similar positions, whether they are called a ‘Children’s Laureate’ or a ‘Reading Ambassador’.

Following a meeting of the Swedish, Irish and Australian Laureates in Bologna two years ago, it was decided to bring as many of the Laureates from around the world together for an ‘international Laureate summit’ at the Bologna Book Fair in 2015 – so I was off to the Fair with Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman!

It was my first visit to Bologna, and I was excited to see what the Fair is like. The event is very much aimed at children’s publishing professionals: it’s a place where authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers and booksellers all come together to buy and sell rights to children’s books and properties, learn  about new developments and trends, network and find new business opportunities.

Here’s my Bologna Book Fair diary from the trip:

Day 1: Sunday

My flight out was at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning: on arrival, I had time for a very a quick look at the beautiful historic centre (and to say hello to Malorie who was staying near the Piazza Maggiore) before checking into my hotel near the Fair.

Even though the Fair didn’t officially open until the next day, we had our first Laureate event that afternoon. After a bit of a confusing time trying to navigate the site, where set-up was underway, I found my way to the room where our event was taking place, where Malorie and several of the other Laureates from Australia, Ireland, Finland and Sweden had already gathered, along with their teams.

The first event was a private meeting, designed to give everyone the chance to get to know each other. Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor for the Guardian and stalwart of the UK Children’s Laureate Steering Group, facilitated a roundtable discussion in which each Laureate had the chance to introduce themselves, and to talk about their work. The group also discussed their aims for the summit and what we all hoped to get out of the next few days.

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Laureates hard at work!

That evening I attended my first Bologna party, given by Penguin Random House USA, where I also drank my first glass of Prosecco for the trip  – a Bologna essential!

Next up was dinner with the Children’s Laureates and their teams – it was great to have the chance to talk to people who do similar work in organisations from all around the world. While we were there, the two Welsh Laureates arrived to join us – Anierin Caradog who is the Bardd Plant Cymru, and Martin Daws, who is the Welsh Young People’s Laureate. After much pasta (seriously, more pasta than I would ever have thought possible to consume in a single sitting) we all headed back to our hotels for a much needed rest ahead of Day 2!

 

Day 2: Monday

To the Book Fair! I headed for the main entrance, where the first thing that caught my eye was this amazing Alice in Wonderland carpet.

alice_carpet

Our next Laureate session was an invite-only event aimed at organisations from other countries that were interested in learning more about the Children’s Laureate initiatives, and in gaining useful information that might even help them set up a Laureate programme of their own. Representatives from countries including Italy and New Zealand, attended to hear more about the Children’s Laureate, including how the schemes work on a more practical level. Building on the discussions the previous day, the Laureates also had chance to talk in depth about what they wanted to get out of the summit, and possible ways to work together in future.

After the event, Malorie and I spent some time exploring the Book Fair. There was so much to see: we visited some publisher stands including the Barrington Stoke stand where Malorie received a rousing welcome and we embarrassed her by making her pose by her name for this picture.

barringtonstoke

Next it was on to the very large and impressive Penguin Random House stand where Malorie was introduced to author Sophie Kinsella, whose first young adult book Finding Audrey is published this year, as well as fitting in a quick photo and interview for Publishers Weekly.

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There was plenty more time for exploring in the afternoon. I visited colleagues from Ireland on the Children’s Books Ireland stand, and from Australia on the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance stand where Australian Laureate Jackie French was chatting to visitors, and Ann James was demonstrating the mud painting techniques she used in her book I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. Justine from ACLA showed me a lovely animated version of the same book, with Ann reading aloud: this is part of the StoryBox Library project, which is designed to allow Australian children the chance to hear stories told in Australian voices.

There were so many publisher stands to browse. As well as all the familiar English language publishers, there was also a host of international stands to explore from publishers I was completely unfamiliar with. It was a great way to get a snapshot of the global publishing industry, and I enjoyed taking in everything from unusual European illustrations, to beautiful papercraft from Asia – not to mention spotting characters such as Miffy, Peppa Pig and Pikachu wandering around.

Obviously it was also essential to stop for a brief gelato break in the sunshine!

icecream

Most of all, I enjoyed looking at the  incredible illustration exhibitions including an exhibition of work by illustrators from this year’s Guest country, Croatia; a display of ‘silent books’ (wordless picture books); and of course, the famous Bologna Illustrators Exhibition which displays the best new illustration work from around the world. I could have spent hours looking at all the lovely work on display, and it was only the fact that my suitcase was already full to bursting that stopped me immediately buying a copy of the exhibition catalogue to take back home!

I also loved looking at the Illustrators’ Walls –  Bologna’s unofficial exhibition spaces. Lots of illustrators come to Bologna each year, from established children’s illustrators to students and aspiring illustrators, and many of them add their leaflets, posters and postcards to the Illustrators’ Wall, which gradually becomes more and more crowded with work, forming a sort of ever-evolving collage.

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After an afternoon of enjoyable exploring, I met my Down the Rabbit Hole co-host Melissa and her colleague Florentyna at the Macmillan Children’s Book stand, where they were celebrating two new books from Meg Cabot. We hopped on the free bus into Bologna town centre, where Melissa took Florentyna and I on a tour of some of Bologna’s bookshops, including a fabulous children’s bookshop in a converted church, and the wonderful Ambasciatori librerie.coop – part bookshop, part trattoria, where books were sold alongside wine and all sorts of delicious food – basically, the perfect combination!

Our next stop was a reception being held by Scholastic at the Palazzo Re Enzo – a glorious old building on the Piazza Nettuno, where the guests were entertained by a fantastic speech about reading for pleasure from Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey. We went on to join some of the Scholastic team for a special dinner for Axel Scheffler, and after many courses (including even more pasta) we headed to the Swine Bar for what else but a glass of Prosecco to round off an excellent day.

Day 3: Tuesday

After breakfast in the hotel, I headed back to the Fair to catch up with the lovely Kristen Harrison from Curved House Kids.

We took in a couple of events from the Fair’s seminar programme: first up, a session about children’s books in translation, followed by a presentation of a new cultural app for kids, Art Stories, at the Digital Cafe. After a quick panino in the sunny courtyard, it was on to the announcement of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Award. This year the Award was given to South African reading organisation PRAESA and it was fascinating to hear about some of their work.

In the afternoon it was time for our third and final Laureate event – a public session bringing together all of the Laureates at the Authors Cafe. We were joined for this session by the newly-arrived Mexican and Dutch laureates, giving us a grand total of 10 Laureates in all! The event, which was once again chaired by Julia Eccleshare, was a fantastic celebration of reading promotion around the world, including a Welsh song from Anierin, and a spot of performance (with audience participation) from Martin. Afterwards it was time for the all-important group photo.

After the event, Children’s Books Ireland held a reception on their stand. I head back into town to join Egmont’s party at Le Staze. It was great to meet some of the Egmont team before heading to join Malorie at a dinner for Frank Cottrell Boyce, given by Macmillan Children’s Books to celebrate his new book The Astounding Broccoli Boy.

Day 4: Wednesday

After packing up and checking out of the hotel, there was just enough time for a final visit to the Fair. I wanted to spend some more time looking at the exhibitions, but also to visit the amazing Fair Bookshop.  I could easily have spent a fortune in there, especially on the heart-stoppingly beautiful array of picture books from all around the world!

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I said goodbye to some of my Laureate colleagues and had the chance to chat about the next steps for our international work: we’re all excited to continue the conversations that started in our meetings, and to reconvene in Bologna again in two years’ time for our next ‘summit’. I also popped along to the Egmont stand where I spotted a proof of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow!  And last of all there was time to squeeze in a final gelato before heading to the airport.

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Arreverdeci Bologna – you were marvellous! I hope I’ll be back again next year.