Illustration and Early Book Planning: Rambling Thoughts


My old banner! An example of the printing on to acetate thing

When I was at art college studying illustration (and the fine art of travelling everywhere with a portfolio and one of those big plastic shoulder tube things full of paper) I used to create a lot of my work on acetate. I would use a photocopier to print my rough sketches directly onto acetate, and then paint in the colour with acrylic paint, much like you would on an old fashioned animation cell. I used to love working like this, because you’d get a wonderful contrast between the smudgy pencil designs (magically turned an inky, smoky black by the photocopier) and the solid, vibrant colour of the paint. I wish I’d spent more time working this way, because you can do some much with it and it pleased my inner animation geek, but the photocopiers in art colleges are expensive and complicated – honestly, the one we had looked like you could use it to remotely control the International Space Station – and I never quite mastered it to the extent that I wanted to.

Anyway, at the moment I’m planning the third book in the Copper Promise sequence. As usual this involves a lot of frantic scribbling in notebooks, brewing of pots of tea, creation of sprawling pinterest boards, and gormless staring out of windows. And it occurred to me that planning a book is a bit like the illustrations I used to make on acetate. When I start trying to put a book together, I have a lot of separate elements swirling around in my head – character relationships, new characters, new locations, new mythology – all sorts of bits and pieces. At this stage it can even include strong visual images that have popped into my head that I want to include, even if I’m not sure what they mean just yet; for example, when I wrote Bird and Tower, my weird YA book that is still mouldering on a memory stick somewhere, I had an image of a small child sound asleep next to a sleeping griffin. I didn’t know what it meant when I started the book, but I knew it was part of it.

All these different pieces, unconnected as yet, are like lines on separate pieces of acetate. I need to bring them all together and then start moving them around until the lines meet up and start to make sense. Does this line go next to this one, or does it cross over this other smudge? Perhaps I need to turn them all over and see them reversed? Eventually, all these pieces will start to fall into place and the bigger picture will emerge, and often that is the most enjoyable part of writing; when the lines come together just so and there is the story, suddenly so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it before.

The Joy of Books

It would be a bit of an understatement to say there has been a lot of talk about ebooks lately. Just yesterday I read a very interesting blog post about over at Angry Robot Books, by my good friend Adam Christopher:

I think they’re a neat idea. Certainly as someone who has more books than actual physical space in my flat, I can definitely understand the uses of being able to have many many books on one small device. They also look very cool and swish, and it appeals to my love for all of this fabulous new technology we have- I may not use half of it, but it pleases me that it exists.

So why then do I read these articles and nod happily and still know that I have absolutely no intention of getting an ebook reader? If anyone needs one, it’s me- my appetite for books is clearly obsessive, and the regular argument with my Mum about where I can possibly keep them all gets more heated every week (not that I live with her- I think it just annoys Mum that I sort of filled up her house with books and then left, and now I’m doing the same with my own place…).

But in truth, they leave me cold. And it comes from a real, genuine (possibly obsessive) love for the physicality of books. We all talk about the pleasure of browsing shelves and the smell of second hand book shops, but for me it’s more than that even. I like the shape of them, the weight, the smell. I like that I can shove them in my handbag (sometimes two or three if I dump the nonessential items, like keys and wallets) or read them in the bath. I like the fine cracked lines you get on the spine as you read them- and it is the lowly paperback I love most of all, believe it or not. I like that feeling you get when you emerge from the bookshop with a bag heavy with new reads, each one a little world of new stuff.

When I am feeling sad- and this is possibly the most embarrassing evidence of my unholy book-love- I like to sit by my bookshelves and look at them all. Reading the spines, pulling out the occasional title that I haven’t seen for a while, smelling them… This has actually been known to make me feel better. It calms my soul and reminds me that books make everything right with the world.

Perhaps this book-love has been expanded by a number of sources. I studied book arts at college, learning about the beauty of a well put together book, as well as how to make them myself. I have a degree in illustration, and I’ve never met an illustrator who didn’t have an expansive collection. And I work for a company that are utterly committed to producing gorgeous, hard back slip cased books the old fashioned way. When I was very small I once accidently tore the page of my library book and I was inconsolable (I know, weird kid).

It’s not just about the story for me. Books are pages and spines and pictures and inky print. Books are sacred objects. Books are art. I love my battered old paperback copy of Perdido Street Station just as much as my signed, slip cased first edition of The Graveyard book- they are equally romantic and beautiful for me.
I am not an ebook basher. I think it’s a neat idea, I really do. But I cannot love them like I love the printed page.