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.