Wow! it seems I’ve had a six month blogging hiatus without even noticing. But I’m back soon, with a new post in tubes. And news of work and other things…
It’s been a while since I shared any pictures from my Scarlett Hart sketchbook. I don’t mind admitting that this project is pushing me to the limit of my drawing, though that can only be a good thing. And unsurprisingly, drawing the girl herself — making her move, speak and leap about as if she’s a real living character — is the greatest challenge of all. As a result, my sketchbook is full of drawings like this:
And of course, she isn’t just a head and shoulders. How can she be, with monsters to fight and a sports car to drive?
My current challenge is getting her into convincing backgrounds. More about that next time.
With the contract signed and the stars in alignment, I’m delighted to announce that my trenchcoat-wearing teenage psychic detective, Dan, will be back for a third spook-busting instalment sometime next year. With his almost dependable invisible sidekick, Simon, Dan will be facing his greatest trial yet as he goes up against a poltergeist that has taken over London’s mighty new skyscraper, the Shard.
I’d like to say that no fictional representations of expensive construction projects were damaged during the creation of this book, but that wouldn’t be true. There are explosions. Lift shafts become death traps. Lightning and freak weather feature prominently. Of course, Dan takes all this in his stride. Well, almost…
At the end of it all, there’s a 400 hundred-year-old super-charged ghost to contend with. Not to mention a cheesy TV mystic and his film crew, flying kitchen knives and office hardware, a little girl with a terrible destiny, and something uncanny that lurks in the bins. Oh, and there’s a helicopter too. And slugs.
As ever, there will also be drawings, and I’ll be sharing some of them here as I go. In the meantime, I’d better send the first draft in to my editor, slugs and all.
I’m delighted to announce that today is the official publication date of my latest picture book, Too Many Tickles. As several people have already pointed out, the book has actually been popping up around the place for a couple of weeks, but today it’s official. Too Many Tickles is being well backed by UK retailers, and can be found in a number of supermarkets, so it’s having a strong start. I trust I don’t need to tell you what the book’s about.
This is a poignant moment as well, because this is one of the last texts I worked on with my former agent, the late Rosemary Canter. It’s good to see it finally work through the tubes, and hit the shelves. I’m also especially pleased with the illustrations, by the talented Penny Dann, which give the book a fresh and vibrant look for the youngest readers. As I used to illustrate my own picture books, I’m always slightly nervous about someone else handling this side of things now, but Penny’s style is a perfect match.
Anyway, happy book birthday! And if you’re good enough to buy a copy, I hope it makes you smile.
It’s time for another sneaky peak into my Scarlett Hart sketchbook, this time looking at a few of the monsters our heroine will have to face. A monster hunter wouldn’t be much without something to hunt, after all. And there’s no doubt that the easiest and most joyful aspect of this project for me will be drawing the beasties. Here are just three, starting with a demon dog from folklore, Black Shuck:
With a massive body (modelled on a hyena), fire-red eyes, and coils of steamy breath, we’re about as far from Cruft’s as we can be. He’ll have to be black, obviously. Like a cinder from Hell’s furnace.
But Scarlett doesn’t only face danger on the land. She’ll have to swim with caution in waters infested with this:
So, that’s danger on the ground and in the sea, but what’s in the air? Well, gargoyles, that’s what. Lot’s of gargoyles:
Made of stone, even in motion, these animated church adornments shatter pleasingly when Scarlett fires her blunderbuss. But don’t be standing too close when they do – being packed with yellow-hot sulphurous fire they are liable to explode like the Devil’s own firecrackers.
Lots more monsters to come soon.
Like all great heroes, Scarlett Hart has a sidekick, though I’m sure Napoleon himself would eschew such a description (as well as use words like ‘eschew’). This faithful manservant of Scarlett’s father is now her guardian – an avuncular yet grave presence in her life, with a role that hovers somewhere between butler, bodyguard and big brother.
In early sketches, I saw Napoleon as a dismal figure, the kind of grim personage who appears — guttering candle in hand — in Hammer Horror films, when the lost lovers pull the bell-cord of ‘the old place in the woods’.
Checking in with Marcus though, it seemed he was writing the character much more warmly than that, and while ‘lugubrious’ and ‘aloof’ where keywords used, so was ‘loveable’. A little mental re-arranging suggested that a combination of Stephen Fry as Jeeves and John Steed from the New Avengers should fit the bill nicely.
With Marcus happy and Napoleon coming to life, I then had to tackle the thorny problem of drawing Napoleon’s hat. And specifically, drawing it so that it looked like it was really on his head. After Dorothy’s wheels, Napoleon’s homburg is set to be the second most difficult thing to draw in this book (unless Marcus has written a horse into the story and not told me yet).
Napoleon is smartly turned out, old fashioned, protective and dependable. But in keeping with the gothic nature of this project, he can still find a certain dark glee in the work of a monster hunter’s assistant.
I don’t like drawing cars — they’re all straight lines and perspective. And symmetry. I really don’t like drawing symmetry. But Scarlett Hart needs a car (christened ‘Dorothy’ by the author, Marcus Sedgwick) so there’s no way to get away from it.
Here’s the first image I made of Dorothy — based on some photos of typical 1920s cars — which I made back in the initial thrashing out of this project:
It’s okay, but there was something about it that didn’t quite work for me, something that made it clear a lot more development would be needed. I just couldn’t put my finger on what. Before I could look into it, however, there were more practical things to worry about, such as Marcus’s need for Dorothy to have a boot (for monster hunting kit) and occasional third seat.
And it was at this stage that I realised what wasn’t working. Dorothy is supposed to be a sports car, but here was I drawing something rather stately and grand, the kind of automobile Bertie Wooster might roll up to the races in. What Scarlett needed was a set of wheels altogether more dynamic, more ‘animal’. It occurred to me that drawing Scarlett in the driving seat might be inspirational, and I came up with this:
I could see now that I had to ditch the straight lines I dislike so much (I’m stuck with the perspective and symmetry) and create a body shape for Dorothy that cried out power and speed, even in repose — a form that was full of latent force. Think how a Spitfire looks, even on the ground. Normal cars have a chassis and bodywork. What Dorothy needed was fuselage.
Add to this fatter, lower-slung wheels, a cockpit style windscreen, and rear mudguards, and now we’re in business. This is no aristocrat’s Sunday motor, this is a car Scarlett can chase demon hounds in, a car with a purr that becomes a roar and a cloud of dust, and then nothing. This is Dorothy.
Next time, Scarlett’s guardian/minder/major-domo, Napoleon.
As promised, here’s the first of a series of posts about sketching my way into my joint venture with Marcus Sedgwick – a comic book called Scarlett Hart.
As you can imagine, the most important character to get right is Scarlett herself, so even though Marcus is only just writing the text now, I’ve been filling a sketchbook with drawings of our beast-busting girl for some time. And this has proved to be largely an exercise in trying to uncover new ground in the small space remaining between Lara Croft, Buffy, and the dozens of more-or-less disposable redhead action heroines that turned up infuriatingly on Google.
Initially Scarlett had black hair, which seemed in keeping with the ‘Gothic Tintin’ strapline pinned to my wall like a totem. But red hair just turned out to be inevitable. What kind of hair, though? There was a pony tail phase…
… but that seemed wrong somehow. Though perhaps not quite as off-beam as the brief Madeleine Bassett mode she went through (well, this is the twenties, after all).
With Scarlett’s hair rapidly becoming an unexpected stumbling block, I decided – in consultation with Marcus — to just make it a shape. A bit like an apostrophe, but with an expressive tail. And while this seems vague, it’s actually just the kind of answer required, since this whole process is about finding a visual shorthand that will allow me to draw Scarlett hundreds of times, over the course of 160+ pages. And that curly tail can flame out during action scenes, or twist up or down with her mood. Scarlett’s answer to Tintin’s quiff.
Apart from being drawable again and again and again, our heroine’s appearance also needs to say ‘smart’, ‘puckish’, and ‘capable’. She should be cute, but only enough to make her appealing and sympathetic – I don’t want to undermine her credibility. There are guns, but only because there are monsters – she can floor some adversaries with verbal dynamite. It’s the twenties, but this sixteen-year-old can’t dress like a flapper to drive fast cars and rocket planes, can she? Clothes, however, haven’t been an issue, not since I found this fabulous photograph of Amelia Earhart (also pinned to my wall).
It’s still early days on this project, but I already feel I’m making progress. Next time: Dorothy – Scarlett’s sports car.
I was pleased to be able to attend the book launch of my good friend Julian Sedwick’s debut children’s novel on Friday, and a jolly fab evening it was too. The children’s department of Heffers in Cambridge is a great place to launch a book (I should know;-), and the shop was packed with well-wishers, old friends and one very deserving author. Julian made a great speech and signed lots of books, while the circus atmosphere was enhanced by his son, Will, who zoomed about on a unicycle.
I had planned to make a sketch or two, but what with the wine and the chat and everything, it didn’t happen. On the train journey home, I did have a go at a memory drawing of Julian’s speech…
Anyway, The Black Dragon – Book One in the Mysterium Trilogy – is a fine adventure story for 9-12 and up, and a perfect summer holiday read. Why not find out about it on Amazon before ordering a copy through your local bookshop? Or on Hive.co.uk? Or call Heffers where I believe there are some signed copies?