Monday, January 12, 2009
What James has been doing while I have been painting
While I have been working on Starlight, and also before I settled to work on it with any degree of concentration, James was busy too. I asked him to write a little of what he was up to.
WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING:
The photo shows me rehearsing with the de Haviland Philharmonic Orchestra in November last year for a concert called "Pictures at an Exhibition", in which I narrated and simultaneously illustrated Mussorgsky's music. I'm practising the final painting: The Great Gate of Kiev. Some of the pieces of music are very short though - not easy to paint Limoge Market...in 60 seconds! It's quite a thrill to be up on the stage surrounded by that music - but VERY scary! The concert went well - it was completely sold out - and there are plans for more...but it takes a hell of a lot of preparation, so I don't think a major career change is likely!
The conductor, Robin Browning, is a fantastic colleague. Previously we've collaborated on both Peter and the Wolf and The Firebird, both with live illustration. We feel passionately about presenting classics intact and in a true context. I think children just need a way in: some words, an image...it's enough to make a huge difference. It's such a shame so many people grow up assuming classical music is too highbrow. I enjoy all sorts of music, but I love the storytelling potential of music like "Pictures".
Following on from this is a new book, which, like Starlight, will be for Barefoot Books. The working title is Stories From The Orchestra. I hope to include around 8 stories made famous through music, mostly music children will recognise, but perhaps not know the story of. When I was a kid I'd hear bits of music, but the record sleeve only ever had the smallest hint of what the story was. This book will tell the complete stories and illustrate them thoroughly, so I hope it will become a good reference book when introducing kids to certain pieces. So I have been incredibly busy reading, reading, reading...researching. I love doing this, opening doors, discovering stories, music, composers...and developing new passions and obsessions. I'm currently in love with the Finnish Kalevala, which inspired Sibelius' tone poems, like The Swan of Tuonela. Fabulous stuff!
Meanwhile I have a NEW STUDIO in the garage, rather more practical (and certainly warmer) than "the hut" I've used for the last seven years. Now I have running water, a phone, computer connection...a bit more space for STUFF (which is my downfall). Of course I can't find a thing at the moment, and nothing is organised yet. But it's starting to feel like I might be able to work here.
Apart from orchestras, the latest Ella Bella book (Cinderella) has gone off for proofing and I'm now working on a new "Katie" book ("Katie & The Waterlily Pond"), focusing on just Monet. Meanwhile the projected Katie TV series with New Moon Television, is still "In Development" (Chickens definitely not counted there). Beyond that I have "Ella Bella and Swan Lake" to write. Lovely projects, all of them.
It's easy to see why people think I'm a bit "highbrow" with all these cultural subjects, but of course I'm not - just ask Jackie! It's such a joy to work with her on a book like Starlight, which is very genuinely child-centric, and allows me to express another side of me as a writer. Above all it is such an honour to be bound together with Jackie's wonderful illustrations. I always try to write texts that allow scope for an illustrator to take wing. Not all illustrators seize the opportunity but Jackie - in "Can You See A Little Bear?" and now in "Starlight" does this brilliantly, making the words her own and creating a world that we can step into and be deliciously lost in. It's been a tough process for her (and just a bit nerve-wracking for me!!!) but I really admire her will-power and think it will pay of handsomely. This will be a glorious book.
Back to Jackie:
It would seem odd to comment on my own blog, so will do it here. Wow! Studio looks amazing and cosy and TIDY!
I can vouch for James not being highbrow. Well educated, inquisitive, talented and a great lover of cake, yes, as well as possessing a great and generous spirit and blessed with a lovely wife and a wonderful son, Gabriel ( who likes sausage dogs and is perhaps our best critic).
James has also worked on many books before with Barefoot.
And is a link to my other book there.
Not sure why it has been nerve wracking for James, me working on his text. Maybe it was the time I phoned up and said I couldn't do it? Maybe he has felt uncomfortable trapped between Tessa and myself when we disagree about images and words?