Here's Russell, our illustrator, at work on a poster for Mabel's flea circus. Working with Russell made everything easier than I'd thought it might be. I once did an article that involved talking to children's book editors, and so I already knew that publishers are really desperate to find good artists who can draw what they're asked in a lively, entertaining way. I'd also had two children's book texts optioned and paid for by publishers who then couldn't find artists to make the ideas work.
So when Frank had to pull out, we needed another illustrator, and I became quite fed up as I googled and searched through countless illustration websites. Apart from the already-famous (and eye wateringly expensive) ones, I seemed only to be finding static, stylised or cute work, which didn't really suit our needs.
Finally, Vanessa put out a Twitter alert to her many creative followers, and Russell was either recommended by someone or responded himself - I forget which. We loved the lively work on his website, and the fact that he's into graphic novels, but what really helped was how he quickly entered into the fantastical spirit of the children's world. And he could sketch anything, it seemed. Here, the six-limbed Edwardian flea called Scary Simon is seen doing a "wall of death" routine on a bike, in a teacup.Not something most illustrators are used to drawing, but we felt Russell got just the right lively look.
As the pictures came in, we saw that he'd added extra touches of his own. Some of these came in handy when we broke up blocks of text with details taken from the illustrations. Here is one of the flies paying a visit to Mabel's flea circus in Bermondsey. The children thought the flies ought to pay by bringing crumbs of food as payment for the show - like this.
At the end of the book, we've put a photo of all the children in the class. Russell decided to add some
life sized fleas into the group, as co-authors. It took me a while to notice, but I'm sure the kids will spot their new "classmates" immediately.
I'll certainly use Twitter again for finding creative people, and we already have another project in mind that we'd like to use Russell for. But first of course we have to get Mabel on the road. The launch party is in May. All the production is now complete, and we're now waiting for the proofs - exciting!
We don't plan to print very many paper books, as colour printing is so expensive. The children will each have their own copy, and we will sell some to the public, but we plan to make the whole thing downloadable, including the pictures, and it will also include Vanessa's instructions and advice for parents and educators who want to encourage their own kids to write creatively too. We really hope that some home educators and teachers will be interested enough to check it out. Will keep the blog updated so you know what's going on.