Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SPRINGY CHICKEN AND THE ART OF WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING PICTURE BOOKS FOR CHILDREN




By Isabel Atherton

Illustrated by Bethany Straker


It is a pleasure to have a successful children’s book team with us, in the persons of author Isabel Atherton (who also happens to be my literary agent-extraordinnaire) and illustrator Bethany Straker. 


A few months ago we talked to them after the publication of their adult picture book, ZOMBIE CAT, which has gone on to develop cult status. Now they have followed their success up with a string of children’s books.


We’ll talk about a few of them. First up we have SMELLY GHOST.



In Spooky Town, there live many ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, and scary creatures. However, none of these creepy characters wants to play with a particular ghost—Smelly Ghost. The reason is simple: Smelly Ghost only consumes frightening junk food. He devours bone chips, chocolate toes, and eyeball pizza. Sadly, these foods make his tummy growl and yell—keeping everyone far, far away. Devastated, Smelly Ghost wonders why no one wants to be his friend.

The story is exciting and has a message.


The West Uist Chronicle gives this book an unreserved ***** rating. So too, did my granddaughter, which is quite an accolade in itself.

So now, here are the creators to tell us about themselves and about their collaboration.

Welcome, ladies.

Isabel, tell us a little about yourself and your background.


 Isabel Atherton

Hello Keith! Thanks so much for inviting us to talk about our work. A little bit about myself – well, I’ve been in publishing for nearly a decade. I’ve been running my own agency Creative Authors Ltd (www.creativeauthors.co.uk) for over six years. I relocated to New York City last year and live in a 188 year old apartment in the Village, which I feel I am always cleaning. I also have a little black pug called, Rosie, who sleeps on me as I work. I thoroughly enjoy exploring the city with her. Being in NYC has been brilliant for the agency and my clients, who are based all over the world.


Bethany, give us the lowdown on yourself.



 Bethany Straker

Hi Keith! Thanks for having us! I’m an illustrator based in deepest Kentish countryside, and I’ve worked on a range of materials from picture books to magazines. I mostly work with humorous subject matters as I think my main style fits best with that and I like making people laugh. I do have a softer side though, and have worked with the talented author, Rose Mannering, on a sweet watercolour picture book called ‘The Spotty Dotty Daffodil’. I’ve also worked with the wonderful writer Kate Ormand on a picture book about recycling, called ‘Pierre the French Bulldog Recycles,’ so both of those have a more serious theme. Teaching children is an important part of my work, and I’ve worked with the super brainy James Duffett-Smith on space themed books, notably an educational book about planets called ‘Stella and Steve Travel Through Space.’ I have also written my own stories which are due to be published soon.



Their second book was SPRINGY CHICKEN. It too is funny, witty and beautifully illustrated. Again, it is a ***** rating from us.



Martha’s the tallest chicken on the farm—and it’s not because she hit a growth spurt. Unfortunately, instead of normal chicken legs to hold her up, Martha’s legs are two giant yellow springs. After a run-in with a nasty fox, the farmer does the best he can to fix poor Martha, but it just isn’t the same. Now, she’s too tall to fit inside the chicken coop like all the other hens, her eggs are always smashed and scrambled since she’s so high off the ground, and it’s difficult to maneuver such big legs without stepping on a few toes and ruffling some feathers. But when the fox comes back, can Martha and her spring-legs muster the courage to save the day? Will that be enough for the brood to welcome her back?



Isabel, where do you get your ideas from? And can you give us an insight into how you write your books?
I was actually having lunch two years ago with our editor at Sky Pony and she mentioned she really wanted a book about a chicken. I said to her I would give writing a script a whirl. There were two drafts from memory. One was quite sentimental and the other one (the one we ended up running with) was incredibly quirky. What I described to Beth as a chicken sort of meets Edward Scissorhands. Beth, who was on honeymoon at the time, (she is an incredibly hardworking writer and illustrator) came back and said she preferred the more quirky one. So we went with a chicken with springs for legs! I’ll always talk to the illustrator to hear their thoughts. It really is a 100% collaboration. Beth is simply awesome to work with – she totally gets my sense of humour.


Bethany, these illustrations are spectacular. How did you go about deciding how to illustrate your books? And can you give us a typical day for you?

Thanks Keith, that’s very kind! I think ‘Springy Chicken’ is amongst my strongest work. I find that as time has gone on I have grown in confidence and that has reflected in my work. My illustrations start off with a lot of talking to the author. Isabel and I are a great team, and we often have a huge amount of excitable chatter before we begin work on the illustrations! Isabel will tell me her vision for the characters, and the type of mood she would like to get across. Then I submit some character sketches to her, and we tweak until we are happy.

A typical day for me starts quite early. I like to have a good breakfast with my husband before he goes to work, and then I feed the dog and rabbit and get myself settled. I find it harder to work when the place is untidy, so normally I’m tinkering around the house before starting. Then I’ll put some music on, probably sing along very loudly and start on a spread. I’ll do a few thumbnails first, but not too many as I find my best work is spontaneous. Then I’ll start scribbling.


And coming up in September is RUBY MOO’S DEEP-SEA ADVENTURE. This looks like a real fun adventure.

Ruby Moo has always been different from the other cows. She isn’t content making yogurt, milk, and cheese on the dairy farm. Ruby wants to be an astronaut, an explorer, and, more than anything, she wants to be the first cow deep-sea diver. So one day, brave Ruby Moo stows away on a van and rides it all the way to the ocean. Borrowing a helmet, she dives right into the water and discovers an exciting shipwreck along with a scary, giant squid! Thankfully, the squid is only looking for a chess partner—and maybe someone to play with on his trampoline. Phew!


Isabel, what else have you got in the pipeline? Do you have any plans for a further adult picture book? Is Zombie Cat going to rise again?

Good question, Keith! I am asked this often. Zombie Cat may well rise again at some point in the future. I think, at present, I really want to carry focusing on building Creative Authors Ltd in New York. I’ve been getting some wonderful deals in for my clients and want to continue building both the UK & US side of the agency.



Bethany, what else are you working on?

I’ve just finished work on an adult picture book, called ‘Why Am I Scared of Everything?’ which I wrote and illustrated. Anxiety is something that’s close to my heart, having suffered from it myself. I wanted to create a book that addresses it, but makes the reader laugh in recognition and hopefully find some reassurance in the pages. There are inspiring quotes to contrast the character’s suffering, and to remind us that some things can be overcome.

I am also awaiting the release of several new books, including a second that I’ve written, this time for children, called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly.’ This one concerns a weird little creature who spreads illness by swimming around in dog poo. It’s a cautionary tale about washing your hands!

At the moment, I’m working on a knock-knock jokebook for Skyhorse, and a new pitch with Rose Mannering, which we are very excited about. I also tried my hand at illustrating a great new humorous history book, called ‘Faux Figures: Legends, Fakes, and Phonies Who Changed History’ by Brianna DuMont. So I’m pretty busy at the moment.




Ladies, it has been a pleasure. We wish you the greatest of success with Zombie Cat – and will be looking out for your next work.


Thanks so much, Keith!! Isy

Thanks Keith! Beth





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