Delighted to have illustrated this lovely tale about ‘Elf for Christmas’ written by Sarah Greenwell. Such a treat! You can find it in Waterstones, Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, Selfridges, John Lewis and more and it is also available in Australia!
Officially terrible at blogging! Still here’s some stuff from 2016!
Life has been a little crazy lately, in an amazing way, and I’ve COMPLETELY let blogging fall by the wayside during the time. Sorry! Now I have a few mins, I thought I’d do a nice little round-up of June and July!
June: Photography Exhibition Launch, Ireland and beginnings of design range.
At the start of June, I was already pretty busy, but when the opportunity came up to participate in a photography exhibit with lots of other amazing artists, I couldn’t say no! The exhibition was launched on 16th June at POD, Bishop Auckland, a really exciting new emerging art space and gallery, and runs through til mid August.
The whole process was a big learning curve for me, as I’ve never printed, framed and hung an exhibit before! It was complicated by a delivery mix-up by my courier too, but Tim Scott at POD generously re-printed all my pieces the night before hanging day to save me! So well appreciated.
The opening night was lovely, and the exhibited was formally opened by the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, with quite an amazing turnout of people. Here are a few snaps….
Amazing crowd at the opening…
I also took the chance to quickly pull together a few greeting card designs for this event. I have plans to develop a LOT more design stuff soon, but thought I’d get a few done in time to share here. A greeting card buyer was gracious enough to share lots of hints and tips with me, which I’ve noted down in my wee book ready for the next round of designing. You can find my existing stuff in my etsy store.
Another cool thing that rounded off the end of June was that Tea People, a fine tea company I founded with my friends Neeraj and Vishaka Agarwal, was selected to win ‘Small Business Sundays’, meaning lots of exposure. Tea People exists to raise funds for children, especially girls, who need help with their education. We aim to reach tea-growing regions of the world, and have started with Darjeeling. Here’s some of our gorgeous new packaging, a collaborative effort between my talented illustrator friend Maria Amelia Randall and myself. The Agarwals do all the heavy lifting with Tea People really, so it’s always encouraging when we get these wee boosts to keep us going.
Apart from all this, I also managed to tour Ireland for a week in a car with our dear friends The Whites- 6 of us in a car. Such a needed and inspiring rest/breather in between several weeks of non-stop work, and Dublin, of course, always breathes new artistic ideas into me.
July: The BIG NEWS!
July finally saw the fruition of months of hard work, because my book collaboration with author Carly Brown, finally hit the shops! ‘I Love St Andrews‘ is a 64-page illustrated book, celebrating everything there is to love about St Andrews in Scotland, a town I called home for 10 years before moving to England. Carly and I both traveled to St Andrews to launch the book during the British Open Championship (the golf!). In fact, my car was practically scraping along the ground from Durham to Scotland as i temporarily transported my life back up north for a few weeks. We could not have been more delighted with the support we received. We’ve had so many lovely letters from fans of the book, and nice comments. I wasn’t expecting so many people to say they were moved to tears! Waterstones gave us an ENTIRE wall at the front of their store which is such a career goal for me that I almost passed out! J&G Innes, the local bookseller, supported us with SO MANY things. We were delighted to host our official launch there and break out the champagne gifted by the local wine sellers. One of the best things for me was that so many friends I hadn’t seen for AGES turned up to celebrate with us. It was so moving! I’m terrible at writing long descriptions but, again, here are some pics of us celebrating and signing books at various shops!
Carly in front of our Waterstones Wall
One of the best bits was sharing the celebrations with my super talented friend Maria Randall, who illustrated the amazing new book Little Tommy Morris, also launched this month! We used to sit at opposite ends of a dining table when we lived close to one another, sketching and planning our ideas, so what a thrill it was to see our books in shop windows side by side! I’m ridiculously proud of Maria and all she has achieved. She’s done more in one year than I did in 5!
In summary though, i have to say that i’m just so grateful for how well the last couple of months have gone after all the crazy hard work. I’ve been scribbling lots of thank you notes but i just wanted everyone reading this to know how grateful I am for all the support and comments. It really lifts my spirits to get your emails, FB messages, tweets and notes.
Much love to all my supporters near and far!
A few years ago, I was in charge of fundraising for a small charity started with friends, trying to keep 40 children in a foster home in southern India in housing and schooling. I had gotten involved in this project while making a documentary in India about the Indian Ocean Tsunami as part of a project with BBC Blast. I know it sounds cliche when people say ‘the experience helped me more than it helped them’, but in this case, that was genuinely true. I honestly felt touched by the open-hearted hospitality and giggles shared by those children, at a time in my life when I was otherwise a bit lost.
It was an amazing experience, and I never expected to come back to Scotland committed to fundraising for an entire foster home, but after seeing the problems (and potential solutions) and getting to know the kids personally, it was hard to say no. It was also a major blessing to me because, until that point, I’d been wondering whether I should stay in St Andrews and university in general, but this project gave me something to focus on, and I met so many new friends in Scotland by reaching out for help- It’s even how I met my husband!
Initially fundraising was easy as we were a new and exciting young charity, plus we had the support of a university student body on our doorstep. We raised over £25,000 really quickly, constructed a permanent home in south India and installed sanitation. We won a whole clump of awards too and it was an honour to accept BBC Citizen of the Year on live TV, but it was also a wildly bizarre time for me as I get so stressed out at public speaking and generally hate to be photographed! Another unusual thing that happened was that my dad was on a trip with us and was hit by a bus, breaking multiple bones and almost dying. Although he ended up recovering, it was genuinely awful but it interestingly raised our profile too and helped us raise more funds. Silver lining around every broken bone?
If there is one thing fundraising for a small charity forces you to become, it is entrepreneurial. Suddenly you’ll learn skills like soliciting sponsorship, writing grant applications and complex business plans, familiarising yourself with the legal process in two countries, planning large scale entertainment events to raise funds, designing products to sell- whatever it takes to come up with the money your charity needs! I know a ridiculous amount about Indian building regulations and construction in general now. In many ways, it’s just like being a mother. Whatever your kids need, you figure out how to make it happen, because the consequences of failure are too high. I have learned over time to roll with the punches and do what is needed, but I do still admit to being a little stressed out by business administration. It’s not my main skill set at all and, over time, it began to wear me down.
Along Came Kirsty
Around the time I realised we needed more help and support to succeed, a former teacher of mine introduced me to Kirsty. Her business is actually called “Along Came Kirsty” and I could not be more glad that she had come along at exactly that moment.
How can I describe the wonder that is Kirsty? The easiest way to describe her would be as a sort of fairy godmother for charities. Kirsty has a very refined set of skills and knowledge, acquired over a career of working to serve others. At the time we met, she was just making the move from North East England back to Dundee to set up her own venture for the first time, offering support to charities. We were insanely lucky to be chosen as one of Kirsty’s starter projects. She started alone and now has an entire team (pictured here in her signature colour).
The project itself was rather exciting. A local businesswoman had recently decided to close her bridal store to become a foster carer, and was offering to donate all of her leftover stock for us to sell for our charity- close to 150 wedding dresses. All we had to do was figure out a way to sell them all, and then we could use the funds for our kids in India. I put out a ‘call for help’ on Facebook and, before I knew it, was having Kirsty round for tea. She listened intently, offering lots of ideas and insights and we agreed on the spot to work together.
Now, anyone who has ever known a bride before knows that choosing a wedding gown is a very important matter and there is just one dream dress out there for each woman. Add to this the fact that we had only one size of each sample style, and it was taking a while to sell them all. However, throughout the whole process, Kirsty was completely unflinching in her commitment, despite the fact she had much bigger things underway over the same time period. One of the most impressive memories is when Kirsty and her team organised a whole special day for brides to come along, try on dresses, sip cocktails and meet other wedding suppliers. She was involved in quite a serious car accident the day before, losing some movement in her arm for a while, and still showed up on time, completed the event without complaining or evening mentioning her own pain. She was and remains a consummate professional.
Kirsty also organised PR stunts, a pop-up shop, online sales and so much more. She brought in staff, volunteers and even family members to hang, clean, label and categorise dresses, training everyone to help prospective brides try on gowns. Eventually, every single gown was sold and we celebrated as we packed the last gowns off to their new owners, eventually raising several thousand pounds for charity.
Kirsty and her team provided us with the kind of support that a lot of charities dream of finding. I still can’t believe my luck that ‘Along Came Kirsty’ came along at the perfect moment. The kind of work Kirsty is undertaking is part of a much bigger conversation about innovation in community development and the charity sector, and I feel really excited to have been around to witness the early days of Kirsty’s venture.
I am writing this post today because this week marks the third birthday of Along Came Kirsty, now a positively flourishing social enterprise and a force for good in the Dundee area and beyond. If you take a peep at the photo below, you’ll see just how amazing Kirsty’s fundraising efforts have been so far. Please join me in wishing everyone at ACK a ‘Happy Birthday’ by visiting their Facebook Page and leaving a little comment, or simply sending them an email.
Happy Birthday Along Came Kirsty– long may your success continue!
My little girl (2 years old) and I have a tradition that we started ourselves. Every month right after payday, we go to a book store together and pick out a picture book to add to our collection. Usually we choose paperbacks as they’re around £5-7 (or £1-3 if we go to the charity shops) but, if it’s been a special occasion, we sometimes double up and go for a nice hardback. It’s pretty much the only thing we spend disposable income on, as we’re saving up to adopt in the future. We’re building quite a collection so far…
I have a few illustrators I’ve adored for years and collected all their titles, even before I thought I’d be married and have kids (people like Oliver Jeffers). So, there’s nothing more exciting than finding a new illustrator I just LOVE, and sharing that experience with my wee girl. In January, we opted for the beautiful ‘Flora and the Flamingo’, by Molly Idle. This is a completely wordless tale of absolutely beauty that shows the friendship and dance moves of a little girl and a flamingo. It is drawn perfectly. Molly Idle worked at Dreamworks Animation studios before making books and I think it shows, especially in her use of light and colour. GO, treat yourself and check out her website now. All ‘Flora and the Flamingo’ images are Copyright Molly Idle.
As I’ve mentioned on these pages before, I have a book coming out soon. I Love St Andrews. There is SO MUCH to say about Carly Brown, but I’ll let you read her website. Needless to say, she has been such a joy to collaborate with. What follows here is an interview with Carly, who was questioned by our mutual friend, esteemed artist in her own right, Lydia Cruz.
Interview with Carly Brown
Q: This was your first collaborative writing experience. How did you meet Gillian? What were some of the benefits of collaborating with another artist? What were the challenges?
A: Gillian and I met in the best possible way: because of tea! Gillian ran a wonderful tea shop in St Andrews called Our Story, where I used to go all the time. My old flatmate, Stephanie, also worked on some designs for Gillian’s company Tea People. Stephanie told me about Gillian’s idea to create a book celebrating St Andrews. When I learned that Gillian was interested in having me write it, I was so flattered. From there, she and I began working on the project.
It has been great working with Gillian: she had a clear idea at the outset about what she wanted from the book and that made the writing process pretty straightforward. She thought it could be centered on the seasons and full of fun, quirky references that people who lived in the town would appreciate. I took those ideas and ran with them.
The challenges were mostly due to distance. In the last year, Gillian moved to Durham and I moved to Glasgow, so that’s made our collaboration more tricky. Lengthy Skype calls!
Q: You mention quite a few activities in the poem (flying kites, building sandcastles, a foam fight, carols at Holy Trinity, etc). Do you have any specific memories of doing these things that you would like to share in more detail?
A: Oh plenty! I’ve never actually built a sandcastle in St Andrews, but I’ve done almost all of the other things (except attend a fashion show, I’m embarrassed to say). The foam fight was fun, but what they don’t tell you is that the shaving cream really stings your eyes. Advice to Incoming Freshers: Wear Goggles!
I included Lade Braes Park because it’s one of my favorite places to walk and I think it’s underrated in St Andrews because of all our lovely beaches. I also liked singing Carols at Holy Trinity, listening to fiddle music (my favorite pub for that is The Whey Pat) and even wandering around at night alone, all of which are featured in the book.
Q: I find that part of editing my own writing—whether poetry or prose—involves reading the piece aloud to test the fluidity of the language. With your background as a performance poet, do you find that the sonic nature of words plays a large part in what you write, even if the poem is not intended as a performance piece?
A: Definitely. I wanted to stick to a (fairly) strict meter with the poem, so reading aloud really helped me to make sure that I was keeping to that. I also wanted the book to be fun to read aloud as well, so I tried to pick words that had a jaunty, sing-song-y quality.
My friend Laala, a poet and journalist from Bahrain, helped me to edit the book and I would read the poem aloud while she pounded out beats on my kitchen table, to make sure it was in the correct rhythm. It sounds silly, but it helped!
4. Though you’ve had your eye on publishing as an eventual goal, it is in the realm of performance poetry where you’ve had the most exposure, having performed regularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as at the World Series of Slam Poetry in Paris last year. Now, I Love St Andrews will be your second book in under a year. Did you expect that you would jump into the world of publishing so soon? Has this affected your trajectory as a writer? If so, how?
I certainly did not expect to have two books coming out within the span of one year! Both books were the results of collaborations with two talented artists and I feel very fortunate indeed to have worked with them.
I’m not sure how it has affected my trajectory as a writer. I suppose time will tell! Overall, I intend to just keep writing as much as I can, as often as I can.
5. Are there any authors that have been especially influential in your writing? Any particular books?
In terms of children’s books, my absolute favorite is Dr Seuss (particularly The Lorax). He is just such an agile, hilarious, clever and poignant writer. Growing up, I loved authors like Louis Sachar (Holes), Lemony Snicket, J.K Rowling, Roald Dahl and Lois Lowry. I also read a LOT of Emily Dickinson. She’s the one who really ignited my love of poetry.
6. Do you have any other projects in the works?
I’m currently on the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. I’m more interested in prose than poetry. Last term, I focused on short stories and I’m currently submitting to literary magazines. One story is set in a dystopian version of Las Vegas. Another is a non-fiction piece about my first winter in St Andrews.
‘m also working on a novel for middle-grade readers at the minute so finishing that up will be my next big project.
When I first moved to St Andrews, I met a great family called the MacLeods. Their youngest son Somerled was around 3 years old and had a reputation for being probably the boldest and most lively child in all of St Andrews. I really enjoyed so many fun times babysitting Somerled and his sisters, Isabelle and Christina. Such a fine bunch of talented kids.
I’ve always harboured a desire to set up a really hospitable community space that encourages creativity and have been involved in lots of things along those lines over the years, including setting up a short term story-themed cafe in St Andrews called Our Story. One day, Somerled (now aged 7) came into the shop and proudly proclaimed that he had written a book called ‘Super Penguins‘ and asked if we would publish it and host a book launch for him. I admired Somerled for his bravery and his entrepreneurial streak- only a small child could be so fearless!
No matter who I’m trying to help with anything, I think the most important thing is to try and empower that person to stand on their own two feet as much as possible, to listen to what they say and to support them to take the lead in their own endeavours. People need to be nurtured and hear someone say ‘yes’ to their crazy big ideas. You can always deal with the practical challenges and limits as you go along. So, who cares if you are 7 years old- you want to publish a book? You find a way.
Somerled’s first challenge was finding the money to print his books. He decided he would like to make 20 copies and we found a printers that could make them for around £50-£60. We discussed at length lots of ideas for how you could turn a small amount of money into a bigger amount and he decided the best thing was to create a ‘Super Penguins‘ colouring sheet and make photocopies. He sold each colouring sheet for £1, which would also gain the buyer entry into the great colouring competition (for which we donated a prize). Somerled is a natural salesman and, in no time at all, he had the £60 he needed to get printing. All that was left to do was finish the drawings and send it off for printing.
The big book launch day arrived and the entire room was packed. Somerled had even taken time to invite Queen Elizabeth who sadly couldn’t make it, but she did send him a congratulatory letter. Of course, ‘Super Penguins‘ sold out and Somerled was able to re-invest some of his profits into producing ‘Super Penguins 2: Super Penguins in Space‘. He got other children interested in writing too and later attended writing workshops for children in our next pop-up cafe to share his story.
This whole story makes me wonder whether we could be doing a bit more to support children in their creative pursuits. Not everyone wants to work in the arts, but I do strongly believe that developing creativity is an asset in any field, essential for leadership development, and personal confidence. It doesn’t have to be high-budget stuff either, it can be as simple as making up stories together. Whenever I’m anxious to start something, don’t feel good enough or feel unsure, I think of Somerled and his Super Penguins.