Friday, December 14, 2012

Playing The Ryman

The Ryman. Most famous former home of the Grand Ole Opry. The stage musicians long to play on.


Musicians say when they Play the Ryman--(because you don't "play at the Ryman", you "play the Ryman")--no matter how famous they are--they are without fail humbled. Humbled thinking about all legends who have trod the same boards before them. Legends including Elvis, Johnny Cash (who met his wife June Carter for the first time back stage at the Ryman), Patsy Cline. They all played the Ryman.

Emmy Lou Harris, Neil Young, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay have all played the Ryman.

And now me. Yes, I "Played the Ryman."


Last December around this time, I found myself sitting on that same legendary stage looking out at the audience--sitting among my wonderfully talented musician friends--and having really no idea how I got there. I'm a children's book writer. This is not part of what we do.

And yet--there I was "Playing the Ryman." (I was not singing you'll be relieved to hear--just reading from my books). I was honored to be part of Andrew Peterson's moving BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD Christmas concert.

And here I am back again for another year. Thanks to Andrew. And I can't wait.

(And I'll still be pinching myself.)

(And sending photos to prove it to you--but mostly to prove it to me.)


Monday, December 10, 2012

"Song Of The Stars"

And high above a single star set in the highest heavens shone out brighter than all the others and poured down silver onto the little shed... "A Light to light up the whole world". {Song of the Stars}

When Zondervan asked me to write a Christmas picture book, my first thought was Oh no! There are so many Christmas picture books out there already. How can I make one that’s different.

And I wondered— how can I catch the reader by surprise with this magnificent, familiar story?

And suddenly I was a child again in Africa full of excitement and longing and wonder.

Christmas was coming. There was no snow on the rooftops. The evenings weren’t closing in. But Christmas was coming.

I was a little pale blond English girl living in a world surrounded by nature and by animals who had no argument with their maker.

Romans 8:19 speaks of “all of Creation longing.” The Psalms tells us that the created order now declares the glory of God (Psalm 19 & 65).

And I began to wonder: when Jesus came, did Creation sense it? It would not be surprising if they did—since they now declare the glory of God, since they long for him. I started imagining the animals and the stars sensing and rejoicing in the coming of Jesus.

When the one who made them came to earth, maybe they knew—though we didn’t.

When the promised gift, the long-awaited one—at last breaks into history—when he at last comes down into his world it is as a glorious surprise.

When Heaven kisses earth. When God becomes man.

Because every Christmas story comes as a gift—and a surprise after longing.

Different that we expected. More than we hoped. Just what we need.

And full of wonder.

"Song of the Stars" is mine.

My hope is that it will perhaps capture something of that wonder.  That we would long for him, the way Creation longs for him. And most of all, that he would find room in our hearts—that he would be born again in our hearts this Christmas.


Monday, September 17, 2012

what part is work?

Having just come back from almost two months of traveling all around (some of it working, some of it not so much) it was a bit of a shock to come back and face Sitting-at-a-Desk Work (as opposed to Galavanting-Around Work).

Imagine my joy at finding this quote... but all joking aside, this is seriously true. I believe every word. You must fight for this every day. 

"It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications." 

Anais Nin

Illustration is by Jago from our new book THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING coming in October. It shows Polzeath Beach in Cornwall, near where Jago lives. It just so happens to be one of my most favorite places in all the world. I've been going there on holiday since I was tiny. How cool is that? 

Illustration copyright 2012 by Jago

Sunday, September 2, 2012

She's not sick, she's a dancer

Picasso said all children are born artists. But we don't grow out of creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson. We are educated out of it.

Here's Sir Ken Robinson at TED being very funny and very right about creativity... and the education system that has us believing maths is more important than dance...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Paring away, simpler and simpler

Dick Bruna's drawings of Miffy only allow for very miniscule changes to indicate emotions--the position of eyes, the length of the ears, the shape of the mouth.
"That's all you have. With two dots and a little cross I have to make her happy (...) or a little bit sad--and I do it over and over again. There is a moment when I think yes, now she is really sad. I must keep her like that."
He is constantly paring away, distilling down to the simplest purist form possible. When he draws Miffy crying, for instance, he says, "I very often start with three or four tears. I take away one, and the next day I take away another one, and at the end I have one tear, and that's very, very sad."

Georges Simenon wrote to him and said: "I see that you are trying to make your covers still simpler and simpler. You are doing the same in designing as I try to do in writing."
It might take him a day to draw a single illustration of Miffy.

<note: I'm going to take an entire month off from blogging... so, see you back in september!>

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dick Bruna and Miffy

I love Miffy. She is so simple. And I know what that means--there's a huge amount of work that got her to look that simple.

Dick Bruna, the creator of Miffy said:

"I would love to be able to draw like a child, so spontaneous, so open-minded on those big sheets. As an adult you start to draw and then hope that you make something good, something beautiful. A child is not like that, they start and see what happens... I draw things you will see close to home, things that I also like. Maybe I still think a bit like a child, I have a childish mind, I think. There are a lot of things I don't understand." 

Dick Bruna (b.1927 in Utrecht)
One wet and windy seaside holiday, he drew a story for his son, Sierk. It was about a little white rabbit called Miffy. His first Miffy children's book looked like this (1957):
By 1963 she looked like this:
I love his simple daily routine--he is a multi-millionaire mogul (over 85 millions books sold in over 40 languages) and yet this is his day (as simple and distilled as his art) every day he gets up at 5, squeezes a glass of orange juice for his wife Irene, draws her a picture about things she has done, or reminders of things she is planning to do. hHe cycles to Utrecht canals and goes to a cafe for coffee. Works in his studio. Cycles home for lunch. Back to the studio in the afternoon to do admin work.

Miffy is 50 now--and to celebrate, a museum was opened in her honor. The Dick Bruna Huis.

Monday, July 16, 2012

famous naps and nappers





Do you feel sleepy? Seeing all those famous nappers napping?

Do you nap?

I do. Sometimes. But i'm not very good at it. Maybe I could get good.

Salvador Dali said napping was the secret of why he was such a great painter--he performed the "slumber with a key" trick. The micro nap. To do this he sat in a chair with a heavy key in his left hand (held between thumb and forefinger). A plate would be placed upside down under that hand. When the key slipped from his finger, the plate would ding and he'd wake up.

He learned this from some monks and also Einstein napped this way too. 

Scientists say that these brilliant men had unknowingly taken advantage of what is called the "hypnogogic" nap which is when the mind--before it reaches stage 2 sleep--unlocks free flowing creative thoughts.

Sorry I have to go immediately and find a key and a plate.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Picture books and Margaret Wise Brown

"A book should try to accomplish something more than just to repeat a child's own experiences. One would hope rather to make a child laugh or feel clear and happy-headed as he follows a simple rhythm to its logical end, to jolt him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar; and perhaps to lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoe laces that won't tie and busy parents and mysterious clock time into the world of a bug or a bear or a bee or a boy living in the timeless world of story." Margaret Wise Brown


This was 1935 and it was brand new stuff for picture books. Before Margaret Wise Brown, the picture book had been dominated by fairytales and fables. Margaret Wise Brown's focus on a child's every day life dignified children's own lives and was a game changer--it changed children's literature and the picture book for ever.

And it was fed by her work as a teacher at the progressive Bank Street Experimental School in New York City, where she listened to children and heard their stories and how they spoke.
It's what makes her voice so distinctive. I love her titles: The Noisy Book, The Important Book, Another Important Book. They're still fresh today. How radical they must have been then.

She was a pioneer. She fought for keeping big words in her books, refusing to dum down the language. She fought to get authors and illustrators proper royalties and fought to get the illustrator the same royalties as writer. (Before they had only received a flat fee.) 

What would you spend your first royalty check on? She spent hers on a cart full of flowers. How wonderful. Then she invited all her friends over for a party to help her enjoy them. What style! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

what's it about--the story or the writer?

Margaret Wise Brown loved reading as a child and remembered all the stories she read but none of the authors. 


"It didn't seem important that anyone wrote them. And it still does seem important. I wish I didn't have ever to sign my long name on the cover of a book and I wish I could write a story that would seem absolutely true to the child who hears it and to myself."

It's as if the story is timeless. It just is. You as the writer were lucky enough to find it. You were available and it came through you. You were that person on whom nothing was lost. But it's all about the story and not about you, the writer. The writer is simply the servant to the story. If it at any point the story becomes the servant of the writer--if it becomes about you then you can be certain of one thing: you're in the way--and the story can't get through. And it won't be as good.

In the end the job of the writer is to be available, then get out of the way and let it go.

Margaret Wise Brown's two classics THE RUNAWAY BUNNY (1942) and GOODNIGHT MOON (1947) (both illustrated by Clement Hurd) are not only still in print--they are still bestsellers.
She led an adventurous life: dating the prince of spain, hosting parties in her Upper East Side apartment, generally being a stunning New York Socialite. 

 Here's what The Writers' Almanac wrote:

"Brown never had children herself, but she worked with young children as a teacher in a progressive education program at the Bank Street Experimental School. She was also a New York socialite — tall and strong, with blond hair and bright green eyes. She dated the prince of Spain and loved to host parties in her Upper East Side apartment. She spent her first royalty check buying an entire cart's worth of flowers, and often took the proceeds from a book and purchased a ticket to France or a new car.

"She died suddenly at the age of 42, energetic and adventurous up to the end. She was on a book tour in Europe when she was stricken with appendicitis and had an emergency appendectomy. She seemed to be recovering well, and she decided to show her doctor how good she felt — so she kicked up her leg in the can-can. It caused an embolism, and she died immediately."

Monday, June 25, 2012

hermes handbags, handbag shops + handbag friends

I believe that Hermes may well be copying me.

They are.

Here's a page from Sue Heap and my HANDBAG FRIENDS:
and here--from a recent exhibition in London, "Leather Forever"--is this picture: "Kelly Neon" sculpture by Alexandra Plat in the "variations on Kelly and Birkin" room.
Need I say more?

Yes I do.

Because you see when the former King of England, the Duke of Windsor, went shopping in Paris, looking for a gift for Wallace, the vendeuse suggested gloves. The duke said, "My wife already has a wheelbarrow of gloves!" So Hermes made just that--a leather wheelbarrow to store her accessories. (This was 1947.)

Here again is a page from our book:
Look closely. What exactly are those princesses carrying their accessories in??? None other than... A wheelbarrow! (You may be saying ah yes, but your story was written way later, way after 1947 so how could they be copying you? And you are right when you are saying that--but written down doesn't mean it didn't happen way before that date. Which of course it did because it is a fairystory and those kinds of stories don't ever date. In fact they are timeless.)

I rest my case. 

You see, children's books are influential--clearly they are upstream from fashion. Indeed so far upstream are they, that they are upstream even from Hermes.

And now since that is such a large fact to take in, we may need to take a breather. So what better way to close this handbag bulletin than with a song--and a Handbag Song at that:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Knowledge, method & the one essential thing:

A E Housman was a poet and classical scholar and he said this (which has to be one of my most favorite professorial pieces of advice) (and because he was a poet and a classical scholar--indeed, counted by some as one of the greatest scholars of all time--it is extra weighty and wise and worth taking to heart, I feel):

"Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all other is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders and brains, not pudding, in your head."

You can't disagree with that. And I for one--I am going to do my best to follow it. (Although trying to follow it on a day when you wake up with a pumpkin for a head and pudding for brains is tricksy. Nevertheless.)

Housman published two books of poetry in his lifetime. One of them was the 63-poem cycle A SHROPSHIRE LAD (1896) which has these beautiful lines:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide."

--A E Housman (1859-1936)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ahoy! (or how to answer a phone)

If Alexander Graham Bell had had his way, we'd be answering our iPhones like sailors, and shouting, "AHOY!"

If only it had caught on.

Thomas Edison, his competitor, preferred Hello.

Thomas Edison on the phone, August 31, 1914

Apparently there was this How To section in early telephone books and it recommended "Hello" (except it called it "a hearty 'hulloa' ") which is why Hello caught on and not AHOY. But then again, that same how to section recommended "That is all!" rather than goodbye and look how far that got.

Of course in The Simpsons, Mr Burns is usually heard answering the phone with"Ahoy-hoy" which is another interesting fact.

And speaking of interesting facts, I just discovered: English is the only language where the proper greeting for the phone has now become the proper one for a face-face greeting.

OK you'll be relieved to know...



Monday, May 14, 2012

To be creative 1st create an Oasis of Quiet

What Cleese says is so practical and true. It's all about how to be playful."Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating."

We need:
--quiet space, undisturbed (locality: secluded)
--for a specific period of time (duration: limited)

what are your tips and tricks for inspiring creativity?

We have to work to get play back into our lives.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Breaking Free: Improvisation, Writing, Denyse Schmidt

I had never quilted in my life and here I am going to an improvisational quilting workshop run by possibly quilting's biggest star--Denyse Schmidt. 


What was I thinking? 


Well, Denyse is my dear friend, and she said it would be great for anyone not just sewers or quilters. Neither of which I am.

Most workshops you go to to learn something right? Not this one. You unlearn. And that's what makes it so great.
And it's also what makes it an amazing workshop for writers--or anyone in a creative field. Because it's all about freeing yourself from "the rules" -- "the right way" to do something, "the wrong way" to do it -- freeing yourself from all the second-guessing... breaking free of habits and fears. It's about discovering, exploring, experimenting. And most of all trust. Not knowing what is going to happen next. 

In short, this workshop is all about unlearning. And it's fabulous. 

(Time Out write an article about the workshops: here)

There were three bags of scraps to choose from: small pieces, medium pieces, large pieces. One at a time we chose a piece blindly and sewed it to the next piece we drew out of the bag.

The only rules:
--you have to use what you grab, even if you hate the color and you are certain it will ruin everything

--you have to choose the path of least resistance (don't get fancy--match the piece to the other piece the obvious way)

the sewing machines we used:
It was exhilarating because you were not "in control" and you didn't know what would happen next. But miraculously, by the end of the class, we'd each sewn 5 or 6 squares... and they were all of them stunning. The pieces of material you hated because essential to the design. It all worked. 

Here is what I ended up with, my four squares...
This workshop is a wonderful way to get unstuck, to remember what it's like to play--and then come back to your writing or your art with the same playfulness and trust and discovery.

Thank you Denyse!

To sign up for Denyse's class you can here.

Here are some photos I took... Here's where Denyse sews 
and all her lovely pins
and her inspiration wall (complete with British war poster)
her cool filing cabinets
cool material (everywhere you look is beautiful!)


Monday, April 30, 2012

are you a writer... or an author?


"Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."


Monday, April 23, 2012

Rules for Writing

"These are the rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story" Elmore Leonard.


some favorite quotes from Elmore Leonard:
Style is the sound of the writing. 
Writing is rewriting.
It takes me 4 pages of writing to get 1 page I like.
It gets harder.

and another he quotes:
Words can get in the way of what you're trying to say. Joseph Conrad.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Becoming a writer: choose? or chosen?


"Becoming a writer is not a 'career decision' like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don't choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you're not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days." Paul Auster (b.1947)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Writing is Boiling Down


"It's like boiling down. Four pages can go through six, eight, ten drafts to get down. The beginning is always rewritten much more than the rest, because it's the setting up of information as well as the telling of the story--that's always much harder to juggle." SUSAN MINOT

Writing--it's as much about what you take out as what you put in. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Balancing writing and promoting--Billy Collins


When asked what Georgia's incoming poet laureate should keep in mind, Billy Collins said:

"The best thing you can do it writer really, really good poetry. You can be an advocate, but the best you can do to spread the word of poetry is to write really good poetry. the other thing is, [poet] Robert Hass called me up when I became poet laureate and he said, 'They're going to be pulling you, interviewing you to death, dragging you from one place to another. Just don't leave the place where you write your poetry. Don't give up that psychological spot here the poetry comes from because they will try to drag you out of there and make you a public figure.' Being a poet is a very private activity and you have to hold onto your solitude." 

What a great way to balance writing, with speaking about and promoting what you've written. You need to be out there reading from your work, and speaking. Publishers expect it--even require it.

But I love this reminder: your best work is writing, and the most important thing you can do is to hold onto your solitude where your writing came from in the first place.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Billy Collins on writing every day


"I'm a writer every day, but I don't write every day. Every day I'm looking for those ducks to land on the water, or something to nudge me toward the page. But I don't really have any compositional habits. I'm afraid it's still kind of a romantic view of writing. I have to wait for something to startle me rather than just hacking it out every day. But it doesn't take much to startle me. My stepdaughter, who was 16 a couple of years go, was doing all these drawings of princesses and fairy tale castles and fantasy stuff. Fair enough. But one day she came in with a little drawing of a scallion o a plate and I wrote a poem about it because I thought she was moving from one phase to another. She was moving out of fantasy into the simplicity of real things." Billy Collins

How freeing to read that Billy Collins doesn't write every day. If you're not one of those writers who writes every day (and hard as I try I'm really not)--you can feel guilty, like you're failing, not doing it right, not living up to your potential. You name it.

But perhaps that's too limited a view of what it means to be a writer. What if it's not about the typing or your desk or word counts or pages? What if it's actually about showing up. Whatever that means that day. Whether that means you're at your desk or out watching children in a playground--whatever you're doing--the point is you're showing up and being one on whom nothing is lost.

"I'm a writer every day but I don't write every day."

All I can say is, if Billy Collins can write the way he does and not write every day, then that's good enough for me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

To fill the page with a dream


"Day after day, season after season, I face a blank page and I have to fill it with a dream. That's my work. And we have a team like an orchestra, that makes it happen." Elbaz, designer at Lanvin
via NYT

It's the work of a writer too. To fill the blank page with a dream.

Or is it more than that--is it actually the work of us all?

What will we fill the blank page of our lives with--today? now?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing Tip: don't try and guess what editors want


"Don't try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they're always looking for something new." WILLIAM ZINSSER

It's scarier to trust yourself. And write the book that's in you to write. The book that only you can write. It's risky.

But which is riskier?

To follow the trend? (By the time your book comes out they'll have moved on to something else.)

To try and write the book that that someone else writes? (Won't they do a much better job at being them?)

Or to write the book that only you can write? And possibly find yourself ahead of the trend, setting the trends, doing something startling and new?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happy St David's Day


Today is St David's Day. so... Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus!

St David (seen here in a stained glass window from Jesus College, Oxford) is the Patron Saint of Wales. In the 6th century he helped spread Christianity among pagan Celtic tribes of western Britain and he only ate watercress and once stood in the middle of a lake up to his neck--but I don't remember why.

He is famous for saying, "Gwnewch y pethau bychain" ("do the little things") but then proceeded to be canonized and do great big things.

But then didn't someone else say do not despise the day of small beginnings? or you never go anywhere except one small step at a time?

Hooray for St David! Hooray for St David's Day! And Hooray for little things!

(oh and happy birthday Dad!)

Monday, February 27, 2012

love is making its way back home

it was made with over 12,000 laser-cut pieces of construction paper and was directed by Erez Horovitz. you can see how on Josh Ritter's blog
a lot of love was poured into this.
it shows.

Monday, February 20, 2012

door mouse snoring

OK. So you probably already saw this but since when can you have too much of a door mouse snoring? (And, exucse me, but did he not just come straight out of Lewis Carroll?)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The best composer you've never heard of


That's what the Wall Street Journal said of Morten Lauridsen.

Dana Gioia (past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts) describes him as "one of the few living composers whom I would call great."
What does Mr Lauridsen say? 

"There are too many things out there that are away from goodness. We need to focus on those things that ennoble us, that enrich us."

And of his "Lux Aeterna": 

"I didn't want to write an elitist piece that only the very best choirs in the world could perform--I wanted to write a piece that could be within the reach of many people, many performers. It's a piece with a message, and I didn't want to complicate that message with complicated musical language."

Reminds me of what another composer said: "Use ordinary words and say extraordinary things." Arthur Schopenhauer

Beautiful, direct, true, from the heart. Too many things away from goodness. I'm so glad Morten Lauridsen isn't.

(The award winning new documentary about him, "Shining Night" isn't yet scheduled to be broadcast anywhere in the US. The Wall Street Journal: "All he does is compose radiantly beautiful music and lead what appears to be a wholly satisfying life, and these days that's not quite enough to make you a household name. Time was when PBS would have snapped it up. Why not now?")


Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Magicians and Writers: truth and illusion


"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." 

Tennessee Williams in THE GLASS MENAGERIE

Magicians and Writers: truth and illusion


"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." 

Tennessee Williams in THE GLASS MENAGERIE

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

for children: digital or paper?

Research done at Temple University showed that paper books provide a more positive parent-child interaction for young children--and that electronic books dampen it. (In other words, a picture book helps a child most when it's paper--not really any surprise to anyone who loves picture books. You know this but you love to hear it from officialdom.) 

Children sitting with a parent reading a digital rather than a physical book aren't getting as much interaction. "This research does suggest that parents should be aware of some of the limitations of e-book reading. We shouldn't use e-books to replace traditional books and we shouldn't expect them that they don't. They're not substitutes for a human being." (more here)

It seems it comes down to how you interact with a book and how you interact with a device... the difference between, "Careful! Push here! Hold it this way!" and, "I wonder... what do you think will happen next?"

Are we focused on the device or the story? 

I'm all for digital books--and the amazing things they can do. But they can't do everything. They can't replace a traditional book--or a human being. 

It's not a question solely for children and their books, is it? It sounds like something we need to be asking ourselves every day of our lives. Particularly at the start of a new year.

Are the tools we use enlarging or dampening our own lives, our own stories? What's our focus--on the new or the essential?

where AM I?

back to my site?
back to twitter?

back to my super duper blog?
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