oxford children’s book group

Last Saturday, I gave a joint talk about picture books to the Oxford Children’s Book Group with my dear friend, the writer and illustrator Layn Marlow. We’ve been in the same critique group on Charing Cross Road for years, so we know each other’s working methods pretty well. Just before people started arriving, I doodled us on the flip chart.

It was a great weekend for seeing friends; I also got to catch up with marvelous writer Sally Nicholls. If you haven’t yet read her novels Ways to Live Forever and Season of Secrets, you are in for a real treat. Here’s Sally striking a Jane Burden Pre-Raphaelite muse pose next to the pub. Neither of us knew night-time Oxford very well (Sally just moved there), so we picked a 13th-century pub called the Turf Tavern for a quiet meal, only to discover it was the most lively student watering hole in town, heh heh.

Actually, one of my earliest trips to Oxford (to meet my publisher David Ficking for the first time) involved Sally’s book. I got to Oxford well early so I wouldn’t be late for the meeting, struggled through the rain and holed up in a coffee shop to finish reading Ways to Live Forever. An hour later, I’d finished the story and sobbed my way through the rain to go see David. When I met him, rivers of mascara were running down my face, and I tried to explain weepily that I was fine, just fine, really, only I’d read this very good book. (Embarrassing, but fortunately David didn’t seem to mind.)

Here’s one of the doodles in my notebook, of one of the speakers, writer Mary Hoffman.

I’m too sleepy now to go into the talks (I’ll try to soon), but I was impressed by how well both Mary and Philip Pullman had prepared for their talks. Philip looked a bit like he had just rolled out of bed, with hair sticking every which way, but hey, it was a Saturday morning. I loved the way he talked about breaking down stories to their smallest units, and drew parallels in historical art imagery, with figures engaged in the act of pouring a liquid from one vessel to another. (More about that later.)

Mary Hoffman, me, Layn Marlow

I liked the way the leaves gathered under the Oxford University Press staff parking spaces.

This is where I’ve been going for meetings to work out my latest picture book, When Titus Took the Train.

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the day a great success! Speakers Ron Heapy, Bill Laar, and Kim Pickin from the Story Museum (more about that later) and organisers and members Fay Sinai, Moira da Costa, Jo Edwards, Louise Stothard and loads of other people. Thank you!

Our fabulous minders, OUP’s Jennie Younger, Jo Steele and Jo’s daughter (was it Jennifer?)

After the conference, I rushed back down to Kent to meet Stuart’s family for his nephew Euan’s 18th birthday. Here’s me next to Euan and his brother Aneurin (surrounded by good-looking dudes, hey!)

We got to see some early photos of Euan and Aneurin. The American in me couldn’t help but squee at this one and say, Oh, they look so very English!

And here’s a rather compromising one of Euan that he said I could post (but not tag). I don’t even want to know what he’s doing against that gate.

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