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Interview with Jane Donald, senior designer for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Jane Donald is senior designer for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and the visionary behind the awesome Takeshita Demons cover.

What makes a cover work? How are covers born? What do you need to recognise a great cover: do you need to be an artist? a sales professional? a book lover?

We caught up with Jane to discover more about the book covers she loves and creates every day…

1.    How did you get in to your role?

I studied Graphic Design at university and always favoured illustration projects. Any self-initiated brief was always to do with creating children’s books, so I knew I’d enjoy working in this industry if I could get my foot through the door.

When I left university I did various stints of work experience, one being at Egmont publishers and then heard about the junior role here at Frances Lincoln. I applied, got the job and 5 years later I’m still here!

One of Jane's Top 3 favourite book covers: Mother by Juliet Heslewood

Fave 3 Frances Lincoln covers: Mother by Juliet Heslewood

2.    What does an average day entail? What are you working on today?

My average day usually entails working on a couple of different projects.

Today I have dropped in some new artwork for a picture book, added some finishing touches to the interior spreads of another title and I’ll probably have a look at some fiction covers which are overdue this afternoon!

3.    How do you decide on a cover?
We’ll read the manuscript first and I’ll either start mocking up ideas or find an illustrator who we feel will work well with the text.

Then it’s a case of getting ideas and roughs together to show our Sales team and author for feedback. At this stage the roughs are often sent out to both customers and target audience for comments and opinions too.

Then we’ll reconvene with all the conflicting opinions(!) and make a decision as to which we think will work the best overall.

4.    What makes a great cover?

The cover for Miss Fox by Simon Puttock

Fave 3 Frances Lincoln covers: Miss Fox by Simon Puttock

Something which is simple and attention-grabbing, but gives you a good sense of what the book is about.

5.    What are your 3 favourite covers from Frances Lincoln?
Apart from Takeshita Demons of course, I would have to say…

  • Mother (adult title) by Juliet Heslewood
  • Under the Weather (children’s fiction) by Tony Bradman
  • Miss Fox (children’s picture book) by Simon Puttock illustrated by Holly Swain

Jane's fave cover of all time: The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

Jane's fave cover of all time: The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

6.    What’s your favourite cover of all time?
Now that’s a really tricky question!!!

I really love the covers which Jon Gray designs and all the Gothic Horrors and clothbound series’ by Coralie Bickford-Smith. They’re all really beautiful and a real inspiration.

If I had to choose one, I’d probably go for Jon Gray’s design for The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. Not only is the illustration and typography great, but I love the whole production of it. It has black edges to the pages, gold foil and special lamination (without being OTT) and just works beautifully as an object as well as being a great read.

I’m sure I’ll have a new favourite cover next week when I browse the shelves!

7.    How did you get inspiration for the Takeshita Demons cover?

Fave 3 Frances Lincoln covers: Under the Weather by Tony Bradman

Fave 3 Frances Lincoln covers: Under the Weather by Tony Bradman

I think instinctively we felt it needed a manga-style illustrator to get across the Japanese feel. I looked through a lot of illustrator’s portfolios and various manga books to get a feel of what we could do.

I knew of Siku from seeing his Manga Bible and Judge Dread work and thought he’d work perfectly. We let him do all the hard work by giving him a fairly open brief with only a few specifics and he didn’t disappoint. As you saw, he came up with various rough ideas which were all great.

8.    Do you work with new illustrators? How should they get in contact?
Yes, we love working with new illustrators.

The best thing to do is to send samples into us by email or post. We can’t necessarily reply to everyone, but we do keep samples on file and often look through to see if anyone would fit a text we may have. Websites are great too, I love to browse through people’s work.

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The Queen of Sheba’s feet: interview with Clare Reddaway

ClareRedawayToday we publish an interview with Clare Reddaway, an accomplished writer of plays and short stories who earned a Special Mention for her book, The Queen of Sheba’s feet, in the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices book award.

The Queen of Sheba’s feet follows the adventures of Bilkis, the Queen of Sheba’s handmaiden. Bilkis is travelling with her mistress across the desert to visit King Solomon in 980 BC. She can solve a mystery as old as the bible: is the Queen the daughter of a djinn, and does she therefore have goat’s feet? But she can only discover the truth if she gets through the desert alive…

There’s an extract from Chapter 5 at the bottom of the post, but we kick off with some questions: Thanks to Clare for helping us out!

What do you usually write about and why?
I’m not sure that I have something that I usually write about. I have been inspired by so many different topics and characters: an exiled Ethiopian Emperor in wartime Bath; a Victorian boy on a canal boat; a stone-age girl who is not allowed to go on a hunt. I like to delve into times and places that I am not familiar with, and to try to find a point of connection with the people there and then. I suppose if there is a common theme, it is that I am interested by characters who are outsiders, uncomfortable in their place or in themselves. I am interested in exploring how they change and grow.

Why do you write?
I like telling stories. I always have, and I always will. If someone wants to publish them, all well and good. Otherwise it’s me and my increasingly weary guinea pig.

Where and when do you write?
I write in my study, which has a view over the hills of Bath. I can see our golden Georgian terraces with their slate roofs, and Ralph Allen’s Palladian mansion, Prior Park, which he built as an advertisement for his stone quarries (a successful ad campaign, I’d say). Sometimes, ridiculously, a steam train puffs across the valley. Most gloriously though, and so rare in England, I can see the edge of the town, and fields with cows where the countryside begins. I write here whenever I can.

What inspired you to enter the Diverse Voices Award?
I think it is such an admirable award. It is so important for children to experience other cultures through stories. Children’s authors seem to me to be happy to portray other worlds, whilst rarely portraying other countries. I hoped that this award might nudge authors – and indeed myself – to explore our world differently.

What was your favourite book as a child?
I didn’t have one favourite, but a selection: The Secret Garden, The Treasure Seekers, When Marnie was There by Joan G Robinson, the Narnia Chronicles, the Swallows and Amazons books, Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea, The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett.

Who is your favourite children’s author either writing today or from the past?
There are so many. As a parent I have experienced a whole sequence of books that are new, and that I missed. I like The Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks. I like Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus. And for the completely contemporary, I like Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer, Philip Pullman, Frank Cotterell Boyce, Michelle Paver – I believe we are in a golden age of writing for children. I particularly love the theatrical adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, which I took my daughter to last year. I wept and wept.

What does the future hold for you and your writing?
The Queen Of Sheba’s Feet is currently with Frances Lincoln, and all my fingers are crossed that they like it enough to publish it. As for my other writing, I’ve had a number of stories, both for adults and children, published in anthologies this year. I am a member of live short fiction group Heads and Tales, and perform with them across the south west (come see our next show!). My latest project with Heads and Tales has been We’ve So Many Things in Common. I was commissioned to write a children’s trail inspired by the local history of Horfield Common in Bristol for this event, and I am hoping to use the same format elsewhere. I also write scripts. Have a listen to Laying Ghosts, an audio play at Wireless Theatre Company. My latest play, New Religion, has been selected for a reading by The Group at Theatre Royal Stratford East in October.

“It’s a mirage.” Darih was lying on the top of the dune staring into the distance with Bilqis.

“A mirage! Don’t be ridiculous!” Bilqis looked at him in disbelief. He could see what she could see. A city, with golden spires and turquoise towers, with palaces and temples, palm fronds and cedar trees, more glorious than any she had imagined existed before. It couldn’t be a mirage. “A mirage is water. I’ve seen a mirage. We all have. That. Is. Not. A. Mirage.”

Bilqis’ voice was becoming shrill. She had tears in her eyes. “I know why you are saying this. You’re jealous. You’re jealous of my dancing and you’re jealous because the Queen has never noticed you. And now you’re jealous because I saw Jerusalem first.”

Darih shrugged. “Please yourself,” he said and he got up and started to slide back down the dune. Bilqis looked back at her beautiful, wonderful city. Was he right?

“I’m going to look,” she shouted down at him, but all he did was to hunch his shoulders and carry on down into the camp. Bilqis set off towards the city.

The way was difficult. The sand on the camp side of the dune had been soft like flour. The sand on the other side had a crisp crust that cracked under her feet, plunging her up to her knees. She felt like she was wading. It was hard work.

When she reached the base of the dune, the saffron sand stretched in front of her, rippled like water on a lake when you throw in a pebble. Bilqis looked at the towers in the distance. She imagined the praise she would get from Tamrin for her sharp eyes. The Aunts would be proud of her, even Karabil might smile. She started to run. Although she was soon a long way from the first dune, the city seemed as far away as before.

Bilqis slowed to a walk. She had a stitch in her side from running and she was hot, although it was still early. She took off her shawl and dropped it on the sand. She’d pick it up on the way back. Ahead of her she could see a ridge, higher than the dune she had climbed before. I’ll just get to the top of that ridge, she thought, and then I’ll really be able to see the city. The ridge had been the colour of ripe apricots as she had set off, but now it was the warm rich yellow of honey.


Do you love creative writing? Searching for games, activities or cool Japan-related teaching resources? If your answer is YES, you should check out the resources section of my website. Have fun!

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Contracts, proofs and Takeshita Demons II and III?

Last week I had an extremely exciting meeting with my publisher, Janetta Otter-Barry, at the Frances Lincoln HQ. It was the first time we’d met since Fergus was born, and of course, Ferg had to come along too (I’d hate for him to miss out on the excitement!).

Fergus spent most of the meeting on the floor (we don’t have a pram so he’s used to being plonked on whatever surface is available) kicking and admiring the artwork on the walls. Janetta and I spent most of the meeting discussing terms of my publishing contract… I took along a long list of questions, many flagged by the Society of Authors (bless them!) and Janetta was fabulous in listening to all my questions and concerns. She’s taken away some of my requests to be discussed with the Contract Powers That Be, and she’s confident we’ll be able to sort out answers.

Vampires? Hah! Try meeting an ushi-oni "cow devil" in the middle of the night!

Vampires? Hah! Try meeting an ushi-oni "cow devil" in the middle of the night!

We also looked at an unbound proof for Takeshita Demons… Woo hoo! It looks great. Can’t wait to see the bound proofs!

Of course, nothing’s perfect: they got my name wrong in a couple of places (Cristy Byrne instead of Cristy Burne), but I’m entirely used to that. What would life be without a little trouble with your surname? (It’s ironic because Miku Takeshita, the hero of Takeshita Demons, has trouble with her surname too…)

…and Takeshita Demons II and III?
And the most exciting bit? Way back when I first met Janetta I asked her about the possibility of making Takeshita Demons part of a series. She said: “Interesting; send me a proposal” and I did. I did a heap of extra research into Japanese demons (called “yokai” in Japanese) and scared myself silly with some of the creatures that exist in Japanese mythology (vampires? hah! vampires don’t scare me anymore!!). Plus I brainstormed some cool story ideas and some ace new characters, and I spent ages plotting and re-plotting and thinking and re-thinking, and then I put it all into a proposal and sent it through.

The result? Janetta liked the ideas, and so do her sales team. Fingers crossed you’ll soon be hearing confirmation that the June 2010 Takeshita Demons will be the first of at least three scary children’s books in the Takeshita Demons series…

More soon…

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Steve Tasane and Fly Kids

I’ve been getting into performance poetry lately, so who better to feature next than Steve Tasane, an awesome poet specialising in fast and funky word-twisting for children. Steve is another of the writers shortlisted in the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices book award for his book Fly Kids.

SteveSteve’s website calls him “the master of tongue-twisting, mind-boggling alternative poetry” and a quick shop around the web (for example, check out Steve’s poems for the Battersea Dogs Home including the YouTube vid at the bottom of this post) or some of Steve’s children’s poems, proves him entirely right. Steve will be performing at the 2009 Glastonbury Festival in Kidz Field, where they reckon “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, to to enable someone else to”…how fab! And isn’t that why so many of us write for children?

More on Fly Kids…

So what’s Fly Kids all about? It’s a mix of the harsh reality (refugees, immigration, xenophobia) and wild fiction (woo hoo! who hasn’t wished they could fly?). In a nutshell: Riki and his brother can fly – but only in their bedroom. Riki’s father was a refugee. Uncovering details of his father’s flight to the UK, Riki realises that not everybody is so happy about people’s differences. The Ministry of Safety and Health (MOSH) begin investigating families rumoured to have flying children. Then Riki’s younger brother is forcibly taken by MOSH. Riki and his friends must undertake a daring rescue mission, confronting the agents at MOSH and endeavouring to let the world see – and celebrate  – the fact that there are those amongst us who are not the same.

My titchy little brother Mikk has a special gift. And I believe in him.  True, he is always borrowing my things without asking, and managing to bust them. He always has food smudged all over his face, and sticky fingers, and he picks his nose too much. He is a first-class pest. But he really does have a special gift. I’ve seen him with my own eyes. I’ve watched him bouncing on his bed. I mean, really really really bouncing. I swear he bounces higher than anyone could ever jump. And it takes a little too long for him to drop back down. He is magic.

And a quick interview with Steve, courtesy of Seven Stories, host of the Diverse Voices awards night…

What do you usually write about and who do you write for?
Usually I write performance poetry, sometimes for children, sometimes for adults. I believe poetry is something to be enjoyed in schools and at festivals, clubs, on TV and the internet – everywhere! I like my poems to celebrate language and also to encourage us to live better lives. My poems are about our world today, and all the people who share its space.

Why do you write?
I love the sounds of words and I like to imagine them dancing out of my mouth. I think of my poems as representing different types of music – soul, party anthems, hip hop, and pop. I think about what I enjoy reading and hearing, and try with my writing to capture this for others. Often, I write because some things make me angry – like greed and bullying – and I like to make my opinions heard.

Where and when do you write?
I write a lot of my poems when out walking, and often when I’m lying awake in bed at night. I wrote my children’s novel entirely longhand, on trains travelling to and from children’s poetry workshops.

What inspired you to enter the Diverse Voices Award?
An actual dream – about flying – and a dream of having my own voice heard.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Superhero books!

Who is your favourite children’s author either writing today or from the past?
Philip Pullman

What does the future hold for you and your writing?
I’m presently working on short stories for submission for other children’s anthologies, and preparing for appearances in the kid’s fields at both Glastonbury and Big Chill festivals. I work primarily as a performance poet, and as an Associate Artist for the Live Literature Consortium I’ve been commissioned to produce a set of polyvocal poetry. So I’m presently exploring possibilities for doing the same with my children’s poems.

And below, check out Steve’s hilarious and sweet tribute to the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home:


ARGH!!! The announcement at last!

I am utterly thrilled!!! Last night was the awards ceremony, held at Seven Stories up in Newcastle, and I’ve only just got back. It was amazing!! So many amazing people gathered, and I got to meet four of the other short listed authors: all fabulous, funny, talented, supportive women. Watch out for Gemma Birss (Highly Commended with The Gift), Ruth Patterson (Commended with The Ever-Changing Mum) and Clare Reddaway (Special Mention for The Queen of Sheba’s Feet). Also attending, all the way from Wales, was Jo Wesley-Williams with her book The Soul Child. All these books recieved glowing reviews from the judges…it’s such a thrill to hear that so many people have read your work and liked it! We were on a high all night! (That’s me in the midde, very pregnant!)

Shortlisted authors attending the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award ceremony

Shortlisted authors attending the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award ceremony at Seven Stories last night (Doug Hall Photography)

Entries for next year’s award are already open: enter, enter, enter! The team from Seven Stories and Frances Lincoln are amazing, the experience is fabulous, and best of all, you get to write something you love.

Check out coverage at (Burne wins first Frances Lincoln Award) (how strange to be called “Burne” :-)), BookBrunch (First Diverse Voices Winner Announced) and on Teacher’s TV (White author wins diversity award).

So what happens now? I’m not really sure, but I’ll keep you posted. I think Frances Lincoln are keen to publish Takeshita Demons, but as to how that happens and what’s involved…I’ll share all I learn right here!

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The new writer’s roller coaster

Wow. As I type this, the awards ceremony for the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Book Award is just two days away.

I’ve known for nearly three weeks that Takeshita Demons will be announced the winner, but it has yet to truly sink in. Did I really get that phone call? Did I really hear correctly? The day the phone call came started out quite ordinarily: I was sitting at my computer, tapping away at the keyboard as part of my day job (doing comms for an e-science project). The London sun was shining (for once), and I was conscious of sharing the office with my two-days-new colleague (and maternity leave replacement) Manisha. Then my ancient mobile began to ring. Since then it’s been a roller coaster.

The call came from Helena of children’s book centre Seven Stories, partners in the award. In the background listening in was gun publicist Nicky Potter (who also does publicity for the Children’s Laureate: awesome!), but I didn’t know that yet. Helena introduced herself and dropped the bombshell, saying simply “You’ve won”. I (pleasantly) said “Are you sure?” and followed it up with the equally trusting “Are you joking?” But apparently, yes, she was sure, and no, she wasn’t joking. Wow.

My head began to spin (pregnancy: your blood pressure is a mess) and I had to sit down (apparently at some point in the call I’d decided to stand up and pace; no recollection of this). New colleague Manisha was laughing at me as I gulped and gagged at the phone (no, I do not usually win book awards in a usual working day J). I had to swear her to secrecy: not a word until the announcement. Wow.

They liked my book.
They were interested in publishing.
I’d won an award.Could I travel to Newcastle on April 30 to accept the prize, meet the judges and try not to stand gob-smacked and grinning like a lunatic all night long?
Yes, yes, yes.

So here I am, two sleeps away. So far I’ve met Nicky for coffee, chatted to journalist Geraldine Brennan to put together a Q&A, lined up some interviews (c/o Nicky), and enjoyed a clandestine meeting with some of the Frances Lincoln team at the London Book Fair (I totally recommend the LBF seminars for anyone interested in writing for children: everything from cover design and market trends to writing for teens and international children’s literature. A fabulous and inspiring day out).

And alongside this secret double-life, “real” life trundles on: just three more weeks at work. Planning for lovely guests over the weekend. And Doug and I have just bought a cot, something called a “cuddlewrap”, and enough muslin squares to mop a thousand baby spews. Even real life seems a bit surreal at the moment.

Back in touch with more soon!