Time for a Polka Dot Antagonist

Pink Camels and Floating GranniesIn Pink Camels and Floating Grannies I stayed away from having a villain type character. The story was based around Monkey’s grandparents coming to visit and spending the weekend with her, so I didn’t feel like it needed a direct conflict character. It was more a series of family events that everyone could relate to (well – at least a little). My grandmother was a main character and she created a lot of explosive interactions which I felt was enough. The feedback I have been getting from children who have/are reading my story confirmed that I was correct. They are all adequately embarrassed about my Grandmother.

In the second book, my feeling are a little different. In this book, my focus is around Monkey and her friends as they embark on a school camp. All my favourite teachers will be there, including Mrs Pelliot and maybe even Mr Trousers. I have also included a new teacher, Mr Mefer, who is the gym teacher (with a large moustache, of course). During the trip to their camp, Monkey, her friends and Mr Mefer stop for a lunch at a petrol station.

It was at this point that I felt like something needed to happen. I stopped writing.

I didn’t know what needed to happen. Did Mr Mefer relate an interesting story? Did something happen at the gas station? Did something happen to the Kombi they were driving in? I let these ideas float around in my head as I carried on my day.

At 5:30am on Sunday, my youngest cat – Gandalf – started scratching at the bedroom door wanting to get out, which my husband does.  Of course then I am now awake. I could toss and turn till a decent hour, but that’s just going to irritate everybody. It then hits me.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa from Pink Camels and Floating Grannies

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SCBWI – South Africa – becoming a member

scbwi SA

I was recently asked by the SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) to come on board and assist with their website content – content management if you like. For those of you who know me, this kind of thing comes naturally and I was delighted to be involved. I am pleased to announce that in a wonderful partnership with Elaine Ridge, Marjorie van Heerden and Samantha van Riet, the South African SCBWI blog is now beginning to take shape.  In return for my assistance, I was to be a member of their team.

Now I should say, that I have been stalking this group of people for over a year now. In fact, I was there, hanging out, chatting to them, going to events, well before I was even a published illustrator! I had gone to a book launch to meet an international illustration, Jane Heinrichs, who you might have remembered I interviewed that one time.

I had ‘met’ Jane via social media and found out that she was launching a book she was illustrating, with a Cape Town writer (Jane normally lives in the UK), so I went through. It was a little bit of a disaster, as the publisher seemed to have forgotten about it and the venue also were very confused, but in the end the author and Jane still managed to sign a few books, although mostly because of people they had personally invited. It all felt a bit like a flash-mob book launch! Read more

Santa Shoe Box Pledge

Santa Shoe Box Pledge

To date the Santa Shoebox Project has distributed 551 979 shoeboxes throughout South Africa and Namibia.

Something a little off the topic of illustrating, drawing and getting creative – I thought I would dedicate a post to the Santa Shoe Box Project. I am a huge fan of this initiative and thought to let you know about it. It is a simple idea of everyone pledging to make a shoebox present for under-privileged kids all over South Africa. You can pledge to any one of the thousands of children on their website, and then go about packing together a box for them. Read more

Kirstenbosch Winter Wonderland – An awesome day!

Kirstenbosch Winter Wonderland

Birds can’t fly in Winter. I have never seen one fly.

I arrived at Kirstenbosch at about 9:30 in the morning. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I arrived at about 8:30 and drank a hot chocolate in the car, while writing for an hour before grabbing my kit and heading inside the bookshop at 9:30. I was greet by the Kirstenbosch Bookstore team – Mark and Greg. They offered me a coffee while I wait and I headed into the kiddies area.

I was so impressed with Kirstenbosch. There were mini chairs and a lovely table display of Katya Cat books, along with the Kirstenbosch trade mark – a gorgeous vase with proteas. Julia Richman, the author, arrived with her book as well as Belinda, from Penguin Random House. Belinda was carrying under her arm a flip-chart for me to use while I illustrate. With a wink, she informed me she ‘borrowed’ it from the CEO’s office. I couldn’t have been more pleased. I was going to use the CEO of one of the best publishing companies in South Africa (and the world!) to illustrate Katya’s characters. What a treat! Read more

Post Event: Illustrating for Young Readers in Franschhoek

Franschhoek LIterary Festival

Goeie Môre Mevrou Julia en Mevrou Celeste”

Before the big book festival in Franschhoek on the weekend, there is a wonderful adventure called the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) for Young Readers, where authors are driven around the schools in the area to read their stories to the children.

Bridge House
Bridge House giving me a present for visiting!

I was honoured to be invited by one of my authors, Julia Richman, to join in. Julia and I have done several readings together of her delightful story The Bacon Chase, and so it felt like family as I arrived at the the first school, Bridge House, with Julia and her characters, Kayta Cat, Freddie the Seagull, Auntie Bea, Princess  Flowers and Chubbs (the chubby hotel cat).

Julia started reading to the grade one class, as I whipped out my Sharpie pen and started illustrating Katya, Auntie Bea and Chubbs on paper for them.

The children were giving opportunity to ask questions and I was overwhelmed with, not only the deep profound perspective of the questions, but also the detail. They had really absorbed every little bit of what Julia had read.

“But why does Chubbs steal?” they asked, and “How did Katya get her magical tail?” Read more

Post-Event: Book Dash Celebrates 2nd Birthday

Book Dash Birthday

“Isn’t it nice to be with people who understand this kind of geeky talk!”

I was honoured to be invited to the second birthday of Book Dash. It was held at the Kalk Bay book store, which is a beautiful quaint shop by the ocean, filled with that wonderful smell of books, nostalgia and salty air. My first encounter as I walked in, was a table filled with past Book Dash printed books. These gorgeous little square books were full of colour and magical stories about children, animals and their adventures.

"Bathtub Safari" one of Book Dash's books that I picked up.
“Bathtub Safari” one of Book Dash’s books that I picked up.

Soon, I heard the familiar sound of my own name from Julia Norrish, the organiser, who exclaimed that she didn’t realise I was so tall from my photo. But soon we were ushered to the comfortable couches where Athur Attwell, the founder, started his speech. After all the acknowledgements of authors, copywriters, supporters and supporters in the room, he informed us that while we were all there sipping our juice, wine and champagne, 15 stories where currently being printed in 11 different languages, to create 48 000 books.

And that was just the beginning! They are hoping to distribute into other parts of Africa, as well as into the digital realm, by partnering up with an eBook distributor.

He also announced that in the beginning they only had two stories.  The first one was printed within a month and the second one was only finished a few weeks ago. Julia then announced that ‘Celeste is here!’ Apparently the story I took over from my illustrator friend (I won’t mention his name) in February had been sitting on the his table for two years! I quickly corrected everyone and said that it wasn’t my fault – I had only gotten it this year. I had no idea that Penguin Palace by Helen Brain had such a great back story.

Arthur started telling us all about the feedback they had gotten from the schools and I felt really humbled by the stories from children and teachers who were so grateful for the books. Made me feel really proud that I had contributed (in a small way) to this magical literary fairy tale. Read more

Whimsical Illustrator – Shirley Ng-Benitez

Shirley Illustrator

My inspiration are my kids and nature.

Celeste: Hi Shirley! Thank so much for chatting with us today. I must say I love your work – it is very whimsical! Can you tell us a little about yourself, before I start bombarding you with questions!

Shirley: Hi Celeste! You are so kind to ask and thank you for your generous words, I really appreciate that! I am a children’s book illustrator and writer living in the Bay Area, California and have been illustrating for the children’s market for about five years. I made the transition to illustration in 2011 from many years in the graphic design field. I started out after college working for American Greetings, Inc. as a Professional Lettering Artist, and then worked for different design firms specializing in the toy industry, direct marketing, product marketing, and technology. I continue to work with my clients in design through gabbyandco.com, my company established in ‘98. Read more