Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Building my house... 1:25 scale

This morning I had some boring site preparation admin to complete. I really didn't feel in the mood to do it but simply had to. So I decided to reward myself by spending the rest of the day constructing a model of the studio out of foam board.
I LOVE making models. Before I studied fashion I was always going to be a theatre designer. I'd done work experience in a theatre when I was sixteen and got to be a goffer backstage and in the rehearsal studio (later I returned to that theatre as assistant scenic artist). In my first week of work experience I became obsessed with the set designer's office which was full of models from past productions. They were gorgeous! So it was decided. I definitely wanted to be a set designer! Definitely!
The second week I was sent upstairs to the costume department and everything changed. I switched my obsession to clothes that week but I never forgot those models.
I've made models of 'dream houses' before but this is the first time the dream will be realised. Once it's finished I'll be able to look through those 1:25 scale windows and imagine myself in the space. It's so much better than flat drawings or even the 'walk through' video made by my contractor. I hope it will be just like gazing into those gorgeous models in the theatre designers office.
The studio with the office wall missing. I'm just making that...
Right to left. Lobby wall and door to entrance, kitchen with low window, bedroom and through to shower room at the back. That tiny window above will be a sleeping platform for visitors. Any takers?

Monday, 20 April 2015

Day... erm, I'm so tired I've lost track!

I've worked awfully hard since my last post. I turned this...
...into this...
... a shady nook full of ferns and hostas. 
And I've planted a 15m hedge!!
It's a mixed hedge of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Hornbeam which will look lovely once it's grown a bit. The ground was so hard and compacted and full of stones and roots that I thought I might need to hire a digger but I cleared the whole plot, dug in compost and then holes for 21 plants! Phew!
I am exhausted at the end of every day at the moment, but I have to say it's 'good' exhaustion. I've discovered the perfect antidote to desk bound mental stress is open air physical work. Unfortunately, building a house isn't all physical work. Tomorrow it's back to getting quotes, form filling and talking to utility companies. Boring but must be done. No doubt I shall reward myself later with a few more hours of 'good' exhausting digging.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Day 2 - Weeding & Recycling

I love to recycle so today's clearance session on the plot was more satisfying than expected.
I've been weeding out some of the monster brambles and nettle patches, which seems pointless when we're about to excavate, but my logic is that the spoil is going into raised beds and I don't want brambles and nettles to be my first crop!

Turns out there is a lot more than weeds down there. The bottom of gardens do tend to become dumping grounds, don't they? Especially when the garden is large. Ours is particularly eclectic in the dumped stuff department. So far I've found a pile of pea shingle, two scaffold boards, roof tiles and, most exciting of all, these.
I pulled out two while tackling a long bramble root and was rather pleased. Imagine my delight when I realised there were more and more just below the grass. 18 rope edge tiles!
Not sure about the rest of the haul though.
Suggestions please. I might make the boards into a garden bench but I don't think those tiles are quite good enough for the roof!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Artist Author Illustrator... Self builder!

For the next few months this blog will become something quite different. No more illustrations, school visits or book launches, just my next project, the biggest project I've ever undertaken. Building a house!

2015 will be life changing for me for two reasons. The first being that I'm planning to go back to art college in September to do a part-time MA in Illustration. I'll be more than twice the age of most of my fellow student but the prospect of spending two years studying and experimenting in a community of artists is utterly thrilling.

The second life changing event is the Black Barn Studio.


Many of us dream of building a home but few of us will have the opportunity. I have bought the mags and watched the TV shows and suffered the crippling jealousy of wondering what it would be like to be one of those lucky self builders. I was resigned to the fact that as a freelance author and illustrator I'd never have the dosh to be one of them.
But all that changed last year when my parents offered the bottom of their garden as a building plot and I began to look at the feasibility of actually owning that dream studio.

It's taken a while to get the project off the ground - finding a builder, designing for the plot, getting planning permission - but now my cottage is sold (nearly) to raise the finance and the final engineering drawings are being prepared - so I'm allowing myself to get excited about really really being one of those lucky self builders!

Over the next few months I will document every stage of the build from groundwork to studio-warming party and today I'm clearing the plot and planting a hedge. Not glamorous, I know, but it's the very first real job I've done on site. I also spoke to my solicitor today and it looks like I might complete the sale of my cottage by the end of May (that's the plan) so we could be breaking ground at the beginning of June! Hurrah!
I shall keep you posted.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Who do I write for?

"You need to know exactly who your reader is."
I said this to a group of people yesterday and I was emphatic, but this morning I am less so. Lots of questions have been chasing each other around my head overnight. Who ARE my readers? Do they change with each book? And if not, am I stuck writing for them and only them for all eternity? can I switch genre or age group whenever I wish? Is genre just something made up by marketing departments to make it easier to find what you want in a bookshop?
My emphatic statement about knowing your reader was directed at a group of students at a local school. I visit schools all the time and this one in particular has played host to my workshops more often than most (as well as having characters, like Hamlet above, painted all along the corridor of their English department!). But yesterday was different, because I got to spend 2 hours in the company of A Level students instead of my core readership of years 7 and 8.
I love years 7 and 8, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I crave a more challenging audience and more sophisticated questions than "do you earn lots of money?" or "are you famous?".
The first hour with my sophisticated audience was mostly me 'performing', telling my story, explaining my journey to publication, while they sat in rigid rows. But after a short break I insisted we arranged the chairs more informally. My experience of teaching in art schools has given me a preference for discussion lesson formats, where everyone's opinions are valued, not just the 'performer' standing at the front.
In this new configuration their question became more informal too, which was great. I really had to think about my answers, what I honestly thought about writing routines and how to edit and actually get work published. Then someone asked whether editors ever ask me to write for a different or wider audience.
"No," I said. "It doesn't really work that way. You need to know exactly who your reader is," I said. "You write for that reader and if the book appeals to a wider audience, that's a bonus."
I had assumed the question was naive, a question from someone who doesn't quite understand how publishing works. But now I'm not so sure. It was a question that actually required a more considered response.
This brilliant blog post from Marcus Sedgwick 
got me thinking about genre and why I write the books I write. Now I'd like to go back to that student and change my answer. (Perhaps she'll find her way to this blog and read it) my new answer is
I WRITE THE BOOKS THAT I WANT TO READ.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Some Thoughts About Sharing

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I've been thinking a lot about sharing. Not just the boasting FB status update variety, nor those ubiquitous AfterEight Challenge Instagram pics. And I'm not talking about Chrissy prezzies either. That's not sharing, it's shopping. No, what I'm banging on about is something more emo, more philosophical and a bit... well, cheesy.

Last week I was in Oxford for a lunch meeting with some publishers about the collaborative project I'm doing with Jo Cotterill, called ELECTRIGIRL (see previous post). As Jo and I said goodbye to our OUP team, the two of us walked away down the street arm-in-arm, beaming from ear to ear. It was a 'that was great' tingle moment, a stomach flipper. We almost skipped (but we are middle-aged and erm, sensible, so didn't!)  I'll be honest and say I've not walked arm-in-arm with anyone (except perhaps my nieces or my Mum after her hip op!) for absolutely years. Not since I was a teenager. And that's how it felt, like I was a teenager, sharing a triumph with my Bestie. It was the perfect end to the perfect day, a gesture that summed up exactly what was happening to our insides.

We were sharing something that nobody else could understand. With that gesture we were acknowledging all the ups (inspiration and hilarity) and all the downs (re-writes, rejections, tantrums and tears) of a project we had shared for almost 2 years. We, and only we, knew how hard it had been to finally get to that meeting on that day on that street, so we expressed all of it in that shared gesture.

You see, I told you it would be cheesy!

So why have I been thinking about sharing and why am I posting it today?

Well, I'm an atheist (or an agnostic) and I've long believed we atheists/agnostics should shift our mid-winter festivities to coincide with the Solstice, which is today. And, as I'm broke this year (2014 will be an Austerity Christmas for the majority of us, I think) I'm looking for ways to enjoy the festive season without spending money I don't have. So, I'll be doing it by sharing. I'll spend time with friends (in the same room or online). I'll share memories and triumphs and news (trying not to boast). I'll share by listening and commiserating and empathising, because I've been there and I know how much it hurts. Oh, and I'll share some of the cakes and biscuits I've made.

Here is my first share...

MERRY WINTER SOLSTICE EVERYONE!
Love and hugs
from Cathy
xxxxx

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sparky New Project


Yesterday I travelled up to Oxford to meet up with the team who are shaping my new collaborative project, ELECTRIGIRL. Jo Cotterill was there, of course. She's the writing genius who came up with the original idea and has written all the text (many times over!) You could say I'm a sort of illustrator Robin to her writer Batman. Or something like that. Anyway. I digress.
got to meet our OUP team for the first time including our editor, Kathy, and art editor, Holly. I was particularly eager to show them all my artwork ideas so I spread them out across the meeting room table. In fact, there was so much of it (Jo and I have been working on this for over a year) that it covered the table almost entirely! That meeting room instantly resembled my chaotic studio.
The plan was to discuss all the illustrations I'll be doing for a couple of hours and then pop out for lunch but we got so involved and kept adding more pages so, four and a half hours later we were finishing the last page over pudding in the restaurant!!