forthcoming books, Illustrators, interviews, Junior fiction, New releases

Interview with Kristin Devine, illustrator of Fil and Harry

Following on from our interview with Jenny Blackford yesterday, we are very pleased to bring you today an interview with Kristin Devine, who created the fabulous cover and internal illustrations of Fil and Harry. As with Jenny’s interview, it was conducted by Sharnee Rawson.

The cover and illustrations for Fil and Harry are fantastic. What’s your creative process when you undertake a new project?

Thanks! While my individual artworks usually start with a very clear mental image, illustrations usually start with a combination of mind maps and sketches – lots of key words and very quick sketches.  Illustrations have to stand well on their own as well as interact with both the text and other pictures within the book, so I generally like to spend some time working out the pacing and balance of the images, combining or separating ideas etc. before I start creating each illustration.  I also like to spend some time sketching and developing the visual appearance of the main characters.

Fil and Harry is your first time illustrating a book. What techniques and resources did you use? Were they different from your usual routine?

A little different.  The illustrations for Fil and Harry were created digitally, which means that I draw with a digital pencil on digital paper and with pixels instead of pigments.  I have been creating an increasing number of illustrations this way over the past year as it is such a versatile medium and is well suited to the digital marketplace.  I also use digital mannequins instead of the traditional little wooden ones – they are much more adaptable and hold their poses much better! 

My more usual approach when beginning any new work is to start with graphite pencils on paper.  The almost meditative process of rendering an image in graphite makes it one of my favourite mediums.

How did you get into art and illustration? Is it something you have always done?

Art is something I have always done, I remember getting up as a small child at the crack of dawn to start drawing!  Illustration is a slightly newer endeavour for me but still one which I have been pursuing for several years now.

You have a website that showcases various styles, particularly black and white drawings. How would you describe your art in three words?

Inspired by nature.  My inherent inclination is towards realism and I am intrigued by the natural world, predispositions which meet, well, naturally, in natural history illustration, something I really enjoy and would like to do more of.   That being said, I also enjoy taking nature as a starting point and then stretching out the possibilities – examining familiar things from unexpected angles, creating anatomically plausible new creatures, blurring the boundaries between apparently disparate objects and concepts.  Nature offers such diversity, so many starting points, so many essential truths that the possibilities for reworking, or reconsidering them, are endless.  Even when I am doing something relatively stylised (such as the illustrations for Fil and Harry) I always start with nature, for example with basic human anatomy when designing characters.

What’s next for your career after Fil and Harry? Any new and exciting projects?

I am working on my first original picture book as an author-illustrator – a project which has been ongoing for several years now!  It is a fantasy story but style-wise it again has its roots firmly planted in the natural world.

Illustration by Kristin Devine from Chapter 1 of Fil and Harry
authors, Books, forthcoming books, interviews, Junior fiction

Interview with Jenny Blackford, author of Fil and Harry

We’re delighted to be bringing you today an interesting interview with Jenny Blackford, author of our upcoming(May) title, Fil and Harry. The interview was conducted by our fantastic intern Sharnee Rawson.

Authors often report ‘lightning bolt’ moments of inspiration when developing their work. Was this your experience with Fil and Harry?

I often used to dream of my cat talking to me (in human English, not in Cat). One morning the cat was loudly demanding SOMETHING — maybe he wanted me to feed him, maybe to pick him up, or put him down RIGHT NOW, or…. (He was a very demanding cat.) I said, “Well, why don’t you just tell me what you want in English, like you did last night? I know you can do it when you really want to”.

It took a minute for me to go, Oops, cats don’t really talk. It was just a dream. 

Fil and Harry grew out of that Oops moment. In Fil and Harry, Fil’s cat Harry really CAN talk in human English. As I’m sure many of them could, if they really wanted to. Though probably not my current cat, who isn’t the most colourful kitten in the litter box.

You’ve written for young readers before, including the award-winning novel The Girl in the Mirror. How was the experience of writing Fil and Harry compared with your other works?

I was so delighted that The Girl in the Mirror won the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children’s  Crime Novel!

Most of what I write is poems and short stories, many of which have been published in that grand literary institution The School Magazine. And two of those School Magazine short stories have grown into novels with Christmas Press!

The Girl in the Mirror started as “Bertie”, a short story published in The School Magazine in 2005. The situation of the characters in the story demanded to be deepened and widened into a novel. The new book, Fil and Harry, also grew from a story published in The School Magazine, that one in 2006. Fil, her grandmother, her talking cat and her treacherous “best friend” cried out to be expanded.

Fil struggles with friendship and ‘fitting in’ at school throughout the book. Do you have any advice for other kids struggling with this issue?

Fitting in at school and trying to make friends can be terrifying, especially for introverts like me and Fil, and for anyone who is different in some way. I changed schools often as a kid, four different primary schools and two different high schools, and I had to try to fit in and make friends every time. And some kids have a lot more changes than that.

Most grown-ups will tell you not to worry, that making friends and fitting in is easy and everyone can do it. I’d like to tell all the kids out there struggling with fitting in that it might be easy for some people, but it’s really difficult for others. And it can be worse than that. Just as some adults are difficult people, some kids are. Sometimes, people who you think are your friends really aren’t. They’re just using you, and it hurts terribly when you find that out. But a lot of kids are genuinely lovely, and sometimes friends you make at school are still great friends decades later. I dedicated Fil and Harry to one of them, my friend Amanda, who I first met at the start of High School when we were both 11.

Fil and Harry also explores the impact of divorce on children. Do you think the book has a good message for tackling such a difficult event?

We never find out why Fil’s mother left the family in the time before the story starts, though we learn that Fil was understandably miserable back then, but Fil and her brother visit her in Perth regularly, and the current situation seems generally amicable. Fil’s family issues as the novel starts are with her stepmother Elspeth, who tries much too hard about everything, including getting Fil and her brother to eat lovely healthy broccoli. It doesn’t help matters that Fil’s artist grandmother is holidaying with the family, and redecorating the kids’ rooms. Everyone is tense. But all of the adults are doing their best, and everyone benefits from that.

I know that some divorces are horrible, and many books deal with the fallout from that, but my aim was that Fil and Harry should be fun to read, even while it was dealing with some serious issues. I try to deal with divorce, the tightrope-walk of fitting in at school, and the perfidy of Mean Girls with a fairly light touch in Fil and Harry.

So far, no sequel has been planned, but it’s hard to imagine normalcy with a talking cat! What other wacky adventures do you think await the main characters?

Hmmm, this is a question I wasn’t expecting! Harry the clever cat could get Fil into and out of all sorts of trouble! He does have a habit of talking when he shouldn’t.

I’ll have to put my thinking cap on.

And finally—how would you react to discovering your cat could talk?

In a nutshell, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. It was always obvious that he thought he was at least as human as me.

My current cat is a very beautiful Ragdoll with stunning blue eyes, but he’s middle-aged now and he’s never shown any sign of wanting to talk 🙂

Announcements, authors, Illustrators, Junior fiction, Reviews

Lovely advance review for Fil and Harry

We are delighted to announce that there was a lovely advance review, by Lian Hingee of Readings, of Fil and Harry in this week’s edition of the Weekly Book Newsletter (Books+Publishing). Here’s an extract from the review:

Written by Jenny Blackford, whose debut book The Girl in the Mirror won the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children’s Crime Novel, Fil & Harry also includes whimsical illustrations by Kristin Devine…..It is a gentle novel with short, accessible chapters and some excellent vocabulary-building words for emerging readers to discover. It’s perfect for readers aged seven and up.

Congratulations to Jenny and Kristin! It’s a great start for the novel’s reception.

Fil and Harry will be released on May 3.

Announcements, authors, Books, Cover reveals, Illustrators

Cover reveal for Fil and Harry!

We are delighted to reveal today the gorgeous front and full cover of Fil and Harry, a fabulous new junior novel by Jenny Blackford, which we are publishing on May 1. The beautiful cover illustration is by Kristin Devine, who has also created some great internal black and white illustrations for the book. Design of the covers is by Kristin and by Authors’ Elves.

Read more about Fil and Harry here.

authors, Books, seasonal stories, short stories

Congratulations to Rebecca Fung!

Congratulations to our lovely author Rebecca Fung, writer of the fabulous chapter book Princess Hayley’s Comet (illustrated by Kathy Creamer), which we published in 2018. Rebecca has just had a beautiful seasonal fairytale, The Snow Goose, published in the prestigious international digital magazine, Enchanted Conversations. Perfect holiday reading! Check it out here.

And check out the fabulous activities Rebecca devised around Princess Hayley’s Comet, here.

Rebecca Fung (pic by Gildus Lam)
Announcements, Business, collaborations, internships, publishing, United Publishers of Armidale

Introducing our new intern for United Publishers of Armidale!

Christmas Press and Little Pink Dog Books, under the umbrella of our joint initiative, United Publishers of Armidale, are delighted to announce the appointment of Ms Sharnee Rawson to a 3-month publishing internship with us.

Sharnee Rawson, an experienced regionally-based writer and editor who has worked in a range of media, is soon about to complete a bachelor degree in Media and Communications at UNE, majoring in Writing and Publishing, acquiring several academic awards in the process. Wishing to extend her experience to book publishing, she approached us with her excellent resume, and after a fruitful meeting online discussing possible projects she might be involved in, we were delighted to confirm her appointment.

Congratulations and welcome, Sharnee! We are delighted to have you working with us on several projects over the next few months. And we would like to introduce you to our readers, friends and supporters. So, here are a few questions for you!

How did you come to select us as publishers you’d like to work with?

Although there were several fantastic publishers based in the New England region, United Publishers of Armidale was distinguished by its its combination of two prominent children’s book publishers, Christmas Press and Little Pink Dog Books. I had known since the beginning of my undergraduate degree that I wanted to be involved in book publishing for younger audiences, so when I discovered United Publishers of Armidale, I knew I had to take part!

Like us, you are based in Armidale—have you always lived there, or have you come here more recently?

I’ve lived in a motley of places over the years, but for most of my life, I called a small rural property near Grafton home. It was after graduating from high school in 2017 that I moved to Armidale to begin my bachelor’s degree at the University of New England. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to explore many of the national parks in the region, including favourites like Gara Gorge and Wollomombi Falls. It’s certainly a beautiful area.

Can you tell us about your professional background as an editor and writer? What kinds of things have you worked on?

I’ve had some previous experience in the publishing industry, although, until recently, it has primarily been in news and journalism. One of the most rewarding of these positions was as a content writer at News Corp’s The Daily Examiner. The experience was fascinating, and it granted me the opportunity to work with a range of mediums, including paper-based publications, online publications and videographic material. Working at News Corp also prepared me for my next role at Tune!FM where I had the privilege of working as editor-in-chief for the company’s online news platform. United Publishers of Armidale is my first experience at a book publishing company.

Tell us about the degree you are about to complete, and why you chose to major in writing and publishing? And what’s next for your studies?

Currently, I’m in my final trimester of a Bachelor of Media and Communications degree with a major in Writing and Publishing. Originally, I had enrolled as a Bachelor of Arts student, but I quickly realised media and communications offered the specialisation I needed to enter the publishing industry. So far, I haven’t been disappointed! In 2021, I plan to enrol in a Bachelor of Media and Communications with Honours degree and continue my studies at the University of New England.

What areas interest you most in publishing? What do you hope to learn from the internship with us? And what opportunities do you hope might come from it?

As most individuals within the publishing industry will probably agree, interest in the field began through a love of reading. In high school, I remember googling ‘Jobs relating to books’ and when I read about the publishing industry, I thought, ‘Great! A job where I can read all day!’ I now know there’s a lot more to publishing than simply reading, but I still haven’t lost my passion. In editing, in particular, there’s something about refining a text that will be read and enjoyed by like-minded readers that offers enormous appeal. Through my internship at United Publishers of Armidale, I would love to continue to develop my editing skills and gain further insight into various aspects of publishing. Hopefully, the experience will lead me to further work opportunities within the industry.

And finallyWhat’s on your reading pile at the moment?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is currently sitting on my bedside table. I’ve loved the author’s previous work and can’t wait to tuck in!

Sharnee Rawson
Announcements, authors, Books, collaborations, Cover reveals, forthcoming books, Illustrators, News, Picture books

Announcing a special publishing collaboration–and a very special book!

Press Release, Friday December 4

Six-year-old Australian author Chelsea Hardi’s first picture book to be published in 2021

Richmond Publishing, in association with Christmas Press, is proud to announce that in April 2021 it will be publishing The Magic Ball of String, a beautiful picture book with text by a fabulous debut author, six-year-old Sydney resident Chelsea Hardi, who is not only one of Australia’s but also one of the world’s youngest published authors.

Chelsea was born to tell stories and narrates them to her mother, Irina, before going to sleep every night. She has always been in love with Russian fairytales which comforted her when at the age of four and a half, suffering from pneumonia, she was in hospital in Moscow for an extended period.  It was during this difficult time that, influenced by those fairytales, she created the first version of The Magic Ball of String, telling it to her mother who wrote it down for her. Since then, the story has evolved through the editing process, which Chelsea was fully a part of, to become a fresh and charming tale of adventure, family love, the power of kindness, and the unexpected magic of a certain ball of string.

With beautiful pictures by acclaimed international illustrator Olya Badulina, this book is a dream come true for the young author, and one that children and families across Australia will take to their hearts.

Richmond Publishing (a division of Oliver Freeman Pty Ltd) is delighted that The Magic Ball of String will be on the 2021 publishing list of award-winning children’s books publisher Christmas Press, which will be promoting and marketing the book across its networks.  And Christmas Press is delighted to be working in association with Richmond Publishing on the release of this very special book which so exemplifies the magic of stories in the lives of children.

About the book:

The Magic Ball of String

By Chelsea Hardi

Illustrated by Olya Badulina

ISBN: 9781875613069, 36 pages, Hardcover, RRP: $19.99

Published April 2021 by Richmond Publishing, a division of Oliver Freeman Pty Ltd

In association with Christmas Press

Distributed by Peribo

Three beautiful princesses set out to explore the kingdom, looking for adventure. When they become separated from their father, and cross paths with a hungry bear, they become lost in the midst of a dark forest. The eldest princess is determined to find a way home, and the King is determined to find his daughters. And with the help of a man with a brave and kind heart, the grateful gesture of a tiny hedgehog, and a magic ball of string, everyone may just find what they truly seek …

Author Chelsea Hardi
Illustrator Olya Badulina
Announcements, authors, Books, Illustrators, Junior fiction, News

Delighted to announce our new Junior Fiction list!

We are delighted to announce our new Junior Fiction list, for young readers who want to graduate from chapter books, but aren’t ready yet to move into middle-grade fiction, and who still like illustrations in their reading! And we’re even more delighted that Fil and Harry, the debut book on this list, is by the award-winning team of author Jenny Blackford and illustrator Kristin Devine. Jenny’s previous novel with us, The Girl in the Mirror (published last year in the Eagle Books imprint) won the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children’s Crime Novel, while in 2019 Kristin won first place in the New England Illustration Award, which is open to illustrators all over Australia.

Can Fil’s cat Harry really talk? And can he find a way out of the tangle she’s in? Read more about this fresh, lively and touching novel here. We’re publishing it in May 2021. Watch this space!

Jenny Blackford with her Ragdoll cat, Felix
Illustrator Kristin Devine