It’s publication day for Jenny Blackford’s fabulous junior novel, Fil and Harry! Illustrated with charming, lively black and white pictures by Kristin Devine, this is a warm and engaging short novel, with a touch of fantasy, which readers seven and up will love.
Find out more about the book, author and illustrator here and read a great review of the book here.
We’re pleased to announce that Fil and Harry now has its own Featured Book pages on the United Publishers of Armidale website. On the site, you can find an information page about the book which includes links to pre-ordering and to interviews with author Jenny Blackford and illustrator Kristin Devine, and an activities page. The activities include Jenny reading an extract from the book’s first chapter, a word search puzzle, downloadable and printable colouring pages based on Kristin’s illustrations, and some great downloadable Teacher’s Notes packed with more info and activities. Check it all out!
There’s a lovely new review of Fil and Harry at writer and reviewer Jonathan Shaw’s blog. Praising the story’s ‘sweet warmth’ he calls it a ‘quiet companionable tale’ which he much enjoyed, along with Kristin Devine’s illustrations. He also has some very nice words for Christmas Press, which we really appreciated!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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!