Sunday, August 19, 2012

How the Book was Created - 'A Year with Marmalade'

It’s a big welcome today to author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Heath McKenzie as they blog tour with their new book, ‘A Year with Marmalade’, published by The Five Mile Press – and to offer you a chance to win a copy.

It’s a lovely story of losing friends, making new ones and coping with change – and delightfully illustrated and airily designed with lots of delicious white space. Maddy goes away for a year and asks her friend Ella to look after her cat, Marmalade. But Ella’s and Marmalade’s ideas for enjoyment are different. As the seasons pass... – I won’t give any more away.

I love it, but what age range is it really aimed at?

Alison: Thanks for inviting us Peter. Pre-school/early school years – children 2 – 10 years old.

Everyone will adore it, and I can also imagine that it will be very popular in schools to help teach about the seasons.

I know it will have changed somewhat from conception to publication. Who came up with the brilliant idea for raised and embossed lettering on the cover and the tactile, almost sculpted, tree, and at what stage was the decision made?

Heath: This was purely an in-house design idea – and a very good one at that! (At least as far as I’m aware – I’d happily take credit but alas, it wasn’t my brainwave!)

It’s always a joy to work with publishers and their design and production people who go that little bit further to produce books of outstanding quality that will be forever treasured.

I’ve shown my copy to several friends and they all kept feeling the cover. It really does set the scene so well. And the creative typography is an important element throughout the book, too - graphically depicting stomping, falling leaves and much much more. It adds an extra dimension. Did you envisage all that from the start, Heath? Were the word and line shapes pencilled in detail on your initial storyboard?

Heath: Unlike a lot of other projects I’ve worked on, the text placement was designed before I began illustrating. Or more specifically, I’d done a sample spread (the first autumn leaves image with all the piles on the ground) so as to give everyone a good idea as to the style I intended to work with – from there this look was used to design text placement which I then worked with when creating the remaining images. At times my vision and their’s didn’t quite mesh so I’d suggest the odd change or two, but on the whole I did my best to maintain what had been designed.

Did you make any suggestions for word changes so that you could add particular design features? Was there any collaboration between you and Alison? Did you receive any useful suggestions from your art director?

Heath: I made no word changes and only became in contact with Alison after all was done! So on the whole, aside form the text design influences – I was free to carry on as I pleased! Of course, then some editorial discussion takes place and little tweaks are made, but on the whole, things generally remained intact from the initial roughs through to final art.

Do you start off with a pencil, ball-point, Wacom Tablet...?

Heath: I start off with a Wacom tablet and end the same way! From pencil roughs to final art – all digital but all most certainly as traditionally freehand-drawn as possible.

I know you’ve illustrated a significant number of books and are highly skilled at portraying children, but do you ever get children to perform particular actions for you to draw realistically?

Heath: Not yet! Though having just had a daughter – as she grows up, she may become a model more often than she might like! On the odd occasion, I’ve asked my wife for assistance, but that’s been for hand modelling, getting a particular hand pose right that I can’t model myself. Otherwise, my model is a Spider-Man action figure – he has an abundance of articulation points (right down to each finger) and has come in handy many many times!

Are the characters based on any people you know?

Heath: In this book, Ella bares a bit more than a passing resemblance to my niece.

Alison: I grew up with two neighbours/best friends and we played together every minute we could. I tried to imagine what it would have felt like if one of them moved. Marmalade is based on my very special green-eyed cat, Charlotte, who I had when I was little. I wanted to explore how even though things can change we can adapt and things will be even better.

My first pet was a ginger cat - Tom. As soon as we went out for the day or on holiday, he automatically and immediately went next door to get fed along with their cat, but normally never visited.

Can you share a page from the inside with readers, too – and websites people should visit for more information?

Heath: For more information about me, visit:

It’s in need of an update but does the trick nevertheless!

As for a page from the book, instead I’d like to share a rare behind the scenes moment! For every book, I generally begin with designing the characters (very important!). Sometimes it all just comes naturally and easily, sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle to get the look I want right. As can be seen here, Poppy and Ella came quite easily and naturally – Marmalade on the other hand, took a bit of mucking about before I had something I was happy with. (Note also name changes – as I worked on the book, little bits and pieces changed around me along the way, character names being one thing!).

Wow – that’s even more of a treat. Thank you so much for letting us see those, Heath, and for telling us about the process of your book’s creation and development. I’m sure it’s going to be highly successful worldwide. Congratulations to you both and to all the team at The Five Mile Press!

Thanks Peter. It’s been fun!

Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, too, Heath - and to your wife.

And ‘A Year with Marmalade’ is available right now – ISBN 978-1-74248-880-6
RRP:  $14.95.

Alison’s website is full of wonderful things to discover:

...including a competition with a chance to win a signed copy – and a copy of the picture book ‘Lighty Faust the Lion’ (a much bigger cat), too.

I hope I'm right in saying that readers need to share their favourite photo that shows their cat’s personality.

Upload it to Alison’s Facebook page at

or email it to her as a low res jpeg file at and she’ll upload it on her website.

Entries close on the 1st of September.

If you wish to gain some tips and learn more about the writing, illustrating and publishing process of this book, you may like to visit other stop off places on Alison’s and Heath’ blog tour.

Please add a comment or question here, too, if you you wish.

Peter Taylor
Writing for Children

'A Year with Marmalade' Blog Tour

7th August Dee White

9th August Karen Tyrrell

11th August Tania McCartney

13th August Pass It On
14th August Kathryn Apel

17th August Dale Harcombe

20th August Peter Taylor

22nd August Susan Stephenson

23rd August Robyn Opie Parnell

27th August Sally Odgers

29th August Angela Sunde

31st August Chris Bell


Anonymous said...

Great insights. Love your questioning and reflection, Peter. And definitely enjoyed reading more into the process of producing this picture book. I so agree about that feel of the cover. I am also very taken by that little swirl of leaves. So light and feathery perfect.

Thanks, Heath and Alison for sharing your secrets. :)

Dale Harcombe said...

Interesting reading. I had to go back and feel the cover after reading this post. Thanks.

Peter Taylor said...

Many thanks for visiting and for your comments, katswhiskers and Dale.

This is a book I keep wanting to return to and I'm sure children will be saying 'Read it again! Read it again!'

All best wishes


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter and Kat!
Thanks for having us here, Peter.
Kat, I agree about the swirl of leaves. Heath really seems to create a feeling of movement.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dale,
I keep feeling the cover too! It was such a good idea to make the cover tactile.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post, Peter, Heath and Alison
It was fantastic to hear of the journey and development of the illustrations around the design concepts. I just love this book for how it marries the wonderful text and word choice with a fantastic, innovative design alongside Heath’s colour and movement in his illustration style. A winner on every level. Kids will love this story and illustrations. Congratulations to you both on this gorgeous, new picture book.
Best wishes,

Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks for the inside info, Heath. I love hearing how illustrators work with texts.

Alison Reynolds said...

Thanks, Chris.
Peter, Thank you for having me here.
I learnt so much from your post!

Peter Taylor said...

Many thanks for visiting and for your comments, Chris, Sally and Alison.

And special thanks, Alison, for creating such a wonderful book. Though much of this post is about the illustration process, the words had to come first and they highlight changing emotions so well and are a true delight to read.

I agree absolutely, Chris - this book is definitely a winner and one that will be forever treasured. I hope it becomes a series!

Peter :)