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Viewing Blog: Sarah McIntyre, Most Recent at Top
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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. happy birthday, mom!

For my fabulous mother, who loves her dahlias.

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2. dressing up

Some friends came over yesterday and, of course, we dressed up. Here's the friend the hero in There's a Shark in the Bath is named after:

(I love how it looks like a 1970's album cover.) And Pugs of the Frozen North is dedicated to these two rascals:

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3. cornell collective podcast

Hey, I was in a podcast with Margaret Dunlap, Paul Cornell and John Scalzi (edited by Dave Probert from Geek Planet Online)! You can listen to us chat about what we do over on the Cornell Collective website.

Cornell Collective

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4. #portraitchallenge: boris kustodiev

Here's my version of The Tradeswoman at Tea (also translated as The Merchant's Wife, the classic Russian painting by Boris Kustodiev from 1819.

There's a nice description and a bit of background on the original painting from the State Russian Museum over on this blog.

And cartoonist and comics professor Lynda Barry has written an excellent essay on why copying artwork is such a good way of studying it. I agree, I don't feel I've really seen a piece properly until I've drawn it myself, learning all the different parts of it and wondering why the artist had a certain line ending in a certain place or admiring a positioning of colour to make something in the painting appear to leap forward. Read the whole essay on Lynda's blog.

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5. how to draw mr corbyn

Fun for the whole family!

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6. #picturesmeanbusiness: publishing perspectives

Big thanks to Alastair Horne for running this #PicturesMeanBusiness interview on Publishing Perspectives:

You can follow Alastair on Twitter at @pressfuturist, and @pubperspectives. Big thanks to Declan Shalvey, over in the USA, who's been doing similar work for the #ArtCred campaign. If you're at New York Comic Con, be sure to support the talk he's giving. (@declanshalvey on Twitter.)

You can read more about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign at picturesmeanbusiness.com.

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7. #portraitchallenge: efimov by ilya repin

Here's my take on today's #PortraitChallenge, a painting by Ilya Repin from around 1870, owned by one of my all-time favourite museums, the Russian State Museum in St Petersburg. (I like it even better than the Hermitage, even though the Hermitage is more grand.) Here's Repin's original:

I tried to draw it quickly in brown felt-tip marker for a change, then added some colour in Photoshop. Check out other people's drawings over at @StudioTeaBreak on Twitter!

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8. my pool

I ought to do more pool comics, there's so much material.

swimming pool

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9. why i love pokémon go

Pokemon Go


To any book-loving kid, these parental words are torturous. 'But I'm right in the middle of a chapter!' I protested, age 10, at least a hundred times. Adults like to think of children enjoying nature. And sometimes as kids we do spot a beautiful butterfly or an interesting flower. Better yet, we find somewhere awesome where we can build a fort or dig trenches and flood someone's sand box. But anyone from the suburbs or the city can probably remember trudging to that local bit of concrete and grass known as the local park. Cast your mind back. It was DULL. Or if it was filled with less-than-friendly kids, worse than dull. Even as an adult, Greenwich Park is amazing, but my local park, well... I can't figure out how to use the artsy exercise equipment. And if I go running in it, I get cat-called and my body described back to me. It's not where I've gone for fun.


Guess what, my boring local park is now a major hub of Pokémon Go; there are magical creatures hiding behind every bush, beautiful rose petals falling from the sky and PokéStops where I can stock up on the little red and white balls I need to catch the wild Pokémon. Okay, you could say it's the sign of a mid-life crisis, and this Guardian cartoon by the brilliant Stephen Collins made me laugh:

Click here to read the larger version on the Guardian page

Catching the critters is some of the fun, but what's just as fun is seeing clusters of people in the park working on various Pokémon-Go-related things. Yesterday evening I sat on a bench next to a Lure (which is a temporary area circled off on the map with pretty confetti and rose petals falling on it from the sky, designed to lure in the wee beasties). And I ended up having a quite involved and lively conversation with the guy next to me on the bench, a black guy, about 20. And then a middle-aged white woman nearby with a little dog compared notes with us, and the hipster couple on a nearby bench called over a few game-related comments. I tried to think of previous instances when I would have ever started up conversations with these people. Maybe the lady with the dog, it's easy to talk to someone with a critter. But not the other ones. The young black guy told me about how we can team up for battle to defeat a 'Gym'; he and about nine other players got together and managed to defeat another team a couple nights ago and take the Gym. (We both happen to be on the Red team.)

We got on so well that I could totally imagine planning to meet up with him and other people in the park for battle, and it's so above-board and nothing to do with how I look... it felt rather wonderful. I suddenly realised that it's a great way to make local friends in the neighbourhood; it gives us something totally neutral to natter on about. And if I was dating, I'd much prefer to pick up people that way than by going to a bar. It wouldn't be dating at all, just playing the game, and it would give me time to suss out whether I liked people or not. And even if they didn't find me physically attractive, it wouldn't really matter, they'd still value me for my gaming skills and we could have fun together. I love how it brings together people from all ages, races and physical fitness levels, those things are kind of irrelevant.

I recently read a press release bemoaning how Pokémon Go is distracting children from reading books. But kids who weren't reading anyway aren't suddenly abandoning books, and kids who live in books, it gives them something to do outdoors that makes the real world feel a bit more magical and full of stories. As a kid, I would have adored making a zine about Pokémon characters, or drawing a comic about going out to catch them. And I would have devoured any comics about them that I could have found in my library.

One of the big differences of Pokémon Go to many other games is that it can't be played in the solitary confinement of one's bedroom. Its critters gravitate toward parks and public art, so the game invites adventure and real-life stories by getting us out, possibly even discovering part of our local area we didn't know about. Kids need stories in books, but they need stories in real life, too, interacting with places and other people.

The day after the game was released in the UK, I remember reading a Facebook post by a parent with an autistic kid who was flabbergasted by its impact: her kid had never wanted to go to the park, never talked with the other children. And suddenly he was begging to go to the park and happily chatting away with the other kids about catching critters.

I'm not saying Pokémon Go is the most awesome game ever, but if it's how the future might work, I rather like it. In fact, it's partly because it's such a silly game - any little kid could play it - that it makes the social side of it more fun: we can't take ourselves too seriously over it. While I was playing in the park, a suited businessman sidled by, obviously doing the same thing, and we grinned sheepishly - but rather happily - at each other. Perhaps it's just the early innocent days and it will get more intense and people will have to be more expert at it to have any street cred. But it's in a very nice friendly phase right now, and hopefully the company will figure out how to build on that and keep it going as the game develops. It's a fascinating study of people.

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10. shark & unicorn: on ice!

Hello, I'm back! I haven't blogged for awhile, so here's a peek at a Shark & Unicorn comic strip I had in the Funday Times awhile back:

Nice and icy for summer:

And I HAVE actually been on ice and looking at glaciers! (That's my little sister on the left, getting snow water for us to filter.)

I have loads to tell you about my trip to the Pacific Northwest but first I need to catch up on a zillion e-mails (because I basically ignored e-mail for two weeks). And do some roughs for my next picture book.... you can get a tiny peek at it in this photo Elissa Elwick just took of me in the studio. And here's a peek at freshly printed copies of her new picture book with Philip Ardagh which came in while I was away! We both have picture books launching this autumn (Little Adventurers for her, The Prince of Pants for me).

Speaking of which, I just saw that bookings are open for our Prince of Pants Cartoon Museum event in London on Sat, 24 Sept from 1-2pm! Definitely book tickets if you're interested (details on the website), as the workshop space only fits about 30 people, max. It should be rollicking good fun!

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11. #portraitchallenge: mulay ahmad of tunis, by rubens, 1609

Here's my watercolour version of today's #PortraitChallenge. It's a portrait by Peter Paul Rubens and I discovered it first on the @medievalpoc account on Twitter. You can find out more about it on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website.

And the pencil lines, before I coloured them in. Check out the other drawings over at @StudioTeaBreak, they're fab! :)

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12. #portraitchallenge: virginia woolf

Here's my drawing for today's @StudioTeaBreak #PortraitChallenge! I took a bit of liberty with her nose; I didn't want it to look like an exact copy of the photo.

Virginia Woolf

Here's the original, a platinum print photo by George Charles Beresford from 1902, at the National Portrait Gallery. See other people's drawings over here on Twitter!

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13. the prince of pants: meeting alan macdonald

Something very exciting happened today... I went to the Scholastic UK offices and got to meet Alan MacDonald, the writer of our upcoming picture book, The Prince of Pants!! (You might recognise Alan as the writer of the Dirty Bertie books with David Roberts.)

Lately I've gotten used to working on books with people I already know, but Alan's text was so good, and had so much space for me to put fun stuff into it with the pictures, that I jumped on it. But I kept being like, WHEN ARE WE GOING TO MEET??! HUH? HUH?? So FINALLY. (And he's ace.) Also fabulous are the team we worked with on the book! Here's our editor (who's from Finland!), Pauliina Malinen, and I worked on the pictures and layout with awesome designer Strawberrie Donnelly (on the right).

Strawberrie took a big risk with this book because she tried out a brand-new kind of ink, and we had no idea how it would turn out. On the first test print run, everyone's skin came out bright orange, like Donald Trump, and we were so nervous that it wouldn't work on the second batch... but it did! The colours look awesome and... oh my goodness, are they BRIGHT! I hope you get to see what I mean, you could almost get a suntan if you looked at the interiors of this book for too long. And the glow-in-the-dark pants at the end really glow!

Here are a couple development paintings I did right at the beginning of the project, to try to figure out how Prince Pip would work. You might recognise the fat pony from the #PictureMeanBusiness campaign. I've been slightly obsessed with fat ponies lately. (Credit to Philip Reeve, who actually painted the first fat Pegasus picture.)

And here are our publicity team who helped us make some videos, Lucy Richardson and Olivia Horrox. I did a couple drawing tutorials (which I hope I can show you later), and we even filmed ourselves singing our new PANTS song. I was super-nervous, I'd only practiced it the night before, and I didn't know if I'd be able to play it without fluffing it every few strums on the ukulele. But I was super-proud that we did it in one take, even if I broke out in a massive post-traumatic stress sweat afterward, like all the menopauses at once, ha ha.

The Prince of Pants comes out in October, and we can't wait to show it to you!

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14. #picturesmeanbusiness: the bookseller rising stars 2016

I was chuffed to get a call from journalist Tom Tivnan, that The Bookseller had put me up for their Rising Stars gallery, for my work on the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign. It's nice to be recognised, but even better, it's great to see The Bookseller championing a campaign that was initially critical of them. They took the criticism in a thoughtful, professional way, made changes to the way they credited illustrators, and they're now real champions of the cause. Thank you, Tom, Fiona Noble, Philip Jones, Charlotte Eyre, Sarah Shaffi, Natasha Onwuemezi, Kiera O'Brien, FutureBook's Porter Anderson and everyone who have been working hard to credit illustrators and encouraging other people to do so, too. We're definitely making progress and seeing more illustrator names on front book covers and illustrators mentions in the media (including in The Bookseller).

While I don't think it's really a one-person campaign - it takes lots of people to make a difference - The Bookseller are leading the way and I'm very grateful to them for that. Article by Tom Tivnan ('cos #JournalismMeanBusiness):

I've highlighted the bits I think are the most important, and I can only do this campaigning because of the support I've had from my co-author Philip Reeve, Liz Cross and our publisher OUP, my agent Jodie Hodges, Joy Court of the Carnegie-Greenaway committee, the Society of Authors (Nicola Solomon, Niall Slater, Jo McCrum), Andre Breedt and the data team at Nielsen, Kellie Barnfield and Helen Graham at Little Brown for their help with data, Kate Wilson for starting up the Illustrator Salons, and all the writers, illustrators, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers and people in publishing who have been looking out to see illustrators credited properly and professionally.

A lot of illustrators are still frightened of looking like 'trouble' to speak out, but from what they say to me in private, I know your help will be hugely appreciated. Working as a freelance illustrator is a scary job, especially if you don't have a working partner or family who can look after you when your pay is uneven. I've been lucky that my partner works and it's given me some more freedom to trying to make the profession a bit more accessible to single people and people from poorer backgrounds. #PicturesMeanBusiness won't solve all the problems facing illustrators, but we need to fix the industry one step at a time: if illustrators don't have to lose brand-name recognition and the resulting loss of business because the industry, media and society at large are crediting them properly, we can focus our energies elsewhere, trying to make a living and making better books. And publishers will win in so many ways, including better searchability for their books in metadata, being able to grow their illustrators as brands that people want to search out and buy, and by gaining illustrator loyalty.

You can read more in this article by Tom Tivnan and Tom Holman, and find out about the other Rising Stars here. And, of course, find out about Pictures Mean Business at PicturesMeanBusiness.com. Do spread the word about the campaign!

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15. confused croissant

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16. down the rabbit hole with william grill

Today I met up with the winner of last year's Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, William Grill, to talk about this year's Greenaway shortlist. We were hosted by Resonance FM 104.4 radio, with Down the Rabbit Hole presenters author Katherine Woodfine and agent Louise Lamont. (Oh, and Will's 13-year-old dog, Barney.) Across the desk here are Louise and Will in the station's Borough High Street studio.

And you can listen to the half-hour radio show here!

Here are the books we were discussing:

That was fun, thanks, everyone!


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17. we have NOT destroyed our children's future: looking for hope in brexit britain

I was away all weekend doing book-festival-related work in Manchester and didn't have much time to follow social media, but whenever I had a brief chance to dip in, I'd get hit with a massive wave of people's despair over the EU Referendum results. It felt like people were whipping themselves into a frenzy of thinking we were in a dystopian apocalypse like something you'd read about in The Road or The Hunger Games. People were saying we'd destroyed our children's future.

Cartoon by UK-based German illustrator Axel Scheffler, visual creator of The Gruffalo popular picture books

I was gutted; I'd voted Remain and I couldn't see how our country would go forward with a Brexit strategy, if it had one at all. (And it turned out no one DID have a strategy.) The economy is taking a big tumble. I ran into an old friend in a coffee shop who runs a building company, and he and his wife were having a very hard, worried discussion about what they were going to do now about their investments and contracts they were about to sign.

But the fact is, unless we've sterilised everyone in Britain and killed everyone under the age of 18, we haven't destroyed our children's future. The future's not some puddle that we can stamp in and muddy; that's called the present. The good thing about the future is that we're not allowed to touch it, it's always ahead of us, and we will change and adapt to survive in the years ahead. Of course our children will have 'futures', even if they're not quite what we would want for them. Maybe they will do some things better than we did because our generation were too narrow-minded to see certain options.

In the meantime, we can make a positive impact on the children around us, the Leave vote's not going to stop that. Authors I know are visiting schools all over the country - even this past weekend - inspiring kids to create their own stories, think up new ways of seeing things, empathise with other people, try to imagine a better future than the present they're living in.

I was listening to a swimming instructor this morning giving kids confidence to float. I visited the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital over the weekend where hospital teaching staff were thinking of creative ways to help children learn, whether they were in hospital for three days or three years. And a charity called Readathon UK were providing them mobile library shelves so sick kids and their families have something to read.

These things are still happening and we can fight for them to keep going. Most importantly, parents, relatives and foster parents still love and care about their kids and want the best for them; that hasn't changed with the vote.

People are saying our country is wrecked. I've lived in the USA (for 21 years) and in Russia (for two years) and I can confidently say that we do some things much better than those two countries. In fact, I love this place so much that this is where I've chosen to stay (and I'm incredibly grateful to have had that option). I love the way in Britain that we value our history; it's written into the literature and fabric of our communities and we treasure and meticulously catalogue it so we can learn from the past. I love the landscape, I love its people's sense of humour.

But any country is like a family: we have embarrassing Grandpa Jo who keeps touching lady's bums. We have annoying Aunt Hazel who won't stop making vile jokes about the Nigerian neighbours. But unlike a country, we know everyone in the family pretty well: we know Grandpda Jo has dementia and isn't quite in control of what he does (which doesn't make it any less embarrassing, but he's not getting any better). And we know that Aunt Hazel got badly bullied by her classmates as a child and then by her partner, and always lived on the same road that's different now than it used to be; being racist is her attempt to have some control over her environment. It doesn't excuse what she says, but we do our best to try to help her see why what she's saying is incredibly unhelpful to everyone. Sometimes we get into big arguments with her and it takes awhile for the relationship to mend. But we look after her daughter; we have discussions with her, lend her books and watch movies with her, take her 'round to meet the neighbours (who have a kid her age), and help her see that there are more ways of seeing the world than the way her mother sees it, that she can make choices. Sometimes we learn unexpected things about Britain's history from Aunt Hazel, who's lived longer and seen things changing. We don't brand Joe and Hazel 'evil' from a safe Internet distance, we get on living with them as best we can.

I see a lot of good things happening in Britain. Last weekend I saw London Mayor Sadiq Khan standing firmly with the people taking part in the London Pride march. That guy's putting himself in a lot of danger from people who might see him as a traitor to his religion, but he's not letting that stop him.

I saw activist Peter Tatchell tweeting an article about the Pope, who says it's time for the Church to apologise for how it's treated gay people. Yes, the Church is massively messed up, but it's wonderful to hear its most influential member trying to turn it around. And sometimes we have to learn to speak to religious people in their own language; just yelling louder won't make them understand. To do this, we have to listen to people of faith who care deeply about social justice issues and aren't afraid of healthy debate. Don't ignore everything they say just because you don't believe in God or their particular religion. Or if you do, don't be surprised when they don't listen to you or vote as you would like them to.

And racism. Not all people who voted Leave did so for racist motives, but many hardcore racists seem to have taken the vote as validation for ugly words and behaviour. Racism isn't anything new, but the recent turmoil is making us re-examine who we are, hopefully listen to people from other backgrounds, and listen and discuss with them what's important to make our society function as harmoniously as possible. Listening will be a big part of that. And we always have to jump in immediately to show everyone we're not racist; sometimes we just need to listen and help those people's voices be heard.

The EU isn't perfect; it has some protectionist trade policies which deliberately keep other countries poor so that European countries can protect their own industries (using places such as Kenya as a source of raw materials but restricting their exports of processed goods to the EU). I don't even know enough about this, just that there are some incredibly unfair things happening because of EU decisions. Perhaps this shakeup will force people in Britain to look at the skeleton frame of how our society works, question how we set up new policies, and make better decisions. But it means trying to be aware, and I'm as guilty as anyone of keeping my head in the sand and citing overwhelming workload as my excuse to stay ignorant. We can't trust our leaders to know what's best, we have to ask questions and argue and fight for what's right, step by step. Twitter and Facebook won't be strong enough tools for that fight, we need to find more effective, non-violent methods.

We need to get creative. And friends in the book industry, isn't that what we do? We need to think creatively and ask questions. That doesn't mean all our work has to be serious and 'worthy'; sometimes humour has a lot more power to make people question the status quo than impassioned arguments. And not all our work will seem directly related to the cause; things such promoting Reading For Pleasure may mean we spend time helping kids to read (and make) comics about space cats or draw exploding toilets... that's perfectly valid! This isn't time spent away from building a better Britain, this is giving kids some building blocks to a life of literacy and educated questioning.

...And kids make find some of the building blocks of empathy and social awareness from things other than books - films, games, language exchange programmes, music, dance, volunteering at nursing homes and homeless shelters, after-school clubs, hiking, sports, activities - we need to accept that, too, and not think we're the big heroes in all this and that it's all about books. (Sometimes we book people do that.)

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't have all the answers, but whatever your Facebook feed is telling you, let's not write off our country and revel so much in the horror that we spread general feelings of powerlessness. Let's love our country, and love it in that active way that is a decision and a commitment as much as a feeling.

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18. #portraitchallenge: utamaro

Here's our #PortraitChallenge drawings from last Thursday! This time we were riffing on a 1801 woodblock print by Japanese master Utamaro. I played around, drawing mine without looking at the paper. (Can you spot the messy one?) :)

You can see more over at @StudioTeaBreak.

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19. #portraitchallenge: sylvia von harden by otto dix

Thanks to everyone who took part in Thursday's #PortraitChallenge, over on @StudioTeaBreak! Click on the links to see if any more pop up, and here's more information about painter Otto Dix and his 1926 subject, journalist Sylvia von Harden (whose painting self has a brief cameo in the opening of the film Cabaret).

(Here was mine, a bit larger):

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20. interview with irish children's laureate pj lynch!

New Irish Laureate na nOg PJ Lynch is going to be recording a series of interviews with different illustrators, and I was lucky enough to be his first person! Here's a chat we had at Listowel Writers' Week about drawing, influences, a peek at a stage event with Philip Reeve and a tutorial, how to draw one of the pugs from Pugs of the Frozen North. Hope you enjoy it! :)

You can follow PJ Lynch on Twitter: @PJLynchArt

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21. fashion show with esther marfo

Here are some photos of my very brief modeling career! :D

On Saturday, a few friends and I went along to the fashion show of my amazing tailor Esther Marfo. She makes lots of the dresses I wear to festivals and things, and she's amazing. Here are all her models lined up together.

And Esther herself! If I just draw a picture of the outfit I'm thinking of, she's able to make it, without a pattern or anything.

Photo from Esther Blessed Facebook page

I used to pop in to see Esther all the time at her shop on the high street, but she's since closed shop and started working from home. If you want to commission some work from Esther, you can find her on her Facebook page as Esther Blessed.

(You can see a bit more of her work over on the #EstherMarfo hashtag on Twitter.)

Photo from Esther Blessed Facebook page

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22. raven girl, seagull lady

Happy birthday, Audrey Niffenegger! Audrey taught me how to do etching in her studio in Chicago last summer and I don't have etching facilities here so I tried to fake something that sort of looks like an etching with aquatint.

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23. new handbag i just had to show you

I'm not really a shoes & handbags kind of gal, but Yasmin from the bead shop just set me up with this corker. I love it so much, it looks like some sort of strange carnival teapot. It's sitting by my desk and I keep reaching over affectionately to pat its belly.

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24. esther marfo

Here's a drawing of the talented lady who makes a lot of my dresses, Esther Marfo.

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25. pugs win independent bookshop week award 2016!

Why are my co-author Philip Reeve and I in Daunt Books Marylebone looking VERY excited?

We'd found out we'd won the children's book category for Pugs of the Frozen North in this year's Independent Bookshop Week Award! It's a celebration of indie bookshops, booksellers, and the amazing way they know their books so well and can stock and recommend just the right titles, and be real hubs in their communities. Besides selling books, indie bookshops have hosted wonderful events for us, knitted pugs, and encouraged us on social media, and we love them.

Philip has already blogged about it, and you can read more about the award in this Guardian article by Emily Drabble and over on the IndieBound website. And there's another article in The Bookseller here, by Lisa Campbell.

Big congrats to Emily MacKenzie, who won the Picture Book category, and Anne Enright, who won the Adult book category. Thanks to all the judges (Nicolette Jones, 2015 winner Sally Nicholls, Steven Pryse from Pickled Pepper Bookshop and Carrie Morris from Booka Bookshop). And thanks, of course, Britain's marvelous indie bookshops!

This kicks off Independent Bookseller Week and the best way to celebrate is to go down to your local indie and buy some books! :) If you don't have a local, Stephen Holland at Page 45 in Nottingham and lots of other shops are more than happy to post things to you. (Stephen's hand-sold SO many copies of Pugs of the Frozen North! Oh, and here's a link to my website in case you want to knit a pug or learn how to draw one.

Louisa Mellor at Den of Geek is compiling a list of top indies so go on over and add your fave if you don't see it there. You can watch developments from the week over on Twitter: #IBW2016

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