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Putting pencil to paper



June Graham

Usually, writing is my default position. At the moment, I'm working on a book in Gaelic for children aged 8-11. Last year, I was awarded a Gaelic New Writers Award from the Gaelic Books Council, which has given me access to invaluable support and advice.

I'm writing about Pangur, a Swiss cat who is quite happy with his lot in life until his crazy family take him to live on a remote Scottish island. The weather is bad and the other cats are nasty to him. Pangur decides to take matters into his own paws and make his way back to Switzerland. However, he gets his ferries mixed up and travels around the Highlands where he learns about love and loss.

Images are very important in a book aimed at children in primary school, so I began to think about how I would illustrate it. I talked to an artist who suggested I have a go at doing my own pictures.

There was a period in my life when I was drawing all the time. However, this got put to one side, along with many other things, when the kids came along.

Although I was more than a wee bit rusty, I thought it would be worth I try. I went into town and bought paper and pencils (before the lockdown) and then looked on the internet for advice. I didn't find anything that told me how to go about illustrating a children's book but I did read this: 'Don't think too much. Just start drawing!' This was very helpful when I was sitting in front of a beautiful white page and thinking that I was just about to spoil it with an ugly drawing.

My first attempts weren't great, but I got a bit better each time I put pencil to paper. Once all the coronavirus restrictions came into effect, it was difficult to keep up my normal writing schedule. I was tired and harassed from trying to supervise school at home. It was a relief to start drawing and use a different part of my brain.

I knew what my characters say, what they feel and even how they smell (my main character is a cat), but I didn't have a concrete picture of them in my head. Until I started drawing her, I didn't know what Lexy looked like (an elderly lady who helps Pangur).

A book for children this age has to move along quite fast and use simple language. There isn't room for description which isn't absolutely necessary for the story. However, the drawings have given me the opportunity to add extra details. For example, I added the German words for apples, cheese and nappies to the boxes which the family use when they pack up to go to Scotland.

I still have a long way to go, but I've learnt a lot from overcoming my fear of putting pencil to paper.

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