Monday, 10 July 2017

Workshops and Hobnobbing!

I've been busy this Summer, getting out and about with my book but also delivering some puppet-making workshops. I spent a lovely afternoon with a merry band of Brighton & Hove teachers, talking about using puppets to help children with big feelings. Puppets are pretty darn magical in this respect...they give you a chance to be you but not be you - to express feelings, tell stories and act out scenarios in a completely non-threatening way. As this group of teachers found out, puppets can also give you the chance to be Lionel Richie, Diana Ross - or both. They had a hilarious group puppet karaoke session, singing Endless Love with great gusto!

I also visited the Medway Schools Emotional Wellbeing Conference, thanks to the wonderful Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, who do such amazing work with young people and those who work with them, promoting emotional wellbeing and just being all-round good eggs. They have produced a fab activity pack to go with my book - available as a PDF if you want one.

On a personal note...a lesser-known fact about me is that I have a phobia of being in spaces where the ceiling is very high. My family are used to it and have to put up with sitting near the back or the wall (preferably both) at the cinema, and avoiding anywhere where I haven't been able to check out the space first. It turned out that the Medway conference was in a former church - possibly a cathedral - with a VERY high ceiling. After a few days of sporadic tears, panicking and generally being a massive nuisance, I armed myself with as much advice and support as I could (plus one beta blocker) and WENT FOR IT. I did it!! It did involve Wonder Woman, but that's another story...

I have been co delivering workshops left right and centre, with the marvellous Amanda Rosenstein Davidson and Phillip Sugg. We've done two shadow puppet ones - one in Hastings and one at Hove Museum; and a glove and finger puppet one at Hove last Saturday. I love workshops with these two. The atmosphere is always relaxed, happy and full of creativity...we often get whole families joining in and there's always a performance at the end. Such fun!

In a rather more bizarre turn of events, I recently went to a breakfast meeting at Newhaven Chamber of Commerce! My best friend Jenny Horscraft is a thrusting business woman - she is the talented creator of Treasured Memory Books - producing truly beautiful keepsakes for bereaved families, military families and for those doing reminiscence work with people with dementia. Anyway I have a  little dream for a Newhaven based community project, so Jenny invited me along to the chamber to talk to people about it. That's right, me, talk to people - and business people at that.

 It was very odd to be networking over mushrooms on toast, especially at the time of day generally reserved for looking like a member of Kiss whilst mainlining coffee and listening to the Today programme. But I enjoyed it! I met some lovely, supportive and inspiring people. If my project has any hope of moving forward I will do my best to join! If I haven't been blackballed that is...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


Hi everyone! Following the recent publication of my book Not Today, Celeste! I'm thrilled to be featured on my publisher's blog. I talk about how the book came about, and some of my working methods. Here's a link!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Steampunk Shenanigans

In my Bluebeard retelling, Bluebeard's ex-wives and their various body parts hung out in a rather funky Forbidden Chamber. I thought you might like to see how I made it...just in case you should have a need for a Forbidden Chamber. (Who am I to judge? Your private life's your own!).

I didn't want an actual room...our staging needed to be very simple and the set minimal. I just wanted a slightly creepy portal of some kind, so I decided a cabinet would probably be the best option considering the size of my tabletop puppets.

First, I found a cabinet. This is it - a boring, melamine bathroom cabinet. It came from the tip, and cost £3.00. My first step was to wash it, and give it a light sanding.

Next, I covered it with a layer or two of kitchen roll, stuck down with a mixture of PVA and water. This was to give it a slightly leathery, weathered look.

I stuck on two bands of string to give the effect of an old trunk, and also some paper doily scraps in the corners to suggest those metal corner pieces you get on luggage. Then I left it all to dry overnight.

Then came the paint job...the fun bit. I knew i didn't want plain black, so I went for a grey-blue. I used acrylic, because that's what I had, but I think any paint would have done just as well. I stippled some black and some white and grey on too - it gave a verdigris effect. Then I left it to dry, and then rubbed on some gilding wax, called Treasure Gold. It's over a fiver for a tiny pot I think - but I have had the same one for absolute yonks - it never seems to run out. You just rub it on with your fingertip - just lightly across the surface rather than working it right in. This highlights the texture nicely. If you overdo it, you can easily paint some of the background over it again.

I quite liked it as it was to be honest, but I wanted Bluebeard to come across as the creepy obsessive he was, so I carried on! As a proper magpie I tend to collect things that I think will come in handy one day, or things I don't think will come in handy, but just like. I occasionally make miniature scenes set inside old clocks, which means I have a carrier bag full of old clock innards. A look at Pinterest confirmed my suspicion that clock bits are indeed quite Steampunky, so I stuck some on (with UHU). I also added some papers I had squirrelled away - an old photo I bought in a flea market, a bit of book spine, jewellery findings, bottle tops...just anything knocking around my studio I thought would look right. I wasn't trying to depict any particular era - quite the opposite, actually - I liked the idea that this weirdo was keeping and displaying a library date stamp from the 1950s alongside some Victorian scraps and a razor blade. (Then it occurred to me that I actually AM that weirdo...)

So, that's it! Afterwards, I lined the inside and cut out the back so that the puppet could be put through. Inside were fairy lights and red silk strewn with bones. Also, I attached some cup hooks on the back so that backdrops could be attached for other parts of the story. I don't have a picture of this unfortunately, but here is the ghost emerging. Katie Lenton, one of my fab puppeteers, cleverly mounted the cabinet on a turntable so that we could do scene changes with a mere flick of the wrist. (I use the royal "we" - Katie, Imogen and Lily did all of that while I sat and read the story!)

The cabinet and its inhabitants later came out on display at the Rottingdean Grange Gallery's exhibition. Follow the link to see the pictures from this really fun and beautiful exhibition.

Check back soon for more news...this time on the illustration front!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


Well, it's been a while! Life has been extreeeeemely busy for me since we last caught up. I mentioned in my last post that I had met the wonderful Imogen Di Sapia, founder of Bright Moon Theatre. Well, a group of like-minded, mostly Brighton based folk started meeting at Imogen's studio for a monthly Puppet Circle, and the long and short of it is, that together we cooked up a dark and beautiful collection of Halloween inspired puppetry pieces, which became a show called The Crossing. We performed this at the absolutely delightful Bom Banes in Brighton. If you are within travelling distance of Brighton but have never been to Bom Banes, I insist you stop what you are doing and make every effort to go there as soon as possible. It's the quirkiest, most special little jewel you will come across for a very long time. It''s...oh just go there. You'll see what I mean.

For those that are still own portion of the show was a retelling of Bluebeard. Re writing a folk tale for puppet theatre, making the puppets, devising directions and sounds...oh I learnt so much, with lots of help from my Bright Moon friends. I must say, not being a willing performer, I almost didn't go through with it. But I am so glad I did - it was a fab evening, and our little audience did seem to enjoy themselves. I had expert puppeteering from Imogen, Lily Waugh and Katie Lenton. Here are a couple of pics - of the puppets themselves and of them in action on the evening.

It would have been a shame to end it there, so we performed again, with extra music and storytelling, at the incredibly beautiful (and sadly to be bulldozed for development) Zu Studios in Lewes.

Anyway I feel you have heard more than enough from me for one day...but I have two treats for you for tomorrow! I will show you how I created the creepy Steampunk-inspired forbidden chamber (as seen above)...and I will share some thrilling news, too!

Monday, 22 June 2015


Hello, poor, neglected blog! Although I don't have any of my work to show at the moment I have still been busy, creatively. (I promise!)

I recently spent a very inspirational day with the goodly folk at the Little Angel Theatre, where I did a course in Writing For Puppetry. It was a brilliant day, and I met some really talented, fabulous people. Most excitingly, I met the lovely Imogen Di Sapia, who has recently started up the Bright Moon Theatre Company. Being only a stone's throw from me in Brighton, we really hope to work together soon! I am planning to make a new puppet, which if all goes well will make her debut on Halloween night…

Yesterday, I went to ELCAF, the East London Comic and Arts Fair. I have missed it every year until now and kicked myself, but at last I made it, and very splendid it was too. Although I have never made a comic/zine it's something I really want to do. Comics people are so lovely, I find, and it was nice to see some of the people I have only so far seen online. I bought a comic by the super talented Isabel Greenberg, whose book The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth is one of my favourite ever books. I also bought one of Philippa Rice's lovely books - she is as nice as she seems in her book! I really enjoyed seeing Viviane Schwarz doing cat portraits of people…was far too shy to get one myself though! Finally I went to a talk by Jillian Tamaki, which was so great…I just want ALL of her books, right now!

My only regret of the day was NOT buying this absolutely scrummy toast plate...
I kept going back and looking longingly at it but I didn't have much money and had only planned on buying books, and was all confused to suddenly be desperate for a plate. I was a fool! I want it so badly! It's made by Charlotte Mei, who I very much wish had done a hard sell! (But was far too nice for that!)

In other news, I recently applied for a job which involved having a one and a half hour Skype meeting. This made me realise that I am in fact hideous and haggard, and am very thankful that my friends and family have stuck by me despite this.  

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Best Friends

It's been a dramatic and stressful weekend, mostly spent watching over Bea, our Beagle, who suffers with a horrible condition called Beagle Pain Syndrome. She had a relapse of this after being spayed. However, thankfully, her recovery was just as sudden and we are now back to constantly thwarting her life's work (getting into the bin, and escaping from the garden).

Despite her being very naughty, we love Bea, and of course our other dog, Poppy, who is actually the best dog who has ever lived. My little sketch today is of two characters in a book I'm working on, Rupert and Celeste. Best friends.

Friday, 17 April 2015

On a roll

Couldn't resist drawing this woman from the Jeremy Kyle Show. Scanned it in whilst waiting for those all-important DNA test results.

Drawing From Film

At the end of a truly nightmarish day, featuring too many social workers, not enough seats and an escaped beagle (don't even ask) I went along to my first session of Drawing From Film in The Depot, Lewes. A member chooses a film which everyone watches (with wine!), and the film is paused several times throughout for everyone to sketch. The pauses vary from 3 to 7 minutes. It's very exciting. Of course the results can be disappointing (see below) but it's such a useful and fun exercise. The film this time was Stranger Than Paradise. As usual I concentrated on the people and ignored all the backgrounds. I really do annoy me.

I was at home today thinking I just can't wait for the next one…and then realised I could actually draw from the telly too. I used to do this when building up sketchbooks for my uni application. Combining my love of drawing with my guilty secret - a love of trashy TV - I drew this handsome fellow from Judge Judy. I gave myself 17 minutes…and still not a background in sight.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Lino Print

I've been busy working on lots of things lately, but none of it is in any fit state to post as yet, so meanwhile, here's a little lino print I did a couple of months back. I love printmaking and wish I could do more of it! But it has to compete with illustration, puppet making, parenthood, housework…and it invariably loses.

In other news I recently did a workshop with the lovely Isobel Smith, which was fab. I came away with a three-year career plan. (And the day involved lighting candles in the forest!)

Monday, 24 November 2014


Don't say I don't keep my promises! My brother in law will be colouring his splendid tache blue very soon…don't forget to donate here for men's health.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remember Movember!

I know, it seems all I ever do these days is ask you for money. This will be the last time for ages, I promise. But please consider dipping into your pockets to help the health and wellbeing of our lovely menfolk. My brother in law Peter Harrison and his workmates are currently growing fine facial hair and  hopefully raising lots of dosh as well as looking very suave.

If they reach £500 by 28th November they will be dyeing their moustaches blue…this just has to happen.

Donate here. I will post a tache-themed bit of artwork in the next few days. Merry Movember!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

I thought I had escaped the Ice Bucket Challenge…just my luck to receive a nomination now the weather has turned cold! The Mister also received a nomination. We really didn't want to be wasting water by slinging it around so instead here is our much drier contribution…

We both have experience of caring for people with Motor Neurone Disease, through our work, and it's  a truly horrible illness. The Mister and I donated today. I hope the extra funds and awareness raised with this campaign will help to find effective treatment. 

I know my artistic friends are often snowed under with deadlines, but should Jo Empson, Kate Walter and Abbie Stanton fancy doing a watery doodle, I for one would love to see it!

I know there is a Twitter er.. thingy for Ice Bucket Doodles, too, so I am sure there's plenty of inspiration there.

Text ICED55 £10 (or whatever amount you choose) to 70070 to donate to the MND Association.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dragon Tales

Check out Jo Empson's blog for a fab account of our puppets' exciting day out at Wychwood Festival!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Bench Mark

When my son asked me why benches in bus shelters were so narrow and uncomfortable, I was forced to explain to him the depressing reason for this - to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them. Benches that can't be sat on are now commonplace in our cities.

This mean-spirited attitude has reached new levels with the advent of homeless spikes. How proud the person must be who first thought of these disgusting little things. What a great way to address the problem of homelessness.

As Alex Andreou said in the Guardian this week, it's a sign which reads "Not even this patch of earth. Not even for the night."

If you thought things couldn't get any worse, this spiked bench was designed by artist Fabian Brunsing. The spikes temporarily retract when a coin is inserted. An installation with a message, I'm sure.  A message completely missed by officials of Yantai Park in China, who thought it was a great idea and apparently installed them there. How long until they appear here, I wonder?

It's incredibly sad that human beings are deliberately depriving other human beings of places to rest.

But. For now, there is still happiness and laughter to be found on benches.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

How to Make a Dragon

I've been busy making a new puppet for the lovely Jo Empson, and thought I would share the process with you. (And me, as I sometimes forget how I did things!)
I was to be re-creating the head of the dragon from the above illustration (copyright Jo Empson), from her picture book "Never Ever", to go with the girl character I made last year.

I decided to make this puppet using the "foam and fleece" method, as is used for the Muppets. Most of the puppets I have made before were either fully textile, or papier mache, but as this puppet needed to be large I thought this would be nice and light, and also look bold and child-friendly.  So - here we go!

1. First, I assembled my chosen studio companions.

(For future reference, note to self - try to choose companions that don't poo on the floor. Bea, I'm looking at you. Don't think I didn't notice, because I did.)

2. I made a pattern from paper for the puppet's mouth plate.

3. I cut the mouth plate out from cardboard. This isn't the best material to use actually - some kind of plastic would be better but I didn't have anything large enough. Then I covered the cardboard with red fabric. I used a kind of wincyette because that's what I had, but a lot of puppet makers use felt. Also most people glue the fabric to the board or use self adhesive felt. But I find sewing less scary as it's undo-able!

4. I made a black "hole" and a pink tongue from felt and glued them on. I used fabric glue…but more about glue later.

5.  The mouth plate started to crease, so I strengthened it by gluing on some jersey fabric, painting on fabric stiffener, and adding a piece of card.

 You can see above that at this stage I made some foam finger holes, because I intended this to be a glove puppet. However, later on it became clear it was too long and weighty to be worked with one hand, so I removed them and made hand holes instead. Here I also started the top of the head by putting the mouth plate on a piece of 1" foam and drawing round it with a large border to allow for shaping it.

6.  I started putting notches in the foam to sculpt it. The black line you can see is the size and shape of the mouth plate.

7. Then I glued the notches together using the hot glue gun. I did the same with the bottom jaw afterwards. (The bottom jaw is 1/2" foam.)
 Throughout all these pics you will notice a range of different glues which I bought and tried and failed with during this process. I even glued my own hands with Gorilla Glue, which swells up. (And, NB, doesn't stick foam). It made my hands so sticky that I couldn't sew afterwards for ages. I used so many chemicals trying to get it off I think I actually took the top layer of skin off. I tried Copydex and PVA, but settled on the hot glue gun which does stick foam very well.

(Most painful place to burn self with hot glue gun? Crook of thumb.)

8. Now to cover the foam with fleece. Die hard Muppet makers use Antron Fleece, but this is just ordinary polar fleece, available online. I draped the fleece over the foam, pinned it in place and made pleats where necessary to smooth it out. I intended to cut away the excess and join the edges. But eventually I decided to sculpt the pleats into nostrils, which you will see later.

Online there are many tutorials and tips for sewing fleece to foam. Some people make a pattern from other fabric, transfer it to fleece and then sew it inside out. As this puppet is quite quirkily shaped and large, I just trimmed and stitched as I went along.

9. I sewed the mouth plate to the fleece. Some puppet makers glue it in. I used a kind of whip stitch. There are several stitches you can use including "Henson Stitch".  Fleece seems to be quite forgiving and the stitches do sink in quite nicely. You can fluff up the stitched line with the tip of the needle and this hides them even more.

10. I was using polystyrene balls for eyes. It's possible to use ping pong balls or fishing floats too. I drew the pupils on with a Sharpie. I then made a strap with fleece to sew onto the puppet. Then with another semicircle of fleece, I made eyelids which I sewed on.

 You can see the nostrils here too.

11. Now for the final embellishments. I made teeth by cutting out foam, covering it with white fleece and sewing them in place.

12. Then, I made coloured spots from other scrap fabric, and a couple of spikes from 1/2" foam covered with red towelling. I glued on the spots using fabric glue and sewed on the spikes.

Voila! And here he is in action at the Wychwood Festival. The children certainly seemed to like him!

I used plenty of websites and books to help me with this process. I will compile a list of them and put it on the side (if I can work out how!). Puppet making is fun!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Here's a cover I designed for an e-book. It's just pencil, as part of my attempt to keep life as simple as possible.

I am today mourning the loss of Albert, my lovely little apple tree, who yesterday was savagely murdered by the Mr with a strimmer. He hasn't officially been pronounced dead yet but The Internet tells me that as the bark is damaged all the way round, it is inevitable. My buddleia was also wiped out.

Goodbye Albert, I used to enjoy talking to you and watching you grow, and I am sorry it had to end this way. You never even got to make an apple.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Healthy Eating

I've been thinking about our family diet, and decided that it falls short of healthy. Trouble is I don't really have the time or money to prepare everything fresh and from scratch. So I'm going to hire a chef to prepare delicious yet nutritious meals,  and personal trainers for all of us.

Not really. I'm just going to have to make more bloomin' effort. Sigh.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Nurse Nancy

I was sitting here thinking, and suddenly The Four Marys popped into my head. It was a strip from Bunty, one of the many comics I read as a little girl. If I remember rightly all the Marys went to a posh boarding school but one of them was working class (she must have got a scholarship). 

That got me remembering Twinkle, which was the highlight of my week as a five-ish year old, and featured a strip called Nurse Nancy. Nancy had the life of my dreams, seemingly spending all her time mending dolls and teddies and putting them in nice little beds. Not to mention her very impressive uniform. 

Nancy must have made a deep impression on me, because my first job after leaving school was in a Dolls' Hospital. Disappointingly though, there were no uniforms, or tiny beds.  

(Also I am now married to a real, live nurse).