Category Archives: nature

Adventures in Sketching

I recently spent a lovely week visiting relatives in England. I set myself the challenge of sketching every day. Mostly because it’s a fun, relaxing thing to do on holiday. But also because I’d love to illustrate my own books and I want to get better. My illustration mentor, John Fardell has been telling me to sketch every day for a long while. So finally I made the time to do it. Here’s how I got on:


The day before I left a stylus arrived – I had my first go at sketching on my ipad with the notes app:

Then I downloaded the paper app to try that next…

DAY ONE: WOBBLY OTTER (all the pens, paintprush and pencil)

wobblyotterI sketched this on the train so it’s not precise. It was my first go with the paper app and only my second go at sketching on an ipad so it was all about getting used to it. I enjoyed trying the different pens and colours and seeing which ones blend and which override the one below. I love otters!

DAY TWO: SCOTTIE DOG (Dip pen and a little bit of pencil)

scottiedogI’m writing a book about a worm and a scottie dog just now so that’s why I chose to draw him! I google image searched for ‘scottie dog’ and chose one I liked. He was on my phone while I sketched on the ipad. I was really pleased with the result.

DAY THREE: OSCAR (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

oscarI was missing my lovely cat so I thought I’d draw him. He’s all black so that was a challenge but I realised the great thing about digital drawing is, you can add lighter colours over the top of darker ones. In real life that doesn’t really work so I made the most of that, building up the dark colours first and adding the light after. It even looks like him (:

DAY FOUR: QUICK MINI (Dip pen) AND A NEPHEW (Dip pen, paintbrush)mini

My sister picked up an amazing new mini! I love minis and really enjoyed sketching the light on something shiny!


I also tried to sketch my nephew from a photo but it went a bit wrong and aged him by about ten years – he looks like someone else:nephewI tried to get the mouth right so many times and eventually gave up and just did a little line! So I learnt mouths are hard and maybe I should stick to animals.

DAY FIVE: BROUGHTON FOX (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)


The Broughton Spurtle were having a competition to find foxes in Broughton and I noticed a fab photo of a fox by Camera Stellata:

I thought I’d go for some colour this time, I really loved building up the colours in layers and adding texture and inking over lines. I was really pleased with this – it looks 3D and I like his face!

DAY SIX: PTARMIGAN (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)


I love rare Scottish birds – I’ve written books about a black grouse and a capercaillie. Earlier this year I had a wonderful experience sitting next to a pair of Ptarmigan up Cairngorm. Here’s a picture I took with my phone of one of them:


They have white feathers in winter and black feathers in summer and they change to half and half in spring and autumn. They’re pretty cool as birds go! Here’s the lovely photo by Ben Dolphin that I sketched from:

I also added some lettering – my writing is quite messy, I’m a bit dyslexic but I’ve been encouraged by illustrators like Oliver Jeffers who use messy letters as part of their illustrations and thought I’d have a go – I like it!

DAY SEVEN: QUICK WILLOW (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)


I had a lovely day on my Dad’s canal boat. I just had ten minutes after lunch to sketch one of the willows before we moved on along the canal (and I was needed for locks!). It’s an impression but I think it could work as a style for a background in a picture book? If you screw your eyes up it suddenly looks real so I like that about it! Here’s the canal in real life:


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DAY EIGHT: NIECE (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)IMG_20160720_003611My final day of the trip and I’d forgotten to sketch until the plane ride home. A friend had said they thought I should try people again so I decided to give it one more go and sketched a picture of my niece in the time it took to complete the journey. The only problem is my style went a bit realistic rather than children’s illustration. It’s a bit too intense. Then I tried to make the eyes less realistic. But it’s just a bit of a weird mishmash of styles.

One of the best bits is the clothes and I just did them really quick! But one good thing is, her mouth! It looks like a real mouth so at least I improved at something. I ran out of time to finish this but it’s something I can come back to. People are hard!


I’ll keep going. The best thing was I totally loved doing it. I improved. I got excited every time I finished a sketch and I wanted to show someone – kind of like being a kid again. It’s nice to feel that. Thanks to the people who encouraged me when I sent photos and posted them on my facebook page, twitter and instagram.

Sketching made me get up earlier to sketch before the day started. I felt happy and excited. Even if I never illustrate my own books – I think I’ll make sketching part of life!

Thanks to John Fardell for all the illustration encouragement. And to Elspeth Murray for being an awesome Ipad sketcher and making Ipad sketching a thing.  And to Stuart for convincing me a stylus would work on my Ipad, even though I’d tried five and even called the apple help line (who said a stylus was ‘unsupported’ on the ipad mini). Turns out you can even use sausages

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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in illustration, nature, Writing


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Cover Reveal: Light

I’m excited to share the beautiful front cover of my new book ‘Light’ published by HarperCollins for Collins Primary:


It’s a science school book for children age 10. I’ve been working on colour proofs the last couple of weeks – that’s when the manuscript you’ve written comes back with all the photos and diagrams on it. All the text is laid out beautifully around the pictures and you make any last changes to text or diagrams.

The book includes shadows, reflection, prisms and discoveries by famous scientists like Einstien, Newton and Galileo. It covers the speed of light, lightning, light years, eclipses, bioluminescence and light in the future (inventions to bend light and make us invisible and laser stitches!).

I was expecting the cover to be the Northern Lights – but I was super excited to see the trees. I love that it captures the beauty of science, that’s what the book is about – light is amazing! Everything we see we can only see because of light. Everything in the world depends on the speed of light. I’ve also got a thing for woods and light, this is my bedroom wall:


The book will be published in September. You can pre-order it online now.


Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing


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Mining Memories with Primary Two


What would it be like to be a canary called CoCo working down the Kinneil Pit? Or a pit cat? Or a pit pony? Or an 11-year-old boy on his first day down the mine? Five and six-year olds from Bo’ness Primary School imagined they were the animals and children down the mine. They wrote these amazing stories:

I’ve been working with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative to create digital stories about mining with primary school children. I’m writing a series of blogs to share their mining memories. This first post is stories by Primary Two at Bo’ness Public Primary School. I’ll tell you a bit more about the project:

Digital Stories

Digital stories are short audio sound tracks (less than 3 minuets) with still images over the top. They’re personal stories in the story makers own voice. I previously worked on three digital story projects with Britain from Above, The Govan Reminiscence Group and with Historic Scotland’s Trinity House. You can read about that project here.

This was unusual because it was creating digital stories but imagining the perspective instead of it being a storymaker telling their true story. It was also working with primary two children (age five and six) instead of adults. And we imagined we were animals!

Primary Two

The project started with storytelling workshops in class – we chatted about what makes a good story and using our imagination and memories to come up with lots of ideas. I told them an animal story and set them a brief to create their own short stories from the perspective of a pit animal. At first the pit ponies were wearing sparkley tutus and loved dancing but we talked about how great their use of imagination was and what a good idea it was to think about things like clothes and feelings – what would a pit pony wear to go down the pit? How might they feel going down the mine? They got back to work and learned one of the most important lessons about writing – it’s all about rewriting!

The class went on a visit to the National Mining Museum Scotland and had a talk about the roles of animals and children in the Mine from the Maria Ford, Chairperson of the Friends of Kinneil Trust.

They had budgies in the classroom so we talked about how the budgies might feel and what it would be like to be a canary. Then the children worked with their class teacher Mrs McNab to create beautiful books:


And amazing canaries in cages:

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And 3D pit ponies with coal carts: Photo 11-03-2016, 12 55 52

And fields for the pit ponies to play in:


I’d popped back in to see how they were getting on half way through the project and was amazed by their new and improved stories and all the beautiful artwork.I came back again at the end of the project to photograph their artwork and to record the children reading their stories.

After that I edited the audio soundtrack and images together to create the YouTube stories shared above. We screened them along with stories from other classes at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness. It was so good to see the children’s amazing stories being celebrated in style on the big screen in a cinema!

This post is part of a series sharing the work from the Mining Memories Project. The next post in this series will be sharing primary five and primary six digital stories about the miners strike from the perspective of pick axes, bits of coal and even Margaret Thatcher!


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Why Plants are Like People


I’ve planted a tiny garden on the balcony. I love helping plants to grow. I can’t wait to plant sweet peas and sit out on summer evenings with friends and a beer. On clear nights you can see the stars from the balcony and in the day it’s a beautiful sun trap. I drink tea out there and the cat loves it.

I neglected the balcony garden over winter, but a few weeks ago I got all the indoor and outdoor plants together and started work:


While I was working I kept thinking about people and how we’re like plants. We should be growing but sometimes we need to change something to help us grow better.


The lavender and the heather were too big for their pots so they’d stopped growing. Sometimes we need repotting. We need a new challenge, something that seems too big for us. It might be scary to say yes but we can’t grow until we do. It might be a new project at work, a new job or a new creative challenge. Maybe it’s having a child, starting a new relationship or learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need that bigger pot to get us started.


The peace lily was almost dead. It didn’t have enough light in the hall. I’d tried it in a windowsill and that was too much light. I couldn’t seem to get it right and it seemed to be doomed. I was round at a friend’s and spotted a thriving peace lily in the bathroom by a frosted glass window. Maybe frosted glass was the perfect lighting for peace? I moved my peace lily into the bathroom as soon as I got home. Each time I washed my hands I sprinkled a little water onto the dying plant and within a day the leaves had started to stand up straight and now it’s thriving.

Sometimes we need to be in a different environment. Maybe it’s time to change job or move house? I was chatting to a friend about a job that had gradually changed to become nothing like the job she first applied for. She dreads Mondays. I told her a story: When a frog jumps into boiling water it jumps straight out because it’s too hot. But if a frog jumps into cold water and you gradually turn up the heat then it doesn’t jump out. It dies. We both laughed at the slightly awkward ending and its implications. You don’t always notice how bad something is becoming or how it’s affecting you until it’s too late. Perhaps it’s time to jump!


Some of the plants need the dead bits removing before they will grow. Take off dead lavender heads or the old primrose flowers and many more flowers sprout up. My chives were half dead and half green so I cut all of it back so the plant could grow new healthy shoots without all the dead bits getting in the way.

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Sometimes there are old habits or old relationships which were life giving once, but now they’re sucking the life away from us and we need to let them go. Maybe we’re doing too much and need to cut something out to really thrive. It’s hard to do but we won’t grow properly until we do.


I was given a plant arrangement in a basket but I decided it was time to separate the three plants so they could stand in their own pots. It’s great to be doing things with support but we still need to stand in our own pot with our own clear boundaries. If it’s unclear where you end and someone else begins you might start to loose yourself or rely on someone else in an unhealthy way. We all need each other, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to ask for help but when we expect others to meet our needs when they don’t want to or can’t, well that’s when problems arise. We can simply ask and we can say no to others if we need to. Another important boundary is to be able to say if something someone is saying or doing bothers us. That’s healthy and safe and it’s what makes relationships grow stronger if it’s done without blame and with love.


Weeds are like controlling people. They gradually take over and suffocate who you are. Everyone is controlling at times, we react out of insecurity or we want to help others so we step in when we don’t need to. If you’re aware of it and concerned you might be doing it you’re most likely unintentionally controlling – that’s okay – you’ll apologise if it happens, you’re aware of your weaknesses and if someone lets you know you’re being controlling, you’ll take responsibility and change your behavior as a result. Good friends or partners let each other know if something they’re doing bothers them.

Unfortunately though – there’s a pattern of controlling behavior that continues over time like a weed choking a plant. This is an emotionally abusive relationship, if you’re in this by the very nature of it, you won’t be aware you’re in it. You’ll be feeling more and more anxious and less like you as your sense of self is being chipped away.

Here are a few things to look out for:

Abusive people continually tell you what to do. It’s fine to make suggestions from time to time but they start with “I think” or “I suggest”. If you’re continually hearing “You really should” or “You need to” then they’re trying to undermine you and make their voice the dominant voice in your life.

You probably apologise often and them.. never!

They try to change your memories of events to paint you in a bad light with statements like “All your friends thought XXX”. The best thing to do is to go to the people concerned and ask them what they thought. They’ll reassure you it’s not true – don’t let someone redefine history.

Abusive people do not legitimise others feelings – it’s part of something physiologists call ‘crazy making behaviour‘. Continually dismissing someones legitimate feelings causes the person to feel frustrated and rejected to a point where they’re feeling so insecure, hurt and misunderstood they start to act and feel crazy. The abuser then points this out as an overreaction and explains how they always have to put up with this crazy friend / partner. At this point the partner / friend usually folds or apologises and the abuse continues.

Abusive people blame you for their feelings instead of expressing them in a healthy way. So for example instead of saying “I feel X” or “When you say or do this I feel like X” they will say “You are making me… ” or “You have ruined my evening / lunch / weekend.” This is emotional blackmail – it causes you feel bad and stops you daring to raise an issue or express a point of view different to theirs. You have every right to express how you feel, just don’t blame another person for your feelings.

There’s a common misconception that if someone was being abusive towards you, you’d just leave or cut off from the relationship. The problem is the abuser will be incredibly kind and charming at times, inconsistent praise is also a ‘crazy making behaviour‘ and something like this takes place over weeks, months and even years to a point where your sense of self is so eroded that you’re less able to see things objectively or defend yourself. You’ll think there’s something wrong with you, not them. You’ll also be looking to the abusive person for validation so you’ll think you need them.

If any of this seems familiar, I’ve posted a couple of checklists below to help. If you answer yes to most or all of the things on the lists please speak to someone you trust or get help from an organisation like Living Without Abuse.

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I was thinking about how plants need light and water even after they’ve been pruned or re-potted so what does that look like for people?

For me it’s doing things I’m good at, being outside and being encouraged by others – that’s like water. And spending time with people who love me, challenge me and let me be myself, that’s like light.

What brings you life?


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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Environment, nature, storytelling


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Let There Be Light

I can’t wait for spring…

New life pushing up out of the cold dark earth. It gives me hope that however cold and dark it seems – things will change. Things always change. There’s always hope.

We were made to change. But sometimes we just want it to hurry up, we want to see the shoots in our lives. But change takes time and there’s always more going on beneath the surface, more than we can see from the outside.

I made a Christmas tree out of sticks. To save money, mostly, but also because I wanted to create something beautiful. Something out of nothing. But that’s not really true is it? I didn’t make it out of nothing. I used old broken sticks, an idea and decorations and light.


I’m working on a picture book just now and it got me thinking, books are a bit like that. You create something out of nothing, you create characters and a story:


But that’s not really true either is it? You use old broken ideas and things you’ve experienced and help from others. When a story finally comes there’s been a process going on beneath the surface for a good long time before you got to that point.


I’ve got some good news. I’ve got a book coming out in September 2016 and it’s called ‘Light’. It’s a science book for ten year olds and it’s published by HarperCollins. The final text got signed off just before Christmas and it’s with designers and illustrators just now. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour proofs soon, alongside my words.

I studied Geophysics and then Science Communication – I love physics. Some say it’s the most complicated science but I just think it’s just the most poorly explained. It’s not that complicated and it’s incredibly beautiful. Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist who discovered many of the fundamental principles we now know about the nature of light said:

It is the perfection of God’s works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity.

He also said:

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

That’s what I love about physics. There are simple rules hidden beneath the surface and you can explain them and put your faith in them. You drop an apple and it falls. Gravity is reliably present and consistent. Unlike people, we change. But that’s what we were made to do and that’s why we need to ask questions. Which kind of brings me back to science. And the Light book. And spring. So I guess what I wanted to say is:

May your year ahead be filled with hope, light, change and questions. Happy New Year!


Oscar would also like to wish you a new year, this is his philosophical, paws crossed, thinking-about-the-year-ahead pose.


Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing


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The Grouse and the Mouse: Reviews

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The Grouse and the Mouse was recently reviewed in the Herald as part of a Christmas books special ‘Best Picture Books’ by Vicky Allan. It was super exciting to see it in there, just before Christmas and with the likes of Mog an Elmer:

And, if you like your creatures resolutely Scottish, there is always The Grouse And The Mouse, by Emily Dodd & Kirsteen Harris-Jones (Picture Kelpies, £5.99) which follows Bagpipe the puffed up and pompous grouse and Squeaker the wood mouse, as they find out just who really is the most magnificent animal in Scotland.

I also discovered a lovely review on the Scottish Natural Heritage Nature Bookshelf blog:

Youngsters will enjoy reading, or having read to them, the story of The Grouse and the Mouse. Emily Dodd’s last title ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ proved very popular and the tale of Bagpipe the Black Grouse is destined to be equally well received. There are starring roles for Red Squirrels, the Scottish scenery and a Highland cow in a book that is illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones.

Lastly, a parent posted the following review on the books section of my blog. This feedback is what makes it all worth while:

My 2.5 year old daughter has fallen deeply in love with The Grouse and the Mouse – she has never got through the bathtime routine at the lightening speed she is now, knowing that she will have it read to her (usually repeatedly). So thank you Emily, please write another book of enchanting Scottish creatures soon!

You can read and listen to the first reviews that came in for the Grouse and the Mouse here. If you enjoyed reading it, I would totally love it if you reviewed it on Amazon!

Image Credit: Chris Scott

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Posted by on December 17, 2015 in Education, nature, Science, Writing


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Book Week Scotland 2015


I loved Book Week Scotland 2015! It was a busy week – I traveled 560 miles, met 440 children, inspired 65 multi-feathered multicoloured pine cone capercaillie creations, visited five local authorities and performed eight events about three books. Here are the highlights:

Number 35

The Scottish Book Trust announced a list of the 50 most influential novelists on twitter in advance of Book Week Scotland and to my surprise, I was at number 35! Was really good to see many children’s authors on the list.


Leith Library: Edinburgh

The first events I did were with the lovely St Mary’s Primary School at my local (and favourite) library, Leith Library.

I added a Poo or False quiz to the ‘Grouse and Mouse‘ interactive story event so this was a chance to test it out. I may have slightly overdone the number of samples for this first session and have since added many more science links (e.g. when trying to count black grouse you may instead look for these droppings!)


Leith Library was home for nine months when I worked as the Scottish Book Trust / Creative Scotland Reader in Residence. It was lovely to be back and to see the familiar faces of staff – thanks everyone for having me!

Find Leith Library on Facebook here.

Read-a-Licious Book Festival, Peebles

It was lovely to be at Read-a-Licous Book Festival for a second year with two new book events. I did a Grouse and the Mouse with 120 very excited nursery to P2 pupils:


Image Credit: Read-a-Licious Book Festival. Find the Eastgate Theatre on Facebook here.

Followed by my first Volcanoes and Non Fiction writing show with 60 Primary 4 and 5!


Carrbridge Primary School in the Cairngorms

I took the Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive story event to Carrbridge for a whole school assembly and then we made capercaillies out of pine cones with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage:


I met a child who had a female capercaillie visit his house! I still haven’t seen one myself yet.

Carrbridge is a caperaillie conservation area so engaging the local school by sharing about these amazing birds was a real privilege. Plus now every child in Carrbridge can dance like a capercaillie.

Sinclairtown Library and Newburgh Library, Fife

I had the most lovely welcome from staff and children in Fife!


I saw 120 children over two events. One girl called Emily (not me – it was a child!) knew all about owl pellets – she proudly shared her expert knowledge during the now improved, poo or false quiz. I was very impressed with the overall enthusiasm for wildlife in Fife. We also sold around 80 books that day so I hope many children and parents are enjoying wildlife themed bedtime stories!

Day Off

Friday was amazing – a lie in, then afternoon tea at Mimi’s and in the evening it was ‘The Lady in the Van’. I’m still recovering from a bad back so was really tired after lots of driving and events. This day made all the difference.


The Language Hub, Glasgow

Saturday was my final event, a trip to The Language Hub for a family Grouse and Mouse event. It’s a lovely wee venue in Glasgow:


Image Credit: The Language Hub, find them on twitter here and Facebook here.

I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who helped organise events and to the children and grownups who came to celebrate reading with me for Book Week Scotland!


Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing


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