It’s been over 3 months since lockdown began and just like other authors, I’ve had my live events and book festivals cancelled due to covid 19. We’ve had to learn new ways to share stories. Here’s a bit about how I’ve been doing that and some story videos for the children you know.
Live in Schools
Last week I did a live Crime Squirrel Investigators event on google meet with two remote primary schools, Badcaul and Scoraig near Ullapool. One is only accessible by boat and in total, there are 16 children in both schools.
The event was lovely – we planned how to take what I normally do live and make it work on a computer screen while keeping it interactive. The teacher Mrs Love, was really helpful and we did a test earlier in the week so I worked out how to share images, music and video while still being live on screen myself. I was a bit nervous about the technology but it all worked.
For example instead of getting volunteers to help me with a camoflage demonstration, I prerecorded myself dressing up instead of the children:
Instead of getting a teacher to help with actions while I’m singing a song, I taught the children the song on guitar live and then played a prerecorded audio version while I mimed along and did live actions. I hadn’t realised quite how exhausting jumping about like a squirrel all the way through a song is and I had to do it for two songs!!
We got families to type answers in to quiz questions on the chat function and at other points the children made true or false shapes with their bodies for a squirrel quiz. At the end of the event, the children asked questions live on video. I really enjoyed it and I was pleased that they did too. Thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event.
I’ve even purchased a go-pro camera since then, so I can make better films and have a much better webcam for future events. I’m excited about using it for underwater filming and outdoor adventures too – it’s waterproof!
Live on Facebook with RSPB Scotland
Earlier on in lockdown, RSPB Scotland asked if I could make a video to engage with their younger members. We went for a Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive storytelling session (with dancing and a science experiment) as part of their Big Wild Sleepout event. It was broadcast on Facebook and they added it to YouTube too so you can watch it here:
I could have filmed more outside but I wanted children who couldn’t go out much to feel understood and I wanted to remind them, with our imaginations and using stories – we can go anywhere. The sent me an osmo pocket camera so I learned how to use that and filmed it all myself. It took ages so I vowed to simplify things a lot for the next video. Thankfully the RSPB helped with editing! And thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event!
The Little Oak Tree
What came next was a request to record a story for the children at Ps and Gs. I chose a simple story I wrote about a little oak tree. It’s got a couple of songs in it too. It’s main aim is to encourage the children to be themselves. The story comes first and then there’s some songs and rhymes from Rachel. I hope you enjoy it, the message is for adults too – be yourself! Watch it here:
Leaf Cafe Live on Facebook
I had a nice surprise when I heard Carol at Leaf Cafe in Hartfordshire was reading Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief live on facebook as part of her legendary 11am daily book reading. You can watch it on facebook here. It’s had over 1500 views because Carol is great at reading stories!
It’s been a strange time. A hard time.
At first I was surviving, waiting to get through it and come out the other side. Now I’ve got to a place where I’ve realised I don’t have very much control over planning the future so I’ve surrendered to that. And as a result, I’m more able to get on with what I’ve got to do right now and I’m less bothered when things I thought were going to happen don’t or can’t. I sometimes have hard days but overall, I’m feeling much better. I’ve been running lots which I think helps. I hope you’re doing okay, whatever is happening for you and I hope these stories help.
I’m writing most days and I’ve had deadlines every week for the last 10 weeks so I’ve had to get on with it. I realised I’m more resourceful than I thought I was because I’ve made my deadlines, even though I was finding it really hard at first. I suppose that’s what we’re all doing, we’re doing our best to keep going and do what we need to do, whatever that looks like for us.
I’ve heard lots more people are learning Gaelic since lockdown began so I’ll finish up by sharing a Gaelic glossary I made for Historic Environment Scotland when I was working as a facilitator out on the Ilse of Lewis. I didn’t share it here at the time I made it, so now’s a good time. It’s an easy introduction to a new language. And it’s full of children’s artwork so it’s really lovely. Why not give Gaelic a go and watch it here:
Read more about the Blackhouse project on the Isle of Lewis here.
I hope you have a fantastic summer holiday and I’ll blog again soon. Sorry it’s been so long!
Alan Windram from the publishers, Little Door Books, brought along his studio recording equipment. We converted my artist studio into a recording studio. Alan coached me to make each line a bit more dramatic and we recorded a page at a time. Later, he edited the book and added sounds so the children know when to turn the pages.
I wrote a song from the main character, Rosie the squirrel’s perspective. It’s got a catchy chorus with actions for the children to join in on – to make it fun. But I wanted to write about something meaningful too. Spoiler alert for the book here… I’m aware children experience a range of emotions just like we do, so I wanted to write a song I hoped they could identify with when they feel hurt or betrayed by a friend.
It’s about the joy of friendship and then the shock when a friend lets you down. You miss them and you want them to be your friend again but you’re also unsure how real the friendship was because the other person was lying. It’s also about being a squirrel so there’s lots of lines about jumping around and playing hide and seek too. The chorus goes:
All the squirrels stick your paws up, don’t turn your nose up.
All the squirrels wave your tails, it’s time to go!
Alan wrote a brilliant song about nuts and we worked together on the lyrics to make it into a song about the high point of the story – I wanted to make it more personal to the story and again, from Rosie’s perspective. So for example Alan had written:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts over here and nuts over there
And I changed it to:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts in my tail and nuts in my hair
One of the suspects, Tappy the Woodpecker, is a great spotted woodpecker who hammers a nut until it explodes. I like writing spoken word and I think of a woodpecker as a rhythmic head banger of a bird, who’s a bit well.. badass. So I wrote a rap from Tappy’s perspective. He’s quite self indulgent in it. Here’s a line:
My beak is the key to break into the tree.
My beak is my sound and my sound is Tappy.
We recoded the music tracks at the Little Door Books Studio in Oban, the studio incudes two cats who are hiding:
I felt pretty nervous about recording vocals but Alan said when it’s for young children, it’s better to be clear and enthusiastic so they can hear the words. So don’t worry too much about being an operatic or a fancy singer. He said to imagine I’m Rosie the Squirrel singing. So I’m channelling my inner Squirrel on these tracks!
Here’s who did what:
Audiobook – written and read by Emily Dodd (me!)
Woodpecker Rap – written and rapped by Emily Dodd
Stick Your Paws Up – written and lead vocals by Emily Dodd. Alan Windram backing vocals and he plays every instrument – amazing!
Nuts – melody by Alan Windram. Lyrics Alan Windram and Emily Dodd. Lead vocals Emily Dodd. Instruments – Alan Windram.
Then I introduced myself and the Italian Illustrator, Giulia Cregut. I pointed to the banner because the two of us look quite similar to the two squirrels, see above! (yup, I’m the larger squirrel!)
And then we set the scene for the story, guessing objects from the forest. If you’d like to hold a giant Ameican pine cone that’s bigger then your head… come to an event soon!
We listened to the sound of the forest and then four volunteers helped make the smell of the forest, here’s one of them in action, wafting the pine oil with a fan…
Then it was time for the story of the Naughty Nut Thief. Crime Squirrel Investigators Rosie and Charlie investigate three prime suspects after Rosie’s secret nut store is ransacked!
Then it was time for a red squirrel true or false quiz, make a ‘T’ or an ‘F’ with your body:
Then Rosie the naughty water squirter popped out to meet everyone, I definately look like a squirrel here:
Then my lovely friend Elspeth Murray came up to help Alan with actions. And we taught everyone the Beyoncé squirrel song, here we all are dancing!
And more actions!
Then we learnt more about one of the prime suspects, the wood mouse with a camouflage demonstration:
Next it was time for hip-hop with the great spotted woodpecker rap, yep I really did rap as a woodpecker. Thankfully everyone else joined in with beats and actions:
I was a bit scared about rapping (it’s new for me) but thankfully we had a professional drummer, Ruairdh Graham from Niteworks to keep us all in time! He also made me practice beforehand – thanks Ru!
Then it was time for a couple more picture quizzes, look at the shell and guess who ate the nut. All based on the real nut munching animal science the book is based on:
And the finale was a song about nuts! Again thanks to Elspeth and Alan for actions:
Then it was Q and A time, I got to sit down at last. This looks like a serious question:
And so does this:
Hurrrah! It was all over:
There were thankyous and the book signing:
And that was it! I want to say a big thanks to Elspeth Murray for chairing and action support (she got flowers) and to Lindsey Fraser my agent from Fraser Ross Associates (she got flowers but she’d gone to the ballet by then!) and to Ruairdh Graham for beats (he got beer) and to Giulia Cregut for illustrations and to Alan Windram and Susan Windram at Little Door Books for publishing the book.
Thanks to my pals Amy, Anna, Jenny and Mel for serving drinks!
Thanks to Waterstones West End Edinburgh for hosting and to all you people who came, there were over 100 guests and we sold out – it meant so much to have your support for the book (and such enthusiastic actions!).
Last week I went to Italy and met Giulia Cregut. She’s the Italian illustrator for my new book ‘Crime Squirrel Investigators the Naughty Nut Thief’. Here we are:
Little Door Books found Giulia’s lovely illustrations at Bologna Book Fair here, a year ago:
It’s called ‘The Wall’. It’s actually several walls where illustrators from all over the world put up posters and leave contact details. That way, people like Alan and Susan from Little Door Books and this random man can find them.
Alan and Susan were looking for an illustrator to match the Naughty Nut Thief text from me, they found Giulia’s work and a year later… we have a book!
Here we are showing off that book by Giulia’s poster that got her the job:
I found the book fair quite overwhelming, it’s huge. It’s the biggest children’s book fair in the world. A book fair is different to a book festival although my Mum uses the titles interchangeably when she’s usally referring to book festivals.
For clarification, book festivals are places where the public come to see authors and illustrators do book related events. Book fairs are where industry professionals come to do business. Publishers, agents, rights people – it’s a very different ball game. They both include books but that’s it.
This is the Publishing Scotland Stand, Little Door Books and the other Scottish Publishers displayed a selection of their books and did meetings:
To give you an idea of scale, there are over 1000 stands like this one with publishers from all over the world. I felt like a very small person in a very big industry! I wondered around and took photos of the illustrations I found inspirational, here are just a few of many that stood out to me:
Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I drunk coffee and consumed bread based products. This is the face of a person who’s eaten croissants, pizza, Panini and Bolognese bread (yep – that’s a thing) for 3 days:
Bologna is a UNESCO city of music and the oldest university town. It’s also famous for its meat. Hence the sausage chandelier in an eatery I visited with Little Door Books:
And our very lovely food, with more bread:
If you would like to read Crime Squirrel Investigators The Naughty Nut Thief, you can on 1st May when it gets published. Or come to the launch on 2nd May at Waterstones, Edinburgh. With woodpecker hiphop, science, songs and a water squirting squirrel. Get your tickets here.
Thanks to Imago for the chance to visit Bologna (Gill) and a non bread based meal (Simon). Thanks to Little Door Books and Giulia for being yourselves. And to Lindsey Fraser for support from afar.
Pre-order Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief from all good book stores.
Rosie’s secret hazelnut store has been ransacked and her best friend Charlie agrees to help her to find the naughty nut thief. The crime squirrel investigators only have left-over nutshells as a clue, so they watch the different ways the three main suspects eat hazelnuts to try to solve the crime. Help the two squirrels discover the naughty nut thief and learn about the different ways animals eat nuts along the way!
I hear I’ll get advance copies of the book any day now (so excited!) and I’m all set to record the audio book in a couple of weeks. You’ll be invited to the book launch in Edinburgh in May. It will include water squirting squirrels, science and songs!
If you can’t make that I’ll be at festivals and events throughout the year so you’ll hopefully see me and the squirrels soon!
Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief can be pre-ordered now from all good book stores.
UPDATE: Get tickets to the book launch on 2nd May here.
I forgot my stylus on a visit to Strathclyde Country Park so I had a go at sketching using using my finger:
I love bluebells! I was pleased with how it turned out.
And here’s a sketch from earlier this month when I did have a stylus, it’s my lovely cat! He didn’t stay still long but I’m trying to loosen up a bit and add some fun into illustrations. Once he’d moved it forced me to use my imagination and here’s what happened:
I’m going to draw more. I’ve set a goal of posting a new drawing on here every other week, this week it’s the black cuillin, sketched on my ipad from the middle of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye:
Loch Coruisk is described as the most magnificent of Scotland’s freshwater lochs by Walk Highlands. It’s also supposed to be home to a water horse – a kelpie! I was excited when we got the boat towards these misty black mountains, from Elgol:
We passed some seals on the way:
And clambered over lots of slippery rocks:
And I stopped here and sat to sketch:
Here’s where I was, from the other side:
It really is one of the most magical places I’ve been too. I wanted to capture the feel of the mountains – they seemed almost angry. With their snow capped peaks. And the mist too – that’s hard to draw! And all that orange tufty grass:
And I only had twenty minutes and at one point I got attacked by a cloud of midgies so I’m pleased with how it turned out. But more then that, it helped me to take my surroundings in, to really experience the place I was. Here’s the sketch with a filter on it:
Last week we celebrated World Book Day… correction, we would have celebrated if this hadn’t happened:
Not the cat, snow! Deep snow everywhere closing roads, schools and putting a stop to world book day celebrations across the UK. My events were cancelled but I’ve been thinking back to World Book Day last year, when something magical happened.
They had turned the book into a multi-sensory story. That means they created a sensory experience for the children to engage in using the story as the journey through the experience. They recorded sounds and children who were unable to speak pressed buttons to make the sound at the correct moment in a story, for example “PING”:
They made props like this amazing tree, giant hazelnut and bird hat:
*By the way, the teachers dressed up in pajamas or so that’s why I’m in my dressing gown and slippers!
The children and support workers made costumes and the children acted out sections of the book while one of the teachers read the story using a microphone:
They invited parents and other schools to come and watch. They invited me to say a few words about a new book Ollie and the Otter, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones, and I used a squeezey osprey to join in with the muti-sensory theme:
Their performance was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I was so impressed by the effort that had gone in to practicing the story and making it so extrodinary.
The whole event finished with a capercaillie ceilidh – the children danced around in wheelchairs while I was trying not to cry.
One of the staff members told me the boy who played Cameron kicked independently for the first time at the kick part of the story – this was really exciting because in the practice the carer had lifted his leg to make him kick! That’s just one of many moments that morning that made me smile:
Thanks to everyone at Oaklands for making World Book Day a day I’ll never forget!
I had a lovely time in the Scottish Borders last week at the launch of the summer reading challenge. This year’s theme is ‘Animal Agents’, about animal detectives. I visited Melrose Library in the morning:
Thanks to the families who came along to the Ollie and the Otter (illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones) nature storytelling sessions! There was water squirting, fish catching, bird dancing and giant pine cones. And thanks to the awesome children who were part of the photo shoot at the library afterwards:
The photographer was Scottish sports photographer of the year Jeff Homes. We didn’t do sport but we did do some bird dancing as part of the storytelling so maybe that counts?!
40,000 children take part in the challenge to read a book a week over the summer holidays. Its a great way to encourage reading for pleasure. You can read more about the launch in the Hawick Telegraph here.
(I love those wellies! But what is that giant tesco book all about?)