Blog Tour

Q and A with Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier – Part 2.

Today I’m thrilled to be posting an interview with the creators of The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones, a lovely graphic novel for children aged 7+. I reviewed the book yesterday, you can find it here. Vicky kindly took the time to answer some questions for me, part 1 was posted this morning, and here is part 2.

Did you have any input into each other’s work?

Jamie is the artist, I the wordsmith, but both of us were involved to a greater or lesser extent in each other’s input.  Jamie must take credit for the artwork; he has no idea how extraordinary it is and so, happily and proudly I sing its praises.  Aside from coming up jointly with the story and the text, I was his grumbling dogsbody.  Jamie was up at 5.30 each morning and didn’t stop ‘til 8 at night and never took a weekend off, trying to meet an impossible 10-month deadline (self-imposed and agreed by Walker Books because none of us knew initially how long each page would take to complete).

From commission, the coloured artwork took two years.  As it progressed, so too did the text balloons: we made our own font from my handwriting (the most legible it has ever been) and I created and positioned the text-balloons, Jamie designing the artwork, around them.  There is an extraordinary methodology to the construction of each complex page; too complicated perhaps to describe here (from pencil sketch, through watercolour wash, line drawings, to lighting and special effects in Photoshop), but suffice it to say that anything artistic and complicated, Jamie did and anything boringly monotonous and easy, he’d hand over to me, whereupon I’d settle down to the laborious task of colouring the hats, scarves, buttons, tentpoles … just look at the detail and spare a thought for the girl who coloured it, please!  I can tell you that on the day when finally I was to colour in my very last Shuffley sledge, you could find me whooping and hollering around the garden.

Were you inspired by any other books when you were creating this?

Jamie was inspired as a child by Tove Jansson’s Moomin books; many people have noticed a similarity between Moomintroll and Tooki (and between Jamie and Tooki, if only Jamie had a yellow fur coat).  Both of us grew up with Tintin.  Jamie loved the Asterix books too and although I liked them, Tintin was and is an abiding obsession to the point of being able to quote lines, place frames and of having been accepted onto Mastermind with Tintin as my specialist subject, only to be told by the producer that having worked for the BBC, I wouldn’t be allowed on, as they might be seen to be partisan (a lucky escape perhaps).  Herge’s manner of creating a spread was a big influence on us: he’d always have a minor page-turner on the left-hand page and a major one on the right, a question that needed to be answered; we’ve always tried to do the same with Tooki, to have the reader excited to turn the page to see what was coming next.

I loved the way the book takes some pretty big ideas and makes them simple enough for the fairly young target market. Were there any challenges in doing this?

Thank you for noticing these pretty big ideas; they are what drove the creation of the book because they are what drive us as people, the wondering about what life is all about.  We aimed the book at a universal rather than a young readership.  Even young children are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for and can often grasp the nub of an idea that flies over the heads of adults.  Tooki is essentially the story of being human and asks the questions that we all ask from a young age.  The challenge was to pose these searching questions without their being too consciously noticed, our aim to sweep the reader along at the same time as provoking deeper thoughts and feelings.  Practically, that meant pushing the most immediately enjoyable part of the story – the adventure – to the fore to allow the deeper message to run subtly under the surface.  The same is true of life: we are caught up in the day-to-day adventure but are never far from wondering what it’s all about.  Don’t want to say too much else; would rather let readers read what they will into the book.

Our publishers, Walker Books, told us of a criticism levelled at the book by a potential foreign co-publisher: that the appearance of the characters is too ‘cuddly’ to carry what is quite a complex story.  But the juxtaposition of simple-looking creatures with quite a challenging story is intentional, partly to include young children who don’t need to be patronised and partly because we feel that the appearance of the creatures will be immediately endearing to readers of all ages.  Besides and daring to go a little deeper, life’s like that; is at once simple and unfathomably complex.

And finally, I have my fingers crossed for the answer to this one, will we be seeing more of Tooki’s adventures in more books?

On the penultimate page of the book, Tooki tells Miski that: ‘ … there’s someone I’d like you to meet’ and the last page is completed by the caption ‘The Beginning’, which would imply that this is certainly not the end.  Jamie and I would love to set forth on further Took adventures (we have a sequel up our sleeves) but we have gone out on a long limb (a huge financial stretch) in order to bring Tooki into the world so we’ll just have to wait and see whether the world wants more from Tooki and thus from us.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Vicky, it’s been a real pleasure hosting you on my blog today!

Blog Tour

Q and A with Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier – Part 1.

Today I’m thrilled to be posting an interview with the creators of The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones, a lovely graphic novel for children aged 7+. I reviewed the book yesterday, you can find it here. Vicky kindly took the time to answer some questions for me, this is part 1 and part 2 will be posted this afternoon.

Firstly could you tell me a little about yourselves?

We live in a cottage by the sea on the south coast of England. The Adventures of Tooki – The Secret of the Stones is our first book project, a joint (ad)venture!

Jamie has spent much of his working life in the film and special effects world. He was for many years the Creative Director of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Camden Town, designing and supervising creature effects for a wide variety of movies, including: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Snow Queen, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Flintstones and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for which he won an EMMY award. Given his background in film special effects, it’s not surprising that Jamie is an extraordinary and determined inventor: if it’s broken, he’ll fix it, if it doesn’t exist but should, he’ll bring it into being and if it needs musical accompaniment, he’ll reach for a guitar. Drawing has always been a part of his life; he is also the creator of the intricately drawn Wildergorn Colour-In Posters, which can be found at www.wildergorn.com.

I am a writer and singer-songwriter (performing regularly with Jamie at venues along the south coast) and worked for many years in television, researching, directing and presenting (sometimes flying a plane in) my own films both for the BBC and for Anglia TV. I have written regularly for a wide variety of magazines and am currently at work on a book about the 19 Century Irish poet and diarist, William Allingham, a friend and observer of the famous (Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle) and of the equally fascinating but not-so-famous. I love walking, particularly in the woods, am potty about gardening, about film (especially the black and white movies of the 40’s); and underpinning all is a passion for literature, for poetry and for the potential beauty and clarity to be found in words.

How did this project come about – have you worked together before?

One day in 2005, I discovered in an old plan chest an original draft of Tooki (then called Tooki and the Usks), which Jamie had devised and drawn in pencil years before, having been inspired by the dear memory of sitting on the knee of his mother (artist, Elizabeth Spurr) whilst she told and sketched her own stories for him. I was enchanted both by the drawings and by Jamie’s extraordinary concept. At that time only 30 pages existed. The context was in place, i.e. the extraordinary idea of the two tribes being interdependent but unaware of each other, and the story ran up until the point at which Tooki and Obo, learning of their interdependence, realize that the Stones are not at all what they had believed them to be.

But then the story stopped (Jamie having got caught up and distracted by the film business) just when one felt that the characters ought to be responding to and acting upon this earthshattering information; the narrative clearly needed to drive forward and to contain some sort of further antagonist (the twister) in order to create an emotional journey for the characters. But even as it was, I felt strongly that it had huge potential and this view was confirmed by Anna Home, the former Head of the Children’s Film Foundation, who we had invited to lunch to share with her another project that we were working on back in 2006, a screenplay called The Knits. Anna liked The Knits but felt that it would take years to get off the ground being an animation film project. Instinctively I showed Tooki to her: instantly she thought it looked exciting, unique and told us to shelve The Knits and to get on with Tooki. And that was that.

How did you go about creating the book, was it a very collaborative process or did one side of it get completed before the other side began?

It makes me smile to look back: the process was hugely and amusingly collaborative. Jamie and I were simultaneously the fiercest critics and warmest supporters of each other’s ideas. For every idea I came up with, Jamie would immediately and passionately say: “No!” and for every idea he came up with, I’d equally passionately say “No!” Each of us would then think about the other’s idea and nine times out of ten, would come round to it as a very fine one. The process felt rather akin to having a baby, both of us conceiving and nurturing as parents but producing a feisty individual in its own right.

Initially, many of the original 30 pages had to be re-thought and rewritten, as they were often text-heavy, too wordy and the sometimes complex story needed to be dramatized (rather than told) as simply and with as few words as was possible. That way, readers would be swept along by the adventure, without being bogged down by exposition. So for instance, the discovery by Tooki and Obo of how both tribes had unknowingly been growing crops for each other, had initially taken place within only two frames, these frames containing a huge amount of explanatory text – too complex for the reader to take in, so instead we dramatized the discovery over a period of 8 pages, had Tooki and Obo working it out together in real time so that the reader is also able to work it out with them. Hard to explain; hard to pull off … do read the book!

And then came a whole raft of scenes that didn’t exist but which needed to exist in order for Tooki to go through his emotional arc of believing in the Stones, losing his faith and finding his way through that earth-shattering discovery. Sometimes Jamie would come up with an idea, sometimes I would, then would follow the usual argy bargy, always punctuated by laughter as well as indignation. Sometimes the text would come first, followed by the pictures, and sometimes the pictures would come first followed by the text. Rarely did both text and pictures come simultaneously.

When we finished the book, we realised we hadn’t finished. We revised and revised, showed it to people whose opinions we valued (thank you dear Jocelyn Stevenson and Professor Michael Irwin) and continued to ponder. We sent it to a handful of agents and when each time it came back with a disappointing: “We like it, but it’s not quite us”, we felt galvanized to look again with fresher eyes and ask ourselves why it still wasn’t ready. And one day, Lizzie Spratt, Commissioning Editor at Walker Books, saw it and liked it. It was ready. Hooray for dear Lizzie Spratt!

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Make sure you come back this afternoon for part of this fascinating interview with Vicky where she talks about the input they had into each other’s work, their influences, hopes for future books and more.

Book Review

Book Review – The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones by Jamie Courtier and Vicky Kimm.

Tooki An exquisitely illustrated and enchanting adventure story that will capture the heart and the imagination and show us that nothing is what it seems and anything is possible.

When Tooki loses his way in a snowstorm, he is cold and afraid and all alone; but in this moment of great danger, Tooki’s fortunes are about to change for there is an unexpected kind of magic waiting just where he least expects to find it.

I was completely taken by the synopsis of this book, it sounded like it would be a lovely read. I’d only previously read one graphic novel aimed at the 7+ age group before I picked up this book so I was curious to see how it would work.

The book is lovely, and warm, and lots of fun. It tells the story of the Tufties, at the beginning of the book they are preparing for the winter and their annual migration from their stone circle – they complete their harvest, and as the seasons begin to change far too rapidly they make a hurried departure for their winter home in the lowlands. Tooki, our hero, becomes separated from the rest of the Tufties and discovers some of the secrets of the stone circle.

The story is very simple, yet very clever – it covers quite a lot of ground in a very accessible manner. It would give plenty of opportunities for discussion, both in terms of how individuals relate to one another and in broader concepts too. There’s a great sense of adventure to the book, I liked how the line was clearly drawn for what was okay and what wasn’t – there are moments of peril and great emotion, but these are kept in check to make it entirely suitably for the young intended audience. Tooki and Obo (another key character) are both really engaging, I found that I warmed to them instantly and wanted to know more about them and their lives.

The art in the book is wonderful. The first double spread of the book introduces all of the Tufties – 20 in all, I loved how individual each one of them was. This was mirrored by the closing pages which contain a similar roll call for the Shuffleys, another tribe who feature heavily in the book, this time there are 23 characters, and again all very individual. The colours used really help to give the sense of the weather, and the season – I particularly found I began to feel cold when I was reading the section of the book set in a rather fierce snow storm! There’s plenty to take in from the illustrations, I read the book twice and found I spotted all sorts of different things on my second read through!

The book closes with the suggestion there may be further stories to come, I really hope this is the case – I want more adventures from Tooki and Obo!

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Tomorrow I will be hosting a fantastic two part interview with Jamie and Vicky all about this book. Please do drop by to hear all about the book and how it came to be – the answers are fascinating!

The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones will be published by Walker Books on 5th September 2013. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book to review all opinions expressed are my own.