Monday, 29 September 2014


Hello again!I didn't imagine that I'd ever be back here, but I have to admit I've missed the old blog! So what better way to kick-start things than with news of my new book. What a Wonderful World  will be available in the UK with widespread release this week, and as I start to spot copies in bookshops and tweets about it online, I can’t quite believe it’s finally here!

Even in the slow-burning process of the publishing world, it's been a long time coming. It was a few years before I was able to find an editor willing to work with me to turn this song into a picture book - three different companies own the rights to the song - so getting permission to use the lyrics and turn it into a picture book was never going to be straightforward. I had to set the idea aside time and time again, and had almost given up on ever being able to illustrate it. 

One Father’s Day about five years ago, my daughter Ava gave me a copy of the 1967 single recorded by Louis Armstrong. She'd seen the rough drawings I'd done of my idea for the song and so when she came across the record in a flea market she knew I'd want to hear it on vinyl. Listening to the recording once again I realised how much I wanted to make this idea happen, regardless of how long it took.
Original 1967 recording by Louis Armstrong
During the run up to the release of What a Wonderful World, I got talking to Ava, now a journalist, about the book, why it is a project so close to my heart and what I wanted to achieve after finally meeting an editor with the tenacity and enthusiasm to secure the rights to work with such a famous song.

Ava: Could you explain a little about What a Wonderful World and what drew you to turning Louis Armstrong’s famous rendition of the song into a children’s book?
Tim: This is an idea I had quite a long time ago now, probably going way back to when I first started working on picture books, around about 2006 and 2007. When I first showed the roughs for the idea the initial reaction was that it was going to be too complicated to get permission to use the lyrics. I think there’s three companies who own the rights to the song, and they all would have to agree on allowing me to turn it into a picture book. But that didn’t stop me thinking it was a nice concept for a book, it wasn’t an idea I wanted to let go of, but I did put it to one side.

A few years passed and during that time I worked with Peter Marley on a project for Egmont books (Twinkle, Twinkle, Squiglet Pig) by Joyce Dunbar. Peter then moved to Oxford University Press and contacted me asking if I was interested in producing a gift book. Traditionally, gift books tend to be a reworking of a classic title, but I figured that maybe a reworking of a classic song may work too. I emailed the roughs for What a Wonderful World to Peter and he loved it. He showed it to the rest of the OUP team and they did too, but then of course it took ages to get permission to use the lyrics, so it’s certainly been a long time coming.

UK hardback edition 

I hadn’t really ever considered making gift books; the idea came about because I thought it would be nice to have a picture book that you could give to mark a special occasion, maybe for a newborn baby or a first birthday. It seemed to me that this song, probably the most life-affirming song of all time, was a good place to start.

The fact that it has taken a long time to get off the ground has meant it has really been a labour of love, but I think that shows in the artwork. It feels as if everything I’ve learnt over the last seven or eight years since producing my first book, has been pooled into this one.

So if it had happened any sooner, it might not have been quite the book it is now?
Yes. I think so. The thing with creating picture books is that they start off as your idea and then as they go through the process to become a real book, more and more people get involved. If the team is right, and everyone’s behind it, then the book stands to grow into something really special. Sometimes a book can lose its way, and not turn out quite how you had originally intended, that's not necessarily always a bad thing, but that didn't happen with this one. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to look, more so than any other book I've worked on.

English/Dutch bilingual edition

It always feels like there’s lots of terrible things in the news, but do you feel that the message behind What a Wonderful World is especially apt this year?
You can probably say it about every year - yes, there are bad things going on, particularly this year, but the world is a wonderful place. There are wonderful things, simple things about the world we live in which we shouldn't overlook or forget about. This book, like the song, focuses on the positive, it's a message of hope. The world isn't a perfect place, but it's not all bad either. To me, there's something in the song that seems to suggest that perhaps the next generation will fare better than the last.

Detail of the galloping horses spread  (second proof)

Back to the book itself, what is your favourite scene? can you have a favourite?
One of my favourite images is the boy laying in the grass with the sun coming up and the bird sitting on his foot, because it's so carefree. A perfect summer's day, lying in the grass with the birds singing, how wonderful that is! Moving through the book, from an artwork point of view, I like the underwater spread with all the fish, but for me, my favourite spread is the boy on the horse, galloping through the waves. It’s funny because I was putting that spread off, I think it was the last spread I worked on. And I was thinking ‘oh no, horses, eugh!’ I don’t think I’d ever drawn horses before, but actually it came together really well and I love the colour of the pinks and the orange and the textures of the horses.

What about the mountain one? That’s my favourite!
Yeah! Well - my favourite’s definitely the horses.

Obviously you knew it was going to be a gift book when you were putting it together, did this make you approach the illustration differently?
Yes, working with Peter and Harriet at OUP, we decided from the start that I wasn’t going to use any black line, so most of the line work is lighter than the base colour so it gives it more of a broken up, chalky feel. It's a lot looser than some of my recent books. As I worked on it overall, the artwork became even looser, and that’s why I’m really pleased with how it came out in the end, because it has a nice energy to it. Each page works as a stand-alone piece of art.

Is it that thing of trying to pin down that carefree mood that’s actually really difficult to do?
Yep, thinking about the song and how Louis Armstrong sings it, we spent a long time working out how the type could have some movement, but not be too manic. Louis Armstrong delivers it in a sort of laid-back way, and we wanted the typography to echo that, like a gentle sway through the book.
I think that Louis Armstrong’s version of the song is the one that everyone remembers because it’s a nice mix between the imagery that he conjures up and the gravelly voice, it’s not too sweet and sickly. I wanted the book to be full of sunshine, but with a loose, broken-up feel to reflect Armstrong’s wonderful voice.

Typography design for the bilingual English/Dutch edition

There’s so many images to get through from the source material, and you know they all have to look stunning - the world at its very best. Did you have to hold off on some spreads or pare anything down to give it a pace?
I think it’s nice to have some quieter moments in there, I wanted to have a steady build up so that when you get towards the end there is a lot to take in. I wanted each page to be impressive and a surprise. But working on the book, I often find you finish a spread that you’re particularly pleased with, and suddenly the next spread has to surpass that and this momentum builds, but that’s not to say everything needs to be all-singing and dancing, as some things can be great because they’re simple, or because of their use of colour.

World map endpaper design, UK hardback edition

What a Wonderful World is published by Oxford University Press and available now, with widespread release on the 2nd October 2014. The book comes with a CD featuring the song as performed by Louis Armstrong, as well as an exclusive reading of the lyrics by Sophie Aldred to guide you through the book. Check in your local bookshop as you might be able to get your hands on it already!

Friday, 22 November 2013


So what have you learnt this week that you didn't know before? Well, as it happens quite a lot! Last week was Week ONE of the Northern Childrens Book Festival. This year the festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary, which is quite an achievement considering the political backdrop of major spending cuts throughout the North East.
The festival aims to bring authors and illustrators to as many schools and libraries throughout the region as possible. During the course of the week I spoke to well over 700 children and visited Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, Durham and North Tyneside. I was out and about reading my new book BIG (Picture Corgi) and because it's a book all about growing bigger, I incorporated some measuring into my events.
Did you know that most 6 year olds are between 18 and 22 cream crackers tall? And that your average 5 year old is 88 popcorns tall? And the majority of teachers I met last week were 5.5 pizzas tall. Do you know how tall you are in the alphabet? Most of the children I met were between P and V, although one lad did make it way past Z!
So what did the children I met learn about me? Amongst other things,they learnt that as an author/illustrator I have two desks,(each 40 paperclips long) one for writing and one for drawing. They learnt that the only certificate I ever won at school was for 100% attendance (or a failure to catch chickenpox!) and that my career as a picture book creator started by my writing a note to myself which read 'STOP WATCHING EASTENDERS'. Seven years on, 12 books published and I've not watched an episode since.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Half-term will be here faster than you know it, so I thought I'd share this crafty little activity with you. I noticed that our recycling bin was always overflowing with plastic cartons, so I asked Mrs. Hop to put her thinking cap on and come up with an idea that would make good use of all that plastic. After much debate we settled on pint sized penguins using different sized milk cartons.
All you need is acrylic paint, coloured card and several dot stickers (and a little patience while you wait for the paint to dry!). We started by painting the back, sides, top and top half of the front of the cartons black. When they were dry, we painted the lower front part of the cartons white. When that was dry we painted the lower half of the handles orange.
The wings (an elongated oval shape) are cut out of black card and attached using black sticky tape. Make the wings quite long and then fold the tips of the wings so they sit flat on the ground. 
The feet are cut out of orange card and attached underneath. Then finally the eyes are made from 3 different sizes of dot stickers, in white, yellow and black.

P.. P.. P.. Perfect!