Dissected eyeballs and jurassic beasts

Posted by Tony on March 9, 2016

When I first started working in publishing I had no idea that authors and illustrators are sometimes invited to talk to audiences. In fact, publishers are very happy if the people who create the books are also prepared to help promote them. There is also the small matter of finance. Earning a living as a freelance illustrator is precarious to say the least and visiting schools is an important source of income for many of us.

So, about 15 years ago, I decided to try and overcome my fear of talking to large groups. After a few shaky starts, I honed my workshops dumping dud ideas and developing the better ones. Watching teachers interact with their pupils has also proved useful.

The past three weeks have been especially busy with the deadline for the next Horrible Science book looming and lots of events to attend.

It started with a long drive up North to The National Media Museum in Bradford. But the trip was well worthwhile as the organisers had put on a magnificent array of workshops and display boards, all in the name of Horrible Science. And they were spread over the whole of the half-term week.

As I approached the NMM I was delighted to see a 30 foot poster featuring my Bug Scientist illustration. Exciting!


While I beavered away with my Horrible Science cartoon sessions, other workshops were going on all around: Spectacular Specs, Marvellous Magnifiers, Microscopic Monsters, Terrible Torches, Sounds Dreadful and The Eerie Eyeball Dissection.

I’d met up with Horrible Science editor Catharine Robertson and we decided to check out the Eerie Eyeball Dissection held by demonstrator Nathan Buckley. The graphics were brilliant but not the best photo of Nathan, I’m afraid.


Nathan dissected a pig’s eyeball and rather than overplay the gore, he took a cool, matter-of-fact approach which held the attention of his young audience perfectly.


When Nathan quizzed them at the end of the demonstration, eager hands shot up. He asked them questions about what what they’d just seen and their answers were clear proof that they’d been paying attention.

This was Horrible Science at its best.

It was great to see so many of our books and experiment kits on display.


Here’s Ian and Kim’s children holding their ‘Horrible’ books.


And many thanks to Content Developer Anna Ward, for promoting Horrible Science so well – even in the loos!


And for organising such an impressive week of events.


From Bradford I drove across to Chester (stopping at Manchester on the way for tapas with my daughter!) where I held a workshop for the WayWord Festival. What a lovely city. My venue was beautiful Chester Town Hall opposite the magnificent cathedral. And what an excellent, enthusiastic audience.


I didn’t get to take any photos so you can imagine how pleased I was to find that photographer Mark Carline had been snapping away. Photography by Mark Carline for Chester Performs. Great pics – thanks, Mark.



The following weekend I was in Swansea with Horrible Science author Nick Arnold. We had a 15 minute slot for the World Book Day Greatest Book Show on Earth and in those 15 minutes we managed to create a whole book!


With only 35 seconds for each illustration you can see why my dino is a bit wonky! A neater version of the book can be dowloaded if you click on the Fearsome Facts cover above.


I had a week to catch up on my illustration work before launching into World Book Week. There’s no point in endlessly  banging on about how great all the schools were because – THEY WERE! Many thanks to teachers and librarians: Jo Glazebrook, Gill Adams, Samantha Saynor and Rachel Smith who recognise the value of author/illustrator visits and who persuaded their school to book me. Each visit was welcoming and well-organised. Thanks also to Authors Aloud http://www.authorsalouduk.co.uk – specialists in arranging author, illustrator, poet and storyteller visits to schools and libraries. They are the middle-men, I mean middle-women, and they do a fantastic job.

I started at Shamblehurst in Southampton, then Willowbank in Reading followed by Chigwell Junior School and Winchester House in Brackley.

The week whizzed by in a bit of a blur – one of the schools presented me with this brilliant colour illustration but I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember which school it was. Do let me know if you recognise this mini masterpiece.


From Brackley I jumped back in the car and drove west where I stayed the night with illustrator friend Petr Horacek (Walker Books) and family, in Worcester. It was a short drive to Malvern the following day where I was holding workshops at the Malvern Faith and Science Festival. I often talk about fossils and in one session we were drawing ammonites and I spoke about the Jurassic coast that I love to visit for fossil-hunting expeditions.


At lunchtime a fellow fossil enthusiast was telling me about a big ammonite she’d found on a beach 60 years ago. Her mother had told her to throw the massive rock away but the little girl had insisted on carrying it all the way home. Later in the afternoon, I was drawing ammonites again when the husband of the little girl (now a senior lady) approached the stage and presented me with the aforementioned ammonite fossil. They were keen to show it to me and had taken the trouble to go home and get it. Fantastic!

After Malvern I had a night at home before setting off for The Big Write in Stratford, London. My event was in a cinema! I love drawing on visualizers and this session was especially good fun as my drawing hand was projected onto the massive cinema screen. No danger of people at the back not being able to see what I was drawing. Sat in the front row was a little girl dressed as a scientist. She was sketching away madly as I explained the inner workings of our Disgusting Digestive system.


Here she is with her signed book and drawings.


Also competition winner @E9_Resident with her Horrible Science book.


After the workshop I walked across to Discover – The Children’s Story Centre who organise The Big Write. Festival organizer Michael Polocsay, showed me around the book-themed play area and also the exhibition space which is currently dedicated to the life of Michael Rosen. The place was packed – clearly a popular destination for families seeking weekend fun. And if a visit to Discover entertains children on a cold wet day and at the same time helps them develop a love of books, that has to be a good thing.

A fun few weeks. Perhaps my favourite memory is of the little lad who brought an ancient and tatty first edition of Ugly Bugs to my table for signing. 2016 is the 20th anniversary of the Horrible Science series and this book certainly looked 20 years old.

He said, “It belonged to my dad when he was at primary school.”

I felt very happy and very old.


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