For the past three years I've marked my daughter's birthday by making her a book. The first year it was almost an accident - I started making a card and it unexpectedly grew to eight pages (one for each year of her life) so I made a front and back cover, stuck the pictures on cardboard to make pages then stitched the pages together to make a book.
Back then, I'd been doodling for about three months, had limited materials, experience and knowledge and painted with old waterpaints onto typing paper (just about the least suitable medium for anything wet unless you're planning to paint on toilet roll). The whole thing, from initial idea to completed book, probably took me less than two weeks.
Last year's book was an altogether more ambitious project. I started work on it in November 2004 and at the time it wasn't intended as the next birthday book, it was just my second project using my new gouache paints as I settled into my new home in Liverpool. The story was semi-improvised from an idea that had been knocking around the dusty backshelves of my imagination since I was about ten. My first friend really was a bee I rescued from near our bramble and I often imagined myself a fighter-pilot on the back of a bee, flying it like a plump furry spitfire. After I had drawn the first four or five pages I realised it would work well as a children's story and decided to make it the next birthday book.
For this year's book, I raised my sights even higher. Throughout the year, I kept a spare eye on illustrated children's books to see what did and didn't work, what I did and didn't like and how I could fir those observations to my style of illustration and narrative. The main thing I realised was that small focussed on me, the father/writer, whereas the best children's stories focus on a child. Alright, small was a child in the flashback that made up most of the story but it starts and finishes when he is less small, the adult. The centre of the stories I liked best (and also the stories my daughter likes best) starts out as a child and ends up as a child, even if they've grown up a little in the process. So I had to make the book a lot less dad-focussed and a lot more daughter focussed. A dad figure could be involved, but he has to be an object rather than a subject, and he has to be less knowing, less wise, less in control than the daughter figure who is telling the story.
Towards the end of 2005, as I began to mentally arrange my general thoughts about the pending book and search for specific story ideas, I learned of lulu, a company that allows creators such as myself to self-publish our work without going to the expense of large print runs. Straight away I decided to use them for the next birthday book. Now all I needed was to come up with an idea.
(How To Make A Book continues in part two: Ideas)