The Bear and the Piano - my first ever picture book- celebrated its 1st birthday earlier this month.
And oh my, what a year its been. From launching the book in St Pancras Station with a Bear playing the public pianos, to meeting so many great new friends up and down the country visiting schools and bookshops, winning awards and getting reviews in magazines and newspapers.
I also got to paint the Bear on windows and walls in many city centres and watched the book be read by the fantastic actor Samuel West on CBBC's Bedtime Stories Programme. This year the book was published in China, Japan and America. Kids and their parents are reading it in France, Germany and Spain and all over the place!
Window paintings (left) and book launch at St Pancreas station (right)
The actual beginnings of The Bear and the Piano obviously goes back a bit further than a year. But only a tiny bit further.
In mid 2014 I was doodling in my sketchbook (something I do at least once a day) and without really thinking about it I drew a big scary, grizzly looking bear wearing a tuxedo and playing a grand piano. I really liked this drawing and the idea of these two worlds colliding really got my imagination going. The world of the bear, all grizzly, with big claws and chunky fur. The forest, the wild and mother nature. And then the graceful, beauty and high society and culture associated with the grand piano. All pomp and bow ties and giant, elegant theatres.
I also started to think about where this Bear's talent could take him and how he would feel if he was to move away from the forest to play his music in a world he doesn't really understand or truly fit in to.
It was also around this time that my agency The Bright Group had organised my first ever pitch meeting with a publisher.
And so it was that in June 2014 I took my portfolio and went to meet the editor Katie Cotton at Frances Lincoln Children's Book's office in Islington. I had never been to a publishing company before and I was really nervous.
I showed Katie the sketch I had made of the grizzly bear playing the piano and I also told her the story idea I had been developing based around the sketch. The story of a young bear who learns to play an abandoned piano in the forest and then goes on to become a huge star, etc. I recited the whole story idea to Katie and, to my surprise, she really loved it and it all started rolling from that moment.
I left that pitch meeting feeling really happy. In fact I was so happy I felt like I could float all the way home (but I didn't. I caught the train instead). On my way home I kept thinking how cool it was that I was actually going to make a book, a real book that would be in shops!
That feeling didn't leave me all the way through developing the book, creating rough layouts, experimenting with colours and textures, designing the characters and the overall look of the book.
Katie Cotton worked closely with me on getting the structure and pace of the story as perfect as we could and this was all before I had even started creating the final artwork for the book.
Creating The Bear and the Piano in the spare room of our cramped and damp old flat was one of the happiest, most creative and exciting six months of my life. It was also a little bit terrifying. This being my first book I was really scared about whether I was doing a good job or if anyone was going to actually like the book.
But I had to put those thoughts to the back of my mind. What I have found is that when you want to do creative things you will always have those nagging worries about what people are going to think when you are finished. But you can't worry too much about it or else nobody would do anything and nothing would ever get made. People would be afraid to make any art or play any music. And then the world would be boring and really quiet.
Anyway, The Bear and The Piano was published in the U.K. in September 2015. I am so very grateful indeed for all of the amazing feedback the book has received and all of the lovely messages I have been sent from kids and grown ups telling me how much they love the book.
I'm also super grateful for what the book has now led to. I can't believe that this is what I do as a job now. I create Picture Book's, which has surely got to be one of the greatest job's a human can ever do. Isn't it?
So, I would like to conclude this by raising my cup of tea to celebrate all of the good things that have happened over the past year.
I can't wait to see what happens over the next 12 months.