Fill-me-in: a book

So. I've got a book out. Here's the story behind it.


8 years ago I chucked in my job as an architect, telling my colleagues that I was giving it all up to make children's books. Of course they all thought I was bonkers, throwing away a job – a career – that takes years of study.

I did really enjoy certain things about the work. I wasn't really a designer. My job involved lots of 'public consultation' talking to people about the future of where they lived, or their school or their housing estate and so on, and I spent a fair amount of time devising ways to make the process enjoyable and inspiring for all those involved. It was great finding ways to make people think about future possibilities and capture their ideas. 

But I also spent too much time with other people telling me that wonderful future we'd discussed just wasn't possible. In the end I became creatively frustrated and disillusioned with a job that seemed to involve lots of arguing and very little design. I kept thinking I wanted to draw and paint, things that I'd always done until the last few years when work seemed to have sapped my creative energy. I couldn't see me doing this job until the day I retired.

Somehow I managed to convince my wife that I'd be much more bearable to live with if I could stop doing architecture and start drawing pictures instead. And, unbelievably really, she agreed!

The idea of participation gradually began to emerge in my work, particularly with the 'Pet Names' project I created for the gallery at Otterton Mill in Devon, where more than 300 visitors wrote their 'pet name' and favourite word in the visitors' book, which I later turned into a drawing. 

The fill-me-in concept stemmed directly from thinking about the sorts of processes and reemerged years later when I made an interactive drawing for an art exhibition in Exeter. Labelled 'These Are The Things That Make Me Sing', visitors were invited to write in the placards. It soon became apparent that this had a great appeal, and so the 'Fill-me-in' idea was born.

So, 8 years down the line, here it is. Of course I've done loads of other things besides making a children's book, but this feels like vindication for what seemed at the time like a very risky decision.

The book is very much an invitation to let your mind play, to prime the imagination. As Alastair B commented on twitter, it's "Not Just a book, but a paper playground". The book starts out in space and zooms in on the World of Moose, the creatures that live there and the worlds they inhabit, from the smallest citizens scuttling about on leaves to the busy students at the Flying School. Each page leaves plenty of room for you to elaborate: it's about drawing, doodling, colouring - and about words too. And it's really designed to appeal to all ages.

I am extremely grateful to the people at Templar/Bonnier/Big Picture Press for approaching me and especially to my editor Jenny Broom for all her hard work. It's a book I feel very proud of, and I like the fact that it is an invitation to dream, to let your mind play, harking back to the work I did as an architect.

I'd like to thank a few other people. Vivienne Clore and Nick Canham at The Richard Stone Partnership for holding my hand through all the contractual stuff. And also to Vivienne for being a wonderful friend and for her support generally. Thanks to the brilliant Tom Mclaughlin for his advice and experience. I'd like to thank the publishers' team from Bonnier, particularly Anne Weinhold and Ellen John for their support, and to Libby Hamilton who first saw my work at Brighton Art Fair and invited me to work with Templar and Big Picture Press.

I'd like to thank my boys Connor and Spencer whose spirit, humour and magical ideas imbue my work always. And I really have to thank my wife Karen for letting me give up my job and become an artist, because if it had been the other way round I certainly wouldn't have put up with that sort of nonsense.

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