War - not an easy subject, so let's talk about working together

There are several picture books that tackle difficult subjects and they each have something unique to offer. 

My desire was to simplify to its core what is an anything but simple subject so that people can add their own interpretations and apply it to just about any kind of conflict.

Everything in GREEN LIZARDS VS RED RECTANGLES was intentional - the digitally drawn faceless rectangles, the hand drawn characteristic lizards, the death, the life, the hope, the two complimenting colours, the word TRUCE. 

WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR and ENOUGH IS ENOUGH are the two statements that really stand out and that was absolutely intentional because what are we/you fighting for and when is 'enough enough' in any kind of altercation, disagreement or war?

'8 Red Rectangles' 

'8 Red Rectangles' 

It's also an exercise in design, which was initially inspired by '8 Red Rectangles' by Malevich. Even I didn't know how these two entities would visually resolve their differences until the end of drawing this story. And despite it's overall simplistic design, it was not a simple task to populate this book with so many lizards and rectangles. And because of my red-green colourblindness (oh, the irony) I have developed a very effective but very tedious and time-consuming process to render my final illustrations. Let's just say that this is compiled from HUNDREDS of layers in Photoshop. Nor was it easy to work out the visual actions and reactions, but it was fun. 

And if you look closely, there are some sad scenes. At one point I actually got really emotional drawing these little reptiles. Each lizard has its own story. If you get this book, really take a good look - A REALLY GOOD LOOK - at all the lizards. They're not all fighting. In fact, most are NOT fighting. And the ones that are fighting are inadvertently hurting other lizards. Hang on, are the rectangles JUST lifeless objects? Are the lizards fighting against themselves without even realising it? You could get really deep with this... I did. 

I realise it was a bold move to include a 'death'. But that was the catalyst for the 'biggest war ever'. Often, war is because war was, until someone has the audacity to pose the most direct question of all, or proclaim that enough really is enough. I did intentionally soften this scene by using the word 'squashed'. And, if you look closely, you might spot a little bandaged lizard on every page after the 'squash' so maybe she/he is ok after all. That's up to you. 

UK Hardback 

UK Hardback 

It's been really great to see how classes have interpreted the book and how they've taken my 'simple' take on war and turned it into a lengthy discussion. I had a really interesting chat about the book with some college teens recently. Why rectangles? Why red? Why green? Why are they fighting? Why are we fighting? One person even suggested that the war started because a lizard and rectangle were in love (they got this from the final 'kiss' scene on the hardback's endpapers). 

The book doesn't explain why they are warring or how it all started. I don't know why the war started, I just know they're at war and that war is getting them nowhere. 

The two sides are very different from each other but they have one thing in common - the book. Perhaps they are just fighting for space. 

I could go on and on about how I important I feel this book is and how it can be as simple or as complex as you would like it to be. Even though it tackles a weighty subject, it's actually quite a fun book, if you want it to be, and could lead to discussions about 'working together'. I know it's not commercial, but I don't care about that. Maybe it will go under the radar. Who knows? I wrote this book because I felt compelled to do so, and I'm really glad that I did. 

You can buy the book here, or your fav bookstore, or you can borrow it from your nearest library. 


Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles in The Guardian 'politics' piece

My picture book about war and peace, Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles, was highlighted in a brilliant article written by Imogen Russell Williams for The Guardian, which explores 'politics in picture books'. The article, which also features work by Michael Foreman, Chris Riddell and Shaun Tan, can be read HERE.

Why I wrote a picture book about war


Back in December 2012, a painting on the cover of an art magazine caught my eye. The painting was ‘8 Red Rectangles’, by Kazmir Malevich. I was strangely transfixed by it, but I couldn't quite figure out why I found it so stimulating, and this played on my mind.

8 Red Rectangles

8 Red Rectangles

The next day, I awoke with a clear image in my head of lizards lounging on red rectangles (lizards were fresh in my mind because I'd been drawing them, along with other reptilians, at a local safari park).

Lizards and rectangles were an odd combo, but something about this image of reptiles and shapes was strangely appealing, so I headed straight to my studio to figure out why.

I drew lizards. I drew rectangles. I drew lizards sat atop rectangles and rectangles being lifted by lizards. The lizards multiplied as did the rectangles, until I ran out of space on the page. I was scratching my head - it seemed totally nonsensical that I should feel a story coming on. What exactly are these lizards and rectangles trying to tell me? How can these two very different entities exist in the same book to form a story?

And THAT’s when it hit me. They don't want to coexist!

The lizards and rectangles are completely different. They can’t seem to find a way to relate to each other, to make space for each other. But the one thing they clearly have in common is THE PAGE on which they both exist. They’re in the same book, which means they HAVE to co-exist whether they like it or not, unless.... war!

I played around with this war of shapes and reptiles. I sketched clever ways of showing the two adversaries pushing each other off the page. I had no idea how the two would eventually find a way to fit nicely (and peacefully) on the last page, but I knew they would, somehow.

The more I drew, the more I pondered the complexities of war - the unfairness, the futility. Not all of the lizards and rectangles want to fight. They’re just caught up in the chaos of it all.

The more I drew, the more I pondered the complexities of war - the unfairness, the futility. Not all of the lizards and rectangles want to fight. They're just caught up in the chaos of it all. Some are fleeing for safety. Some are trapped. Some are unknowingly harming their allies (some lizards are pushing a rectangle over without realising they’re squashing their teammates on the other side). 

One brave lizard questions it all, but he is mercilessly silenced by a towering rectangle, and this leads to an even larger war.

Eventually, ‘enough is enough’ cries one red rectangle. The lizards and rectangles are too tired to fight anymore. They gather for a truce, and they finally find a way to co-exist (or rather, I finally manage to figure out a creative way to fit them nicely on the same page). 

The lizards are green, the complimentary colour to red - an irony which made total sense. Finding the right hues was a bit tricky because I'm red-green colour-blind (another irony) but I got there in the end.

So, two days after stumbling on an inspiring piece of art, I had what I felt was a powerful and important (yet not too heavy-handed and strangely fun) story concept about war and peace. It took me about one month to finish my dummy book, which was just in time for my class's graduation show. 

GREEN LIZARDS VS RED RECTANGLES was one of three books I exhibited at my classes graduation show at Foyles in London back in February 2013 (the other two were PLEASE MR PANDA and THE QUEEN’S HAT). I knew it was a bit ‘out there’ (I remember showing it to someone for the first time and seeing their perplexed reaction to the title and imagery).

Two years later, the book was published by Hodder Children’s in the UK. Scholastic published it in the USA. It’s also available in a number of other countries, too. 

Creating this book was a fun and challenging exercise in design. More importantly, it allowed me to do something I have always wanted to do which is to tackle an important issue within a picture book. I have to thank my UK publisher, Hodder, for believing in this book in the first place. They admitted it was a brave step for them - it’s their first and only picture book about war.

You can buy the book online here (UK) or here (USA).

A Very Special Visit to The Alligator's Mouth

Illustrated by the one and only Chris Riddell!

Illustrated by the one and only Chris Riddell!

On Saturday, Richmond was buzzing with rugby banter. Footpaths carried a heavy stream of supporters to the big match (or the pub) and just about every other pedestrian had a Kiwi accent.

I, however, was not going to the match (or the pub). I had a date down at The Alligators Mouth in a quaint, little side street a side-step away from the river of Rugby fans.

The Alligators Mouth is new independent children's bookstore in the heart of Richmond run by a friendly trio of passionate booksellers: Tony, Margaret and Mark. I heard rave reviews about this shop not long after it opened, which if I can remember rightly from my conversation with Tony, was May this year. Since opening, they've had special visits from the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Axel Scheffler and Chris Riddell, and that was in one day!

Naturally, I couldn't wait to visit. 

I was particularly excited to discover that the shop had managed to acquire some copies of the not-even-officially-published-yet GREEN LIZARDS VS RED RECTANGLES, which presented the perfect opportunity for me to incorporate the battling reptiles and shapes into my event. 

Another nice surprise was a call from my friend, Jane Elson, author of award-winning A ROOM FULL OF CHOCOLATE and Carnegie-nominated HOW TO FLY WITH BROKEN WINGS, to say that she was coming to my event, which meant I had at least one guaranteed audience member!

But thankfully, I had more than one audience member. Phew! I recognised retweeters, and I met some big fans of Mr Panda, including a mother who is planning a Mr Panda themed party for her child's 1st birthday.

Me, Jane, our books and the Alligator on the bag.

It was a brilliant event. I read most of my books. We took a crazy trip with The Queen across the United Kingdom, spotted the butler (and an alien, surfing police officers, Mo Farah and more) and we drew Mr Panda with shapes and letters.

After my event I bought some books for myself (of course!) before devouring an entire margerita pizza in the restaurant next door.

All in all I had a great time. What a fantastic shop!

Thank you to Mark, Toni and Margaret for having me, and for finding me a Sharpie to sign with! Thanks also to Jane for coming along (and taking photos). But mostly, thank you to all who came for making the event so enjoyable.

So, If you're reading this in London (or even New Zealand), take note, The Alligator's Mouth is well worth a visit (and so is the restaurant next door).

Below are some photos of my event, taken by Jane and Mark.

Spotting the butler!

Spotting the butler!

NEW TITLE: Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles for '15

'Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles', a thought-provoking and highly conceptual picture book about war and peace, will be published by Hodder Children's Books next year.

The GREEN LIZARDS tried their best to defeat the RED RECTANGLES. But the RED RECTANGLES were strong. A powerful picture book about war and peace.

Here is a sneak peek!