I’m an illustrator, picture book author, educator and gardener. I’d been illustrating for around 12 years before I took the leap into the world of Children’s Book Illustration and enrolled on the MA course at Cambridge, a course that’s helped countless picture book authors to hone their craft. I’m also an arts educator too, ranging from a year long residency in a primary school teaching animation and art workshops, and currentlyI’m a lecturer at University of Suffolk on the Graphic Design course. I’m also a keen gardener, and where gardening is concerned I’m the student and the bees are the teachers, the more I learn, word gets around “He’s a good student this one, see what good work he’s doing”, and they come with a familiar buzz.
I Saw A BEE is my debut book published by the brilliant Scallywag Press. At the heart of the story the theme is friendship, and even if our first reaction is the opposite of being friendly, perhaps through our experiences we can see that we are much alike, that we can all feel the same things, and perhaps we can begin to see how we reflect each other.
There’s nothing like a smile to cause a smile, you’re not going to get a smile in return for every smile you give, but it’s worth a try. I think the opposite is also true, an act of aggression will get something similar in return.
When I was a child, I remember adults waving away bees, like they were bad, no doubt fearful of a sting, and to sit near to a bee felt like an act of bravery. Eventually I could see that they were fascinating creatures, and now that humming buzzing sound of their wings is simply relaxing, and a reminder that the day is probably a good one. Having bees around does something similar for me as having friends around.
The initial inspiration for I Saw A BEE came from an unexpected encounter my young son had with a bee. I was driving the car when my son, looking out of the window,suddenly said “A bee!” Which was flying alongside our car, which says something about how strong those tiny wings are. “I saw a bee” was said, “I wonder if the bee saw me?” was quickly added, by the end of the day nearly all the words as they appear in the book had been written down. I often describe a particular kind of writing as bouncing words around, playing with them, bobbling them about seeing what they do if you add words, exchange words, subtract and rearrange them in order to shape the next part of the story, or to seek the fun in how words fit together, I Saw A BEE is a good example of bobbling the words of a story into existence. The next thing that happened which helped me to understand a little more about the story behind this idea was the day-to-day bumpy nature of making friends my son seemed to go through in early years at school. The day’s events recounted by my son of the daily shifting friendships was a conversation which dominated journeys home from school. It was this that helped me to begin to see the bee as something more than an insect, the bee came to represent potential friendship.
Bees are an easy way of thinking about how our lives, and those lives which on the surface look much smaller than ours, are connected through nature, and helps people to think and talk about ecology and conservation. Bees being pollinators do an essential task in carrying pollen from flower to flower which is how most plants and trees produce the next fruits, which carry the seeds of future plants and trees, and many of these fruits are some of the produce we eat. If something happens to the bees, it will effect this balance of nature and food production. Bees are not the only pollinators, but they do seem to capture our imagination, and they are particularly good at it.
When I heard that bees were in decline, I immediately changed my gardening habits, and the garden has also changed, and it’s growing more and more into pollinators paradise! The unexpected effect of bee friendly gardening is that there are now many more creatures in the garden, other pollinators, butterflies, creepy crawlies of all kinds, lots of birds, and I even spotted a hedgehog – once spotted scurrying quite fast, and the rest of the time I know it’s there by spotting its droppings!
There are lots of schools creating pollinator friendly areas on their school grounds. On twitter there is a hashtag #PolliPromise which was set up to point people in the direction of the Pollinator Promise . The promise is to do your bit to help pollinators, and the website gives tips on what to do, it’s aimed at young children and schools.
Before I began gardening for bees I wasn’t aware of just how many different kinds of bees there are, this year I began photographing them, and I’ve collected more than 25 photos of different varieties of bee including the tree bumblebee, red-tailed and white-tailed bumble bees, mourning bees which are eerily black and white in colour, mason and mining bees and of course honey bees.
I Saw A BEE is my first published book, but it’s far from the first book I’ve written, I’ve been developing, writing and illustrating ideas for quite some time, and I have many ‘rejection’ letters to prove it, not that ‘rejection’ is something you’d want to prove, but it’s important to recognise these experiences as part of the journey. When I heard about the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge I applied and enrolled, and that’s really where my craft begin to really take shape. BEE was developed over two years and sat on various desks of publishers for around another year or so. A friend and fellow picture book maker, Rose Robbins, had been working with a new publisher Scallywag Press, who at the time had no books published and they were looking for books for their first catalogue list, and Rose put me in touch with Sarah Pakenham (publisher) and Janice Thompson (Editor). I sent them a digital portfolio and a couple of manuscripts, and one of these was BEE. Less than a week went by and Janice rang me and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she could read BEE back to me with a couple of small changes, I said of course, and she read BEE. This, I’ve come to understand, is editing! The edits were sensitively done, and clearly made to shape the story in such a way that I knew my book was already in safe hands. A contract was signed, and it was another year before I Saw A BEE was published. What Scallywag Press could see in BEE that other publishers couldn’t is a question that for me helps me to understand the relationship between the author and the publisher, in that the right book has to find the right publisher, but here’s no easy answer of how that might happen. This year I Saw A BEE was followed by We Found A SEED, and next year a third book (in what has become known as Rob Ramsden’s In the Garden Series) will be published in Autumn called We Planted A PUMPKIN. I’m already looking forward to growing pumpkins next year in time for the book launch.
I owe Rob a huge thank you for getting on board with my idea of a guest post, for sending photos and for being so kind! Rob is available for school visits! Get in touch with Scallywag Press for more information! KS1 teachers, these books would be perfect for those Spring planting topics! Get booking now!