Pip: Hooray, hooray! It’s publication day! I’m so excited that Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue! is out. Writing this story reminded me of so many lovely holidays when I was a child – the adventures I had on the beach and (like Ava, but not *quite* so dramatic!) in boats.

So, I thought I’d share some memories on the blog – and I am not alone! Ella Okstad is here too. Hi Ella!

Ella: Hey Pip!

Pip: So… holibobs! When I was little, we used to go to Wales every summer, to a little coastal village where my Grandma was born. My Dad would build boats in the sand (they were so cool, you could actually get in, and sit in them, and row away… if you used your imagination!) and then my sister and I would sit there eating ham and sand sandwiches (the sandwiches ALWAYS got sand in them).

Ella: Haha! I also remember eating sandy sandwiches. We spent lots of holidays in Denmark when I was little, and we used to have sandwiches with special Danish

Pip with her big sister (who you'll meet in Squishy McFluff book 6 as Auntie Tash!) in their sand boat!

Pip with her big sister (who you’ll meet in Squishy McFluff book 6 as Auntie Tash!) in their sand boat, 1979!

chocolate spread: thin plates of chocolate on top of some buttered bread. Yummy! Except, on the beach, they were always melted with sand on top. Not so nice…

Pip: So how come you went to Denmark lots?

Ella: My Grandma was Danish. Some of the holidays in Denmark were spent camping, and a couple of times we stayed on a farm where they had pigs. I remember once we drove down to Oslo in my mum’s little green car, and took the boat to Copenhagen. The car had to be hoisted onto the upper deck with a crane! I remember my mum getting hysterical while we watched it floating above us.

Pip: Sometimes my Grandad would drive us to Wales – that would be Great Grandad Bill from the Squishy books, who is now 102! It took soooooo long to get there. But I loved the Welsh holidays. It was always really exciting going out on the boat, fishing for mackerel. It makes me smile when I think of the walks we’d do to the beaches. My Grandma would be striding on ahead, saying ‘come on Bill, hurry up!’ and Grandad would be slowly walking behind, heavily laden with picnic basket, blankets, windbreak, fold up deckchairs etc… poor thing!

Ella: I can just imagine the scene, with you lot bounding off to the beach and Great

Ella setting off on holiday, aged 5, in 1978

Ella setting off on holiday, aged 5, in 1978!

Grandad Bill staggering along with all that stuff! Do tell him I said hello! 🙂 And did you go on holiday abroad when you were little, too?

Pip: We did! I was very lucky. Even when I was very young we went to lots of European countries, including France and Spain. My mum liked to make my sister and I learn some of the language of wherever we were going, so she’d buy those ‘Learn to Speak…’ cassette tapes for us to listen to every morning. I couldn’t say a huge amount of it went in, but there were several essential phrases we had to know: ‘Good morning/afternoon/night’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘where is the loo?’!

Ella: Ha! Yes, Very Important.

Pip: One of my funniest holiday memories was in France when my mum was trying to speak French to a local man in a cafe. She was trying to explain to him that the car we drove was a French make – a big Citroen DS. But she wasn’t pronouncing it quite right. She should have been saying ‘Citro-EN’, but she was saying ‘citron’.

Poor chap, he was sitting there, totally confused, watching my mum getting more and more frustrated (doing steering wheel hand movements and everything) telling him that she drove a ‘grand citron’ – which actually meant a ‘big lemon’. Ha!

Ella: Language misunderstandings are always funny. My mum and I travelled to the Greek islands and Cyprus a few times. We loved it there – coming from the cold north, it was so nice to have a bit of sun and warm weather.

Anyway, the first time I went, I was a bit confused, because I constantly heard Greek people shouting ‘Ella, Ella!’. I thought, ‘wow, it’s strange how everyone here knows my name!’ After a while, I learned that they were actually shouting ‘Ela edo!’ to one another, which means ‘come here!’ in Greek.

Pip getting ready for fishing with her big sister (who you'll meet in Squishy McFluff book 6 as Auntie Tash!)

Pip and Tash arriving back from mackerel fishing

Pip: Oh, we went to Greece as well! We spent a lovely holiday on an island called Spetses, where we met a man called Yanis. He had an amazing house on top of a hill, and he owned seventeen cats.

Ella: There’s actually an ancient monastery especially for cats in Cyprus. It’s called the Holy Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats. We went there once. There were six old nuns, and cats everywhere!

Pip: Visible cats? Not like Squishy then.

Ella: Ha! I imagine Squishy would love to go on holiday there and get pampered by the nuns.

Pip: And they’d always forgive him for being mischievous!

Ella: Unlike the ice cream man in the new book, probably.

Pip: To be fair, I think what happens in the ice cream van is not *entirely* Squishy’s fault… but perhaps we’ll let readers decide for themselves. 😀

We really hope that you enjoy the new story. Seaside Rescue! has mischief, mayhem and (eek!) a disaster that demands a pretty heroic performance from Ava’s Mum. I especially hope that it makes mummies smile – the theme of the book being that a mother’s love knows no bounds. Hooray for mums!

We’d love to hear what you think of Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue!, so do comment below. In the meantime, enjoy the summer sunshine (I’m sure there WILL be some), and happy holidays one and all.

 

Love from Pip and Ella. xx

 

p.s. Click here for a Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue! review from The Bookbag.

 

 

Whoopie! It’s all very exciting over here at the McFluff Mansion (which is really small, by the way, and also invisible) because today we can reveal the cover for the next book, Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue!

Ava and Squishy are off on holiday in this story, and you can probably tell from the cover that things are going to take a bit of a disastrous turn:

 

The seaside, hoorah! Sandcastles! And sun!

Ava and Squishy are having such fun,

Until… oh, DISASTER! McFluff floats away!

He just can’t stay lost… Who will help save the day?

 

The illustrations, as ever, are drawn by the supremely talented Ella Okstad. She’s been working hard on the book for months, and the inside pages are just wonderful. I can’t wait to share the book with you, when it publishes on June 2nd.

In the meantime, Squishy McFluff and I are going to be out and about this Spring and throughout the year, so watch this space for upcoming news about where you can come to ‘meet’ the naughtiest invisible kitten there is.

Take care, and hope to see you soon!

Pip x

Hooray, hooray, hooray! Today is publication day!

Squishy McFluff: Secret Santa has hit the shelves, and I’m just so excited that Ava and Squishy McFluff now have their very own Christmas story. I had huge fun writing the book, remembering all the magical Christmases of my childhood. Of course, Christmas time in the McFluff household is somewhat more chaotic than the ones I remember, but that’s to be expected.

As ever, one of the loveliest parts of making Secret Santa was seeing the wonderful illustrations that would help tell the story. I hope you’ll agree they’re brilliant. And I thought that, as mid-October is perhaps a little bit early to be swapping mince pie recipes on the blog, it would be fun to learn a bit more about the lady behind the pictures.

So… let’s meet Ella!

Hi Ella! How did you end up illustrating books for children?

Hi! Well, I love children’s books and as a child, I was especially fascinated by the illustrations. That fascination stuck with me growing up, and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. I have been working since I graduated in 2000, illustrating stories for authors in the UK, Norway and the US. I love working with authors (you especially! Aw, thanks) and making projects of my own.

For me, seeing your first character sketches of Ava and Squishy was an amazing moment! I knew straight away they were perfect. So how did you go about deciding what they were going to look like? 

Ava and Squishy just popped out! After I read the first story, which I instantly loved, I put my pencil on the paper and, as I drew, they came straight away. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes characters are hard to find, and I have to erase and redraw them many times. Ava and Squishy have only changed very slightly slightly since that first drawing.

Tell us about your processes for illustrating Squishy McFluff.

I start by reading the whole story, making visual notes in my head. Then I go through, page by page, and make sketches. There are usually comments on each page from you and the book editor, which is also very helpful. When all the sketches are approved, I make the

final drawing by pencil using a piece of tracing paper on top of the sketch. The colouring is

Squishy McFluff Christmas

Ella knows Ava and Squishy so well – look at their expressions!

done by ink on a separate layer of tracing paper. The line drawing and the colours are scanned and put together on a computer. When I’ve finished working on a book, there are usually mountains of tracing paper on my desk!

When you’re illustrating a series like Squishy, does it get easier or harder to draw the same characters over and over again? 

It gets easier and easier to draw them as I go along, and I feel like I get to know them really well. It’s like meeting old friends when I’ve been away from them for a while.

Illustrations in children’s books are obviously massively, hugely, fantastically important. What do you think illustrations bring to the storytelling?

The illustrations bring a new dimension to a story. In fact, they tell parts of the story without the need for words. And both parents and children can engage with a story in a special way by looking at the pictures together. New readers also find it much easier to get through a book when there are pictures too, and it’s a proud moment when you can say for the first time: ‘I read a whole book all on my own!’

A question I get asked a lot by children I meet at schools is: how long does it take to make a book? I can tell them how long it takes me to write one, but how long does it take to draw all the pictures for a Squishy book?

It’s quite a long process. When working intensively with a book, it usually takes around two months.

Lots of children have also asked where ‘we’ as in you and I work. There is an assumption we sit side by side to make the books – but of course we work quite separately, not least because you live in Trondheim, Norway! What it’s like where you live? 🙂 

Even though we live in different countries, it sometimes feels like we are sitting side by side! It’s easy to communicate through the internet.

Trondheim is the city where I was born and it’s in the middle of Norway. I live in a big house with my husband, three boys and a cat. I was allergic to cats before, but found out earlier this year that I’m not anymore, so we decided to get one. He’s called Lillebror (which means little brother). He follows us everywhere around the house and likes to cuddle. We usually have a lot of snow here in the winter, which is great fun, and on a clear winter evening, we sometimes see the magical Northern lights.

So, absolutely everyone loves your work, Ella – but which other children’s illustrators do you admire?

There are SO many brilliant children’s illustrators I admire! I love the work of Tove Jansson, Oliver Jeffers, Rilla Alexander, Benji Davies and Emily Hughes, to name a few.

If there was one children’s book character you wish you had drawn, which would it be?

That’s a difficult question. I do love the simplicity of Tove Jansson’s universe and her Moomin character. He is instantly recognizable and has so much personality. We have a shelf in our kitchen that’s filled with Moomin cups.

Do you have any advice to children who would love to have a job like yours?

Keep on drawing and have fun doing it!

And just for fun, the quick-fire round!

Favourite breakfast? 

A slice of home made bread (freshly baked) with Norwegian brown cheese and strawberry jam, and coffee.

Favourite colour?

I have many, but if I had to pick one it would be green.

Favourite book when you were little?

Lupinella (Lupinchen in German) by Binette Schroeder.

Favourite season?

Spring, when everything transforms into green.

Sea or swimming pool?

Definitely sea. If it’s warm enough, I love to swim.

Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate (both hot and cold!).

Finally, invisible cats or real ones?

Both!

Thank you Ella! Now, get back to work, my friend. Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue won’t draw itself, you know.

😉

Photo of Ella Okstad courtesy of www.synlig.no

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