The incredibly talented Daisy Dawes - in her studio (image from Liverpool Echo)

Yesterday we had the total hour of attending a lecture given by Daisy Dawes, who is a model maker and children’s ilustrator. It was a whirlwind of an hour where Daisy took us quickly through her career to date, and told us of all the wonderful people she had worked with and the projects she had been involved in – a truly busy lady!

Daisy was very fortunate to be born into a creative family, both her parents were ceramicists and she grew up around 3D work, so it was not surprising that after completing an art foundation course she then continued her education at Plymouth University where she studied animation.Here she was able to develop her model making,which had always been of great interest to her.

Daisy was  again very fortunate to have an amazing start to her career as she met up with Roy Scott, who was a Harry Potter model maker, and found herself working on a production of Harry Potter called ‘The Philosophers Stone’ (Warner Bros).In this film she told us that she was responsible for designing and putting the windows into Hogwarts, of which she said they were given a huge budget, but then they had to be created to a huge scale as well.

After Harry Potter she worked on Pingu (hot animation) in Altrincham, but also continued to write and create storyboards for people.She also worked on ‘Rex the Runt ‘ (aardman) and she felt that it was when she worked for Aardman she learned the most about model making.

With the rise of CGI there became less need for model making and so she decided to turn her interests towards creating books , but using her model making skills she created ‘puppets’ for the stories and then photographed them and used them in the story. The puppets are made of Bolsa wood and wire, so that their limbs can be moved easily.These models were used in her first book ‘Get Ahead Fred’ – of which she brought the models in to show us.

Her first book

some of the puppets in 'get ahead fred'

the man himself - and his interchangeable hats!

Daisy talked a lot about how she progressed through her career, how she promoted herself and the opportunities she had. This was invaluable. One of the places she said she went to was the London Book Fair, where she left some of her ‘packs’.She then returned home and pretty soon got a call from Maverick Books (children’s book publishers) and this then led to her starting to publish children’s books. She has also done lots of other things to promote herself, some of them including dressing up as an Egyptian to work with children in Manchester.

She recommended that we constantly researched into the different publishers and their type of work, and the work they are looking for at the moment.She said it was important to be current with your information.She recommended the’ Writers and Artists Yearbook’ particularly the one aimed at children.

Talking about her own work she said that she felt it was important to have a clear style and then to stick to it, and that as you go into the market you will come across people who will try and dilute it or change it and that you need to stay true to yourself. Daisy said that she didn’t write for children necessarily but that she “writes for anyone who wants to read it”. She admitted that she had been approached by people for work and turned it down as she wasn’t happy with what they were going to do with her work, or the way they were going to portray it. She says she doesn’t ‘talk down’ to kids, and quoted Roald Dahl as saying “children are a bunch of savages” – she takes this to mean that children are often underestimated, and they are actually capable of grasping so much more than we think they are.She commented that children do not always want the cute and cuddly, and that quite often they like the grotesque – i would agree, but would say that it was also dependant on their age, very young children and babies don’t necessarily want to look at scary, gory images!

Daisy said that it is important to look at the market, and that there are so many ways to get your work out there – ebooks, amazon, apps for IPad etc, and that you need to constantly look at how your work can fit into these markets.She recommended that you made your characters versatile so that this opened up opportunities for how it could be used int he future – ie used for film/ animation/ merchandise etc.She said that one of her next projects she is working with a composer and an animator, and is taking things ‘off the page’ and taking it into theatres etc and reaching the audience in a different way.

She said she has had many many rejection letters, from agents and publishers, but said not to be disheartened as each publisher and agent is looking for something different, and it may not be that your work isn’t good enough, more that it isn’t right for their company.Her advice is that we should look for the right publisher, and that it was all about connecting with the right publisher for us. – don’t go with the first one that shows interest as they may not be the right one!

As well as writing books, model making and animation Daisy admitted that sometimes you have to do other things to bring the money in until you get your name known, and she has worked a lot for the Tourist Board, writing brochures for them, but then has also done a lot of work in schools with the children, read at libraries to groups of kids, done events at Waterstones, done penny readings in Liverpool – on the stage reading her book and many other things.She says she is fortunate now though to be able to support herself and earn a good income doing what she loves.

Some good advice Daisy gave was on what to include in your ‘pack’ – the one that promotes you, and the one that you may just leave somewhere in the hope that it will be picked up by the right person…..

  • CV
  • Profile about yourself (saying what you do outside of your illustration)
  • A photograph of yourself
  • A list of projects you have/are working on
  • Show reel  or DVD if animation
  • Your manuscript (if it is a picture book then the full manuscript)
  • Some examples – printed papers and concepts

As well as the London Book Fair Daisy also recommended Bologna Children’s Book Festival in Italy, and in fact classed it as the biggest and best in the world, she said that there were dozens of people there to help you!

In conclusion – the hour with Daisy was priceless!! I went to speak to her afterwards, as she had read the book to us ‘get  ahead Fred’ and i had noticed that she had used ‘rhyme’ in it (which i loved and thought that was where the humour came from) and i was interested to know if anyone had  ever tried to put her off writing in rhyme as  i had sometimes been discouraged in the past because of the fact that rhyme does not always translate into other languages and that can sometimes limit your potential as far as publishers are concerned, with reference to selling the rights to the international market.- she very kindly encouraged me to be true to myself and do what i felt passionate about, and that there were still plenty of successful illustrator/authors that were writing using rhyme. I took her advice , continued to develop a book that uses poetry, and am hoping that it will be successfully published in time – thanks daisy!!