A Walk in the English Countryside

Lady Baby - ready

Interrupting the saga of “Friends for Frances” (for sure to be continued), here is Lady Baby at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight with her parents and paternal grandparents, wearing soft purple boots, pulling a suitcase disguised as an owl, and about to embark on four days of walking in the Cotswolds, a famously scenic part of England.

From Heathrow we boarded a bus to Oxford, where our younger son and his sweet bride met us at the bus stop. We overnighted in that fabled city, and spent the next morning at the nearly 400-year old University of Oxford Botanic Garden with grass for Lady Baby to run on and ducks for her to greet.

Our route, through classic Cotswold countryside, led from Cheltenham to Winchcombe, to Broadway, then Chipping Campden, and finished in Moreton-in-Marsh – three nine-mile days and one of six, up hill and down, through villages of honey-hued stone buildings, colorful with flowers and tourists. A luggage transport service wrestled our flotilla of bags (including car seat) to each night’s B&B, small inn, or pub.

Lady Baby - doorstep waiting

Wearing her little hiking pants and sun hat, and wielding my poles collapsed to her size, Lady Baby walked plenty. She also rode on her parents’ shoulders or in a backpack, and most often in the Bob (an all-terrain jogging stroller of much durability and flexibility). One or the other of her strong parents pushed the Bob uphill, through rutted, matted fields, and along narrow tracks and small lanes. Helped by Lady Baby’s aunt and uncle, they lifted the Bob, with sometimes snoozing passenger, over stiles and “kissing gates” (neither of which allows a cow or a sheep or a stroller to pass through).

Lady Baby - doing it herself

Miraculously the weather held steady all week – morning sun, then cooling haze and breeze in the afternoon. When we lunched in the shade of huge trees, Lady Baby walked amongst us and offered “crisps” to all.

In spite of early-on jet lag sleepless nights (with Mrs. Hughes bearing the brunt of those wakeful hours), Lady Baby upheld her reputation for genial, coping resilience. Her resourceful parents seemed always ready with a diversion – a topic for conversation, a song, an animal sighting – and they anticipated snack and nap needs. (We could cover a lot of ground during an unbroken hour and half of stroller sleep.)

In Moreton-in-Marsh, at our final hotel, the tilty-floored 17th Century Redesdale Arms that once hosted Charles I, we celebrated. In the morning, we woke to a steady rainfall, and soon caught a train bound for London’s Paddington Station.

I’m holding dear some Cotswolds moments – the whole family spread out in sheep-dotted fields – twosomes shifting as different pairs held long conversations throughout the day. A pastoral, bucolic, gentle landscape of lore – and the rhythm and joy of long days afoot, with people you love.

Lady Baby - approaching Broadway

“Friends for Frances” – Pages 1-3

Although a small book, just seven by seven inches, a spread in “Friends for Frances” (two pages side-by-side as we usually view a book) won’t fit on my scanner or on the blog. So I plan to post reduced versions of the dummy pages I worked from, and also “final” pages, stacked up in blog format – four pages each week for a while.

Final is in quotes because who knows about that. In the beginning, I drew the first page, then tried to draw and paint a laborious version I thought of as a final – but disliked both process and product. Watercolor doesn’t permit much changing, so I switched to a just do it and move on approach. I figured (like with writing) – I could revisit pages later with new energy. Fretting the same page till I got it “right” would get me stuck.

As a result “in the field”-made mistakes abound – a crow larger than a pileated woodpecker, a rabbit that is not doing what the text requires, garden uncertainties – but much learning was accomplished in these pages.

Books always start on the right page (something you know, but don’t think about till laying one out), hence three pages today. But Frances’s story is a weekly serial with more to follow!

Dummy Pages 1-3


FFF P. 2

FFF P. 3



“Friends for Frances” – the Story

In early April, because of a flight delay, I spent two unexpected hours in the Seattle airport. With comforting traveler noise around me, I sat at a sunny table and tried to figure out a beginning, middle, and end to “Friends for Frances” – dividing a picture book’s 32 pages into thirds.

I ended up with rough paragraphs and some details: Wolsey and Cromwell arrive (the only image I’d had in my head to begin was of Wolsey and Cromwell outside our garden gate), then something happens, and there is resolution. An arc so conventional that it doesn’t sound like it should have been a discovery – but if felt like one.

By the middle of April I had grappled mightily with the demons of doubt – not good enough, can’t draw them, dumb story (familiar drill). I also reread in an old textbook about the distinctions between storybook and picture book. True picture books tell the story with few words or none, but Lady Baby and I love words when we read and myriad variations on the form exist.

So I kept at it and made what I thought of as a fat draft, writing the story in too many words but with some flow. One morning before our walk, I read it to my husband, saying I was having trouble with what exactly happens at the point where the story should get interesting – the action that brings Frances, Wolsey, and Cromwell together.

Part of the original idea had the newcomer cats protect Frances from a danger. Perhaps raccoons. But that meant demonizing the raccoons, and required much suspension of disbelief about who could climb a fence and who could not.

So on our walk I outlined some book plots I recently read to Lady Baby and wondered if maybe Cromwell and Wolsey just help Frances with something – like friends do. My husband asked if I remembered when we first got her, just before Christmas one year. We had a party – and somehow she got outside in Alaska winter cold.

That did it. By later that day I had a little story, which I have pared and polished, and now made too big a deal about here. It’s the simplest, most familiar possible narrative.

To begin (while also doing the studies you’ve seen), I made a storyboard – a grid of squares like these but representing the whole book in miniature.

FFF storyboard P 1-4

To keep working with the story, I glued typed-on scrap paper together for pages, stapled the side into a rough dummy book, and taped words from the fat text version to appropriate pages. That cobbled together book has now passed through many iterations with pasted on drawings and text, as I figured out the scenes in the story. (Below is the very first page when the dummy was skinny.)

In the next weeks I want to share the story as I work along. Mostly I want to say that your comments and encouraging messages have been wonderful – posting here has definitely kept me on track – thank you!

Frances dummy first page-1


Lady Baby Chooses a Hat

I visited Downtown Abbey a few weeks ago and got to meet Winnie, the charming, youthful new rescued dog, with huge, dark eyes and big floppy ears. Lady Baby calls her Winna – that would be Lady Winna here.

Very much a summertime visit, on this trip nearly every day we hit the slides and swings of neighborhood playgrounds. On our best day, Lady Baby, with encouragement, joined a little boy and his dad playing chase – chase and squealing being such fun right now.

The one rainy, summer-storm day, we visited the bookstore and nearby café to get takeout lunch. While waiting for our food, I said we could either read books or watch people, and Lady Baby said: “Watch people.”

Later, back home in a quiet moment, when she was investigating my journal looking for new pictures, I showed her the page of hats below. I asked which ones she liked (or maybe I said, if Frances wore a hat what color would it be)?

Sometimes direct questions to Lady Baby fail to elicit much response. But her questions to us are the very best things right now. Driving in from the airport and listening to the car radio playing something from Mrs. Hughes’s iPod, she clapped her hands, leaned over companionably while nodding her head to support agreement, and asked me: “Do you know this song?” (On the return drive to the airport, I could say yes I do!)

Lady Baby is delighted to find summer in her backyard, and spends a lot of time out there. Impersonating Lady Baby, Mrs. Hughes tells a wonderful little story (a magical commuication we keep repeating just for the delight of it). The kitchen window overlooks the deck and backyard, and one afternoon, Lady Baby leaned in close up to the window, tilted her head and asked her mom: “Is it OK with you if I go for a little run?” and answered herself agreeably: “It’s probably OK with you.” Then she set off to trot circles around the yard.

I never got a clear answer about the hats, which is probably good, some of those hats would be awkward. I’ll go with the younger son’s response, he said, “Cats would wear the bowler hats.”

FFF traveling hats

FFF and More JPG Index

More “scrap” – what illustrators called reference pictures, back in the days when it came from pages pulled from magazines, stuffed into ratty files. I realize I’m not tackling what an actual “Friends for Frances” illustration will look like, but getting closer. And a “dummy” book and storyboard in the works!

FFF Index p 3

FFF Index p 5