How I Work

(and how a book is made)

Coming up with the ideas for stories is the hardest thing. I keep a notebook with me so that if I get an idea on the train or at a school I visit, or maybe a dream I have, then I can write it down. I can then come back and look through the ideas and choose one that might be good enough for a proper story.
Later I sit down with my notebook and go through the ideas until I find one that inspires me. It usually takes me a week to write-though I don't spend all day every day doing it. When I'm happy with the text I divide it up into 14 paragraphs to fit the size for a picture book. There are usually thirteen double pages and one half page at the end.

One of the drafts for 'Three Little Sheep'. You can see how the text has been divided up into paragraphs and how I am still editing and changing words even after typing it out on the computer.

Next comes the illustration work. First I need to decide what the characters will look like so I do lots of rough pencil and pen drawings. This means looking through my many books at home or checking the Internet for reference pictures to inspire me.

Some of the reference pictures that helped me draw the wolf.

Early drawings for the wolf in 'Three Little Sheep'

Next I do a small drawing for each page in the book with pen and pencil. Then I scan the pictures onto my computer, add the words where I think they should go, print them off on my printer and stick them onto one big piece of paper called a storyboard. Finally I send the storyboard to Gomer, my publisher in West Wales. From the first idea for a story to this stage takes about three weeks.

The reference photo I used for the pictures on the right.


One of my small drawings for 'Three Little Sheep'...

...and with the words added.

At Gomer Press my editor Viv Sayer looks at the story. If she likes the story and wants to publish it she may suggest changes to the story or the illustrations. Then she tells me what size the book will be and how big to do the illustrations. I usually enlarge my little drawings on my scanner to be the same size as the book. Then I trace the drawings off onto my drawing board so that I have a rough guide for painting. I use acrylics, inks, wax and watercolours in my pictures. Sometimes I even use a toothbrush to get a splattery effect.

Here you can see me painting the first picture for my book 'Friends'.

It takes me about three months to complete the artwork for a picture book.
Once the artwork is completed I send it to Gomer where my editor Viv checks the pictures for mistakes. She also decides how many copies of the book will be printed, the kind of paper for the pages, the kind of cover (matt or shiny) and whether the book is to be glued or sewn (picture books are generally sewn).

My editor, Viv at her desk working on Three Little Sheep.

Viv will then go back to the story to make sure that it 'sounds' right, discuss final changes to words and sentences with me and make these changes to the Word document. She discusses the cover design with Gomer's designer, Gary, who will make sure that the title, author's name, price, publishing details and blurb are in the right place. The designers will position the text in the right places on the page before sending the details by computer to the printers who will then print the book.

Gary, on the design team.

Viv sends the text to Louise or Gari for typesetting on their big computers in a special book-making program called Quark. Viv receives the 'proofs' (a printout from Quark) from Louise or Gari and makes corrections (for some reason the book always looks and 'sounds' different after typesetting), makes sure that all the words, the layout, punctuation and spelling are correct and sends the final (or nearly final!) proofs to the author (me!) for checking. Then she asks Louise, Gari or Gary for 'print-ready' versions of both cover and text (each of the double page spreads is now 'fixed'). She then sends both cover and text to print. The covers are usually printed at the Carmarthen branch and then sent back to Llandysul to be matched up with the insides of the book.
The pre-press and printing departments make sure that the pages are put into the correct order on the computer for printing in 16-page sections (for a novel, one big piece of paper will be folded to make 16 smaller pages; when this is cut, the pages will run in the right order. Try this with a piece of A4 to see how difficult it is!)

The 16-page section is sent to a machine which will make printing plates (lasers and chemical washes transfer text and pictures to metal sheets). Four plates are made for each section if the book is going to be printed in colour; for black and white only 1 plate is needed.

The completed plates and the machine that made them.

The plates go to the print shop where huge printing machines print the same piece of paper 4 times for colour (this is like colour-mixing from 3 primary colours plus black).

Machines fold the printed paper into 16-page sections according to notch marks on the big piece of paper and are then transferred to a special 'fish and chip' machine which will pick up one copy of each section and put them together to make the whole book, glue the covers (printed separately) to the inside sections, and cut the sections and the cover to the right size inside a special - and very safe - guillotine.

The print-shop floor

More printing machines.

Finally the finished books are sent to the stockroom from where Aled sends them to shops, schools and individual buyers who order them by phone or on the Internet.

At the same time that the book is being edited and printed, a huge amount of publicity work is prepared by the marketing team, who will have sent out advance information to bookshops and book distributors. They will have arranged adverts, press releases and, sometimes, a launch event for the book to make sure that it has the very best chance of selling well.

If you want to find out more about how a book is made you can read my book 'Cover To Cover - How a Book is Made.'

Aled in the stockroom.