The Making of a Very Bad Bear
Some bears are nice. Some bears like helping people and eating honey or marmalade sandwiches. I’m afraid the bear in our story is not one of those bears. He is a very bad bear. A very bad bear indeed. OK, he likes pie-making, which we can all agree is admirable, but he also likes eating his helpful neighbours, which is not. This is the story of the creation of that very bad bear.
For children (and for adults) there’s something irresistible about any story that can make you a little bit scared. The Big Bad Wolf is thrilling. The most interesting character in The Three Billy Goats Gruff is the troll. So Fabulous Pie is a story designed to send a gleeful shiver down a small person’s spine.
Guy and I worked together first on Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner, a book about the best kind of animals to involve in your night-time routine. The story advises against tigers and tyrannosaurs at bed-time, and recommends teddies (a nicer sort of bear altogether of course) and sheep (for counting). With handy hints like “Never share your toothbrush with a shark” it’s basically a rhyming health and safety manual for children, and it bulges at the seams with large carnivores being refused admittance at the bedroom door…
Guy’s beautiful treatment of the larger fiercer animals in Never Ask a Dinosaur must put him in the top tier for illustrators of charming predators, and so for a story with a villain at its heart he was the prefect collaborator.
Right from the start the key question for Guy, me and the wonderful team at Alison Green Books was how scary should our villainous bear be?
When I was little I had a book called The Boy and the Magic, in which the furniture chases the boy around the house, and his maths homework comes to life to tell him off.
I couldn’t sleep unless that book was under a pile of other VERY HEAVY books. We didn’t want our bear to be as scary as that. But from a very early age I adored Wile E. Coyote.
A villainous schemer indeed. And just the right amount of scary, unless you are Roadrunner.
So why was that? Well, for me he is made loveable by the fact that his competence is ever so slightly less than the minimum level required to carry out his schemes.
That, I think, is what Guy achieved with our bear. A bear with a plan for the smaller creatures of the forest. A bear who’s put a lot of effort into making that work. But crucially a bear who isn’t as up to the job of forest super-villain as he likes to think.
Maybe that’s why deep down I like the very bad bear. Because while I’ve never tried to cook a mouse, a squirrel, a badger and two otters in a pie, in other ways I do know just how he feels….
I was very excited to hear that I was going to illustrate another story by Gareth Edwards. When I read the words for a really good picture book story the pictures just pop into my head. I just have to get those pictures out of my head and onto bits of paper. Gareth’s writing always makes me chuckle and I had really enjoyed painting the pictures for ‘Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner’.
From the very first time I read ‘Fabulous Pie’ I loved the character of Bear. I knew he would be great fun to illustrate but I also knew I had to get him just right. He had to look bad but not nasty. I set to work doing LOTS of rough character sketches, here are just a few of them…
I look in the mirror when drawing to try out expressions and gestures (it can look a bit odd to anyone who happens to walk by). I particularly wanted to draw him chuckling to himself because he’s so pleased with his clever plan (as in the first picture when he’s just baked the pie and the one where he’s holding the hazelnuts).
As an illustrator I always like to get the main character in a story just right before I do anything else. So I made a clay model of him, (he’s grabbed the bigger slice of pie here).
And I did a painting of him (note the flies- I think he’s a bit smelly).
As I drew and redrew all the rough drawings for the pages of the book, Gareth as well as Zoe and Alison from Alison Green Books would tell me if the compositions and expressions could be improved even more.
So I ended up with a mountain of rough drawings.
Can you see which pages these rough drawings are from and how they were changed in the finished book?
At last I get to the best bit – painting in the colour – here are some of the art materials I have used for this book, coloured pencils, watercolour inks, watercolour paints, acrylic paints, oil pastels. How many of these have you tried?
Look, Gareth’s written a fabulous poem and I’ve started a picture- can finish it and you make your own Fabulous Pie?
Deep in the forest
Where the trees meet the sky
The animals are baking
Another big pie.
It has a lovely pie crust
All flaky warm and wide
Can you draw your favourite filling
For them to put inside?
Fabulous Pie is shortlisted for the 2016 Children’s Book Award in the Books for Younger Children category. It is published by Scholastic.
You can find out more about the award here and you can vote for your favourite books here.