Sascha Martin's Time Machine: The Work Begins

We’re just beginning work on the illustrations for Sascha Martin’s Time Machine. It’s the second book in the series, following Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship, and it will probably be a year’s work to arrive at the finished product.

The illustrator is Manuela Pentangelo, and she lives on the other side of the world from me, in a town called Sant’Antioco on the island of the same name. Sant’Antioco is just off the coast of Sardinia.

We communicate, of course, via the internet, sending ideas and images and comments back and forth on a service called 99Designs. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and for really big uploads we have to use something else.

The image at left is the one that brought Manuela and I together. I'd launched a design contest for the cover illustration, and this was Manuela's entry. I loved it!

I wanted to share the process with readers and authors this time around, because it was such an eye-opening experience for me to work with an illustrator, and I’ve learnt so much along the way - about picture books, about working with an illustrator, about designing for print and for a digital platform at the same time.

The Sascha Martin books are more text-heavy than your average picture book, so it’s a tricky process to fit them into the format. We exceed the usual picture-book page-count of 24 or 32 pages, but we’re trying to keep it down to 40. It was hard to do this with Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship, and the text of Sascha Martin’s Time Machine is even longer.

So this time round we’re playing more with the words and pictures, and seeing how the images can step up and take over the narrative role in parts of the book. This is hard for me, as the writer, because I love creating Sascha Martin’s disasters and catastrophes, and I use verse to do it. Every verse removed is like throwing out a piece of the story - only it won’t turn out that way, because Manuela’s pictures will put those parts of the story back, visually.

I’m also thinking about the eBook version, and how features available on the digital platform can enhance the story we’re telling in print. When someone buys the print edition they’ll get the eBook version free, so it’s like a bonus feature full of … bonus features!

But we have to work out how to use it.

The first thing Manuela does when she’s starting work on my book (once she’s over the shock of just how much text she has to work with) is to cut the text into sections that roughly match the number of pages we’re aiming for - in this case, about 40. As soon as she starts reading, the images pop into her mind, so while she’s apportioning the text she’s also imagining the pictures that might appear on each page, or each spread.

A spread is a single picture spread over two facing pages of the book.

From that first rough cut, Manuela will produce a really basic storyboard, which at this stage will be little more than a page of rectangles with the text she's allocated to each page.

Here’s an early storyboard from Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship. It’s really just the text laid out on pages. Of the blank pages, some represent spreads, where there's no need to show the text on the second page. Other pages are blank because they'll contain front matter (copyright, title page and so on) or something at the end. In Rocket-Ship we finished with a page listing the following titles in the series.

We’ll have one of these beginning storyboards for Sascha Martin's Time Machine soon, and I’ll upload it here.

Sascha Martin's Rocket-Ship




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