Painting Onions – Reasons to Give It a Try

two onions in watercolour by Leone Annabella Betts
A botanical painting of two onions in watercolour by Leone Annabella Betts

I started painting onions in the middle of winter because I wanted to have a go at something botanical and there were no flowers in bloom. I was also living in a town at the time, without a garden or easy access to the countryside. So I searched the kitchen cupboards and that’s how it began.

I would encourage you to paint onions because:

1 They’re beautiful. And it’s nice to really look. Personally, I’d been chopping them up and chucking them into pans and dishes all my life without ever taking the time.

2 They’re great for variety of texture and colour, especially if you buy one with roots, wait until an outer layer or two comes loose and let it sprout a little at the top. I love that old vs new feeling you get when the elderly, brittle, brown skin is juxtaposed with the new, supple, green shoots.

A painting in watercolour of a single brown onion by Leone Annabella
Botanical watercolour of a single onion by Leone Betts

3 They last a LONG time. Which, if you’re already into painting botanics, you’ll know is a bit of a relief. After all, how often have you turned your back on some lovely flower for a cup of tea only to find it has moved? Buds open, petals droop, leaves drop, and the whole plant tilts towards the changing light, but onions stay the same. Well, almost. There are little shifts if you sit there long enough but I have had an onion remain unchanged for three weeks before now, and that’s a special kind of joy.

4 They’re easy to get hold of. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you might even have one in the kitchen. If not, they’re cheap to buy and let’s face it, as artists we all go through times when that matters, especially when you’re starting out.

5 People like pictures them. Yes, I was surprised too. But they do. If you’re painting a present for someone, they’re also a more unisex choice than flowers, which are often associated with women. Plus they’re a great gift for any keen gardener or chef.

Onion Painting Tips (for Watercolour):

1 Make sure your onion is well lit. If you don’t have natural light a strong lamp will do. I use both and I try to position them so that the fake light is hitting the onion from the same direction as the natural light. Apart from avoiding any lighting clashes, this makes it easier for me to carry on painting at night, once the natural light fades. (A must in the short winter days of the UK!)

My drawing board while painting an onion
My drawing board while painting an onion

2 Record the overall shape and where the light hits before you start. I don’t know if this is important for everyone but it is for me, because once I get involved in the detail of the onion, I can easily forget to pay attention to the “big picture” as it were. For example, it’s no good creating a beautiful, translucent onion skin if your perspective is out and the whole thing is the wrong shape. You can use photographs or sketches to help you record the initial picture you want to paint – personally, I sketch an outline in extremely watery paint, making sure to pay attention to the lights and darks and including next to no detail. (I don’t use a camera because I only have a cheap one with no real ability to take close-ups.)

3 A faint pencil outline can help. I rarely use this unless there are very complicated lines (such as the skin of a pineapple) but I know people who swear by it, so it might work for you. The idea is that before you apply any paint, you create a very faint, single pencil line outlining the shape of the onion on the paper. You then paint just inside this line and rub it out when you have finished. (If you decide to do this, be careful you use the right kind of eraser and don’t damage the paper or the paint.)

4 Crisp up the edges when you’re done by darkening them ever so slightly with a very fine brush, or by outlining the finished onion in pencil. It’s best to do this last and only where needed. If using pencil, it’s important to use a light-coloured (i.e. hard) pencil with a sharp tip. Soft pencils are too dark and make it harder to be accurate. At no point should the pencil line be more obvious than the paint.

5 Invest in quality materials. I know it’s expensive but it’s worth it. Decent paper, brushes and paint make a difference to your work. I tend to buy things bit by bit, rather than in one splurge. Incidentally, I have recently gone cruelty-free, and no longer buy sable brushes, paints made of burnt bones and so on. Of course, what you use is completely up to you, but in case you’re interested, I now go for the following watercolour painting materials: Gansai Tambi Japanese Watercolours, Bockingford Watercolour Paper (I use Hot Pressed), Da Vinci Casaneo Watercolour Brushes or brushes in the Jackson’s Raven range. However, it has to be said that the Gansai Tambi watercolours do have slightly shiny finish when dry, which I rather like but isn’t to every painter’s taste.

Botanical painting of an onion by Leone Annabella Betts
Common Onion
(Allium cepa )

Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs

I’m going to keep the language in this post as simple as possible, in mind of those who may be trying to teach homophones at Key Stage 2. (KS2 is seven to eleven-year-olds for anyone not in the UK.) That said, off we go:

What is the difference between homonyms, homophones and homographs?

Map of Ancient GreeceWell, it’s all Greek to me! No, I mean it. And if you’re teaching the difference between these three words in English, a good way to start is to look at their Greek roots.

Part 1:

HOMONYM

The ‘homo‘ bit of the word comes from the Greek word “homós” meaning “same“. The “nym” bit comes from the Greek too, it means “word“.

Put them together and we’ve got a word which means “same word“.

So…

The Greek meanings are telling us that homonyms are words which are the same in some way. We’ll see how in a moment.

HOMOPHONE

The “homo” bit of the word comes from the Greek word “homós” meaning “same“. The “phone” bit comes from the Greek word “phóné“, it means “sound“.

Put them together and we’ve got a word which means “same sound“.

So…

The Greek meanings are telling us that homophones are words which have the same sound. We’ll find out more in a moment.

HOMOGRAPH

The “homo” bit of the word comes from the Greek word “homós” meaning “same“. The “graph” bit comes from the Greek too, it means (something) “written“.

Put them together and we’ve got a word which means “same written“.

So…

The Greek meanings are telling us that homographs are words which are written the same. We’ll find out more in a moment.


Get part 1 as class handout:
PDF

Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs (Part 1)

WORD DOC

Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs (Part 1)


Now that we’ve looked at the origins of the words homonym, homophone and homograph, let’s look at the differences between them in detail.

Part 2:

HOMONYMS are words that:

  • sound the same
  • have different meanings

Here is an example:

SEA
SEE

The two words above sound the same but they do not mean the same thing. The first word means the huge body of water we sail across in a ship, the second is what you do with your eyes.

Let’s try another:

ROSE (flower)
ROSE (past tense of “rise”)

As in the first example, these two words sound the same and mean something different, but notice that they are also spelt the same. They are still a type homonym though, just like the first pair.

So, you can see that although homonyms sound the same when we say them aloud, some are spelt the same way and some are spelt differently.

*When some people talk about “homonyms” they actually mean “true homonyms”. Scroll right down to the bottom of the page for an explanation of this.

Remember: Homonyms sound the same but mean something different. The spelling doesn’t matter.


HOMOPHONES are words which are a type of homonym. So you could say, “A homophone is a homonym,” or “All homophones are homonyms.”

Like homonyms, homophones:

  • sound the same
  • have different meanings

Unlike homonyms, homophones:

  • always have different spellings

(Homonyms sometimes have different spellings.)

Here is an example of a pair of homophones:

SEA
SEE

Did you notice they’re the same words as in the first example? Well, that’s because as we just learnt, homophones are a kind of homonym. They sound the same when we say them out loud but we know they’re not the same when we see them written down because they’re spelt differently.

Remember: Homophones sound the same but mean something different, and they are spelt differently.


HOMOGRAPHS are words that:

  • are spelt the same
  • have different meanings
  • sometimes sound the same

Here is an example:

MINUTE (meaning tiny)
MINUTE (meaning sixty seconds)

As you can see, minute and minute are spelt the same but they mean something completely different. Also, they don’t sound the same, which means that although they are homographs, this pair of words are not homonyms.

But take a look at these:

ROSE (flower)
ROSE (past tense of “rise”)

Do you remember these words from earlier? They were examples of homonyms. They are also homographs, because they are spelt the same but have different meanings. So, you could say, “Some homographs are homonyms but others are not,” or, “Not all homographs are homonyms.”

Remember: Homographs mean something different but they are spelt the same. They do not have to sound the same.


Get part 2 as class handout:
PDF

Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs (Part 2)

WORD DOC

Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs (Part 2)


Now it’s time to sum up and test what we’ve learnt. Look at the table below and then try the learning task.

Part 3:

HOMONYM, HOMOPHONE & HOMOGRAPH RECAP TABLE:

SAME SOUND SAME SPELLING SAME MEANING
HOMONYM always sometimes never
HOMOPHONE always never never
HOMOGRAPH sometimes always never

Get this table as a PDF


LEARNING TASK:

Do you want to practise? Below are some pairs and groups of words. Can you tell whether they are homonyms, homophones or homographs?

1.
PEAR (the fruit)
PAIR (two of something)

2.
TEAR (the water in your eye)
TEAR (to rip)

3.
LEAD (the metal)
LEAD (the thing you use to take a dog for a walk)

4.
GREAT (good or big)
GRATE (a framework of metal bars)
GRATE (to shred or scrape)

5.
YEW (the tree)
EWE (female sheep)
YOU (yourself)

Now try some without being given the meanings:

6.
DOES
DOES

7.
HEAL
HE’LL
HEEL

8.
BOW
BOW
BOW

9.
BOW
BOUGH

10.
SOLE
SOLE
SOUL

SOLE

Get this task as a PDF:

Worksheet: Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs

*EXTRA NOTE – TRUE HOMONYMS:

If you look up “homonym” in a dictionary, you will sometimes find the definition stating that all homonyms must be homophones and homographs. There is some debate about this and about the strict meaning of the word “homonym”. However, I think that if you want to talk about homonyms which are both homophones and homographs, it’s best to talk about “true homonyms“. Using the term “homonym” alone is not specific enough if you want to talk about true homonyms, as in English, it does not make your meaning clear. (“True homonyms” are understood to be words that sound the same and are spelt the same but have a different meanings.)

Why Write for Children?

The simple answer from my point of view is, “Don’t.”

Let me explain. I get asked this quite a lot; not so much online but out in the physical world. Though I try not to show it, it’s a question which makes me want to head for the nearest door. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice when people ask you about your writing but with this particular inquiry, I can’t shake the suspicion that the face in front of me is only smiling so amicably in anticipation of my saying how much I like kids. How much I identify with them. Or perhaps even how, given that I don’t have any children of my own, writing children’s fiction fills the void.

Me as a child growing up in Aberaeron, Wales.

The problem is that none of this is true. I do like children, very much, but I never think about them when I write. I think about them afterwards, once the work is done. Like many writers, it is only when the thing is finished that my mind turns anxiously to the audience, which in my case means hoping any child who comes across what I’ve written will feel the world is a little more magical than they thought. Or something to that effect. Oh yes, when a story is complete, the reader is everything. But that doesn’t change the fact that during the writing process, the only person I seek to please is myself.

Indeed, there are times when I believe that writing fiction is the most selfish activity one can pursue. In writing for children, what I am most concerned with is the kind of stories I enjoyed when I was little. I have little regard for anyone else. I am writing to entertain the eight-year-old me. (Eight is when I remember receiving my first proper letter from Father Christmas, courtesy of my magical mother.) So if you want my advice, which of course you’re free not to take, I would suggest that writing children’s fiction is only for you if it’s wrapped up in your own childhood and relished by the part of you which has never grown up.

On the other hand, if you can do it differently, good for you. One of the great things about writing is that the outcome is all that matters. As long as what you end up with works, who cares how you got there?

The Easter Bunny Book

I didn’t grow up in the age of the internet and I’ve never quite managed to shrug off the fear that I’m bragging when I post about a new publication. However, this one’s different. Keith Dando (the illustrator) and I had such a wonderful time putting this children’s picture book together that every time I think about it, it makes me smile.

Kindle picture book about the Easter Bunny
Easter Bunny Kindle Picture Book

Gone is the usual worry that I might be wasting your time because “A Visit from the Easter Bunny” was a joy to write and it’s a joy to tell you about. It came out of nowhere and was one of those stories which felt as though it was writing itself. The pictures, which are largely Keith’s work, are a glorious mixture of fairytale and comic book artwork, and you can see his love of film coming out in the overall style. The story tells the tale of the Easter Bunny’s visit to a house on the night before Easter. It reminds me of my own magical childhood, gives me that “can’t wait” feeling about Easter and makes me want to eat a chocolate egg.

In short, we created this book for the love of it. We never thought about sales or the cost in time or whether it was helpful to our careers. We just thought about Easter… and its marvellous and mysterious rabbit. I don’t know if you’ll enjoy this book but I hope so. If you do, you’re probably a bit like me. Thanks for popping by and have a very happy Easter.

A Visit from the Easter Bunny” is available from Amazon in different countries on these  links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia

Writing Rhyming Books for Children – Dos and Don’ts

Santa's Cat Book
Santa’s Cat

As of late I have found myself co-writing rhyming books for children and along the way I’ve worked out a handful of dos and don’ts.

Before I get into that though, I should make it clear that this post is only about functional narrative verse, that’s to say telling a basic story in rhyme. It’s not about poetry with literary depth.

First, the Dos:

  • Do use a good thesaurus. For successful writing in rhyme, synonyms are king. When you can’t find a rhyme to go with that perfect sentiment, change the word which describes it. For example, if you can’t find a rhyme for “gentle”, consider a simpler, one syllable word with a similar meaning such as “soft”. If you’re online, open up a synonym-searching site and keep it open; thesaurus.com is a good one or, if you’re specifically looking for shorter words, try ironicsans.com/thsrs. I use both all the time.
  • Do make use of rhyming dictionaries. Obvious perhaps, but worth mentioning nonetheless. There are loads available online but here are a few of the best: rhymezone.com, wikirhymer.com, rhymer.com, rhymes.net. If you get stuck, it’s a good idea to check for rhymes on more than one of these, as they sometimes offer slightly different results. This is especially true if you are prepared to consider using colloquial words (slang) in your work.
  • Do get the beats right. It is absolutely amazing how many people don’t pay attention to this one. By “beats” I am, of course, referring to the “meter”, the rhythm – the “dah-dee-dah-dee-dah” of each line. They can be different for different lines, of course, but they do have to form a pattern. That’s what makes narrative verse fun to read. If you don’t know how to get this right, make it your business to learn. Don’t know where to start? Well, how about reading this page on poetry4kids.com? Ok, it’s aimed at children, but don’t let that put you off. It’s great if you’re rusty on the basics and will give you the springboard you need.
  • Do read your finished book aloud. At least once anyway. Yes, you may feel like a fool if you don’t have anyone to read it aloud to, but bite the bullet. There is nothing like reading narrative verse aloud to help you discover whether there are any stumbling points in the rhythm.
  • Do consider whether using rhyme is the best way to tell your story. Honestly, you’d be surprised how many people I’ve talked to who are so taken with the idea of writing a rhyming children’s book that they haven’t considered the alternative. Ask yourself, do you have a good reason for wanting to write your story in rhyme? For example, my co-writer and I have recently chosen to write in rhyme because we felt it added comic value. We were writing a funny story about a funny cat and we thought the rhymes were in keeping with that. However, it pays to remember that writing good rhyme isn’t easy. You may be making more work for yourself. Also, there are an awful lot of agents and publishers out there who are less than crazy about reading yet another rhyming book. You might get further if you write in prose. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying have reasons. I’m saying be sure.

Now, the Don’ts:

  • Don’t let a good rhyme lead you astray. This is one of the biggest dangers when writing the first draft. You have a good beginning, middle and end in your head. You know where the story needs to go. You’ve got a handle on the emotion of the thing and you’re driving the character(s) in the right direction… and then you fall in love with a great rhyme. It takes you off story, but who cares? You can get back to it, can’t you? You can wander off down the path of a rhyming word that has nothing whatever to do with your yarn and it will merely be a delightful little detour, right? Wrong. Do not let a good rhyme fool you. If it doesn’t take your story exactly where you want it to go, lose it. No matter how it flutters its eyelashes at you. It will loosen your plot and lead your reader into the land of boredom. It will also waste your valuable time.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut lines you like in favour of the overall story. This point is really for those of you who are at the redrafting stage. It’s similar to the one above but it’s worth mentioning again, in case you fell foul of it the first time. I’ve been there and I bet you have too. There’s a great feat of rhyming in the middle of your book, it’s funny, it’s clever, it uses at least one word you never thought anyone would find a rhyme for, but the trouble is, it just doesn’t add anything to the story. Get rid of it and its corresponding line(s). I should add that by “get rid” I don’t necessarily mean “cut”; changing it to something which actually helps tell your tale is just as good as deleting it.
  • Don’t force the rhyme. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, a forced rhyme is fairly obvious when you see one, it doesn’t really work and it’s jarring to read. It usually involves messing the sentence structure around to the extent that it sounds completely unnatural. For example: “I was hungry, couldn’t wait, / So the food I quickly ate.” You would never normally hear someone say “the food I quickly ate” instead of “I quickly ate the food”. Avoid at all costs. I ought to mention that forced rhymes can also come from the deliberate misspelling of words, though it’s a bit more complicated than the point about sentence structure. There are rare occasions where spelling words incorrectly works, especially when using slang or when it is done for comic effect. All I can say is be careful if you try it – and always look at the end product with a critical eye.
  • Don’t use rhyme as an excuse for lack of story. OK, you’re writing a story in rhyme. But the key word here is still “story”. You still need a clear structure, (a beginning, middle and end), one of more great characters and a tale which would be worth telling even if it wasn’t in rhyme.
  • Don’t use the same rhyme over and over again. I know there are published examples of this (Dr Seuss springs to mind) but seriously, it hardly ever works. It can also be boring. My advice would be to stay away from it, unless you have some exceptional reason not to… and I certainly can’t think of one.
  • Don’t write stories, rhyming or otherwise, where the protagonist is an inanimate object. Yes, I know it worked for Edward Lear. And I know all about the success of Thomas the Tank Engine. But these are exceptions, I promise, because generally speaking children (and adults) find it difficult to relate to a thing. They simply don’t care how a spoon feels when it is stirring tea or how a coat feels when it is left behind at school. If you are a master of personification, you might be able to write about a toy or a teddy bear, or something so emotionally familiar to children that they have a vague chance of connecting to it, but personally, I’d stick to characters who are either children themselves or animals. They tend to work best.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got. I’m sure there are other dos and don’ts on this score and I may add to this post in the future. For now though, all that remains is for me to wish you lots of luck in your rhyming book endeavours. I love narrative verse, so I genuinely hope more of the good stuff comes into the world.

Oh, and if you are wondering whether I have succeeded in practising what I’ve preached, you can find four of the rhyming children’s stories I’ve worked on in Amazon’s kindle store:

Grandma's Cat and the Silver Planet
Grandma’s Cat and the Silver Planet
Santa's Cat
Santa’s Cat
The Secret Life of Grandma's Cat
The Secret Life of Grandma’s Cat
The Secret Life of Grandma's Cat
A Visit from the Easter Bunny

 

Painting a Hawfinch

One of the more taxing pieces of work I’ve had to get done this month is an ornithological painting of a hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes). Now, I have to say I don’t often do birds. As far as scientific studies go, I have a far greater leaning towards the botanical. I like plants. I don’t wish to get all silly, but on a good day if I close my eyes I can almost feel them – that sense of reaching for the light, of growing, of raindrops running down stems and of petals shifting in the breeze. All this helps me paint. But not so with birds. Birds are unpredictable… quick and quirky and (obviously) without roots. I have no natural affinity with that, though of course I do love seeing them. There’s very little in the natural world that I don’t love seeing, but that’s not the same as feeling you want to paint something, or indeed, suspecting that you could capture the spirit of the thing – draw a little window to its soul.

Nevertheless, as we are all living in a world where money must be made and the wolf must be kept from the proverbial door, a hawfinch was what my client wanted, so a hawfinch he must have. Below is a small picture of the completed study, which, if you include sketches and preparatory work, took three days.

Ornithological Painting of a Hawfinch
Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) by Leone Annabella Betts
Click on picture for larger view

The medium I used was gouache, though I also added a touch of pencil (3H) just to sharpen some of the detail. I don’t always find the addition of pencil useful, but this study was created from a selection of photographs rather than life and so lacked natural light. I have no idea whether other artists suffer from this, but I do find that painting a real thing in real light is so much easier when it comes to creating contrast and bringing out minutiae. It’s also easier on my eyes.

All in all I’m quite pleased with this study and the client is too, which is always top priority. (Incidentally, I never blog about commissioned work unless I’ve first made sure the buyer doesn’t mind.) So what’s next? Well, back the Father Christmas letters this week. And after that back to botanicals. I shan’t be sorry to leave birds behind, though who knows, I may get asked to do another one. You can never tell. 😉

Past the Pirates and on to the Talking Tree

"Father Christmas and the Pirates" is a letter from Father Christmas written and illustrated by Leone Annabella Betts
“Father Christmas and the Pirates”
A Father Christmas written and illustrated by Leone Annabella Betts

For those of you who like to follow the progress of my Father Christmas story-letters… I wanted to write this quick post to let you know that I’ve now finished the first of this year’s new printable letters, “Father Christmas and the Pirates”. (Yay!) It should be available for you to print from September 2013 onwards, when you’ll be able to find it on this page of the Rooftop Post site.

I should add that I’m very happy with it; the story has turned out pretty well and I’m pleased with the illustrations. As you may know, I’ve developed a very particular illustrative style for the Father Christmas letters – slightly child-like and attempting to look spontaneous, as though Father Christmas himself sat down and painted the little pictures as best he could. They’re what I would have wanted when I was a child.

The letter is written as though Father Christmas is on his way around the world on Christmas Eve. Over the years I’ve completed many similar letters telling stories from his sleigh, but this is the first time I’ve built a story around pirates. As with all my Father Christmas letters, I’ve tried to strike a tone which is exciting without being scary, so that children of all ages can enjoy it. Of course, I’m never sure exactly who each letter will be most popular with – boys, girls, older children or little ones – and it often surprises me who likes what most. As far as “Father Christmas and the Pirates” goes though, I’m thinking slightly older children may like it best, for after all it’s two pages long, rather than the usual one. Anyway, if you’re printing it this Christmas, I hope it goes down well in your house… and that you enjoy it too.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve now moved on to the first “before Christmas” letter of the season. It’s called “Father Christmas and the Christmas Tree” and I suspect it will become a favourite. It’s a particularly magical one – and I have to say I loved writing it. It takes you right into the heart of everyday life at Christmas House, with magic around every corner and in creating it I completely lost the afternoon. Time flies when you’re at the North Pole!

Printable backs for Father Christmas letters by Leone Annabella Betts.
Printable Backs for the Father Christmas Letters

As with all the printable letters, “Father Christmas and the Christmas Tree” will be addressed “Dear little friend” so that you can print it straight out, but for anyone wanting that personalised touch, the nice folk at Rooftop Post have created some printable name tags. They look gorgeous if you roll up your letter and tie it with ribbon. (Which is certainly what I’ll be doing for various little members of my family!) If you are folding or rolling your letter, you might want to remember to print a pretty design on the back of the letter too.

Once I’ve finished the letter about Father Christmas and his talking Christmas tree, I shall be moving on to another one for before Christmas. This time, I expect I’ll go for something about Rudolph. I mean everyone loves to hear about him, don’t they? I shall have to have a think about what he’s been up to this year. Wish me luck!

Starting the First Christmas Letter

Well, it’s that time of year again. The sun may be blazing through the window and the summer may be well underway, but the Christmas letters call.

I have been asked to do both “before Christmas” and “Christmas Morning” letters as usual and I thought this year, I’d start with the latter. For anyone who is new to my Father Christmas letters and has no idea what I’m talking about, I create two kinds; one to be given to a child in the run up to Christmas and another to be opened and read when he/she wakes on Christmas Day. Apparently, the letters for before Christmas are the most popular but the Christmas Morning ones also have their fans and I’m told they’re particularly liked by families whose children open their presents after lunch.

I gave a good deal of thought as to what kind of stories Father Christmas should tell this year – I always try to make sure each letter is about something new – and I’ve decided that this first one will be based on a Christmas Eve run in with pirates.

Why pirates? Well, I like them – and so do most children. I also like parrots and all the best pirates have one. In fact, I’m thinking it’s a a pirate parrot who may actually cause problems for Father Christmas and his reindeer, somewhere over a make-believe sea.

A Couple of Days Later…

Father Christmas and the Pirate Parot - In Progress
Letter in Progress

After a bit of thinking and note making, I’ve now drafted the letter and begun the work of putting it into Father Christmas’ curly handwriting. It looks like it will have to be two pages rather than one, as the story I want it to tell just won’t fit into anything shorter.

As you can see from the picture on the left, I’ve so far as designed the letter head, made a start on some of the little illustrations around the sides and written out page one. It always surprises me how long the actual writing takes… maybe I’m just too used to typing these days! As usual, I shall be filling the margins with more little pictures to compliment the story. Oh, and for those of you who like the little spiders – I shan’t forget to add them. They go on last though, when I know what space I’ve got left.

The pirate parrot has worked very well and I have had great fun writing him. The pirate captain has also turned out to be an amusing character so all in all I’m very pleased. In fact, I think this letter may become one of my favourites. Of course, the best thing about writing all the Father Christmas letters is imagining the children who will enjoy them. I hope this one brings a lot of pleasure.

I’m going to end this post now and get back to work but before I go, I’d like to say a quick thank you for all the kind messages those of you who have had my letters have sent me in the past. I keep them all.

Update:

This letter – Father Christmas and the Pirates – is now available to print online.

 

Father Christmas Letters: Changes for 2013

As those of you who’ve had my letters for aeons already know, I write new ones for Rooftop Post every year.Snippet from top of Santa letter for 2013What you won’t know (unless you’ve read it somewhere on their website) is that this year, there’s a difference. This year, they have decided to stop selling personalised letters in favour of providing printable ones that can be given to any child. They will also be free.

While suspect not everyone will like this idea, personally, I think it’s fantastic. Of course, I do worry a little bit about my copyright – I mean what’s to stop people copying and distributing my letters at will once they’re online? But having thought long and hard about it, in the end I said to myself, Leone, giving stories away is a good thing and most people wouldn’t dream of abusing it. And as for the one or two who do… well, I know Rooftop Post (not to mention British copyright law!) will do the best they can to protect my work, so I’m not going to let it bother me.

So there you have it. I’ve agreed that from September 2013 onwards this year’s illustrated story letters from Father Christmas will be available to download and print from rooftoppost.co.uk. What’s more, I’m going to chart my progress in writing and illustrating them right here on my website, just for the fun of it. For now though, all that remains for me to say is thanks for visiting and if you’re interested, I hope you’ll come back and check on my letter writing progress very soon.

Who Am I?

Leone Annabella Betts in 2012So, who am I? Well, not in a metaphysical sense obviously. Actually, I’m adding this post on the advice of a friend, but I find it rather difficult writing about myself. Other subjects, no problem, but when it comes to me I’m never sure quite what to say. Still, I suppose for the sake of this site I should give it a whirl.

My full name is Leone Annabella Betts, but I tend to use “Leone Annabella” instead of the whole thing. People are always asking how to pronounce my first name – it’s Italian and to an English speaker it would sound like: “lay-own-nee” with the emphasis is on the central syllable. I’m actually English, though my very early years were spent in France near the French-Italian border, then up until the age of fourteen I lived in Wales. As a student, I also spent time living in the Middle East. Consequently, I speak a couple of different languages and tend to dwell on the similarities between us all rather than the differences. I have tendency to think globally and I love the fact that we are living through a time which sees human beings increasingly connected to each other. In the main, I am positive about our future and think that ultimately, the human race will become better, wiser and kinder… provided we manage not to destroy ourselves in the process.

In work terms, there is a giant bleed between what I do for a living and what I would do anyway, even if I couldn’t get paid. I paint, I write, and I have my own small business. I like books, films and storytelling of all kinds. I believe in being busy – I think it staves off depression and increases a general sense of self worth.

What else? I don’t know… I don’t like selfishness and I destest liver and onions. Nepotism worries me. I have a small number of very good friends who are like family. The best of these is my co-writer, Keith Dando – independent, talented, funny and endlessly upbeat – without him I’d be lost. If I was asked to sum up what I think is most important about life in one sentence, it would be, “Be kind”. I learnt that from my mother – a fantastic woman from whom I believe I inherited all my creativity and then some. Thanks Mum. That’s it – that’s all I have to say!

Leone Annabella Betts, October 2012
Leone Annabella Betts, October 2012