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The front cover to my new book, as both illustrator and author.

Good heavens!

It has been practically an ice age in internet terms since I last write a blog post, I really must improve. For all those that know me personally, it could hardly be believed that I would pass up the opportunity to have a discussion, but blogging is still not a natural medium for me, and I feel it only necessary to write when something genuinely interesting has happened?

One such example was my recent visit (Feb 28th) to Linton Mead primary school in Thames Mead, where I spoke to four classes about the process an illustrator goes through to illustrate a book. The visit was organised by Stephen Terry who teaches some of the year groups at the school, as part of World Book Day, and I was one of the people he asked to come along.

It was a very rewarding day, but extremely tiring! Speaking to four separate classes was a bit epic for me, and the enthusiasm expressed by the children was almost over whelming, a rich jingle jangling clamor of voices and little people, vying for attention and requesting everything from books, bags and even bodies (the hands and wrists) to signed. There were volleys of questions to deal with, ranging from if I had met J.K Rowling, or Jacqueline Wilson and all their other favourite authors (it is when one is faced with this you realise again the sheer enormity of such authors) to how old I was, what’s sports I liked and if I had a girlfriend! Thankfully there were plenty of teaching assistants on hand to calm them down, but I could not fail to be impacted by the effect my illustrations had on the classes, they went potty for them.

I had a great time, the children were well behaved (if at times wildly enthusiastic) and I was dropped back off at the DLR station feeling dizzy with quite a head ache!

Coming back to the main title of this blog, and please forgive the earlier tangent (it really should have been a blog of its own?) I will get myself back to the subject of Emperors and Elephants. Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and it seems somehow in the great cosmos up there, that some divine order makes it it’s business to weave together the like-minded in an ever colourful tapestry? Why do I say this?

Well, it is my intention that my future third book be written about the elephant Boronia (see images on blog listings for reference) and she is to be based in the ancient city of Varanasi (or Banares if your ‘old skool’) in India. This place has been around for about 4000 years and is understandably considered the cultural and spiritual capital of India, a great setting one would think, but where do you begin if one has never been to Varanasi let alone India! This daunting prospect has been a concern for me for quite some time, I not only need to go there and face a huge culture clash, and ‘Deli Belly’ but I also for this future book need to find out great details about the great and mysterious Maharajahs.

The elegant answer came with a talk that was given this Tuesday (March 27th) at The Royal Geographical Society. It was co hosted by Love brand & Co and the Elephant Family Charity (follow the link on blog for reference). Some of the proceeds from my first book ‘The Ethical Elephants’ (as the illustrator) go towards supporting the charity, so I thought attending a talk supported by them would be an opportunity to learn more of what they do. It was a very pleasant evening… forgive me for forgetting the name of the host who introduced the speakers, he’s a very well-known dashing adventurer and broadcaster, been in all sorts of scrapes, name sounds a bit like ‘Benedictine’ and he at one stage, while starving was forced to eat his dog. The adventurer turns out to be the Godson of one of the writers who was giving the talk, a historian called Charles Allen. Charles was accompanied by the rather formidable Mark Shand, also an author and the founder of the Elephant Family, they made quite a double act. Allen being scholarly and accurate, and Shand something akin to roaring Lion and Blunderbuss.

Getting to my point, it turns out that Charles Allen has written a book called ‘Ashoka; The Search for India’s Lost Emperor’ what a stroke of luck! There before my eyes were two towering vessels of knowledge precisely in the areas where I lacked. After the entertainments of the talk, and then the auction of designer made ‘Elephant blankets’; where Shand bossed the crowd into ever larger donations, I wasted little time to make my acquaintances. After a quick self introduction and chin wag with the Director of Elephant Family (the very glamorous, and nice Ruth Powys) I joined the line to have my Ashoka book signed by Allen, as well as one of my illustrations for Illawara (included in this blog) and the copy of my Ethical Elephants book, as it’s nice to have something signed by such an established historian (over titles).

Allen in particular was very nice (and most complimentary) like Ruth, kindly volunteering his business card, and suggesting (rather ominously) that I ask what questions I can as he ‘…wont be around for much longer…’ whatever he could have meant by that is a mystery, but although getting along time wise, he hardly seemed in the clutches of the jaws of death. Comment aside, hopefully he will be around to offer possible assistance in the future when it falls to me to begin my own journeys in India? I sincerely hope so, advice such as his will be much-needed.

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