A Year with Marmalade

A huge welcome to Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie, thank you so much for visiting my blog today and sharing your experiences with my readers. I hope you all enjoy what Alison and Heath have to say about their new picture book A Year with Marmalade as well as a little bit about the journey that got them here. Let’s begin with Heath.

Please describe your chosen illustration

This is a spread for ‘A Year With Marmalade’ – it was initially created as a test image to experiment with style and help establish a look for the book. It was done digitally but freehand on a drawing tablet and took the best part of a working day! It ended up being slightly modified to fit the eventual shape of the book but otherwise remained virtually the same in the final book as it looked originally!

When did you know you had a talent for illustration?

I’m not really sure! I guess through other people telling me and encouraging me through primary and secondary school I guessed they may be right and so carried on!

Have you ever studied your craft at an institution of any sort?

I’ve always studied art and graphic design through primary and secondary school and then less so at University, focusing on film and animation then at Deakin University.

I’ve never specifically ever attended ‘an art course’ outside of what was offered through school.

Generally speaking, simply drawing and copying styles I liked and so on has been the best education for me.

What computer programmes do you use?

Mainly Corel Painter and then over into Photoshop for any finishing touches – very occasionally Adobe Illustrator too.

Have you illustrated any books?

I’ve illustrated well over 100 books by now for various Australian and International publishers.

I’d hesitate to list a favourite as they tend to be a favourite at the time I’m doing them – though ‘An A-Z of Pirates’ with Little Hare Books,  the upcoming ‘Hercules’ with Walker Books and where the picture discussed earlier came from ‘A Year With Marmalade’ with Five Mile Press are all favourites – largely because the artwork was heavily line based and so was a great opportunity to just draw – as opposed to design or colour etc. There was more room to experiment in these titles.

Generally work is commissioned by the publisher approaching me with the project. Rarely do I have contact with the authors but it certainly happens on some projects.

A full colour picture book would take a good two or three months to complete form start to finish. However, deadlines are very helpful in keeping momentum going and getting jobs done! It can interfere with the creative process at times simply because things have to get done rather than me having the chance to muse on an image forever and umm and aah about it!

Who is your favourite Australian children’s book illustrator and why?

A tricky question! Norman Lindsay – specifically thinking back to The Magic Pudding. Such great action and emotion packed into the pencil drawings of those characters!

What’s your website or blog address (if you have one)?

It is www.heathmck.com  – it’s a wee bit out of date and in need of some renovation but does the trick nevertheless!


Thanks for that Heath – PIO subscribers will note that this also appears in this week’s issue of the e-zine.
Now let’s talk to Alison.

This picture book sprang from a brunch, which is proof that you can have fun while you work!

I’ve worked with The Five Mile Press in the past so the then publisher, Poppy Grijalbo, asked me if I wanted to try to write a picture book with the seasons as a background. We talked over a range of topics and came up with the themes of friendship and change (to reflect the changing seasons).

An image of a cat, a little girl called Ella and a bird swirled around my mind.  I had a very tight deadline so I wrote a story, pared it back as much as I could, and sent it off to my crit buddy Dee White who said “it’s good, but you can do better”. Dee was right. I could do better. I fiddled and fiddled and it ended up working well.  I sent it off.

Then the next day when I was walking the dog, a completely new story floated in my head. This was the story that I wanted to write and have published. I kept Ella and the cat, but ditched the bird. A new girl called Maddy arrived. A Year with Marmalade became a story about friendship and how change isn’t always a bad thing. I think because I was totally relaxed having sent off the story I allowed my mind to float and the real story I wanted to write emerged.

I realise now that I based the story on my own life, which may be why this story resonated so much for me. I grew up with two best friends, Anne who lived next door, and Beth who lived across the road. The three of us spent every spare moment playing, learning how to negotiate friendships, and what it means to be a friend.

The story flowed out easily, as if it was waiting to be told. I’ve never had that experience before, but I’m hoping I have it again! My only real problem with the manuscript was with the mechanics of the last page. I wanted a stile over the fence between the two girls’ houses, so Marmalade, Ella and Maddy could visit each other easily at the end of the book. Then I was faced with the problem of why wouldn’t  a cat just jump over the fence anywhere? My clever crit partner suggested a cat flap. A Year with Marmalade was complete.

I felt a bit silly sending off a completely new story to the publisher three or so days later and saying can you look at this story instead of the other one. Luckily, she did and she loved it. The editor, gave the story to Heath McKenzie who did his amazing illustrations.  A year later A Year With Marmalade is on the book shop shelves.

Thank you for inviting me to visit, Jackie. I’m looking forward to hearing the journey of your picture book soon!

Alison Reynolds


A Year With Marmalade

August, 2012, The Five Mile Press, Australia

October, 2012, The Five Mile Press, UK

July, 2013, Simon and Schuster, USA


A Year with Marmalade

by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie

published by The Five Mile Press

reviewed by Jackie Hosking


Firstly the colours in this book are exquisite. Muted, dusty, colours of nature. The illustrations, done in my favourite style, minimal with lots of white space complimented with splashes and smudges of colour.

The story travels over the seasons beginning with Autumn when Maddy hands over Marmalade (her cat) to her best friend Ella to look after for a year. Ella’s not too sure about the whole arrangement, neither is Marmalade.

As the seasons change so too does the relationship, becoming and warmer and warmer until they cannot be separated.

So what happens when Maddy returns the following Autumn?

Quite simpley Marmalade is spread around (pardon the pun).

Title: A Year with Marmalade
Author: Alison Reynolds
Illustrator: Heath McKenzie
Publisher: The Five Mile Press, $14.95 RRP
Publication Date: August 2012
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781742488806
For ages: 2 – 10
Type: Picture Book

A Year with Marmalade Blog Tour
7th Aug Dee White deescribewriting.wordpress.com

9th Aug Karen Tyrrell www.karentyrrell.com

11th Aug Tania McCartney www.kids-bookreview.com

13th Aug  Pass It On jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine

14th Aug  Kathryn Apel katswhiskers.wordpress.com/blog

17th Aug  Dale Harcombe orangedale.livejournal.com

20th Aug  Peter Taylor writing-for-children.blogspot.com.au

22nd Aug  Susan Stephenson www.thebookchook.com

23rd Aug  Robyn Opie Parnell robynopie.blogspot.com.au

27th Aug Sally Odgers spinningpearls.blogspot.com.au

29th  Aug  Angela Sunde angelasunde.blogspot.com.au

31st Aug Chris Bell christinemareebell.wordpress.com

8 thoughts on “A Year with Marmalade

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