By Candy Gourlay

In my second novel, Shine, a girl hides away in a tall house on the edge of the sea. She suffers from a condition called the Calm that renders her mute, immediately identifiable by marks on her neck that look like burns from a noose.

People on her island believe that victims of the Calm are cursed. She cannot live a normal life. She must stay inside because if she shows herself to the outside world, she risks being attacked and possibly killed.


When I visit schools, readers ask me: is the Calm a real disease?

The answer is no, I made it up.

What I did not make up was my character's experience of rejection and isolation, through no fault of her own.

You don't have to have a disfiguring disease to feel rejected and isolated. Anybody who's been to school will have seen or experienced this. Anybody who was not picked to play on a side, or left to eat by himself in the corner of the school lunchroom would know what it's like.

Recently, I watched an episode of the BBC documentary Hunters of the South Seas, which follows amiable explorer Will Millard as he spends three weeks with the Bajaus of Indonesia, a people who have always lived on the sea and only under government pressure have begun to settle in stilt houses still miles from land.

It's a moving essay on how the modern world is engulfing a traditional way of life, do watch it if you can find it.

Will develops a close bond with a little boy named Lobu.

Will and Lobu, screenshot from Hunters of the South Seas

The boy suffers from some kind of muscular dystrophy and slowly, Will realises that the rest of the village looks down on Lobu for having a disability, that Lobu is the butt of jokes and regarded as useless. Even worse, they think he is cursed.

When Will asks Kabei, Lobu's father, what happened to his son, Kabei tells him that Lobu is paying for an unkindness that his mother's grandfather had committed a long time ago.

I wondered, throughout the film, what was going to happen to Lobu. Was Millard going to adopt him, take him away, save him from a terrible fate? But wouldn't it be wrong to take him away from the only life he's ever known?

Before Will leaves, he puts an arm around Lobu.

"Lobu, there are lots of people who are just like you," he says in Indonesian. "You're not stupid. if you want to work, you can. If you want children, you can. If you want a wife or girlfriend,  you can. You're clever, you're friendly, you're funny. You're an amazing person, don't forget it."

In the end, as Millard boards his boat, Kabei grabs his arm and says, "Do not worry about Lobu. He is my son and I love him. I would never abandon him, no matter what happens."


I was deeply affected by the story. More so because of the parallels with Shine and Tall Story.

In Shine, Rosa's future is blighted by a curse that turns everyone against her. Her recourse? She lives an alternative life on the Internet ... something so many of us are doing right now, and sometimes for similar reasons. You can be anybody you like on the Internet, and not the person everybody dislikes.

In Tall Story, Bernardo too is struck by a curse. But his version of difference -- becoming a giant -- makes people love him too much to let him leave. All he wants is to be reunited with his family, but an entire village wants him to stay and save them from an earthquake.

My storytelling is deeply influenced by growing up in the Philippines where, like Millard's Bajau story, so much belief emerges from the mystical and spiritual and my books' locations suffer incessant rain and natural disaster.

But the character as outsider, characters who do not belong and must find a way to do so, populate the stories that young people love.  Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Bruce Wayne, Pollyanna -- they're all outsiders looking for a way in.

I guess this is because trying to belong is a journey that everybody has to take. We love these stories because they remind us that despite everything, like Lobu, we are each amazing in our own way.

We love stories about outsiders because they remind us that despite everything, like Lobu, we are each amazing in our own way.

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Previous: Pictures Mean Literacy

Pictures Mean Literacy

Work in Progress for my graphic novel class. I'll
post it when it's finished! Click to view in full
By Candy Gourlay

I always say that if I had my life to live all over again, I would change nothing. Recently, I realised that this is not true. I do regret ONE thing.

A few weeks ago I started Emily Haworth Booth's graphic novel class at the Royal Drawing School. I took the class last year and had to wait ages for the second part of the course.

We are just three sessions in, and I love it so much. I love drawing, I love thinking about drawing, I love thinking about what paper to use and pens and pencils and even sharpeners. I am happy when I'm drawing.

And that is my regret. Almost 25 years ago, I stopped drawing. I became too busy - what with learning how to write novels, bringing up babies and keeping house ... drawing became a luxury. Even now, if I don't sign up for a class, I don't draw.

If I had my life to live over again, I would  make time for drawing, no matter how busy I am. I love it. It makes me happy. It makes me a nicer person. Why did I ever stop?


Drawing was on my mind last week when I  organised an event for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators with my author pal Mo O'Hara (My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish) . It featured Sarah McIntyre, who co-authored Oliver and the Seawigs with Philip Reeve.

Oliver and the Seawigs was nominated for the Carnegie this year, but only Philip appeared on the nomination. Sarah, who illustrated it but also closely collaborated on the story, was left off the nominations list.

Sarah quite bravely queried the Carnegie's definition of 'author'. Her forthright challenge resulted in a revision of the longlist and a re-examination of the august award's rules -- good on the Carnegie librarians to accept that there was a problem.

When does an illustrator become the co-author of a work? Why is the authorship of illustrators often forgotten or disregarded by awards lists and literacy organisations? You can learn more about the Sarah Incident here and here.

We had a good turn out - the journalist Charlotte Eyre turned up, and so did Joy Court, chair of the Carnegie Working Committee, who arrived out of the blue, paid her three pounds entrance fee, and was promptly made a panelist. (I owe you a drink, Joy)

Sarah's blogged about it in detail, and Charlotte wrote a feature about it in TheBookseller last Friday ... but let me bullet point for you the shocking facts we discovered:
  • Nielsen Bookscan, data provider for the book publishing industry, lists writers and not illustrators (Correction: tis not as simple as stated - do look at Sarah McIntyre's comment below)... so even a high profile book like The Gruffalo will only be recognised for its writer Julia Donaldson but not for its illustrator Axel Scheffler. Is Nielsen's software outdated? Or does this require the industry to change its attitude to illustrators?
  • Illustrators have to negotiate with writers for a share of income from library lendings (Public Lending Right) ... it's not automatic.
  • Until Sarah raised the issue, the Greenaway, an award for illustration, always listed the writers. And the Greenaway was not the only one. The Bookseller, the Reading Agency, and The Book People quickly amended their listings to include illustrators
  • Illustrators in attendance shared many woeful tales - including one illustrator whose book was highlighted by the BBC -- almost all her illustrations were featured but only the writer was mentioned ... and it was a WORDLESS book! 
We chewed over the problem.

It's complicated of course: "For illustrated fiction I think it’s quite difficult to know exactly where the parameters should be. I wonder if it would be helpful or appropriate for illustrators to be recognised as co-authors [in cases] where the illustration feels like an integral part of the book,” Liz Cross, publisher at Oxford University Press Children's Division, is quoted in The Bookseller. The problem may not just be with Nielsen Bookscan software but something that runs deeper. Do we have a culture of not valuing illustration?

Do keep an eye on the hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness - if we keep talking about this issue, it won't go away.


It was interesting how the discussion ranged far and wide: we talked about how the success of digital is fuelling a rise in beautifully produced illustrated books. We talked about the book as object. Studies were cited on how visual literacy plays a role in raising reading and writing in children.

You might want to watch this 15 minute video on Visual Literacy after reading this post.

My late Dad was a workaholic architect and my memory of him was that he was always drawing. There were six siblings in the family and we were all ALWAYS drawing, sitting around the dining room table filling reams of paper with our scribbles.

I was a big reader of books but I had mountains of comic books as well, and I read them just as voraciously as my novels.

My Mom was so proud of our drawings that she kept everything we drew - there are filing cabinets of our drawings from when we were small.

And yet one day when I was a young teen, I came home from school to find that she'd put all my comic books on the bonfire.

I won't linger on that traumatic event, sorry. Even now, I don't like remembering what happened, and wondering how my mother could marry a man who was drawing 24/7, show pride in her children's artistic abilities ... and yet reject comic books. To be fair she belonged to the generation that thought comics were 'bad for children'.

Today, Mom refuses to be parted from her collection of our childhood drawings.


Visual literacy is not about looking, it's about SEEING, something this world of self-interruption and empty social engagement really needs.

As a novelist, I am all about text. As a children's novelist though, I am keenly aware of how text can be a disabling thing for the young people I am writing for.  It's  just too much like school work.

That is why when I visit schools and run workshops for children, I don't focus on text, I focus on story.

Over the past five years of visiting schools as an author, I've discovered that children emerge from their shells when they draw. So I have begun to use comic techniques to teach writing - it's amazing to see how drawing can unleash a creativity that can be inhibited when limited to text.

[Breaking news! I just spotted this on a Facebook group on Reading for Pleasure in Schools - How Wordless Books Can Help Your Child Read - thanks to Bev Humphrey for the link!]

Trust me, pictures always lead to ideas. And when there are ideas, words are never far away.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please consider subscribing to my blog. I blog about my life as an author, writing and drawing and I share ideas about how to teach books and encourage reading. Subscribe now

Previous post: How to be an Author

How to Be An Author

Over the year, in the name of keeping a record, I'll be archiving blog posts I wrote for other websites. Here's a post I wrote for the now defunct StoryBlog  in January 2013 looking back at my first year as a proper author. Phew, it looks exhausting, the launching, the events, the posing. Two books on, is it still exhausting? Er. Yes. But I'm better at turning my back on social media when I need to now.

How do you balance the roles of creator and author … artist and promoter?

That’s our theme for the current run of posts on the StoryBlog, a question dear to an author’s heart.
Mainly because it gives us a chance to complain a lot.

However. when I saw Sarah McIntyre’s response I was inspired to stop complaining and turn my answer into a comic! But because I’m a lazy artist, i didn’t draw anything, instead, I used Powerpoint to illustrate this Balancing Act we authors have to do!

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I Was Not Ready for My Close Up

By Candy Gourlay

I have written guest posts for blogs elsewhere over the years. I thought it would be a good idea to archive them here on my website. Here's one I wrote in August 2011 for the now defunct Storyblog. 

Candy Gourlay on camera

I love taking pictures but I hate having my photo taken. I can happily go for years without having a single picture taken of me.

But last year I became an author.

Candy at a school visit wearing a paperbag on her head

Suddenly I was being photographed all the time.

‘Grin and bear it’ doesn’t do justice to what that’s like. I mean, in my neighbourhood, one of the mums described me as ‘never knowingly combed’ …

So when I went home to my native Philippines last year to launch my debut novel Tall Story, I was a little bit nervous to discover that a few of my old contacts had their own TV shows – and wanted me to appear as a guest. For anyone with hopes for appearances on TV, I have three bits of advice:

1. Try not to melt.
My glamorous big sister Joy - an ex ballet dancer and rock singer who has always despaired about my non-attention to appearances – decided to take me in hand.

My big sister Joy (left) has always been the stylish one in our family. My favourite outfit in those days were these dungarees – because I thought they made me look like Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, a naughty predecessor of Calvin & Hobbes.

So on the morning of my appearance on the cultural programme Illuminati, Joy got me up early, made sure I had a shower, combed my hair, applied make-up, and then, to make sure I didn’t melt in the sweltering Manila heat, had her husband drive me to a taxi rank so that I could arrive at the studio in air-conditioned glory.

I climbed into the taxi. Uh oh. It was like stepping into a small oven, Gas Mark 4.

“Sorry, Miss,” the taxi driver grunted. “The airconditioning isn’t working.”

As the taxi careened away for the 40 minute journey in Manila’s creeping traffic, I sat as still as I could, trying to control the flow of perspiration with techniques I’d learnt from a recent X-Men movie.

Screenshot from The Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver

If you’ve never experienced Manila traffic, you need only skim through this documentary The Toughest Place to Be a Bus Driver. Plus it’s hot and humid, the grime of pollution embedding swiftly in your hair and complexion.

I wasn’t that surprised when one tyre suddenly blew off.

The driver seemed unperturbed. He calmly swerved dangerously across the path of a bus then swung us up onto the pavement. “It’s not far from here. You should just take a jeepney,” he said.

Screenshot of jeepney swerving from The Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver

In fact, I had to change jeepneys twice.

It would have taken longer if it hadn’t been for a tidy looking woman who noticed my pathetic attempts to engage a grumpy jeepney driver. She firmly told the driver that he should look after me, then gave me clear directions as to where to jump off.

She was wonderful. I have no doubt she was a school librarian.

Thankfully, I had not totally melted away by the time I got to the studio to meet Illuminati’s hosts, Krip Yuson and Trix Syjuco.

Krip Yuson and Trix Syjuco with a copy of Tall Story
I knew the author Krip Yuson from good old bad days of the Marcos Era. His co-presenter is Trix Syjuco, a poet.

2. Be sure you know what language is spoken on the programme

Out of its 175 languages, the Philippines has designated two as official: Filipino and English.
Sadly, after 22 years in the land of Shakespeare, though my Filipino is great for a conversation, it is not quite up to the standards of intelligent broadcasting (To be honest, my Filipino was never great – I spoke another language until I moved to Manila as a child).
Anyway, you’d think a programme called The Morning Show would be held in English, right? Wrong.
Make up on the Morning Show
This time, there was a room with a nice woman who put make up on anyone who walked through. If we hadn't restrained her, she was quite happy to put some on my husband too. Tempting.

The moment we emerged from the make-up room and entered the studio, it was clear that I might have a bit of a struggle.

The presenter Nikki Jimenez – a lovely if annoyingly well-preserved friend from university days – was moving from item to item in sparkling, flowing, vivacious Filipino.

“Well, you’re in trouble,” my husband, who had come along for a laugh, observed mildly.

I briefly considered returning him to the make up room for some eye shadow work.

Candy Gourlay appearing opposite presenter Nikki Jimenez on the Morning Show.

Then it was time.

I was waved unceremoniously onto a set with two high stools (be sure to sit on the edge, I warned myself, to restrain any tummy bulging). A man swiftly put his hand up my back to install a microphone.

There was only enough time for Nikki to say hello long-time-no-see and then there we were, live nationwide on morning TV.

Nikki launched into her introduction, again in flawless flowing Filipino. I desperately tried to remember the words for ‘literature’, ‘author’, ‘characters’, ‘plot’. And how was I to translate ‘Tall Story’ ?

The Morning Show set - Nikki Jimenez interviews Candy Gourlay

Then Nikki turned to me and said, “Good morning!” … in ENGLISH!

If you watch the video of the Morning Show interview on YouTube, you will notice that I managed not to fall at her feet screaming “Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!”

But the relief is palpable.

3. Wear appropriate clothing.

I guess this tip only applies when you have to go to another country to be worthy of being featured in the media. My final TV appearance was shot just before we went home to England after more than a month in the Philippines with unreliable laundry facilities.

Obviously, I had run out of clothes appropriate for TV appearances.

The only presentable thing I had left in my suitcase was a pink linen jacket that I never got to wear because the weather was too hot even for linen.

My sister Joy would have known what to do. But she was not available to perform a fashion rescue.

So though I looked like this:

Candy in Pink Linen Jacket

I really felt like this:

“Ma’am,” the cameraman said, as he watched oceans of sweat exploding from my forehead. “Maybe you should take your jacket off?”

I refused.

The jacket you see, was all I had on.

Soon after, we left the Philippines for London and I never did get to see that particular clip … but if you ever get the chance, please take pity on me and don’t look too closely.

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth like the ungentle sweat flooding into my blinking eyes as I do my best to sound like an articulate author.