The Making of… Oh No, GEORGE! A Guest Post from Chris Haughton

I can’t believe it has been 10 years since my second picture book Oh No, George! was published. It’s the story of a dog who really wants to be good, but just can’t resist temptation, particularly when it comes to cake ­– something I think we can all relate to.

It’s been an exciting month of birthday celebrations, including a special new edition of the book published by Walker Books, a nationwide tour of the stage adaptation from Can’t Sit Still Theatre and the launch of a brand new interactive adventure, What Will George Do?, which you can watch for free here.

I’ve been reflecting on where the idea for George came from, and how the book took shape. It’s been quite useful for me to put together this post because it’s always such a long process that I kind of forget where the ideas came from to begin with.

My first idea for this book was a cause-and-effect sequence called Oh No! It was an idea for a sort of elaborate circular accident.

I was toying with that but was reluctant to settle on it. Another idea was ‘Bad duck’ about a duck who was bad at being a duck, swimming and quacking etc… it was a bit like a version of the Ugly Duckling and was sparked by seeing a worried looking duck in London who seemed to be swimming about two inches below the water level of his friends.

A third idea featured ‘clown man and clown dog’:

I didn’t realise it at the time but all these ideas revolved around the idea of characters somehow messing up (which I thought would make entertaining drawings.) I realised it’s a lot funnier if there is intention from the character to not mess up, so in the end I scrapped clown man and sort of fused all three ideas to make the dog the comic lead character.

One part of the picture book I try to make use of are the page-turns. They can be great fun when reading aloud if there is bit of a build-up, so I decided to build up to a page-turn where the dog messes up somehow… that was how the basic idea came about. I jotted it down on 3 pieces of A4 which it turned out hardly changed it at all from this first sketch.

Here’s an initial character sketch for George:

I usually draw from my head without using much reference but I found myself googling ‘guilty dogs’ to see if I could find some good material. It turns out there’s a lot about this on the internet. George also invokes the spirit of my childhood dog Tammy, a Jack Russell-Labrador cross. One year she ate all of my sister’s Easter eggs: I had to give my sister half of my eggs and Tammy was very ill, so everyone was upset!

Most of my sketch work was completed while I was living in Kathmandu. I went over to Nepal to get more involved in my fair-trade work and ended up staying between there and India for more than eight months in 2010.

I used the warm hues of pinks and oranges to show that, at heart, George is a friendly and lovable dog. The hints of red represent his passion (for cake, cats and rubbish) and his devilish side.

This picture is of me trying to finish off the last images in the airport on my way home. I had to meet my editors at Walker, Deidre and Lucy, the following week and I hadn’t done half as much as I had said I had… (!) The final proofs and tweaks were all done in a very intensive few weeks when I got back to the UK.

This is the part of the book I’m most proud of. The first page builds up in three images to a large close up of George with the text ‘What will George do?’ When the page turns the following double page spread tells us exactly what George has done.. OH NO!!!

George does some pretty terrible things in the book, but all is forgiven by his owner, Harris, in the end.

The most exciting thing that’s happened in the 10 years since the book came out is George appearing on stage.

I was absolutely gobsmacked when I first saw it and I’m still in love with it. Seeing children round the country enjoy the show after lock down has been the perfect way to celebrate George’s tenth birthday.

The 10th anniversary edition of Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton is out now (Walker Books, £7.99).

Hugest thanks to Chris Haughton, for sharing his process with MyBookCorner.

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