No use crying over smashed eggs…Egg Drop 20 years on - Mini Grey


Time flies, and
eggs don’t. It’s 20 years since my very first picture book, Egg Drop, crashed
into the world.

So in this post I’m
going to have a look at what I did and didn’t know then, and what I do (and
still don’t) know now. Through a twenty-year telescope.

20 years ago….

I’d been
working as a primary school teacher, but had harboured an ambition for a long
time to make a picture book, only made stronger by all the picture books I
loved reading with the children in my class. So I’d done an MA in Sequential
Illustration at Brighton (supply-teaching part time to make ends meet). And
then, amazingly luckily, I met an editor, Ian Craig, at Jonathan Cape, who
sportingly decided to publish a story I’d made called Egg Drop.

20 years ago….

I didn’t even know
how many pages a picture book has, or how they ‘work’.

Ian explained
it: you have usually 32 pages to work with. In a hardback EITHER pages 01 and
32 will be stuck down into the cover OR you can also have extra endpapers,
which give you pages 01 and 32 to use for your story too (well, probably title
page and copyright.) Endpapers tend to be in a colour you choose from the
pantone book, and you can make this into a design in that colour if you wish.
If you want full-colour endpapers, they’ll need to be part of your 32 printed
pages, so that means going with pages 01 and 32 stuck down (inside the cover), and endpapers on
pages 02&03, and 30&31, which is what we did with Egg Drop. Of course,
that means you’ve used up 4 pages on endpapers you could have used for your story. Plus you've stuck down pages 01 and 32, so 6 pages gone already.
But if your story is pretty minimal, maybe that’s a good thing….

With Egg Drop, I happened
to have a story that was SO MINIMAL we actually had to expand it to get it to
fill up the book. (This has never ever happened again since.)

The first version of Egg Drop, made to sell at the London Artists' Book Fair

Ian my editor
taught me: to be kind to my reader, to start in a place of familiarity,
especially if you’re planning to guide them somewhere really weird.

This version of Egg Drop started off, a bit confusingly, in an attic.

So rather than
starting my story in a strange attic space full of the Egg’s mementoes, Ian
said – start on the farm, start with your chicken who is telling the story, so
your reader feels on familiar territory, and then they’ll trust you to lead
them into a world where eggs jump off towers.

20 years ago….

The bravery of
ignorance is a wonderful thing.

Like the Egg,
I didn’t know much, and I wasn’t comparing my book to all the other picture
books out there, so I blissfully threw things together without worrying too
much about it.

I made the artwork
on paper and it all got sent off to be scanned. I had no idea what the scanner was
like, I imagined something like combination of a fusion reactor and an MRI

Nowadays I
tend to make layers for my pictures and put these together in photoshop like a
sort of a collage, which gets sent as digital artwork to my publishers. I very
rarely make an image as one complete piece. This is good but also sad. The good
is: you can keep moving things around and swapping them about and I often have
several goes at characters for pictures and choose the one I like best. The sad
is: you tend not to end up with an image that can be exhibited (or sold!!).

Making multiple mice for The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

One page from Egg
caused all the trouble.  

 The ‘Putting the egg back together again’
picture featured string, sewing, tomato soup, bubblegum. It was a bit too chunky
going through the Drum Scanner Machine and there were too many shadows on the
scan. Someone cleaned them off digitally I think – but a little too thoroughly in

20 years ago….

I didn’t think
designing the cover was my job. Or designing the cover typography. I didn’t
realise how important a cover is, that it’s the first chance your book has to
introduce itself. 

Egg Drop covers: hardback on the left, paperback on the right.

Ian suggested
having a flying chicken on the cover, so I made a chicken and some landscape,
but I left it to the designer to put it all together and choose a font for the
title. For the paperback, we changed the cover to something that felt a bit
more in tune with the artwork inside, and was also more collagy.

I was discovering
the fun you can have with snippets of newspaper reports.

For the
paperback we used more of this for blurb and quotes on the back.

20 years ago….

I was happy with
very slapdash pictorial practices. Like coffee cup stains on my artwork (that a
designer kindly suggested cleaning up digitally.). And really badly painted
endpapers – I’d NEVER do them like that now, and I’d at least use masking

Egg Drop endpapers front and back. I painted round all the eggs. Nowadays I'd make it so I could paint the sky in one big wash, so the eggs are floating in space. Or make it in a flatter, more graphic way, that nods to printed endpapers from the past (Endpaper Fans: have you seen Garry's post about endpapers?)

I also had a
habit of putting a layer of acrylic varnish on my paintings. I liked them looking
all saturated and shiny, also once varnished you couldn’t do anything more to
them. I’d never do that now – it muddies up the watercolour textures, and shiny
things are tricky to scan.

I made this book on
the dining table in a 2 bedroom flat in north Oxford, living with my partner
Tony and also Chris who rented the other bedroom and never complained about my
mess. (And also our cats Bonzo and Bonzetta).

I also managed
to fit in watching lots of daytime TV shows and long walks across Port Meadow.
And I was doing part-time primary school teaching.

20 years ago…

A paperback Egg Drop cost I think £5.99.

Nowadays, the equivalent paperback costs about£6.99

In 20 years children’s
book prices haven’t changed very much at all (but what about paper & production

If we look at a shopping basket of supermarket food - the cost of that food is actually cheaper nowadays in real terms than it was 20 years ago.

The average UK salary in 2002 was about £20K. In 2020 it was a little over £30K.

But if we have a look at house prices, UK house prices have doubled and sometimes trebled in the last 20 years. 

20 years ago…

I didn’t really
realise how lucky I was to meet probably the only editor who would decide to
publish this bonkers book, with its disastrous ending.

I think sometimes
some of what our books are about is hidden from us. My partner Tony’s very best
friend Dave killed himself in summer 2000. I wonder now if the tragedy of the
egg throwing itself to its doom, and Dave’s tragedy, are linked.

So I offer a final
salute to courageous publishing. To editors who take a tremendous risk and
decide to publish something strange, dark or unusual. One of the reviews of Egg
Drop that most stayed with me was a quote from Lyn Gardner in The Guardian: 

the end of the book you have a warm feeling towards a publishing industry that
allows a book such as this to appear.”


Do you like
books about eggs? Here are a half dozen more egg books. 

Duck struggles with a mysterious egg and Humpty struggles with eggsistence in The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett and After the Fall by Dan Santat

Two good eggs eggsperiencing difficulties: The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald, and Little Lumpty by Miko Imai
More factual-style eggs from Britta Teckentrupp and Tim Birkhead. (The last is not strictly a children's book but, well...what a miracle an egg is.)

Have you got a
favourite egg book I’ve missed? – please let me know about it here or on

Coming at the end of April 2022: The Greatest Show on Earth!

 Mini's latest published book-involvement is The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with AF Harrold.  Her BlogSite is at Sketching Weakly.


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