Gary and Mark are doing something rather unusual: they are working on a book together, but not in the normal way, with one as illustrator and the other as author. They are working together on the illustrations. 'How on earth do they do that?' I can hear you ask, since it was pretty much what I asked them myself, when we first met a few months back. Well, Gary is a fabulous draughtsman and cartoonist, and Mark does the most exquisitely detailed paintings on the computer, so they are combining their skills. Having discussed what the illustration should contain, Gary designs the characters and creates a detailed drawing, which he then passes to Mark, who chooses the colour palette and turns it into a painting. They have two very interesting stories, one written by Mark and one by Gary, and I am helping them to get their ideas into shape, ready to present to a publisher.
At our first meeting, the stories were still in their heads, so we talked a lot about practical considerations like how long a picture book should be (28 pages) and what age spread it should be aimed at (3/4 - 7/8yrs), as well as how you should present your ideas to a publisher and how the business of publishing books works. They have decided to concentrate on Mark's story first, and this time came with a written text, Gary's sketches of the main characters (including an extraordinary little ship), some sketched ideas and a couple of beautifully coloured illustrations by Mark. I'm really enjoying talking through the work with them, batting ideas back and forth, and helping them to enforce the necessary structure on the project, so the story can fit the picture book format.
Today we discussed how you sometimes have to lose sections of the writing, paring things down so there isn't too much text and enough room is left for the illustrations. We also tried out the really interesting exercise of trying to divide the story between the pages. Not only do you have to spread the text reasonably evenly, but of course page divisions have to come where new images are needed. At the same time, you have to pace the adventure properly, so the action and tension comes in the right places, all the time keeping a balance between smaller illustrations: single pages, or vignettes (even smaller pictures, where you might get several on a page), and lovely, big, double-page spreads. And all of this, while still keeping it to the necessary 28 pages. No easy task!
Fortunately, when you are working on a commissioned book, a lot of this is done by the Editor and the Designer at the publisher, so the author and illustrator are left to do what they do best! But Gary and Mark need to think about all these things, so they can present their story in as professional way as possible and increase its chances of finding a publisher.
I can't wait until our next meeting, when Mark should have the story fitting properly, and Gary should have his 'roughs' (line-drawings of all the illustrations) worked out. Mark will probably have painted one or two of them for me to see, but he won't be colouring it all up - publishers like to make so many changes that it's not worth doing more than a couple of sample pages in colour, just enough to let them see how great it is going to look if only they take it on...