Monday, 1 September 2008

Author / Illustrator Collaborations

Author / illustrator collaborations don't work in the way most people think. People often imagine that they are already friends, who create projects together and then show them to publishers. This is rarely true. It's the publisher who introduces me to the authors I work with, and I rarely meet them during the project, mostly never.

It's usually at a publisher's Christmas party, a literature festival or a conference that we meet one another for the first time, long after the book is finished. Surprising eh?

This weekend I met Tony Mitton for the first time, at the CWIG conference (that's the Children's Writers and Illustrator's Group - part of the Society of Authors). Tony wrote the very funny collection of dinosaur poems which I illustrated in Gnash, Gnaw, Dinosaur! and Rumble, Roar, Dinosaur!, published by Macmillan. The Mononykus above illustrates one of the poems from the 1st book.

I have bumped into most of my authors in this way (although I've actually never met Jamie Rix, author of my two Giddy Goat books). I've worked with Julia Jarman on lots of titles and we've done lots of children's storytelling events together over the years, so have now become good friends (and talk about book ideas behind our publishers' backs - don't tell!), but this generally happens only once you have a number of titles together.

One of the talks at this weekend's conference discussed this very thing. Author David Almond and illustrator Polly Dunbar told us all about how they had worked together on My Dad's A Birdman, a beautiful and touching story, a little like a modern fairytale. But though their talk was called 'collaboration', it was soon clear that they too had worked entirely independently, only speaking once the project was over.

There are reasons for this. It is very important that the illustrator is allowed the space for their ideas to flow where they will, and they do need to be protected against outside influences, even if that might sometimes be the actual author. David Almond was very aware of this and never had any intention of trying to steer the visual side of the project, but I suppose the publisher is not to know this, and plays safe. It was also suggested that perhaps publishers like to keep a nice tight control over proceedings, much easier if all contact goes through them!

It was lovely to meet Tony, as well as getting the chance to catch up with lots of other authors and illustrators who I only get to see every couple of years. 

The most interesting conversation I had though, was with a brand new acquaintance, my dinner neighbour, Gus Grenfell, author of the children's novel Woodenface. I generally try and sit with someone I don't know at mealtimes: it's a good way of making new friends, finding out what everyone is up to and also of making sure that newcomers don't feel left out.

Gus seemed a really lovely man. He was also brave enough to act on a dream and move with his family from West Yorkshire up to the tiny isle of Arran, in Scotland, where they live in an old longhouse. They run a smallholding and his wife weaves, while Gus writes his novels and plays a range of musical instruments, including a concertina and a melodeon (whatever that is!). See? You never know who you are going to meet, when you sit next to stranger and start to chat.


Anonymous said...

It is wonderful to get such a clear insight into the day to day working life of a professional Illustrator. A really great blog - well done.

weechuff said...

Wow! That sounded like a smashing weekend Lynne. It must have been so interesting. Do you have to go to these meeings alone, or are you allowed to take husbands or partners with you? I would feel very nervous about going alone when I didn't know anyone. But then I should think that writers and illustrators are a very outgoing lot! What Gus Grenfell did was something that I would have liked to do when I was younger, but I couldn't leave all my family behind. Lucky man!

Lynne Chapman said...

It sounds daunting, and on everybody's first time they imagine standing around on their own a lot, but you just have to say hello and the unwritten rule is that everyone talks to anyone, nomatter how famous or how lowly! We are a very friendly, mutually supportive lot.

Occasionally people do take spouses, but it costs twice as much of course. Interestingly, authors are not generally outgoing, but shy and used to spending a lot of time on their own.

granny grimble said...

Firstly I must say how much I love the pink fluffy monster. It's just adorable, and I hope she (it must be a she), doesn't go all macho as the story unfolds. Pretty in pink rules OK!
What an interesting and full life you lead. You are so fortunate, but you work hard and deserve it.
I wouldn't mind reading Wooden Face. The cover looks interesting.
I can see a visit to Arran looming up in the future!

Lynne Chapman said...

No, poor mononykus just gets laughed at by the other dinos. I had no idea they were so varied until I did this project.

You can find out more about Woodenface, Gus and Arran on his website

Thank you, and everyone, for your lovely comments on the blog and my work. I do know how lucky I am. I always tell kids that I have the best job in the world!

Croom said...

I think you jolly well do have the bestest job in the whole wide world :O) enjoy.x