I’ve been thinking a lot about the very special pairing of author and illustrator since posting on it a little while ago.
Though I dearly love to create books on my own and always will do, working with these three authors has been an extraordinarily rich experience and such fun.
Each very different but having a fundamental quality in common: our stories are true collaborations from the very first moment. We exchange thoughts, sketches and ideas throughout, batting it back and forth at every stage, so that the finished books emerge organically. Although the words and pictures are crafted by two separate people at two separate desks, when I look at the books I can barely see the join.
Because James is such a fabulous illustrator himself, and also a connoisseur of classic illustration from a golden age, he was in effect the art director of Bubble and Squeak as well as the author, bringing to life these wonderful characters. The period it evokes, the palette, detailing and style, was our shared vision. I learn so much from James. He believed in the way I draw, and encouraged me; this book was a turning point in my work and my self-confidence.
That, and once we had crouched with creaking knees and barely-stifled hysteria behind the travelling theatre show with almost nothing to hand but a Carry On whistle and a bag of strawberry bonbons, we were set to be friends for life.
I’ve said lots before about the joy and preciousness of working with my mum, but I thought instead here I’d like to say something about the privilege of working with Shirley Hughes. She is a force of nature; her story-telling powers are extraordinary. I have had the unique chance to observe her talents objectively and ‘under the bonnet’ as it were. I can marvel at her writing – her ear for dialogue, her inventiveness and characterisation – when I’m setting it to page and building the pictures around it even more than I would as a reader or a proud daughter.
If there’s a plot knot in the text on our desks on a Friday night, it’s fixed by Monday morning. She discreetly stands back and gives me a completely free hand when I am getting on with it; I think people find this surprising, but it’s true.
I cannot imagine a happier moment than when Dixie and Percy motored into my imagination.
The third book, Up Up and Away is out this week.
What can I say about Polly? She is on the top diving board, just about to embark on a stellar career as an author, and I’ve grabbed my bathing hat and hurtled up the ladder with unladylike eagerness to get in on the action.
She has that rare gift of being able to deliver a terrific emotional impact woven together with the most generous portion of laughs.
Our first collaboration is out in September, swiftly followed by two more next year. I am IMPATIENT.
We have also just popped a wonderful whiskery secret somebody into our agent Hilary Delamere‘s suitcase to take to Bologna…
and will be standing on the runway waving our hankies until the plane is out of sight.
Because, greedy for more, the best collaboration is always the next one.