There are so many things I love about working with illustrators.
Firstly, and entirely self-servingly, having a co-creator gives me an easy way to accept praise about the book without resorting to my usual impulse to shrink away muttering, Oh, it’s nothing. It could have been better. Eh, it’s just a thing I did. Having an illustrator, and their inevitably glorious work, to deflect compliments onto makes my life a great deal easier.
That reason comes first only in this idiosyncratically ordered list though, because really it’s the least important of all the things I love about working with an illustrator.
One of the questions I’m often asked about picture books is, “But what happens if the illustrations aren’t how you imagined them in your head?” For the longest time I answered this in a kind of bewildered, half-stumbling way, without really understanding where the questioner was coming from. Because the thing is: I don’t imagine the illustrations in my head, or anywhere else for that matter. I don’t think visually, and I don’t ‘see’ the world or characters while I’m writing (or when I’m reading, for that matter; it doesn’t matter how elaborately the setting or a character or an anything is described, I can’t see it. What I’m doing instead is skimming those descriptive passages, grumbling about how pointlessly wordy they are, because who cares what it LOOKS LIKE?). These days, that’s how I answer that question, though it does lead to some bewildered, half-stumbling responses from the visually inclined questioner.
Something I’ve come to realise, though, is that even though I never have any idea of what I want things to look like, I always know how I want things to feel, how I want them to make the reader feel. I couldn’t begin to suggest how you might get there visually; I just know it when I see it. I’m not sure whether this makes me extremely annoying to work with – I don’t know… I just want it to feel less noisy, or lighter or … just airier? You know that feeling you get when bubbles pop on your tongue? Like that, except different – or whether it’s par for the course in the author–illustrator relationship, but in any case, it’s all I have.Continue reading