In the Words and Pictures: A Marriage Made In… session we looked at the #PicturesMeanBusiness debate and how they felt authors and illustrators collaborated and collided!
“The pictures matter just as much as the words.”
Lari Don described her experience of working with illustrators as an author as “more of a dance”. She writes the words with illustrations in mind and sometimes rough sketches don’t match her vision but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s better that way! If an illustration is truly great Lari is even willing to change the wording. “I’m never bothered if I have to change the words because it’s a picture book. The pictures matter just as much as the words.”
Kate McLelland said “that sounds like the ideal process” and usually for her “the words are set in stone” so there isn’t any to-ing and fro-ing between herself and the author she’s drawing for. She’s had frustrating experiences where she was given a very sparse brief to which she drew her interpretation. Feedback asked her to add specific animals, which she did, to which a separate consultant asked where there were such animals. “It can be a messy process.”
“These books are the illustrator’s just as much as mine.”
Lari said that in her book The Secret of the Kelpie the illustrator Philip Longson had a much better vision than her own so she changed a whole paragraph to suit his idea and it worked so much better. “That is why we need artists. These books are his books just as much as mine.” Yvonne Manning chimed in saying “your decision was absolutely right” as she had a reading of the book and that particular paragraph at her library where the children audibly gasped at the reveal of the next page. Because of this she wants teachers to know more about such books: “to buy an amount of what authors and illustrators are producing”.
Lari praised doing joint events with her illustrators as it’s pressure off her to allow the illustrator to bring the book to life, but Kate has had other experiences. “I prefer the solo events because it’s nice when you do something other than being an ‘illustrator for an author’. Sometimes a joint event is not the best thing.” She said she can be made to feel a bit like a performing monkey when asked to do such events as solely an illustrator.
Agreeing with Kate’s point Lari said that kids are very interested in the publishing process and are always asking about them at events. Kids ask “how do you make the book?” and she says she just writes the words. Children are fascinated by it.
“Why do we make these decisions?”
Moving on, Yvonne brought up the #PicturesMeanBusiness debate. She used Footpath Flowers as an example. A beautifully illustrated book with two names on the cover and title page – yet there are no words in the book at all, it is purely illustration. Despite this the book is categorised in library systems under the ‘author’s name. “Why do we make these decisions?” asked Yvonne, “that the author is more important?” Lari pointed out the idea stems from the ‘author’, not saying it’s right or wrong but that that may be the thinking behind it.
Kate believes it’s not about ego whose book is whose but more of an issue of reputation. An illustrator needs to be on covers to get their name out there. When #PicturesMeanBusiness kicked off Lari made sure to read up on it. She felt embarrassed when she realised she didn’t know the name of an illustrator who contributed work to her novel. She knew those in the picture books but not in the novels. “Does that make me a bad person?!” she worried. Kate pointed out that she did many covers for a publisher and doesn’t remember any of the authors. “It’s a two way street!”
A novel’s cover is not for life
Debating the importance of cover design, Lari said that one of her books has been rebranded three times but it isn’t “part of the story”. It’s an important element but not a key part of her stories. Yvonne describes a sad moment when at a children’s book launch for a story full of drama and cliffhangers, a father refused to buy his son the book because it looked like a ‘girl’s book’, with pink and purple on the cover. It’s important that “the cover of a novel is not for life”.
There’s difficulty in parent relations where you want parents to show illustrated books to their children but when they lack words, parents are confused and daunted by the idea of having to create a world to match the pictures in the book. It’s a wonderful chance for parents and children to bond over unique worlds but isn’t for every parent. Kate believes there’s so much enjoyment in, as a parent, reading to your child in the rhythm of the words so both have equal but different value. Lari was in awe and said if she could come up with a story without words and just an illustration brief she’d be really proud of herself!
It was ultimately agreed that pictures do indeed mean business and it looks like the tide is finally turning in favour of illustrators who will, hopefully, be getting the equal billing they so very much deserve.
For all updates and recaps from #SYP2020, click here.