Dee White interviews Claire Saxby

Welcome to Dee White, author of YA novel ‘Letters to Leonardo’ and ‘Tuesday Writing Tips’ blog. Thanks for visiting Dee, it’s lovely to have you here. Dee’s here to ask me some questions about picture books and how they are created.

Dee: Hi Claire, can you start by telling us about your picture books – maybe even pick out a favourite?

My first picture book, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas, is called ‘Ebi’s Boat’ and is about a boy who wants someone to share his passion for boats. My second, ‘A Nest for Kora’, illustrated by Judith Rossell, follows Kora’s search for a perfect nest for her first egg. ‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate, also illustrated by Judith Rossell, was released in September 2009 and is the story of a sheep and a goat who share neighbouring paddocks. And my newest picture book, ‘There Was an Old Sailor’, illustrated by Cassandra Allen was released yesterday!

As to a favourite…that’s like asking which of your children do you love best…an impossible task. When school children ask me that, I do say that it’s usually the story I’m currently working on because it’s the one that’s most occupying my head.

Dee: Seeing as picture books are illustrated, how much visual description do you need?

This may surprise some people, but the answer is ‘very little’. An illustrator will interpret my words and bring their own visual narrative to the book, and the less description, the wider scope for their imagination. The only time I’ll include description is when it’s vital for the plot but not explicitly mentioned.

Dee: Do you get to pick your illustrator? Do you meet them and talk about the pictures you want for your book?

It varies. Sometimes I’ll have suggestions and share them with the editor or publisher, but sometimes the publisher will make that decision. They’ll share their ideas, and ask for mine, but the decision is theirs. I met with Anne Spudvilas to talk about the text before she started illustrating ‘Ebi’s Boat’ and I know Judith Rossell quite well, but we don’t discuss in the early stages how the illustrations will look. Cassandra Allen lives in Switzerland and I’ve not met her although we’ve had email conversations. Mostly illustrator questions come to me via the publisher/editor.

Dee: Do you have a picture in your head of what you want your book to look like?

Again, I generally have very little picture of how my characters will look. I write as though I am looking out through their eyes. How they look is unimportant to me when I’m writing. The exception of course is if their appearance is a fundamental part of the plot. In an early chapter book, the main character’s father was nick-named ‘Banana-beard’, and his appearance was very important in the plot so I did describe him. I didn’t however include any description of the main character. The settings too are left as open as possible.

Dee: Seeing as you don’t get to meet the illustrator, do you have to put instructions to them on your manuscript?

I don’t include ‘notes to illustrator’ with any story submission. For reasons already mentioned, I want the illustrator to have as much room as possible to bring their own interpretation to the text.

Dee: How much information/instruction do you think a writer needs to give the illustrator?

Very little. A picture book is a collaboration between writer, publishing team and illustrator. Each brings their own skills to the project. To provide too much detail could be at the very least restrictive of an illustrator, and at worst, insulting to suggest that they won’t have enough imagination to interpret your text. My job as the writer is to prepare the best text I can, and then let the other members of the team provide their part.

Dee: Do you use your own animals/children as models for your books? For example were Sheep and Goat a sheep and goat that you knew personally?

I love sheep. I think they are wonderful silly, clever, soft, frustrating creatures! Goats I know less well. None of my children remotely resemble either Sheep or Goat!
Nor is my Old Sailor based on anyone I know, although having three sons, I certainly have witnessed enough episodes of extreme eating.
‘Ebi’s Boat’ was written after observing the different passions pursued by my three sons. But although they constantly inspire and astound me, I’m not sure I could ever write directly about any of them.

Thanks heaps for visiting, Dee, and for asking me about picture books. Everyone works differently, and hopefully this chat will entice others to share how they work.

For my writing tip, visit Dee at ‘Tuesday Writing Tips