Drawing on the imagination | Debi Gliori and Faye Hanson offer an insight into the world of picture book writing and illustration. Gliori is the creator of many instantly recognisable books, including No Matter What and The Tobermory Cat. Hanson has just published Midnight at the Zoo and The Wonder. Together they discuss how to give a child space to imagine, dream and question the world between the covers of a book.
“A book really comes to life in your reader’s head.”
Debi talks us through A Hebridean Alphabet – it’s not one specific Hebridean alphabet but a conglomeration of many. She’s wander and think “what a perfect sand dune, I have to put it in my book.” She shows us her sketchbook, snapshots of her travelling the islands. “I thought, what a perfect place.”
It’s not a literal A-Z, but it is; it’s up to the children to spot most of the letters as they encounter dogs, walk, skim stones, just have a thoroughly nice and normal day. “Nothing really does happen, but everything happens. It’s a perfect childhood day.”
Faye then talks through The Wonder – she reads it to the audience, it begins: “This is a boy whose head is full of wonder” and in his life, he’s told to keep his head from the clouds. Until he reaches art class. His dreams unfurl and become the world around him. It’s a whimsical universe, and these ideas – the cotton candy clouds – came first, but was originally difficult to thread into a story. Her background is in fashion – working with Alexander McQueen – so instinctually she uses moodboards to help plan.
“Every child is an artist.”
There’s a mix of magic and their own imagination, but they don’t risk questioning their ideas’ origins too much for fear that they lose them. Each illustrator is a petri dish of different influences.
“Every child is an artist,” says Faye. People just throw obstacles in the way. That’s what her story looks at. It’s not all about the child (though it mostly is!) but at times also offering something for the parent reading to the child.
They talk about the power of imagination, the clash of artistic leanings vs commercial, and their own personal writing and illustrating approach, but what remains at the core is that the book is never really theirs in its entirety.
Debi says that you’ve only got a half a book until it’s got library stamps on it. You yourself can only take it so far. Faye agrees, saying, “A book really comes to life in your reader’s head.”