Just Imagine: You’ve just celebrated 13 years of collaboration on children’s books. Congratulations! Could you talk us a little bit through the process of how you work together?
Pippa: I’m lucky enough to get to work with Nick on ideas for the pictures, and that’s not something that always happens with picture books. Some publishers like to keep writers and illustrators firmly apart. Of course most of the visual content comes from Nick’s fertile brain, but sometimes I can suggest, for example a three-headed alien dinosaur fossil, and that’s what appears, Nick Sharratt style, in the pictures. That’s a delight for me!
Nick: First we work out the individual themes for the twelve spreads in the You Choose books ( did you know, by the way, that picture books nearly always have twelve spreads – or twenty four pages – of story? ) Then we have great fun thinking of all the things to include in each picture. To ensure the most satisfying selection of animals, foods, vehicles etc two heads are so much better than one!
JI: (One from my 9 year old son, who has grown up with the “You Choose” books & loves the new one!) Where do you get your ideas from?
Pippa: The original idea for the first You Choose book was a simple one. I saw how much my daughters enjoyed looking through, and choosing things from, catalogues, and I thought, ‘What if you could have a catalogue of the really big things in life?’.
Nick: I used to play the catalogue game too – my favorite catalogues for conjuring up my fantasy life were the ones from Habitat. I also loved drawing incredibly detailed pictures when I was a teenager and it was seeing one of those pictures at a book conference that made Pippa think I might be a good choice to illustrate You Choose.
JI: Nick – do you have any advice for budding illustrators, particularly those wanting to work in children’s books?
Nick: Budding illustrators will already be spending as much time drawing as they possibly can. What is incredibly useful for all artists, is to practise drawing from real life as well as from imagination. It really improves your technical skills and increases your powers of observation, which is important even if your actual illustration work is very stylised. Being confident about drawing people will give you the most options if you want to work in children’s books.
JI: Pippa – when you are writing or planning a new book, do you have a fixed idea in your head of how your characters should look & which illustrator you would like to work with?
Pippa: Sometimes I know my characters so well that I’d certainly recognise them if I saw them walking down the street. The one time a story of mine had a photographic cover, the child it showed wasn’t the child I ‘knew’. But, somehow, when characters are drawn or painted it’s easier to accept them as my created people than photographs are. I don’t know why. With ‘You Choose’ I was lucky enough to be asked who I’d like to illustrate it, and I knew exactly who I wanted to ask for … Nick Sharratt! His style fits so much fun stuff in, all clearly depicted, and beautiful. We discussed and created those characters together.
JI: And finally, we have to ask, are they any more “You Choose” or “Just Imagine” (obviously a favourite of ours!) books in the pipeline?
Pippa: There just might be …!
Nick: Watch this space.