Take Two: Illustrated lives
Children's author URSULA DUBOSARSKY worked with ANDREW JOYNER - the illustrator for her latest picture book, The Terrible Plop - at an artists' retreat in Bundanon, near Nowra.
My main motivation in writing picture books is that I want the children to feel loved. While they are reading this book, you want them to feel that they are in a universe where they are loved.
I have always loved reading picture books, both as a child and a parent. I was one of those people who always wanted to be a writer.
I tried doing poems, plays, novels but when a friend suggested doing a children's book that she could illustrate, that particular book just seemed to flow off the pen. It wasn't like deliberate choice but it was destiny.
I came across this Tibetan myth called The Terrible Plop and it's a Henny Penny, Chicken Licken mass-hysteria tale. I knew instinctively that it was for me so I reinterpreted the myth.
I had seen Andrew's work and really liked the spirit of it. There is something lovely, funny and a sweet emotion. Andrew had not done a lot of stuff for children but I suggested him to the publisher. I had no vision of what the book would look like, but it was more the spirit of his illustrations.
Since I don't have any artistic abilities, I feel the illustrator needs a free space so they can make the book their own, not painting by numbers. Maybe that makes me an easy author to work with.
Andrew is delightful, interesting, well-read and funny. Obviously, his drawings are an expression of him but there was no sense that I knew him already through his work when I met him.
Some artists who have done illustrations for some of my books I have never met. There's a woman in Melbourne who has a great sympathy for my work, and we send each other Christmas cards, but we have never met. I don't know if that's normal or not.
I know on the whole, publishers prefer to find the illustrator. My assumption is that there has been a history of the writer saying insensitive things to the artist and it's very easy to put people off. It's very easy to suddenly lose heart or interest in a project in anything creative. Both parties are probably a little bit hypersensitive.
With picture books, I just feel pleasure and happiness where with my novels, I feel a bit stressed. With books for younger children I am operating at a more joyous level.
I have two children - William, 5, and Charlotte, 3, - and I read Ursula's books at home. I like the imagination involved in it. You know when you are a parent reading to children, it helps a lot if you actually like reading the story, if it appeals to you as an adult. Ursula's books certainly have that. They are beautifully written.
This one is a simple rhyme and it's easy to perform it for children. Some books, you have to labour through.
The book we have done together is called The Terrible Plop and is due to be published in February but was only finished two weeks ago. It's one of those mass-hysteria stories like Chicken Licken where animals hear a noise which they think is a terrible monster but is really just an apple falling.
There's this big scary bear who thinks he's the scariest animal in the forest and wants to see it, but another apple falls and he is scared too. Eventually the littlest animal, a rabbit, works it out.
This is my first picture book. I normally do illustrations for newspapers and magazines such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
I have only met Ursula twice in person because she lives in Sydney and I live in a smallish country town not far from Adelaide.
I feel we get on but I don't think you could do it if you have a difficult relationship or if one person was unhappy. It would be hard to work with an author who insists how it should be done and Ursula is certainly not like that.
It's been important having my own children of the same age. I show them roughs and ask their opinion. They've given me general excitement back and just love that you are drawing pictures. They were a bit over it the last couple of months when I was snowed under with it, trying to meet the deadlines.
When I look at the end result I know that if I was doing this by myself, I wouldn't have come up with this. It's been a very positive experience because you know that teamwork has produced a great result.
I have worked as an illustrator professionally for 10 years after studying for a doctorate in English and worked in a record shop. When I find myself complaining about it, I remind myself that I am working from home drawing pictures. It's a hard thing to complain about.
Published in Illawarra Mercury on August 30, 2008.