I have a big mouth- it’s what gets me in front of audiences to entertain and hopefully inspire people in the world of creativity. But very occasionally, I wish I could shut up.
A year or two ago, at a gathering of writers in Tauranga, I said ‘If you are an author and your work has been illustrated by someone else and you feel the illustrations are not up to standard, then do say something to your publisher. If you say nothing, nothing will be done.’ Oh je regrette…
This comment was born of seeing a friend go through the agony of her first book poorly illustrated by an artist who could and should have done better. There are many reasons for sub standard pictures; the illustrator ran out of time to do better ones, there was not enough money in the budget, they thought they could draw but couldn’t really… and no author should have to live with a picture that tells a thousand wrong words. You shouldn’t for example, have to have your main character, the dog drawn as a seal because that’s what the artist liked. There is no excuse for misinterpretation.
But …there is a strong line between giving your opinion and trying to orchestrate the illustration process.
Many authors will confirm that they very rarely get the chance to say boo, but if you do, then don’t drive your illustrator to despair. They have most often completed years of rigorous study to degree or MA level, thrown all they have on the line to freelance and are professionals in their field. If you have successfully achieved that which is so elusive- a publishing contract then excellent. So does that then make you an authority on design and illustration? No. Equally, an illustrator does not see it as their prerogative to give unwanted advice on plot, structure and dialogue- unless they are a writer too, in which case they’ll illustrate their own work (the full 10% royalty…mmmm)
So, writers (and I am both, so I can see it from each POV), be very aware of your role in a picture book. Your job is to write it. On wonderful and rare occasions, you can work collaboratively with the artist to achieve the result you both want (this often requires a high degree of friendship and collegiality the like of which is seen with the fabulous duos, Kate De Goldi and Jacqui Colley or Jennifer Beck and Lindy Fisher). Apart from making sure that a dog is not a seal, therein your role is at an end. Hand it over, trust the artist and your publishing company- they do know what they are doing.
As a footnote, today I was rather gobsmacked to find out that the first book I ever illustrated in 1984 ‘ The Old Man and The Cat’ by Anthony Holcroft is being re-illustrated and published by Penguin later this year. I felt like a dumped first wife and my baby thrown over for a whole new family. Then I checked out Leah Palmer Priess’s blog. She has posted some of the work up there, and I have to say, it is beautiful. The book will be stunning; I shall be a gracious ex. Je ne regrette rien.