‘I felt excited and desperate to do such a great book justice’

The Imaginary is an exciting new book collaboration between Reading author and poet AF Harrold and illustrator Emily Gravett. Here we find out from Emily how she got involved in the process … and what she really makes of AF. 

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You are a trained artist, what is it about illustration that attracts you so much?

I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m not even 100% sure what an artist is, but I am definitely an illustrator. At university I made books in the bookbinding department and became fascinated by the structure and pacing of books.

As an illustrator I want to communicate a story. I want it to be accessible and to reach as many people as possible. There’s a pleasure in knowing that the books I’ve illustrated have places in the lives of people I’ve never met.

How much collaboration goes on between the writer and the illustrator?

I’m sure that the amount of collaboration between illustrator and writer is different for each book. I usually both write and illustrate my books, so just illustrating is fairly novel for me.

What was it like working with AF Harrold?

I met AF near the beginning of working on The Imaginary. I’m slightly in awe of anyone who can write so well so I was a bit nervous, but he was very friendly and had an impressive ginger beard. He seemed happy that I was illustrating his book (which was a HUGE relief, because I REALLY wanted to do it) I showed him my sketchbooks and we talked through some ideas then I went home and got to work.

We emailed each other every so often, but largely he left the drawing to me, and I appreciated that!

What is the process of illustrating someone else’s book?

I got very excited when I read AF’s manuscript and quickly filled up a sketchbook with drawings of the characters and notes about how I wanted the book to look. I took my ideas into Bloomsbury and talked it all over with the excellent editors there who were really enthusiastic (hurrah!) I’m used to illustrating much shorter picture books, so it was a big challenge to tackle something so long. I had a wall covered with chapter plans and rough sketches. Sometimes I felt really confused – like I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but mostly I felt excited and desperate to do such a great book justice.

There are even pictures on the corner of the page and in between paragraphs, is this your idea?

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The pictures on the corner of the pages are a flick book. That little bird is a Bunting (just like the main character in the book). If you flick through you can see it flying and what happens to it. Putting it in was my idea. I LOVE things like that. Playing with books is one of the reasons I became an illustrator. I love endpapers, bindings and all things booky.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on the last of my Bear and Hare books. They are a series of four picture books for young children. I’m really enjoying drawing Bear with a big fat wax crayon after all the delicate ink drawings in The Imaginary.

You have a special relationship with children I think. How do you get into the mind of a child and put their world onto paper?

I don’t think that I do have a special relationship with children. Children are just people. They may behave differently to adults, but that is because they haven’t learnt to control their thoughts and emotions yet. Supermarket shopping often makes me want to lie down and scream, so I think that emotions don’t change however old you are! When I make books I’m not thinking exclusively of children. I make books for people whether they are 1 or 100.

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and illustrated by Emily Gravett is published by Bloomsbury in hardback, £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-4088-5246-0

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