My first children's book, Polly and the North Star won the BOOKTRUST Early years Award 2004 for Best New Illustrator.
I love the process of writing and illustrating picture books. Sometimes ideas for a story come from something someone says or something I see. Sometimes it is inspired by someone's character or a child's circumstances. My first Picture book, Polly and the North Star came from a childhood memory. At least that is where it began. Sometimes ideas come into my mind like gifts from another place. I can see the story in it's entirety like a picture. But it's my job to realise it as a story.
When I get an idea for a story I write and write without looking at it until I finish otherwise I'll start editing immediately. Then I leave it for a couple of days so I can create some mental distance before I go back to it. As picture books tend to be about 32 pages long I have to reduce the story down to it's essence. I was told by a great picture book editor a story has to have an arc, a beginning, a middle and an end. This advice really helps me. I always see a rainbow whenever I think of this. I was also told by the same person that the story is the most important thing. I keep this in mind especially because I can illustrate. I feel a great responsibility towards kids when I write. I have to ask the story questions at every turn the way a child might.
Being able to illustrate my own stories is great because what I can't say with words I will say with the drawing. I love how you can speak to children through pictures. Writing and drawing go hand in hand for me. Because I can see the characters in my mind I start drawing them sometimes even before the writing. But I'm always very aware that it is the story I am illustrating. So I start by sketching out little thumb nail drawings and laying them next to each other like a story board (see Hector's Island). I love drawing like this. I can begin to see the stories movement too. Plus the drawings help me work out the writing.
Once I have the story in writing and I have worked out the lay out in thumb nail sketches. I start drawing the pages. For me this is the hard part. I search for the right expression in a characters face the same way a writer searches for the right words.
I want the reader to see what the character is feeling inside. I guess I've always felt that this is how I connect to children because they can't always read and I'm trying to help them with their own feelings. Eyes are interesting as soon as you put light into them the characters come alive whether they are animal, insect or human. I am always surprised and I find myself saying, 'Oh, hello, there you are.' It's quite magical.
I am always amazed by solutions and how they appear. They either float into my mind walk into my mind or appear on paper. I feel changed by the process which continues to teach me with every story I work on. It make's me so happy. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do.