It’s National Bookstart Week this week (4th-10th June 2018) – the BookTrust’s annual celebration of the joys and benefits of sharing books, stories and rhymes from as early an age as possible. There are some lovely things going on in libraries across North Yorkshire with this one specifically in our area.
To celebrate the week, the Oxford Mumbler has interviewed Emily Gravett! Read about it here….
Reading with my son has been one of my biggest joys of motherhood, and I know I’ll always remember very fondly our bedtimes snuggled up with a few of our favourite reads and a bottle of warm milk… It’s pretty much the only time he’ll sit long enough for a cuddle these days!
Emily Gravett’s books feature VERY prominently in our bedtimes. With every book I read of hers, I love her more and more – and she is now firmly my favourite children’s book author / illustrator. She’s a genius, each of her books is totally unique, the story is quirky and fun, and the illustrations are just utterly beautiful. She’s also lived a very cool life – travelling round on a bus for most of her twenties, training to be an illustrator with a toddler in tow, and winning the Kate Greenaway Medal for her very first book, Wolves.
Basically, you might say I’m a fan… and I decided to get in touch with her in honour of National Bookstart Week to see is she would answer some questions for Mumbler. She wrote straight back saying she’d be happy to, compounding my love!
Oxford Mumbler: Which book are you most proud of and why? Emily Gravett: I’m proud of different books for different reasons. It’s very hard to be objective about a book when you’re in the middle of making it, or for a few years after its been published. This means I end up being fonder of the books I did a long time ago, because I’ve forgotten the problems associated with making them!
For that reason I’m proud of my earliest books, especially Wolves and Orange Pear Apple Bear, which I made really quickly whilst at university. They weren’t the best in terms of artwork, but they have an energy that I find a lot harder to create now.
I’m also very proud of The Rabbit Problem. It involved maths, which is not my strong point, and was definitely the cleverest of my books. Recently I’ve been proud of Tidy because it felt like a change of pace. It’s always good to experiment and try new things, and that is what I felt I was doing with Tidy. I used more colour, it was much more of a narrative story, and it was in rhyme. All very challenging!
OM: What is your favourite picture book and why? EG: My favourite picture book from my own childhood was John Vernon Lord’s Giant Jam Sandwich. It has a great rhyming text, and really detailed intricate illustrations that I used to pore over for hours as a child. I don’t think it really matters what style an illustration is in, but it needs to engage the reader, and those drawings definitely do that.
OM: You lived on a bus for a long time – how has this influenced your career? EG: It’s hard to quantify how living on the road has influenced my career. I don’t think there is any direct link. It wasn’t until after I had moved into a house that I decided that I wanted to be an illustrator, but I’ve often wondered if the eight years I spent in the bus fostered some of the creativity and independent thinking that is required in being an illustrator. If we needed something, we generally couldn’t afford to buy it, so were always coming up with ingenius (cheap) solutions. We weren’t expected to conform to the norm, and I think that allowed us to be creative.
OM: You managed to follow your dream with a young family, which is very impressive! What are your top tips for managing work and family? EG: I consider myself exceedingly lucky. I was 29 and my daughter was four when I started university. We got bursary’s and grants that helped to pay towards childcare, and I took out a student loan. I think it would be a lot tougher decision today to decide to go to university with the amount of debt involved.
Another major factor was that I had (and still have) a very supportive partner. He understood how important it was for me to follow my dreams, and was happy to do whatever he needed to to help. Whilst I was at university, and at the beginning of my career that involved a lot of plumbing (he’s a heating engineer) to earn money to support us. We’ve always shared childcare and the domestic stuff, but as my career ramped up he shouldered a little more of the house stuff and childcare to free me up to work. Illustration was a great job when my daughter was at school because working from home I was (mostly) always there.
OM: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators? EG: I’m very bad at giving illustration advice. I think that everyone I’ve talked to has a different story of how they’ve broken into it, but for the actual drawing and writing my advice is to just do it. If there’s a book in your head- put it on paper. Draw (a lot) and write (a lot).