The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Rebecca Elliott

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Rebecca Elliott


Summary: Bookbag really enjoyed Milo's Pet Egg and jumped at the chance to ask Rebecca Elliott some questions. We're delighted we did as she's provided some fascinating responses! We've subsequently read Just Because which we loved all the more, and Cub's First Winter which also really charmed us.
Date: 16 August 2010
Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath

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Bookbag really enjoyed Milo's Pet Egg and jumped at the chance to ask Rebecca Elliott some questions. We're delighted we did as she's provided some fascinating responses! We've subsequently read Just Because which we loved all the more, and Cub's First Winter which also really charmed us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Rebecca Elliott: It's a strange thing because when you're working on a book there's a ton of people you know you have to please - your agent, the publisher, booksellers, parents - without these people your work would never get in the little hands of your intended audience in the first place! But if truth be told you just want to make books that children will love and want to immediately demand read it again! at the end. So I guess in an ideal world I'm seeing a cosy room of ridiculously cute Von-Trapp-esque children all gathering round my books, laughing and ahhing in the right places and pointing at their favourite illustrations.

  • BB: There are many egg-hatching stories out there, but what separates Milo and Snappy from the other characters?

RE: Ha! True - the old egg story is a cliche - but then what child isn't fascinated by a found egg under a tree? Plus I think I don't really see it so much as an egg-hatching story but see it more as a story about friendship and fun - unlike other egg-hatching stories the main character is not waiting for the egg to hatch, he thinks the egg is already as it should be - and with no expectation he makes friends with it anyway and has various adventures with it. The child reading the book is of course far more aware of what Milo's friend really is - when they notice the crack appear in the egg I think they rather enjoy their own knowing anticipation as opposed to Milo's horror that his friend is 'broken'.

  • BB: Who or what inspired you to become an author and illustrator?

RE: I think there's no one book that inspired me as a child - I loved books by Dick King-Smith, Roald Dahl, C S Lewis, A A Milne, and any stories about animals really, but I think I was often far more interested in creating new stories. I remember endlessly poring through two natural world books my parents had which included wonderful photographs of animals and laboriously copying them in my many, many sketch books and then making up stories about them. I recently unearthed a project of mine from when I was around 6 years old saying that when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer. I then grew up though and realised the likelihood of that actually happening was slim at best and so did a degree in Philosophy (which made sense at the time, although ironically nothing really makes sense after doing a degree in Philosophy) but then, realising I was still a child at heart, returned to that dream and here I am - how lucky am I!!

  • BB: Do you prefer the writing, illustrating, or does it feel like two sides of the same coin?

RE: I've been illustrating children's books for eight years now but it wasn't until I started writing them as well that I really felt I had my dream job. They are absolutely tied together in picture books - and the very best ones are a seamless marriage between words and pictures, each enhancing the other - it's hard to do that when you are just sent a text from a faceless author. So I don't think I see them as separate - whenever I'm writing a text I am constantly imagining the accompanying illustrations - and I love the whole process!

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

RE: I think ideas for books can come at you at any time - often on long walks and drives - I'm the eternal daydreamer. Then the idea will normally stay floating about in my head for a good few weeks (sometimes much longer!) before I begin to write anything down - and then it's a case of grabbing my notebook and scribbling what I have down, along with little thumbnail drawings of any page compositions I have in my head and then re-arranging and editing it until it starts to resemble a 12 spread picture book. Then I get to work in my studio at the bottom of my garden on character sketches and at some point I'll hurl it over to my agent who'll give me some idea if what I've been working on is worth spending more time on or whether it's actually a load of bobbins.

  • BB: Is it hard for children's authors and illustrators to get the same recognition as adult writers?

RE: Yes I think so - particularly children's writers as EVERYONE thinks they can write a children's book! The truth is that yes, anyone can write a children's book but most of them will be utter rubbish - the very best children's book texts are an intricate delicate artform (one which I have by no means mastered yet!!) which must be child-friendly without being patronising, exciting without being needlessly frantic, heartwarming without being sentimental, humorous without trying too hard whilst all the while being utterly original and fresh. It's a tall order!

I think children's illustration, on the other hand, is starting to get far more recognition in the art world and indeed children's book illustrations are rightly becoming highly collectible and sought-after now (I'm very proud of the original Anthony Browne pieces I managed to get my hands on at a charity auction last month - beautiful!). I can only hope that my own artwork will be sought after in years to come!

  • BB: If you could click your fingers and change one thing about children's literature, what would it be?

RE: More openness in picture book publishers to try new things - new subjects, new styles. I know these are difficult times in the publishing world but come on people - that doesn't mean we have to just publish more books about mice and bears having a cuddle!

  • BB: Which three books should every child read?

RE: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment and how are you finding it?

RE: Believe it or not it's Something Sensational to Read in the Train by Gyles Brandreth! Not a fan of the man's Conservatism (or those 1980s jumpers - what was that?) but I do think he's one of the most fascinating, intelligent (and funny) people alive today. Please don't judge me.

  • BB: What's next for Rebecca Elliott?

RE: I think I might go and have a crumpet - oh you mean longer term? Well I've had three picture books just launched (Just Because, Milo's Pet Egg and Cub's First Winter) so I'm doing a fair amount of school visits, picture book workshops and the like promoting those. Also, Just Because which is about my son and my daughter (who has severe special needs) is creating quite a stir so I'm writing a few articles on disability in children's literature for various newspapers and magazines. And I've just finished the sequel to Just Because called Sometimes which is coming out next year and am now setting to work on a new book of mine called Zoo Girl which has only 12 words of text (but ironically was probably the hardest book I've written!). AND I've just finished a new text called Oli and the Last Dinosaur so as long as it finds a publisher I'll hopefully I'll be working on that after Zoo Girl! As long as ideas keep coming I'll keep making books - and hopefully someone out there will enjoy them.

  • BB: Yowzer! You're busy! Thanks so much for fitting this interview in - it was an absolute pleasure. Good luck with all the books!

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