Thank you, SCBWI Bologna 2008

Thank you, SCBWI Bologna 2008–especially Anita Loughrey–for offering Cynsations feature interviews with your wonderful speakers! Have a great conference!

Read the entire SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series!

And don’t miss today’s interview with author/SCBWI Bologna planner Erzsi Deak, who says, “Putting on a conference is great fun, in that you get immediate gratification. If you are an organization freak like I am, one who finds pleasure in checking things of to-do lists, then by all means, organize a conference. In fact, send me your resume!”

Cynsational Links

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY): “a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together.”

Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, a refereed journal published quarterly by IBBY.

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award: “a citation awarded to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.”

Where “Every Book Counts:” U.K. independent publishers come in many shapes and colors, with one thing in common by Edward Russell-Walling from Publishers Weekly (March 17, 2008). Here’s a sneak peek: “The U.K.’s Independent Publishers Guild has around 460 publishing members with a combined turnover of £500 million, and they are gradually increasing, not shrinking, in number as technology lowers the cost of entry. But the premium layer is visible and influential in a way that most U.S. independents are not.” Source: Bookninja.

Cynsational Notes

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is so far the most extensive topic series to be hosted at Cynsations. I’m curious as to my readers’ thoughts on it. Please feel free to write me or leave a comment at LJ or MySpace! Thanks!

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author Interview: Erzsi Deak

Erzsi Deak (pronounced “aire-zshee”); “Erzsi” is a Hungarian diminutive for “Elizabeth” (like “Beth” or “Betty”). She grew up believing that “Deak” meant “royal scribe,” but learned a few years ago that it’s closer to “Clark” or “Clerk.” The royal blood was good while it lasted. A journalist for more than twenty years, Erzsi has covered fashion and children’s features from Alaska to San Francisco to Paris. She has tramped the Alaska Pipeline looking for environmental problems, worked as a camp counselor managing the craft hut, and has always worked as a writer. Words, her children, husband, and puppy Bingley, are her life.

In addition to working on graphic novels, picture books, novels, short stories and some feature articles, she is the International Advisor Chairperson for and sits on the Board of Advisors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as well to organizing with Bridget Strevens-Marzo the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference. Erzsi was born in California before the time of things starting with I (the Internet, iPod, iPhone), or even the fax, and lives in Paris, France.

What led to your passion for youth literature?

My impatience with adult literature. Somehow, the majority of the time I’m reading a book destined for “big people,” I find myself groaning and reaching for the Xacto knife: Cut! Cut! Cut! Youth literature doesn’t have the luxury of being flabby or poorly written–I’m definitely a reader that won’t wander through the mire, waiting around for the story to grab me.

I find with the books I actually finish are generally for the under-18s, tightly written and exquisitely edited to bring the story, the characters, the voice right up front and keep me reading straight through to the end.

That said, even in my teens, when I worked at what I recall was called the Northern Lights Bookstore in Fairbanks, I was buying and collecting children’s picture books, so my passion has been around for a long time.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

Bruises, maybe? Seriously, I had worked as a published journalist doing feature articles–travel, fashion, food, children’s topics–and editor for years and knew that I had no choice but to work with words and that it wasn’t the simplest of career choices.

I started writing fiction in my twenties for adults. I didn’t submit anything at that time; I was writing ad copy for Macy’s California and freelancing for small Northern California newspapers then, but I kept working on the fiction.

After I had children, often a genre turning point, I was working part-time as a Chemical Price Reporter and writing stories any other minute free that I had–having zero time is a great way to stay focused! Those stories are still in the proverbial desk drawer, though I have reworked one and I hope to see it come out as a successful quiet picture book in the not-too-distant future.

But the bumps and the stumbles… Coming also from advertising, I employed gimmicks that were not appreciated and quoted my children’s love of my work (don’t groan!).

And then I joined SCBWI. Joining was a big deal. I may be a doer, but I’m not a joiner, so this was major. But by doing so and launching the SCBWI France chapter, I managed to put myself through my own version of graduate school and came out knowing so much more about the business of children’s publishing.

Getting to actual publication with Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins)(anthologists interview) took two years from the inception of the book and five years from my getting involved with the SCBWI and children’s books in a real way. The journey was worth it, and I’m happy to see it continuing.

What are you working on now? Any goals for the coming year?

Besides the material that I have out with editors, I’m working on the sequel to a graphic novel, the prequel to a middle-grade novel, a number of picture books that are almost ready to go, a couple of easy-reader collections, an easy-reader series… I’m working out the details on a YA novel that started as a short story and also what it is I’m trying to do with my Alaskan adventure story and another mystery.

I’d like to do a follow-up to Period Pieces and see it go to paper. This is a book that’s usually checked-out of the library when I do random searches, so I’d like to make sure kids can also find it in a bookstore. Editing Period Pieces with Kristin Litchman was high point for me — it was great working with all those terrifically talented authors and the wonderful editor Rosemary Brosnan.

Writing short stories and working on anthologies is good fun, and I was happy to have my story, “Wild Strawberries” accepted into the anthology, Lines in the Sand: New Writings on War & Peace (Frances Lincoln, UK, & The Disinformation Company, US). “Wild Strawberries” was such a pleasure to write, I might do more with that story–especially considering the state of the world today.

Goals for the coming year? To tie up all wandering plot lines and buckle down with the historical YA for the summer.

You’re based in Paris. Do you have any particular insights to share about the European children’s book community?

The main thing to note is that there are some absolutely gorgeous books being made here. Stunning, really. We hope to share some of these with the attendees at the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in March 2008. It’s good to remember that the center of the universe is a moving target, if not merely subjective!

You’re the International Chairperson for SCBWI and an organizing force behind SCBWI Bologna! What does all this involve?

Insanity would be the first thought that comes to mind. But if you are really on top of it, a fabulous Worker Bee Bonnet, because that’s what it takes: work.

The benefits are terrific, and I love the people I’ve met in the course of the last five years working on the Bologna conference, but my own writing has suffered from lack of attention.

Putting on a conference is great fun, in that you get immediate gratification. If you are an organization freak like I am, one who finds pleasure in checking things of to-do lists, then by all means, organize a conference. In fact, send me your resume!

It involves a certain vision, I suppose. And I can thank Bridget Strevens-Marzo, my longtime conference-organizing partner for sharing the same vision and working with me over the years to bring it to life: Bringing Quality Children’s Book Creators and Publishers together to talk shop, share, expand their horizons, cross borders, challenge the norm, and work together. The idea is to keep us all on our toes and thinking–creatively and broadly.

What inspired you to take on these jobs?

I took on the Advisor position for France when I launched the region because I was looking for a community of like-minded people. It’s lonely being a writer or an illustrator and being a mom in a foreign country can be pretty lonely, too.

I have to say that my best friends here are those I’ve met following this path. It’s true, I couldn’t live without them–they make me feel part of something, read my silly fifth drafts, send me Facebook drinks or sheep when I get a rejection or some form of mediocre news, and they jump for joy when the good news comes in. So the idea of community would be the first reason.

I took on the International Advisor Chair role for the SCBWI to keep the global vision alive. Living outside the U.S., one realizes there’s more than just the U.S. in the world though you can’t debate that it’s the biggest children’s book publishing market, even considering China’s population.

I wanted to bring these other countries and their literary voices out into the limelight. We’ve been lucky because Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver (president and executive director of the SCBWI) and the Board of Advisors have been very supportive of this growth of the SCBWI outside the U.S.

We are interested in helping writers, illustrators, and publishers in countries like Mongolia and Albania (just two examples) grow their writers, illustrators, and publishing houses.

There was a period when I was fed up with sharing information with people who “only” wanted to “get published”–these were people who just weren’t listening, not putting in the time to learn the trade, work their craft. That was the point when I was happy to help local regions with less established children’s publishing histories improve their lot, as-it-were. A noble moment!

What are their challenges?

Currently, I’m the International Advisor Chair, which is like being the director for non-U.S. chapters, or a godmother, and still on the Board of Advisors, and the Bologna Conference Organizer. They overlap a little in that we’re talking the international world of children’s books, but other than that, they are separate.

The challenges are: It’s mostly about not doing too much. These are both volunteer positions, and as I said above, with immediate gratification, it’s easy to get swept up in the doing and not in my own writing. As my mother, the psycho-therapist, would say, maintaining boundaries is an important challenge.

A concrete challenge is working with the regional advisors to surmount problems with local establishments that feel threatened by the development of the SCBWI in their country. I encourage the local advisors to view their mission to meet the needs of the local membership, working with the existing children’s book groups or organizations. Convincing certain groups or individuals that we aren’t out to steal their jobs or glory is a big challenge, as is convincing them that our goals are the same: producing great children’s literature.

But little things like sharing information or the concept of networking aren’t natural to all societies, so it’s a huge challenge to work within and adapt to the different cultures without stepping on too many toes.

Generally speaking, the SCBWI’s activities in local chapters provide continuing education in the form of talks, workshops, and critique groups. This usually differs with organizations like IBBY or other writers’/illustrators’ groups that act more as unions for their members.

And one of the greatest challenges is doing it all on a shoestring budget and keeping the price tag way down. Especially in countries where [average] annual salaries make children’s books or belonging to a professional organization like the SCBWI a luxury.

What do you love about them?

For both positions, it returns to the community for me. The community is my major love. I love that I’ve connected with people around the world who share my passion for youth literature. I love when I see their work published at home and abroad. I love shouting about the great things the advisors are doing and the growth of the global community of children’s writers and illustrators.

In the early days, I started SCBWI Expression OnLine, an online newsletter geared to the non-U.S. members around the world. Beaulah Taguiwalo took it over a few years ago and has turned it into a major resource for people on the tops of lonely peaks and others living in huge metropolises. How great is that to connect these people so that they don’t feel alone? To know that somewhere in the world, whether five minutes away or 10,000 miles away, someone else is reading their words, sharing in their experience?

For the Conference Organizer job, it’s about bringing together different people who might never have met and making a little magic happen. The Bologna Conference focuses on craft and passion for youth literature. That said, we’re always happy to hear about a book sold or a contract made, of course, and we hope our efforts facilitate in creating long-lasting professional relationships and the best books possible.

Who are the other major contributors to the conference planning and organization? What are their roles?

Bridget Strevens-Marzo, as I’ve mentioned, is my primary partner in crime when it comes to both posts. Happily for me and the SCBWI membership (heck, the whole publishing world), she graciously agreed to take on the role of SCBWI International Illustrator Liaison and to co-organize the Bologna conference.

She is also on the SCBWI Board of Advisors and continues to create winning illustrations from perennials like Margaret Wild‘s Kiss, Kiss! (Little Hare, Aust. S&S US) to Philemon Sturges‘s How Do You Make A Baby Smile? (Harper, PW starred review) to the graphic The Big Book for Little Hands (Bayard, France/ Tate UK, British Book Design Award shortlist). Bridget writes and illustrates from France with publishers across the world, and her books come in many international co-editions. She could be the SCBWI’s International Publishing Poster Child!

Kathleen Ahrens is the Advisor to Taiwan as well as my amazing assistant and conference coordinator. She has made my job a hundred million (no exaggeration) times easier and more fun, due to her organizational wunder-skills and her fabulous sense-of-humor. A linguist and a writer, in addition to coordinating the volunteer staff for the Conference, she is in charge of the schedule for the SCBWI Showcase, the program of events for the first-ever stand at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (Hall 26, stand 66).

Angela Cerrito won the Kimberly Colen Grant at the SCBWI NY conference in 2005 for her project in Poland and was suddenly on my radar. Since that time, she’s moved from Italy to Germany, and we’ve stayed in contact. She continues to amaze me with her boundless energy, critique-group-building abilities and her can-do attitude. She’s the major force behind the reserved individual critiques and informal critique groups as well as uniting the Bologna conference community in a Yahoo! group.

Anita Loughrey is a writer and blogger from the U.K. who has interviewed all the speakers for the conference. What with the number of speakers we have, it’s no simple task interviewing busy people in a short amount of time! Proofreader and writer Claudia Classon helped make sense of a few conundrums in the interviews that will prevent much embarrassment for all of us!

In addition to these individuals, Doug Cushman created the gorgeous 2008 conference logo, really getting the feeling of Bologna–from the well-known Neptune Fountain in the Piazza Maggiore to the Bologna red-brown of the city’s meandering covered archways.

His logo combined with the fabulous illustration by Marc Boutavant for the closing party invitation, make for a sophisticated yet playful look for the conference and the SCBWI in Bologna. We can’t thank them both enough. We also appreciate Bayard coordinating with Marc to make the illustration possible. Marc Boutavant is co-creator with Emmanuel Guibert of the ARIOL comic book series published by Bayard Editions, France. I’m a major ARIOL groupie, so am also thrilled to have Ariol and his best friend Ramono with us in Bologna.

Happily, the Executive Office (in L.A.) has provided Web and registration support. In addition, we have Natalie Lorenzi coordinating the catering in Italian (so we eat what we think we’re eating) and Jeanne de Sainte Marie serving as “bookstore manager.” Jeanne was the only SCBWI member in France when I called to suggest we start a chapter and throw a “Literary Soirée” in Paris on a strike day. Bringing books from outside the country is always expensive and somewhat traumatic–we want to make the books available to the attendees and sell them for the speakers, but do not want everyone’s suitcases to break the airport scales.

The main thing to know and remember about this, and all local SCBWI, events is that they are run by volunteers on volunteer energy. Nothing would happen without them. That brings us back to my obsession with Community…

How has the conference evolved over the years?

It’s gone from one day to two very full days. The BolognaFiere has been incredibly supportive and generous in making the SCBWI Bologna Conference a reality. We hope by hosting the Conference, attendees will check-out the Fair and illustrators around the world will consider submitting to the esteemed illustration exhibit competition the Fair sponsors. Thank you, BolognaFiere!

Is there any thing you’d like to add?

This has been an incredible ride and I’m looking forward to the 2008 Conference, the Bologna Book Fair and the SCBWI Showcase. After that, I plan to take off that Worker Bee Bonnet, update my website, start a character-driven blog, and give the graphic novel and historical YA as much energy as I’ve given the SCBWI over the last twelve years!

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editorial Director Interview: Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge

Yolanda LeRoy is editorial director at Charlesbridge, an independent Boston-area publisher. She has edited more than 100 books and has worked with Martha Alexander, Eve Bunting, Kathryn Lasky, David McPhail, Linda Sue Park (author interview), and Jane Yolen (author interview), among others. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in March 2008, as she is to participate on a panel at the Bologna conference. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in March 2008, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

Well, the truth of the matter is that I wasn’t planning on this career at all. I was supposed to have an illustrious and exciting career as a Russian affairs analyst at the CIA. When my application was denied after a year of interviews, tests, medical exams, polygraphs, etc., I went for plan B., which was to stay in Boston and find a job in publishing. Adult publishing, because, after all, what did children’s book editors really do anyway? Add a few periods here and there, and call it a day. Hardly challenging.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, of course. And I couldn’t have found a profession more right for me. I interviewed at Charlesbridge for the position of publisher’s assistant, getting the job largely because the boss’s daughter had also gone to my university and majored in Russian studies. The rest is history.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

A good editor possesses an analytical mind, fierce resolve, a creative streak, an intuitive sense of the marketplace, business acumen, and strong communication skills–able to negotiate office politics, manage and develop staff, and inspire and challenge authors and illustrators.

When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages, chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

Ah, writers aren’t going to like this answer. For picture books, I can tell by the end of the first manuscript page. For novels, I’d say by five.

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

Obviously typos and grammatical/mechanical errors. Too much exposition. A bland premise. Lack of tension. Stiff dialogue.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

Here’s my dirty editorial secret: I don’t read the cover letter until after I read the manuscript, and then only if I like the story. But when I do read a cover letter, I like to know any relevant publishing experience and perhaps a bit about how or why the manuscript was written. It’s also fine, and probably advisable, to keep cover letters brief.

What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?

For me, the biggest reality is that publishing is a very inexact science. You can think you know what will sell, but ultimately you have to throw the books against the proverbial wall and hope something sticks.

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book publisher?

I love so much about it: the blend of the creative and the analytical, the opportunity to work with such amazingly gifted individuals, the fact that I can feel good about what I do. Publishing matters. Books matter.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

I don’t know if it’s so much the characters who changed my life as the overall stories. There were a few books that hit me on such a visceral level that I felt as if something inside me had cracked wide open: Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time, Katherine Paterson‘s Bridge to Terabithia, and William H. Armstrong‘s Sounder all had that effect.

More recently, Phillip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy did the same thing.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

As any mother would say, I love all my children equally!

But of course it’s true that some projects tend to pull on my attention more than others. Currently I’m quite enamored with one of our spring 2008 books: The Searcher and Old Tree by David McPhail. It’s an allegorical tale about parental love and the safety of home, as seen in the relationship between a raccoon and a tree during a storm.

I think I love it so much for two main reasons. One, it was a dream come true to work with David, whose books I have admired for many years. Two, the book is deceptively simple and therefore exemplifies what I love so much about the process of making picture books, i.e. an incredible amount of planning, structure, intellectual energy, and symbolism goes into every decision along the way; yet in the final product, all that work is invisible and subliminal.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 32 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008: Art Director-Vice President Interview: Cecilia Yung of Penguin Books for Young Readers US

Cecilia Yung has worked in children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. She is the Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Books for Young Readers in the U.S. Cecilia has worked with many major artists and award winners, such as David Small, Peggy Rathmann, Emily McCully and Ed Young. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in December 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

CY: A photography teacher in college suggested that I check out children’s publishing. From day one, I recognized that this is a job that stimulates and satisfies every aspect of my brain.

In your opinion, what makes a good art director?

CY: A good art director understands both the material and the artist and finds a way to get the very best out of them. A good art director knows when and how far to push. A good art director articulates the issues at hand, knows the difference between subjective and objective comments, listens carefully and is open to (good) surprises.

What makes an artist’s illustrations stand out for you?

CY: Something that makes me gasp or laugh or fight my way across a crowded room, and then rewards me when I linger to look at the details.

Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?

CY: I look at websites regularly (at least a few times a week) to find artists, to keep tabs on the competition, and even to look at other work by artists I am currently working with to find solutions to problems.

What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?

CY: Bad technique, awkward anatomy, unappealing faces, trendy images, and clichéd solutions.

What do you believe is the most important part of your job?

CY: To balance the needs of the publisher (to publish books that are relevant and profitable) with the needs of the artist (to create something unique) and the needs of a child (to read a story that touches and transforms them).

What is your favorite thing about being an art director?

CY: The most exciting thing is to see an idea grow and develop and end up in a place no one could imagine.

Do you make suggestions for revisions to art work? What sort of suggestions have you made, and how in your opinion have they improved the final product?

CY: Yes, that is one of the most important parts of the job. I look at technical issues like anatomy and perspective. I look at legibility of an image to make sure that it is understandable and conveys the content and intent of the story. I look at expressions, body language, and the palette to make sure they express the emotion of the story. I look at how one scene relates to another to create a narrative.

How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?

CY: I read the story again and again with the illustrator’s work in front of me to match their “voice.” Then I see if the strength and weakness of an artist’s work will complement the strength and weakness of the story.

What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?

CY: My favorite books make me laugh out loud or see something in a new light or nod vigorously in recognition. Spinky Sulks (William Steig), Knufflebunny Too (Mo Willems), Arnie The Doughnut (Laurie Keller), The Art Lesson (Tomie dePaola), Goodnight Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann), to name just a few.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?

CY: So You Want To Be President (Judith St. George and David Small) and The Cod’s Tale (Mark Kurlansky and Steve Schindler) because of the overwhelming role of the illustration in making the books a success and the way they present “dry” information with humor and freshness.

Show Way (Jackie Woodson and Hudson Talbott) and Leonardo’s Horse (Jean Fritz and Hudson Talbott) because of the complex visual strands and the inventive solutions. They have both beauty and brains.

Leaves (David Ezra Stein) because of the warmth, innocence, and effortlessness.

How involved in the marketing of the book(s) are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house?

CY: Not at all. As an art director, I represent the creative possibilities and would like to be as removed as possible from the merchandising of a book.

Is there an area on your list that you would like to “grow” at this time?

CY: There is a lot of sameness out there. What I crave is an original voice.

What is the ideal art sample submission?

CY: Strong work with no weak links: a distinct style that makes my head swivel, fresh solutions that suggest a lively brain, and enough samples to convince me that the artist can deliver that every time.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Publishing Director Interview: Laura Harris of Penguin Australia

Laura Harris is the Publishing Director of children’s books for Penguin Australia. She has worked with such highly acclaimed authors as Morris Gleitzman, Melina Marchetta and Mem Fox. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

I was one of those very fortunate people–it chose me. I had completed my degree in education. My lecturer was a wonderful woman, Dr Susan Moore, who kindly recommended me as one of her ex-students to the prestigious School Magazine, the oldest literary magazine for children in Australia. They were looking for someone to cull books and sort manuscripts for a three-month stint. It was my first year out of university, I loved children’s books, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, and it was a short gig.

There were three editors working on the magazine, and at the end of my three months, I was asked to stay on as a Trainee Editor…so I did. It was like a family working with the editors, authors and illustrators. I loved all five years that I spent there, and I learned so much.

My boss pushed me to leave when I was approached by HarperCollins. I don’t think he was glad to get rid of me, but he believed I might suit the wider world of trade publishing. Since I was quite young, I believe he thought it was time I left home…and it felt like that.

Some of my most enduring friendships were made during my time there, and I now publish at Penguin a number of people who wrote, illustrated, or worked at the magazine.

In your opinion, what makes a good publisher?

A respect for readers, truly liking authors and illustrators, editorial skill, empathy and a big-picture outlook (every writer wants to be read, so just making the book is not enough–we need to get it into the right hands!). Caring about the whole process is key for a good publisher, and a genuine love of storytelling. It helps if you read a lot too, have a visual flair, and don’t mind being a therapist and a firm task master some of the time.

When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

It varies so much. Sometimes you just fall in love with the style of writing in the first few pages, and other times a character intrigues you, although the writing might be very straightforward…

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

Covering letters telling me what is missing in children’s books, or that this work is the next Harry Potter, or that the writer’s children loved the work…

Children love spending time sharing stories with their parents. You could read them the phone book, and they would think you were marvelous and talented!

And I think those kinds of remarks in covering letters show a lack of respect for the people already publishing wonderful books. For would-be writers, remember that the person you are addressing has probably read many more children’s books than you.

I also think work should be presented well, easy to read, and without errors. It is not about everything being correct, it is about care. Send your very best work to a publisher, not everything you have ever written.

What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?

It is a business, but I think everyone in it is striving for excellence and wants the best for their books and authors. It takes the same effort to make an average book as it does to make a great book, but no one sets out to be average.

I also think that good work does get published. Perhaps not with the first publisher, or the first manuscript, but good writing is discovered and looked after.

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book publisher?

The people I have met, the stories I have been involved with that have become beloved books, and knowing that what I do has some worth.

I am of the school that agrees with C.S Lewis when he said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I think books are that for so many children, and I like being part of that.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

Some of my favorite books are really about favorite writers. Even from a young age I wanted to read everything a beloved writer wrote, even if it wasn’t a series or I was critical of one title. Once an author gets to me, I am a loyal reader.

The first writer that did that to me was John Steinbeck. I read Cannery Row and wanted to be a marine biologist–I was 12. I read everything of his after that, short stories and all. I went on to John Irving, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, Anne Tyler and Michael Chabon, to name a few. And like many 12 year olds, I fell in love with Atticus Finch.

I loved the picture books of John Burningham as a child–I still have some of them today and continue to look out for his new books. I love the picture books of Chris Van Allsburg, who I discovered as an adult.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

The Cat in the Hat–for irreverence and sassiness and a lust for life. Every grown up should own Oh! The Places You will Go.

Actually, Theodore Seuss Geisel changed my life–as a reader and as a publisher–and his birthday is the day before mine.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Jana Novotny Hunter

Jana Novotny Hunter was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in the U.K. She has written more than 50 books, including the award-winning Read My Lips. She lives by the River Thames with her dog and a piano. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator? If so, which comes first the images or the words?

JNH: As an author, I have about fifty books published, but I have not had any of my illustrated books published yet–my first series was canceled right at the last minute! I have illustrated for children’s TV. As an illustrator, the words usually come first.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

JNH: I like to use acrylics to get a broad painterly stroke and then continue working in Photoshop. I like the strong graphic feel, and I enjoy the freedom of speed and experimentation working with technology brings.

What are you currently working on?

JNH: A picture book concerning the anxieties and bonding of step-families.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like?

JNH: A young, slim gazelle! (I just love fantasy, don’t you?)

What is the hardest thing about being an author-illustrator?

JNH: My pictures don’t always live up to my expectations.

Did you always want to be an author-illustrator?

JNH: I started off wanting to illustrate and went to art school to do just that. But the writing somehow took over.

What were your other career choices, if any?

JNH: I was a textile designer and an art teacher. Now, I’m an editor. I love them all, but writing books has to be the best.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated? Why?

JNH: I wish I’d written Where the Wild Things Are. It’s such an amazing example of dealing with childhood feelings and Sendak‘s drawing skills are superb.

How far ahead do you work? Six months? A year? Longer?

JNH: Usually about six months, depending on the format I’m working on. A chapter book is usually full-steam ahead from conception to finished draft, but a picture book can hang around in my head for years before it gels.

Tell us about Bear Studios.

JNH: The illustrator Sue Porter and myself felt that authors and illustrators worked in such isolation, it would be wonderful to have a meeting place to discuss work in progress and share ideas. We were soooo right!

What inspired you to write Read My Lips?

JNH: My brother and sister are both deaf, yet chose opposing ways of communication, with profound repercussions. I wanted to explore this division further in the deaf community and saw the war within a school for the deaf as a parallel to other marginalized groups that break down into minority factions.

Can you tell us briefly a little bit about your views on the relationship between illustrations and text in picture books?

JNH: The two elements should act like different instruments exploring the same music, sometimes one playing the main theme and then the other taking over. Both are of equal importance and can work in harmony or as a reaction to one another.

What does your work space look like?

JNH: Crammed with books and very cozy. It used to be a whole building, but since I moved to London, space is a premium.

What’s on your wall over your desk or drawing table?

JNH: Bookshelves with dolls and toys and colorful objects, jostling with the books. And often the story sentence of the book I’m working on.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

JNH: Like many people involved in children’s books, I didn’t have an idealized childhood, and I am always seeking to redress that balance by creating a secure world for children.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

JNH: I loved Anne of Green Gables for her imagination, lack of traditional prettiness, and use of big words. I admired the way she always tried to be good and failed. I suspected she was me.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

JNH: I’m quite strict about silence and a good work ethic. But then I confound myself by coming up with my best ideas on the train or while I’m driving.

Do you have a blog or website to showcase your work, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get a lot of feedback from readers? Has it proved to be useful?

JNH: I share a lovely website with a small group of illustrators/authors which is fairly new. It’s called Wiggly Pencil. Visit it, and give me feedback, please!

If you could be a character from one of your illustrations, who would you like to be and why?

JNH: I’d like to be Kendra, my dreamy little brown girl who dresses as a cat. She is so wild and different.

Is it difficult to illustrate somebody else’s writing? Has it ever caused any problems?

JNH: It is, but I can answer this better the other way around and say I have sometimes been aghast at how an artist has illustrated my writing. It doesn’t help that I have such vivid pictures in my mind of how it should look. How can they ever get it right with such a premise, poor things?

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 32 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Agent Interview: Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown Ltd.

Ginger Clark is a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York. She represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, paranormal chick-lit, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction. In addition to representing her own clients, she also represents U.K. rights for the agency’s children’s list. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and pet chinchillas. Anita Loughrey interviewed Ginger in February 2008, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What is the book or experience that made you want to work in children’s literature as a literary agent?

I was always a big reader as a child and teen, and sometime during high school I decided I wanted to be a writer. However, I realized that it would be very tough to do that and earn a living–so at first I thought I would be a lawyer to pay the bills and write in my spare time.

After spending several summers working for lawyers, I realized that law probably was not the field for me–and so I interned for a medical publisher in Philadelphia during my last summer in college. I liked it a lot. When I graduated a year later, I moved to New York and have worked in trade publishing since. And I no longer want to be a writer myself.

So to answer your question (finally!), there was no one specific book or experience that made me want to be an agent. More just an intense love of reading and books from an early age. I do remember being about age 5 or 6 and reading a picture book to myself for the first time at the local library, and how powerful and independent I felt doing that.

How did you get your start as an agent?

My second job in publishing was working as an assistant to an agent at Writers House. I started taking on clients within a year and a half of starting and then built my list during the rest of my time there. When I moved to Curtis Brown in the fall of 2005, I took almost all of my clients with me.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

It begins by spelling my name correctly! There is a sentence that sums up the plot nicely, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.

Please also be correct as to what age group you are writing for. Fourteen-year olds are not interested in reading about ten-year olds, so your work is probably not YA or Teen, but middle grade.

Also, there is no such genre as sci-fi/fantasy. It’s either science fiction or fantasy. (Unless it’s science fantasy, and I can sense your head is exploding, so never mind!)

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

Unrealistic dialogue is a big turn off for me. And this is key with writing for the children’s market–kids are very good at picking out what is legit and what is not. They know when characters don’t sound like themselves or their friends.

I also am not a fan of a lot of “info dump” early on in the manuscript–or really, at any point in the manuscript. World building and communicating background information can be conveyed by dialogue or interior monologue.

Now that you are handling U.K. rights to Curtis Brown’s children’s list does that mean you will be based in the U.K.?

No, no–it just means I will be going to London once a year to meet with editors, and also seeing many of them at Bologna. Most of my time will still be focused on handling my own clients and their needs. It does mean I will be learning an entirely different market, and what works and doesn’t work there.

I’m just back from my first trip over to meet editors in London, and it was very productive and very educational.

And man, London is rather expensive. Though the chocolate and cheese are fabulous!

Do you specialize in any particular genre and/or are you looking for anything in particular (genre-wise) at the moment?

I do middle grade and young adult fiction. In particular, I’d love to see science fiction for either age group; young adult urban fantasy with a female lead; young adult military SF; and more fun, contemporary boy books. Also, young adult paranormal romance and chick-lit would be great as well. I’m also still a sucker for gorgeous writing and interesting, unusual characters.

What are publishers telling you about the market and what they’d like to see?

I think my above answer has some overlap here. I’m also hearing they want more middle grade series, that the picture book market is slightly recovering from the drop off a few years ago, and that young adult fantasy still sells, but it needs to be a little more fresh and different than, say, five years ago. And they’d like a good, fun science fiction series for middle grade or young adult.

From an agent’s point of view, what are the “realities” of children’s book publishing?

Kids are not reading as much and as widely as they did twenty years ago. I could spend an hour discussing why I think this is the case, but it’s a fundamental reality.

However, there is a lot more variety in terms of subject matter and adult subject matter than there was when I was a child.

One series that is represented by another agent here at Curtis Brown, The Squad (by Jennifer Lynn Barnes) is about cheerleaders who are secretly spies for the CIA. It is exciting, funny, and a blast to read. I wish I had had something like this when I was young!

Publishing in general is a smaller market than it used to be, so writers need to be realistic about how much money they can make, and how long it could take to build an audience successfully. Patience is required, as is a day job.

Cynsational Notes

See also a previous Cynsations interview with Ginger Clark.

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Marie Wabbes

Marie Wabbes’ first picture book was published by Ecole des Loisirs more than 42 years ago. Since then, she has produced over 175 picture books that have been published worldwide. Other interests include breeding Arabian horses and working with African illustrators, guiding them to produce their own picture books. Anita Loughrey interviewed Marie in January, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator and, if so, which comes first the images or the words?

MW: First the words, as I started in life working as a journalist, working for fifteen years for a newspaper called the le Soir in Brussels. The illustrations come later. I’ve always wanted to be an author-illustrator.

What were your other career choices, if any?

MW: Well, I am the mother of four children. I bred Arabian horses, and I am still an international judge for these horses. I have to travel the world to the shows.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

MW: When I started illustrating, the fashion was ink and watercolor. Later, I decided to use a marker to have a more dynamic drawing effect. The color and lines came together like in the Little Rabbit books. Next, I started drawing portraits of teddy bears in pastel and gouache and started illustrating my books with the same medium.

At the moment, I am writing another book about a teddy and a little boy who is convinced his teddy is really alive.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like?

MW: I would see myself as a kitchen garden full of flowers and vegetables. If I could be any character from one of my illustrations I would be a teddy bear, to be cuddled and loved. I have a collection of old, very much loved teddies. I could draw myself as one of them.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated? Why?

MW: My favorite children’s book is Babar, because the little elephant lives a happy life and is always positive. It is very French, a witness of the pre-war period in France.

How far ahead do you work? Six months, a year? Longer?

MW: Normally six months, but I have been “sitting” like a hen on her nest on some projects for years.

What is your workspace like?

MW: My workspace is a very nice studio facing my garden, very convenient. There is a picture of Babar on the wall above my desk and 3D painting white on white…a “Castellani” Italian painter and a drawing of TinTin’s dog Milou. I always work with classical music. I love opera also.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

MW: My favourite book was L’almanach du gai savoir by Colette Vivier. Later I discovered Barok Pimpol et Viginil by Simone Ratel. It is very funny and amusing.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

MW: It was the second-world-war. My father was a prisoner in Germany, and we were sent to a farm and I loved everything–the smell of the fresh baked bread, the cherries on the trees, the cows and hens, getting up early in the morning to go mushrooming…in the wet grass.

My illustrations are always fed by details coming from that world. I live in the country and still love it.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author Interview: Kathleen Duey

Kathleen Duey is the author of more than 70 children’s and young adult books, including historical fiction, nonfiction, picture books, and dark fantasy. She was one of the 2007 finalists for the National Book Award for Literature for Young People for her novel Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic. Kathleen writes for adults with a partner; they have a finished novel with an agent and a second work being optioned by HBO. She lives in San Diego County, California. Kathleen was interviewed by Anjali Amit and Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy). Note: see also a September 2007 interview with Kathleen from Cynsations.

Did you always want to be a writer?

KD: Yes. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me and got me started writing stories. Then an English teacher in high school made me promise I would keep writing and give it a serious try–which I finally did in my late thirties. Mrs. Fredericksen and Mr. Doohan. Bless ’em both.

What other jobs have you had (that led to being a writer)?

KD: All the work I have done–and all the play–inform my writing. Living off-grid for a long time shaped me, too. I missed a couple of decades of TV–probably a good thing.

What are you working on at the moment?

KD: Sacred Scars, the second in the Resurrection of Magic trilogy, is on the front burner. Two books for adults (written with a partner) are finished and agent shopping. A book/film project is expanding, a middle grade fantasy with uncommon elements is taking shape, and a few sparks that are just jumble files at this point seem to be growing.

If you could be a character from one of your books, who would it be and why this particular character?

KD: I identify very closely with all my characters, so in a way I have been all of them. I could live where Heart Avamir lives (The Unicorn’s Secret). I did, in a weird way, but that’s a whole story in itself.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

KD: In every way. I grew up in rural places, was raised by rural parents. I tend to write historical fiction and fantasy…both usually low tech, in cultures where people are close to the soil.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

KD: As a child, my parents bought me non-fiction, almost exclusively. The first novel I loved was Molly Make Believe–an old book I found in my great aunt’s apartment. Then came Black Beauty and then all the Farley books.

In middle school, I discovered fantasy and SF and was astounded at the created worlds, the possibilities of speculation, the massive intellects of the writers. I still am.

Is there a book already published that you wish you had written? Why?

KD: No. I love many books. I do not covet them.

How long does it take you to write a book?

KD: Shortest: nine days. Longest: 15 years.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

KD: Sitting still, indoors–I hate it.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

KD: I work alone, almost always, in my office at home. I often play music, quietly. Sometimes I prefer silence. If it is chilly, Rooibos tea is wonderful.

How much do you think a writer needs to market his/herself/the work? What do you suggest?

KD: I don’t want a day job, so I market as much as I possibly can. People just need to figure out what is comfortable, what works for them.

I like travel, I love schools, speaking has become fun. I began as a nervous, two-puke speaker. I have improved vastly and now enjoy it.

Do you have a blog, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers?

KD: I get more email and letters and guest-book entries than I can keep up with. I try. I blog, but not as often as I should, even though I enjoy it. There is a blog on my website, too.

I have a MySpace page with, like seven or eight friends. Please, anyone, befriend me. There is lots of room at my lunch table.

I do try to be Web-present. It is hard to keep up with it and travel and write.

Can you share your favorite fan mail, if you have one?

KD: I love them all, I get five-to-10 a day, counting guest book, paper and, mostly email. I love knowing that kids like my books.

I get a dozen or so every year that say something like, “I don’t like reading all that much, and I had never finished a book before yours…” and that thrills me.

A Resurrection of Magic has overtones of Faust. Do you feel that today’s world has lost its magic and wonder, hence the need to have it resurrected?

I think people are in trouble, yes. I worry for my country, for the world. We do need wonder. But we desperately need common sense and a generational world view.

All the best books are autobiographical to some degree. Your life has been extraordinary–you dropped out of the mainstream and lived off the land for many years. That gave you a rich vein of knowledge to mine. What advice would you have for the nine-to-fivers for changing the dross of their life to gold?

KD: There is no dross. Not when it comes to writing. It is all grist. One of the best passages read at the National Book Awards readings was an incredibly funny and sharp 9-to-5 office cubicle story. It was very clear the author had spent years in that world.

You have written for all age groups from children to adults. What writing do you enjoy the most? Why write for children?

KD: I like writing for all age groups. I seem to thrive on variety. Writing for kids is an obvious choice for me. I like kids. And I am head over heels in love with the possibility of touching a child’s (or a teen’s) life the way mine was touched by books.

You write in a lot of different genres, such as historical, science fiction and fantasy, picture books, and non-fiction. Which genre do you prefer and why? Which was the most difficult?

KD: Every book presents different obstacles, various areas of clear sailing. I like every genre I have written in and intend to try more.

It’s just the way my brain works; it’s not a conscious business choice or a deliberate artistic decision. It is about the individual project for me, not the genre.

Whatever takes my breath away–that’s what I want to write.

Courage features as a theme in many of your books. Is there a reason for this?

KD: Someone else pointed that out to me a few years ago. I can see a few really obvious connections in my life; there have been a number of emotional swamps I had to wade through–or drown.

But I think courage is a theme in nearly every book. Protagonists are by nature active, they are people who do, who try, who keep trying when hope has left the building. Courage is fascinating. I think it is the purest kind of faith.

Did the recent wildfires affect you?

KD: Here in southern California, while the rest of the country is having Fall, we have Fire Season instead. Like Tornado Season or Hurricane Season, it is always a time to be a little careful and to watch the sky.

This year the Santa Ana winds were extra dry (a lip-cracking 5% humidity in my town for several days), extra fierce (70 mph gusts) and in a few cases, arson and insane carelessness seems to have been involved.

The Rice Canyon fire came within about a half mile to the south east of my house, then, a few days later, came within about that same range from the northeast. The moon was orange for a week, and the smoke drifted, causing false dusks that lightened when the wind shifted, then returned when it changed direction again.

When the fires were headed our way, we were evacuated for four days and came home to soot and ash on everything. We were very grateful and very, very lucky. Over 200 homes in my town were burned to the ground.

I wrote about it at http://kathleenduey.blogspot.com/

At an SCBWI event, you described the research you undertook for your historical fiction. In one case, your expert did not have the information, but his grandmother was alive and could give the answers. Such accuracy certainly makes for a richer reading experience. Do you think it hampered your fiction writing in any way?

KD: Research never hampers my historical fiction. I use a lot of primary sources, and they always enrich, guide, inform. I have never once felt constrained by facts.

At the same conference, your advice to aspiring writers was “butt-in-chair.” “Take the belt from your dressing gown and tie yourself to the chair. Do not get up till the writing is done.” That is wicked discipline. Can you describe your writing schedule?

KD: What I said was that a terrycloth bathrobe tie–tied loosely across my thighs –reminded me to sit back down when I tried to stand up.

I have chronic ants-in-pants syndrome. I have a hard time sitting still and can find myself outside when I just meant to go get tea, then saw that the begonias out the front window were dry, and from there realized that the cycads needed water, which led me to check the avocados, turn the compost, play with the dogs, prune a tree….and suddenly, it’s noon.

My schedule is simple: Full time–I just write full time.

Cynsational Notes

Anjali Amit is a children’s book author whose first book was published when she was in college. Upon graduation she “sold her soul to Mammon”–went to work for a bank. She writes fiction, non-fiction and edits technical documents. Her articles have appeared in various magazines. Her second book, Bedtime Stories From Around the World was published a few years ago.

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

See also a Cynsations interview with Kathleen.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Marc Boutavant

Marc Boutavant is a French graphic artist, illustrator, and children’s book writer. He is the co-creator (with Emmanuel Guibert) of the ARIOL comic book series. Boutavant was interviewed in January 2008 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy). Note: more on Marc and Emmanuel.

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator and, if so, which comes first the images or the words?

MB: I find it easier to express myself through drawings than through words, so I think of myself as an illustrator.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

MB: My favorite medium for the last eight years has been the computer. I used to spend nights on acrylic works, and then I discovered the graphic tablet. Freedom! It introduced me to an easier way of drawing and use of color masses, printed-color control–and no archive and no old drawings to take from here to here…a great discovery.

I can also that add it made me improve–because since my eyes aren’t watching my hand doing the drawing, it creates a distance between me and the work-in-progress, so I can be a bit less indulgent…

What are you currently working on?

MB: Ariol as usual, a sequel to Le Tout du Monde de Mouk, and an album with the publishing house Sarbacane.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like? (Please feel free to draw yourself — animal, plant, or mineral!)

MB: In the morning I’d be that:


At night that:


What is the hardest thing about being an author-illustrator for you?

MB: I love illustrating. It’s what I do to express myself. I reveal my thoughts on paper (screen). The hard thing is that illustrating keeps me from using a different part of my brain. But I’m working on it, trying to do both!

Did you always want to be an illustrator?

MB: Yes! But I didn’t know such a thing existed! I grew up in a little village, “devouring” comics, but I thought they came from…nowhere!

When I was eight years old, a teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I did a comic on a single page, showing me growing, drawing, and moving to Paris.

After that, I didn’t think about comics again until Emmanuel asked me to work on ARIOL. I had to consider it for a while because, for some reason, working on comic books was the last thing I wanted to do! But I wanted to work with Emmanuel, so I said, “Yes.” And here I am, in Paris, drawing ARIOL and writing and illustrating children’s books!

What were your other career choices, if any?

MB: Doctor, or something with biology.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated?

MB: My favorite book is Lettres de L’écureuil à La Fourmi by Toons Telegen. I would have loved to have created it, but I’m just as happy being able to look at the book. It remains a major reference for me, with its simple, yet powerful writing that produces such complicated feelings.

What does your workspace look like?

MB: A desk, mess on it, in a studio with six other people; their presence is important.

What’s on your wall over your desk or drawing table?

MB: Letters waiting for postage stamps. Kids’ drawings (not my kids). Kids’ pictures (my kids). There’s a mirror effect between the computer screen and the wooden desk.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

MB: The wallpaper of my childhood room did influence my style and themes, I guess.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

MB: As a child I loved this one:


Trois Tours de Renard, illustrated by Beuville.

After that, I loved: Barney Google and Snuffy Smith in Le journal de Mickey and Eagle Eye from Leo Baxendale. During adolescence, I was more into superheroes and other things.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

MB: I switch between radio–silence–mp3–kids–silence.

If you could be a character from one of your illustrations, who would you like to be and why?

MB: This one or another similar one–they are breaks and breaths in my images, corresponding with a real need to breathe.

Is it difficult to illustrate somebody else’s writing? Has it ever caused any problems?

MB: It’s fine. It’s like a gymnastic exercise to keep the muscles primed for what I love to do. What’s scary is that these gymnastics will not get easier with age.

How did you become an illustrator?

MB: After trying to do different things, I eventually became an illustrator. It was when I found myself as an illustrator that I got excited about illustrating.

Could you talk us through the process of how, after you are presented with a book a publisher would like you to illustrate, you generate your ideas for illustrating that book?

I think I try to take inspiration from any and everywhere, but more often in the life of my children, or in the street, or on Google…an image, a mix of feeling+idea+color+view angle, that’s the keystone for all the developing images.

Do you have to go through a different process to produce a comic book? If so, would you describe the differences?

The only comic book I do is ARIOL. Emmanuel gives me the words, and I draw life around the words. I follow Emmanuel’s lead through the panels.

The difference between drawing for ARIOL and illustrating a non-comic is that the pleasure comes at the end; when ARIOL is finished, it’s great to look at it and to have done it.

For non-comic book illustration, the pleasure is the process, the illustrating itself, because it calls on my own inspiration and for me to put it on paper (screen!).

Are there any illustrators whose work you particularly like or influenced you?

Anouk Ricard, Kitty Crother also, Lara Harwood…Annabel Wright, Maira Kalman, Axel Schaeffer–there are so many! My influences and inspiration come from many places–people, photographs, nature books, contemporary art…

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org