Dr Karenanne Knight, Author of The Picture Book Maker and lecturer at the University of Falmouth spoke to Mumsnet Berkshire about her favourite children’s books and her motivations behind writing a book that will help others to create great picture books.
Read my full review of The Picture Book Maker here:
What is your favourite children’s book and why?
Oh there are so many Catherine! I love Catherine Rayner’s books and those of Shaun Tan and Julia Donaldson, Oliver Jeffers and of course those of my students Emma Yarlett and Gemma O’Neill. They are all so different and each have such wonderful illustrations. However, if you were to push me into naming just one I think it would be Le Ballon Rouge by Albert Lamorisse. The story is so full of childhood joy and hope, which is dashed then finally overcome (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone). It is a timeless book and available in both French and English versions. The little boy Pascal is totally convincing and although I am an illustrator I love the fact that the images in this book are black and white photographs but they really work in telling the story. The story was also made as a film and, whilst I have never seen the film, it is in the pictures of the book that I was drawn into a wonderful lifelong relationship with the city of Paris. I get a shiver running down my back each time I think of this story and Paris, it’s a book that I just can’t put down.
What is your favourite childhood children’s book and why?
I would probably say Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I remember being given this book at a very early age and it has always been with me. I feel Alice’s frustration in the very first line of the book:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’
Pictures and conversation have been with me throughout my life and led me into a career in Picture Books and text and image, art and the written word. I had many books whilst growing up (I was a real bookworm!!!) and was terribly possessive of them, so much so that I hated returning books to the library. Now however, I just want to share my enjoyment and understanding of the power and understanding of picture books and I adore going to the library!
Are you planning on creating a book specifically for novices too?
You have cracked a little known secret Catherine!!!! Yes, there is something in the pipeline that I can’t really tell you much more about at the moment, BUT watch this space as I promise I will tell you first!
What made you decide to write this book?
I have, for many years taught Picture Book Writing and Illustration to students on the BA Illustration and Creative Writing courses at the University of Falmouth. The book was a way of bringing all the ideas, concepts and intentions I had and putting them all into one place. So many of the students asked if we could have them in a book that they could continue to use once they left University. So I thought about this and decided to make it into a book that could possibly be used by under and post graduates, teachers, novices and also people who wanted to try out the art of writing picture books as a new career or as a way of getting back into work after having children or when the children had started school. I have had such a lot of feedback from parents who wanted to get back into proof reading or illustration or writing after a period away. I hope that the book fulfills the aims of anyone who reads it for whatever reason.
Do you find it solitary writing a picture book?
Writing and illustration are both quite solitary occupations. However, I love those quiet times in my studio (as long as I have plenty of coffee!) and of course time goes so fast when you are doing something you so enjoy. However, I also get out to chat to clients or publishers or my editor for instance so that breaks up the solitary moments. I feel so lucky to be doing the work I do.
Have you based any of your own books on something from your life?
Not specifically, no. However, I am fascinated by what we call twice told tales and I love the debates I have at conferences and with the students at university about how books one reads as a youngster are (or are not as the case might be) reflected in one’s own work. I am keen that books are inclusive, diverse, embracing as many children as they possibly can. I am also really interested in literacy and I think much of this stems from my childhood when I went to school able to read but then having to learn through the initial teaching alphabet. I grew to adore books though so I look back fondly on that very early period of my life.
Where does your inspiration come from?
This question rolls on beautifully from the previous one Catherine, as it is the environment around me that really influences my work. Cornwall has such a rugged and beautiful coastline and that stays with me constantly. But, I am also inspired by planes, (where are they going, who is aboard and what are their stories?), pictures in the sky created by the clouds, the hedgerow, animals and people. There is nothing nicer than sitting in a café with your sketchbook and drawing life as it passes by. This type of exercise also throws up little gems of an idea, or two or three. I then take these back to my studio and hopefully they become a story. It was exactly this process that became the story of The Ferry on the Fal, (a limited edition story for Waterstones, Truro, unfortunately now completely sold out!) The narrative was based on a little ferry that crosses the River Fal and how a brother and sister managed to stop it being pulled out to sea and bashed upon the rocks. I watched two very young children traveling in great delight on the King Harry Ferry across the River Fal, and the story came about because of their excitement and enchantment with that crossing which totally captivated me and which I realized in my sketchbook quite quickly.
Do you think anyone can write a good picture book or is there a level of
It’s very difficult question to answer and I get asked this so often. For me the essence of a wonderful picture book is one where there is a strong narrative that centres around one or a number of characters. These characters are the essence of the story as it is them that carry the story. It is also with these characters that the reader’s hopes and dreams for them are achieved or dashed. We love our heroes and believe in them, whilst also being carried into make believe lands and encouraged to turn the page to see where the narrative will take us.
Writing and illustrating a picture book is so incredibly difficult which is why those that are published are so exquisite. So, yes, I do think there is an element of innate ability but I don’t think that should stop anyone from having a go. I hope that the Picture Book Maker provides this starting point whereby anyone can then follow the exercises and build up their characters, settings and narrative in order to create their own picture book story whether that be to read (and maybe create) with their own child or to approach a publisher with a view to hopefully seeing it on a bookshelf one day.
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There is also a chance to win one of five copies of The Picture Book maker with Mumsnet Berkshire. See the book review for details on how to enter.