Emily Gravett Posts

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Emily Gravett and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, 29 Aug 2013, Jumpstart 2 ( I interviewed Emily Gravett in late August. The interview has been published in the Hindu Literary Supplement. Online – 14 Sept 2013 and in print – 15 Sept 2013. The url is: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/telling-tales/article5124153.ece I am reproducing the longer version of the interview below. )Emily Gravett, twice Kate Greenaway medal winner (Wolves, 2005 and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, 2008) is known for her picture books. Her father is printmaker and mother an art teacher in a special needs school.  Emily always loved to draw and paint but her passion for picture books, writing and reading to children began when she saw her two-month-old daughter respond to picture books. (The infant’s eyes lit up when other children in the room were being read out aloud to.) After that Emily began to draw and paint, tell her daughter stories via sketches and finally enrolled for a programme in illustration. Her first two books, including Wolves, for which she won her first Kate Greenaway medal was produced while she was still studying.Wolves pb_FCQ. How do you draw? How long does it take you to create a picture book?

A. I prefer to draw using pencil and watercolours. The images are then scanned into the computer and then the pages are designed.

 

Q Do you take an interest in designing and overseeing the production of every picture book?

A. I draw and design every single book that I work upon. I hand over the ready-to-print files to my publisher where the editors then pitch in. For instance, in the Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, I had scanned pages from old books to create the withered background feel on the pages. The editors began to proofread the pages and discovered that the writing from the scanned pages was still visible! So it had to be scrubbed off. Or in The Rabbit Problem the editors had to actually count every single rabbit on every page including on the last pop-up page.

 

Q. Why work only with picture books? How long does it take to conceptualise and finish a picture book?

I prefer to work with illustrated form of books. I love image and text that are integrated. You can do anything with a picture book even though it has a strict format. Of the books published so far, I have only done the shout-along Monkey and Me which is in the big book format. It can take me anywhere from a few hours (Orange Bear Apple Bear) to a few weeks (Wolves) to over a year (The Rabbit Problem).

 

Q. Tell me more about your explosive pop-up book, The Rabbit Problem Rabbit Problem PB FC

The Rabbit Problem emerged after I heard a radio programme on the thirteen century mathematician Fibonacci. There was an annual competition conducted to figure out “the rabbit problem” and what as the solution for the number of rabbits proliferating in the fields. Fibonacci solved it by creating the Fibonacci series that took into consideration an idealised situation of a pair of rabbits, assuming that no rabbit died, he created the Fibonacci sequence where the rabbits are able to mate at the age of one month and then reproduce again after the second month. (It was known much earlier to Indian mathematicians like Pingala too.)

I do not have a head for mathematics and was about to turn off the radio but this conversation caught my attention. It set me thinking and I created The Rabbit Problem. It took me over a year to make the book. Every single rabbit in the book had to be drawn and painted; each page had to be checked for consistency in the drawings (of the generations) and every rabbit had to be counted to confirm if the number of rabbits on each page conformed to the Fibonacci sequence. Even the little pieces pasted on to the pages like The Fibber newspaper, or The Carrot Cookery Book took some weeks to prepare. For the sake of authenticity, I rummage through old bookshops, garage sales and second-hand bookstores to discover old clippings, old cookery books. Then I try and imitate the design in to my picture books. Since I am not very good at identifying the font being used or what would be the most appropriate one to use in the picture book, when I work on the design, I collaborate closely with an art director.

 

Q. How many books have you published so far? Do you collaborate with anyone?

I have published fifteen picture books, all of which I have written, illustrated and designed myself. I have only collaborated once with Julia Donaldson on Cave Baby. I was really pleased with the result, and very glad I did it as it was a great experience and a challenge as I’m used to both writing and illustrating.

Q. In India it is difficult for illustrators to make a living off their chosen career and of picture books it is definitely not possible. So how do you sustain yourself as a full-time illustrator of picture books?

I have been very lucky in all my projects. The first book I published–Wolves–while still at university. It got me a three-book contract with an advance that allowed me to remain afloat for a year. Once it became evident that my books were selling well worldwide, the advance against royalties for a book helped me concentrate on my work at hand. Now the royalties are flattening out but they still allow me the leisure to focus on my ideas and picture books.

 

Q Your choice of stories for the picture books seems to be a play on well-known folk lore and children’s literature –Blue Chameleon (Eric Carle); Wolf Won’t Bite! (Three Little Pigs); Dogs ( Seuss); Meerkat Mail ( Country Mouse, Town Mouse). Is this a conscious decision?

A. Wolf Won’t Bite! is a play on a story that children are already familiar with – The Three Little Pigs, otherwise I do not actually work with well-known tales consciously. I do love wolves, the actual animals and also they have this storytelling mythology woven around them. It must sound bad, I don’t often think of children but of what I like when I am working on an idea. Yes, you do get the feeling inside your stomach, a mixture of excitement that fairy tales generate.

 

Q How well do picture books translate into other languages? Do you oversee production and design?

A. It is a challenge translating a picture book. The result varies depending upon the language of destination and the script used. If it is a Romance language like French that uses the Roman script, then the translation is more or less easily done. If it is a pictorial script like Chinese or Thai then adjusting the script and illustration takes time, but I am not involved in the process. I only receive the finished copies. But the most intriguing translation has been that of Orange Bear Apple Bear into Catalan. I am unable to read it but the original text is a play of five words, but the translated text consists of a string of words spread across the pages. It definitely has a lot more words!

Q Who are the illustrators whom you admire?

A. Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Posy Simmonds, Polly Dunbar, Anthony Browne, Alexis Deacon and Edward Ardizzone.

Q The technical details in your picture books are a delight – end paper, copyright pages, use of a comma etc.

A. I love the structure of a book. So whether it is designing the copyright page of Blue Chameleon in the shape of the reptile or working on creating little images and details on the end papers as in the Odd Egg and Again!, I love it. It even extends to playing with the use of a comma and five words in Orange Bear Apple Bear. I enjoy making these details.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist

Jumpstart, “Speaking in Tongues”, 29-30 Aug 2013, New Delhi

Jumpstart, “Speaking in Tongues”, 29-30 Aug 2013, New Delhi

Logo

Jumpstart is an annual platform provided in India by the German Book Office (GBO) that is targeted specifically at professionals within the children’s book industry, bringing together authors, publishers, illustrators, designers, booksellers and retailers, teachers and librarians. It began in 2009 with a small workshop for professionals. But over the years it has blossomed into a two-day event that is clearly demarcated by open sessions that include panel discussions and workshops/master classes. Each event revolves around a theme that is encapsulated well in three words — “Join the Dots” (2010); “Out of the Box” ( 2011); “Off the Page” (2012) and this year it is “Speaking in Tongues”. The event is scheduled to be held on 29-30 August 2013, the India International Centre, New Delhi. Since last year the Book Souk, matchmaking between publishers and authors, has become a key aspect of the festival too. Key publishers such as Scholastic India, National Book Trust, HarperCollins, Hachette, Young Zubaan, Tulika, Tara, Karadi Tales, Pratham, Eklavya and others have participated in past Jumpstart festivals with direct, positive outcomes. For instance Pratham Books has recently acquired the publishing rights to five books by the French artist Herve Tullet who participated in 2012.

Herve Tullet, signing a book for my daughter, Sarah Rose. Aug 2012

According to Prashasti Rastogi, Director, German Book Office, Delhi “This year we will focus on language. The festival is organised by the German Book Office New and Frankfurt Academy with support from the Federal Foreign Office, Germany. Our partners are Pratham Books as are our Knowledge Partners along with India International Centre and CMYK Book Store. Pratham Books is partnering for a session with language teachers and librarians.”gbo-white

The focus on publishing children’s literature in different languages, the challenges and the thrill of doing so are what are to be discussed at the end of August. One of the panel discussions during the open session will be “Translation is tricky. Dialogue is difficult.” Some of the questions being raised are “How can we know that a book that works in one language will work in another? Which stories travel? Which ones ‘stick’? Why are there so few children’s books translated from one Indian language to another? Are illustrations just as culture-bound as words? ” The other Open Sessions that sound fascinating are “Art as language, designer as author” where award-winning illustrators Julia Kaergel, Emily Gravett will be co-panelists with publisher Arundhati Deosthali and Dorling Kindersley Design Director Stuart Jackman; “What is your bhasha? What is your language?” A workshop for teachers and librarians where panel of speakers who have experiences to share about the teaching and learning of different languages and its impact on learning as a whole. Authors will share experiences on why they choose to write in a particular language and their own experiments with it. To the right is a photograph that I took last year from the open session when Herve Tullet was on stage. 20120823_104202

Such an event is important given that of 1.1 billion people in India, only 2 per cent are able to read and write English. The number of young people below the age of thirty is 550 million who are not only literate in English, but prefer to communicate in the language . The per capita number of book titles published in India is around 8 per 1,00,000 population. This number is much lower in comparison to those of the countries like the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, and Germany. According to Rubin D’Cruz, Asst Editor, Malayalam, NBT, in terms of languages, the per capita number of titles published per 1,00,000 persons is 6.3 in Bengali, 6.2 in Gujarati, 5 in Hindi, 4.8 in Kannada, 4.2 in Telugu, 3.9 in Urdu, and 7.7 in Assamese (the highest). The publishing industry in Tamil and Malayalam are extremely active and although the Assamese speaking population is relatively low, the publishing industry in Assamese is a lot more active than it is in Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati or Kannada. Some of the statistics from 2012 are:

• Hindi (422 million)
• Bangla (83 million)
• Telugu (74 million)
• Marathi (74 million)
• Tamil (60 million)
• Urdu (51 million)
• Gujarati (46 million)
• Kannada (38 million)
• Malayalam (33 million)
• Oriya (33 million)
• Punjabi (29 million)
• Assamiya (13 million)

From the National Youth Readership Survey, National Book Trust, 2010:
1. Of 1.1 billion people in India, only 2 per cent are able to read and write English.
2. 42% of India’s book-buyers are habitual readers; per capita consumption is Rs 80
3. Literate youth=333 m (2009) = 27.4% of total Indian pop or 73% of total youth pop. Signif: Rural (62%; 206.6m) and Urban (126.1m)
4. Pop of literate youth (2001-9) has grown 2.49% higher than the overall pop growth (2.08%)
5. Growth more rapid in Urban (3.15% p.a) than Rural (2.11% p.a.) areas.
6. Hindi is the principal medium of instruction, however as the youth go for higher education the proportion of Hindi as the medium of instruction declines.
7. Approx 25% literate youth read books for pleasure, relaxation and knowledge enhancement; more females read (27%) for leisure than males.
8. Schools are imp for readership development. 59% developed a reading habit in schools. Peer influence is also an important factor.

Actually publishing in India is exciting. As long as you understand the peculiarities of India like the multi-lingual character of the territory, the reverence Indian readers have for the written word. There exists a thriving middle class; increasing amounts of disposable income coupled with a disposition to read for pleasure rather than to clear an examination (a noticeable shift in recent years). Earlier the inclination was to buy books for children, but slowly between the ages of 8+ till graduation from university the casual reader disappeared, so there were no books available for this segment too. Today there is still a considerable vacuum in this age-group, but the market is slowly being transformed as is evident by the appearance of at least three new imprints for young adults in the past year – Inked (Penguin India), Red Turtle (Rupa Publications) and Scholastic Nova (Scholastic India).

As the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, also patron of Sahitya Akademi, said in a speech he delivered extempore in 1962. “…to think that a language is crushed or suppressed by another language, is not quite correct. It is enriched by another language. So also our languages will be enriched the more they get into touch with each other … .” (p.319-320 Best of Indian Literature 1957-2007, Vol 1 Book 1, Sahitya Akademi. Eds, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and A. J. Thomas.)

If the previous editions of Jumpstart are anything to go by, Jumpstart 2013 sounds very promising. I am definitely going to attend this year too!

Jumpstart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpK_38mScEg
Website and registeration: http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home

18 Aug 2013

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant. She has a monthly column on the business of publishing called “PubSpeak” in BusinessWorld online. 

Twitter: @JBhattacharji