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How the Light Gets In - The Background to Debi Gliori's 'Night Shift'

Posted By Jacob Hope, 08 September 2018
Updated: 08 September 2018

Night Shift by Debi Gliori was one of the 2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway medal shortlisted titles.  Debi recently visited Bury Grammar Schools who have been shadowing the awards to provide insight into the background for the book.  

Night Shift had unusual origins.  It began as a series of unplanned pictures rather than as a book.  Debi worked on enormous rolls of paper using charcoal, which she describes as one of the oldest drawing materials.  She used her fingers to help create the work, making this quite literally a hands-on experience and allowing the creation of the smudged fog, a term she uses to describe the depression she's had since she was twenty-five.  'I drew how I felt - numb and miserable.  It seemed as though there was a pane of glass and as though all of the great stuff in life was happening behind that'.  

The series of drawings communicate how depression manifests itself and makes us feel as well as the insidious and sneaky way in which it affects life.  'Creating the pictures wasn't therapeutic.  It triggered memories and reminded of what unfamiliar territory depression was when it first occurred.'  Debi described how the hustle and bustle of working around the clock to meet deadlines led to a lack of sleep and increased pressure in her early twenties.  'It was terrifying, I used to belief I could hear what people were thinking.  It was like static on the radio that I could not tune out from.'  

When Debi's agent, Penny Holroyde, saw the pictures, she suggested with the addition of some spare text, they might form the basis for a special book.

'Debi told me she had been working on some large pictures in charcoal and I asked to see one. She sent me the image of the girl clutched in the dragon’s arm and told me that sometimes, during depressive periods, it’s easier to point at a picture than describe in words how you feel. This image (although cropped for the final book) and the sentiment behind it, moved me enormously and Night Shift, the book, became a little seedling. Debi obviously has a sublime way with words and I thought that simple captions would be the most effective way to carry the imagery and there is an intimacy in the picture book format that suits the subject matter perfectly.'

Penny Holroyde, Holroyde Cartey Agency

 After the conversation, Debi began thinking about the way this could show how depression is a real illness and the way it makes people feel.  She thought back to Leonard Cohen's line, 'there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,' and realised that finding a way to re-frame depression was the key to giving structure to her illustrations and creating a narrative around these.  

The moment when this clicked into place was serendipitous, it was during a walk on the beach.  Debi recounts how helpful she finds being out in the natural world, among trees, rivers, sea and sky.  On this particular occasion, she stumbled upon a feather, comprised of both light and dark elements, and realised this could provide the shift in perspective that she needed.

Debi's unique honesty and courage in recounting her personal experiences and making these both engaging and accessible for young people made the event every bit as affecting, heartfelt and affectionate  as 'Night Shift' itself is.  The Youth Libraries Group are delighted that Debi will be joining their annual conference Reading the Future this September and discussing the role books and reading can play in unlocking young people's emotion and empathy.

Tags:  conference  diversity  illustration  kate greenawayvisual literacy  mental health  reading 

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