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Interview with Jackie Morris - winner of the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

Posted By Jacob Hope, 25 September 2019
Updated: 25 September 2019

With nominations currently still open for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals (nominate by clicking here), we talk with 2019 winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, Jackie Morris about her work, the impact winning has had upon her and the extraordinary book that she and Robert MacFarlane created.

 

Kate Greenaway winner, ‘The Lost Words’ initially began as a chat with Emily Drabble about producing  a web slideshow of images to highlight words that had been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.  The words had fallen from common use and so were no included in the dictionary whose purpose OUP described as being ‘to reflect language as it is used, rather than seeking to prescribe certain words or word usages.’

 

Recognising the importance of the natural world, several authors, naturalists and broadcasters signed a letter composed by Laurence Rose, conservationist and editor of the Natural Light blog.  The letter cited the National Trust’s ‘Natural Childhood’ campaign stating

 

‘Every child should have the right to connect with nature.  To go exploring, sploshing, climbing, and rolling in the outdoors, creating memories that’ll last a lifetime.’

 

Among those who signed the letter were Margaret Atwood, Nicola Davies, Robert MacFarlane, Michael Morpurgo, Sir Andrew Motion and Jackie Morris.  Talking about the removal of the words, Jackie says ‘it highlighted the disconnect between language and nature and was a clear indication that something was wrong.’

 

Fearing that a slideshow of images would be there and then, like the words in the dictionary, disappear, Jackie began to think about a book and decided to write to co-signatory, Robert MacFarlane to see whether he might be willing to pen an introduction.  When the reply came back a couple of weeks later, the suggestion was to collaborate on something more than just an introduction.

 

We started knocking the idea back and forth between the two of us.’  Jackie was clear that she didn’t want children to be in it and wanted it to be wild.  ‘The idea of spells clicked in his mind.  The first one he wrote was the kingfisher and I painted it against a background of goldleaf’.  Taking it to the Hamish Hamilton offices, was the first  time Jackie met with Robert and she didn’t meet him again until the project was finished.  ‘Everything was done via e-mail, I’d send sketches, he would send spells to be spoken aloud.  It was the most collaborative piece of work of all of the things I’ve done.’

 

Jackie did not create roughs for any of the illustrations, submitting the artwork in batches.  Part of the collaborative process involved the work of designer Alison O’Toole.  Jackie describes finding ‘The Lost Words’ font as having been key, ‘I was conscious about legibility, but something about the space given to the words means that reluctant readers aren’t intimidated.  We’ve had feedback about how well reluctant readers have responded and how they love it and are not put off by the complexity of language because of the relationship with the pictures.’

 

Hamish Hamilton were extremely trusting and have supported the crowd-funding ideas where copies of the book have been gifted to local .  The book has caught the public imagination in an inspiring way.  The dynamism of the relationship between written and pictorial language has acted as a catalyst enabling creative responses that have crossed a variety of artistic boundaries with folk songs, exhibitions and even a performance at the 2019 proms.   

 

Talking about this year’s Kate Greenaway win, Jackie explains the impact it has had upon her career.  ‘After twenty-eight years working in children’s books, I have a big backlist.  For the first time ever there is a plan of my work being taken to Frankfurt Book Fair.’  Her Canadian publisher was also very excited on hearing the news.  ‘My work now has a connection with other books that have won and which I love.  It has given me a new confidence.’

 

 

Tags:  books  Kate Greenaway  libraries  nature  nominations  reading for pleasure 

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The Sticker Atlas of Scotland - In Conversation with Benedict Blathwayt

Posted By Jacob Hope, 11 September 2019
Benedict Blathwayt's picture books have been firm favourites for decades, offering a unique insight into the countryside of the United Kingdom and visually documenting so much about nature and farming practices.  It was a pleasure to speak with Benedict about his latest book, The Sticker Atlas of Scotland.
 
Benedict describes the work of inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal winner, Edward Ardizzone, as being a particular influence admiring the efficacy of his simple line and wash.  Although he never read the classics, Benedict was fascinated by the visual worlds in Herge's Tintin books and in Rupert the Bear.  The idea of place and childhood runs through much of Benedict's work and influences.  'I draw from a lot of the places I've lived.' Benedict spent a lot of his youth and chilldhood in Scotland and has worked on three farms, including one on the Isle of Mull.  He has owned a cow, Bramble, who might be familiar to readers of his books.  Even today, he still lives on a farm and, although he occasionally helps with the sheep, is glad not to have the full responsibilities of a far.
 
Describing himself as not being a naturalist, Benedict nevertheless has a palpable curiosity and intrigue about the world that surrounds him. 'Artists are like sponges, absorbing the things that surround them.'  Benedict is likely more astute than most as he spent some years drawing wildlife in Wales for Nature Conservancy. He explains how he loves nothing more than to watch otters and whales on the nature walks he loves.  'I like to observe and then look up in a book what I have seen.  It's amazing how much you learn that way, I've even remembered some of the Latin names'.  It's no surprise that Benedict also keeps a nature diary where he records his observations, like the swallows that came into his kitchen this summer, perching on the drying rack.  He uses these observations to help inform the natural history column his writes for a local newsletter and to pore over during the colder months.
 
Discussing his creative process, Benedict tells how he creates the idea for a story, beginning by writing down scribbled text in biro.  He divides this into the number of pages - usually 12 spreads -and creates a mini storyboard (about the size of a matchbox), in fine sharp pencil.  This is how he tests to find whether the continuity and run works.  If approved by a publisher, he will then create full size roughs where he makes all the mistakes of composition.  Placing the roughs onto a homemade copylight, he then copies these onto watercolour paper before colouring these.
 
Nature and place play key roles roles in his books.  'Part of this is that I always want to be able to go for a walk in a picture, seeing the horizon in the distance, knowing that even if a road goes around a hill you can still get there.'  Place formed a part in his latest project for Birlinn, creating The Sticker Atlas of Scotland. It was an idea Benedict was initially a little sceptical about, seeing it more of a toy than an actual book.  Having produced novelty books before, Benedict felt these weren't always satisfactory 'It only takes a lost piece or a broken tab and they don't even really work as books any more'.  Seeing the sticker books that his grandchildren play with, Benedict felt there was a place for one that does it differently, 'to create a variety of stickers that, like individual mosaic tiles on a Roman floor, work together to give an overall fair and true picture of the country.'  Having visited much of Scotland, there is an authenticity to this.  
 
There's a sense of synchronicity to this project because, as a child, Benedict used to draw invented maps, creating white sandy beaches and tall mountains, delighting in giving them weird and wacky names.  'I always loved maps, the brown bits that show higher ground, the water - wondering whether it is swimmable, if you could sail a boat in it.  Sat Navs and Google Maps are blinkered by our specific question and only answer the"now" and miss the excitement entailed in laying out a map on the table when everything and anything is possible.'  
 
As our conversation draws to a close, it strikes me that the wonderfully detailed landscapes and townscapes that Benedict paints act as proto-maps, encouraging readers to explore different areas and the lay of the land, acting too as a places where anything and everything is possible. 

 

Tags:  illustration  libraries  maps  nature  reading for pleasure  visual literacy 

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