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- author Jackie French

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Blog Tour - KBR chats to Catriona Hoy and Andrew Plant

KBR is delighted to welcome author Catriona Hoy and illustrator Andrew Plant, on tour with their beautiful new picture book - The Little Dinosaur. We hope you enjoy this insight into the illustration process as much as we have.

Welcome, Catriona! You've worked with Andrew before. Can you tell us about the collaborative process for The Little Dinosaur?

Yes, we worked together on Puggle, which came out in 2010. I'd suggested Andrew's name to Jane Covernton at Working Title Press for that book because I knew that although he wasn't generally an illustrator of fiction, he would be able to bring the scientific accuracy and realism to the illustrations that I was looking for.

At that time, I was living in the UK, so our conversations were by email and phone . . . there was one time I got the time difference wrong and instead of ringing Andrew at 7pm, I rang at 9pm. Luckily he'd figured out my mistake by then.

With The Little Dinosaur, Andrew and I were able to meet up from the very beginning. He doesn't live too far away, so we were able to go over the illustrations together and have a few coffees while we tussled over wording.

Much more so than any other book, this was a real collaboration and I was able to see the evolution (lol) of the illustrations. The book is also quite challenging as there are two distinct times involved, as the story moves from the Cretaceous to the present day and the work of paleontologists. Andrew is well known for his illustrations of dinosaurs and his work with leading paleontologists.

How difficult is it to 'let go' of your story and hand it over to an illustrator? Do you give fairly specific guidelines or have any fixed ideas?

I've worked with a number of different publishers and they all have their own way of doing things. Some publishers will ask for quite detailed illustration notes, whereas others prefer none at all.When I write a story, I make sure that I can 'see' at least 16 different visuals in my head. That doesn't mean that they have to be that way, just that I make sure that the story has visual 'legs.'

When I'm asked to read potential picture books, the most common mistake is often that the writer hasn't thought about what will go on each page to make things interesting. Having said that however, I look forward to being surprised by an illustrator and seeing the added dimension or interpretation that they bring. It's what makes a picture book different, it's a collaboration between two different creative personalities and skill sets.

With this book, I had every confidence in Andrew as this is his area of expertise more than mine. He is very professional and painstakingly accurate with his depictions of the Cretaceous flora and fauna. As a scientist himself, he wanted his illustrations to be able to stand up to any nitpicking by experts!

Have you ever said 'no' to a publisher's suggested illustrator?

Yes, when I feel that the illustrator just doesn't see the story in the same way as I do, or I don't feel that the illustrations suit my style. My opinions have always been taken into consideration. Usually, I'm very happy with the choice of illustrator and sometimes I'm able to suggest my own illustrator.

What's your favourite page in the book?

I've gone over them and I honestly can't say! I love the vibrant greens Andrew has used, as on pages 6 - 7, where the dinosaur in the foreground is munching on ginkgo leaves. I also really like the darker pages, as the one where a Koolasuchus lurks in the shadows. I also really like the poignancy of the lone thylacine on a beach as the world changes and shifts. All in all, I think it's a visual feast that dinosaur lovers will adore!

Welcome, Andrew! You've illustrated a number of non-fiction books, how is the process different from that of a fiction book?

When illustrating fiction, you've got a lot more freedom, in that you don't need to be strictly factual. Obviously the imagination plays a greater role, especially in the choice of style. You can go crazy in fiction, mixing media, twisting perspective, creating dreamscapes. In non-fiction, the style tends to be more realistic, although I don't try to be photo-realistic. I actually think its a little dull, as with computers, almost anyone with a reasonable grasp of Photoshop or Illustrator can produce very realistic work. I like seeing the paint or pencil strokes, I like seeing the artist behind the work. That's what makes an illustration truly unique.

Are you able to see illustrations in your head as you read a story or is it a process that takes time?

A good text will always immediately suggest illustrations to me. I might end up doing something different later, but I'll always have something to start with. If I don't get any ideas straight away, I'll think twice about doing it at all. There's nothing worse than forcing out a painting or a whole book. It's a nightmare!

What makes you want to illustrate a particular book?

A great text. It's that simple!

How is illustrating your own books different to that of illustrating for others?

Illustrating your own book is really easy, as the pictures in my head come at the same time as the words. If they don't, I rewrite it.

What is your favourite page in the book?

The Thylacine on the beach. I think I nailed the colours on that one, and I'm really happy with the atmosphere. I also like the final, golden picture. I guess you can tell that the less detailed, moodier ones appeal most, as they're more 'creative', in a sense. Rather than worrying about anatomical details and trying to be a good scientist, as I had to in most of the Cretaceous pictures, I could just be an artist in those two. Of course, there's still scientific accuracy in them, but it's not the dominant part.

You can learn more about Catriona's work on her website or follow her on facebook. For more on Andrew's beautiful work, check out his website.

Check out The Little Dinosaur on the Working Title Press website. Teachers' notes can also be found here.

WIN! Don't miss your chance to win a copy of The Little Dinosaur right here on KBR. Enter now!