Today I am absolutely delighted to be a hosting a post on the Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour, a very special award as the winners are voted for entirely by children. It’s owned and run by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and sponsored by Red House - check out the awesome illustration that Lee Wildish (one of last year’s winners) has done to celebrate the awards this year!
I was over the moon to discover that Story Seekers had been selected to highlight ‘Walter & the No-Need-to-Worry Suit’ by Rachel Bright, published by Harper Collins.
In a serendipitous twist of fate, we have owned this book for a while now, along with another from the same series (‘Benjamin & the Super Spectacles’) and we’ve totally fallen in love with the Woollybottomers So, without further ado, here is a chat about life, the universe and being on TV in just your pants, from wordsmith, illustrator and professional optimist, Rachel Bright.
Where are you now?
In my little converted-caravan studio on the small-holding where I live and work. We’re in a forest clearing in Dorset, really close to the sea, called Alpha Farm. The view out of my window is a field surrounded by trees and the afternoon sun is falling in dapples on the grass. Inside, my desk is piled high with paper and all kinds of things. I’m afraid nobody would ever call me tidy. I read a wonderful Einstein quote once, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk a sign of…?” Perhaps it’s merely a justification for me, but I loved that.
Who are you with?
Well at the moment, it’s just me, my dog Elvis and our rather mad cat, Superman. That’s why I can get away with it being so untidy – they don’t care.
What are you working on?
I work on lots of things at once. The variety keeps my ideas fresh. Right now I’m working on a story about love and chocolate (how lucky am I?)…
…whilst also thinking up some exciting new things for the bright side (Rachel’s global card and gift empire!) and penning another new love story.
Someone recently said to me, ‘I think all your stories are about love’. I thought that was the highest possible compliment.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. Anywhere. I got the idea for ‘Walter & the No-Need-to-Worry Suit’ whilst staring in the fridge, looking for cheese. When I wrote ‘Love Monster’, the idea popped into my head, fully formed at 5am in the morning, which was most inconvenient. The best ideas rarely hit when you’re sitting staring at a blank piece of paper willing it to come. I often go running to clear my head and the ideas find their way in. All creative people are sponges. We soak up the world around us and then squeeze it out again, but through our own unique perspective.
Where did you get the idea for ‘Walter & the No-Need-to-Worry Suit?
Well, I sort of answered this one in the last question… I found Walter in the fridge behind the cheese. But, I’ll let you into a little secret. Before Walter was a donkey – he was a chicken called William. I had the idea for this story a long time ago and it has gone through lots of guises to get to this finished book. Of course the chicken is still there, but he’s called Charlie now. Funny how things turn out.
Which character in the story are you?
I’m all of them. They each represent the different sides we all have – sometimes we are worriers, sometimes we are curious or a little bit perfectionist or excitable or even a bit of a show off. I suppose Winnie is most like me in the sense that I’ve become a professional optimist. It’s a fabulous job – blue skies are guaranteed.
What is your favourite bit?
What is your favourite bit?
Oh definitely the bit where Walter imagines being on TV in just his pants. I mean haven’t we all? When we recorded ‘Walter and the No-Need-to-Worry Suit’ as a storybook app with the amazing team at MeBooks, I found it utterly wonderful that in the voiceover, Walter came out Welsh. The lovely accent fitted him like a…well…like a snug pair of smalls. A delight I wasn’t expecting.
How do you make the artwork?
I did a Masters degree in Printmaking and fell in love with etching and letterpress. I draw all my illustrations in pencil and then I etch them. Walter was made using a process called solar etching. Here are a couple of short storyclips of me solar etching and copper plate etching in the studios I share in Dorset and Bristol. I do the colouring-in with gouache paints or on the computer. I am always experimenting with new techniques though. It’s important to not stand still for too long.
How did you become an author and illustrator?
I took a very unusual and long-winded route to my dream job. I did a degree in Graphic Design and got my first job at Smythson of Bond Street as a junior designer where Samantha Cameron was my first ever boss. Then I became an air hostess for a year and a half and was lucky enough to go to Necker and meet Richard Branson.
Then I had my own garden landscaping business (I’m particularly good at ponds). I was an extra in TV programmes for a while (once taken hostage by daleks). Then I became a writer in advertising whilst also studying for a Masters degree in Printmaking. When I had my first exhibition of work, a commissioning editor from one of the world’s biggest publishing houses happened to wander in and see some of my work… and the rest is history. The truth was that all that time I had been dreaming of becoming an author and illustrator , but I had no idea how to make it a reality. As soon as I focused all my energy in that direction, the reality found me. As often happens in life – If you spend your time thinking about what you really want – the how will work itself out in the end.
Any top tips for budding writers, illustrators or optimists?
If you have words and pictures in your soul then the world will see them. The trick is to spend as much time as possible doing what you love most, because when you love what you do, others will too. Be as authentic as you can. Draw the pictures that your heart demands to be drawn. Write the stories which are knocking on the door of your mind and then show as many people as you can. I read something utterly fantastic Maurice Sendak once said, ‘I write stories and then somebody tells me they’re for children’. Exactly.
What do you do when you’re not writing or illustrating?
Ooooh, LOTS of things. I go to the beach (to surf or swim). I run (usually with Elvis) – running is meditation for me (I’ve even run lots of crazy ultramarathons).
I love being outside and living here on our farm is a bit like ‘The Good Life’, looking after the chickens, ducks and bees, chopping wood, growing veg and all sorts – it keeps us pretty busy. I also love learning new stuff. I fantasise about a second degree one day. I try and carve out a ‘maybe day’ each month where I do something I’ve never done before. I love reading too…fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, novels, you name it. Keeping my eyes open at bedtime to get through a whole chapter though is probably my biggest challenge…
What do you worry about?
I worry about worrying. You know what they say – the only thing to fear is fear itself. Walter would understand. I think one of the secrets to happiness is embracing the unknown and just enjoying the journey along the way. If you let go of the what-ifs and become a best case scenariost, worrying gradually takes up less and less space in your life. Which is, of course, what ‘Walter & the No-Need-to-Worry Suit’ is all about.
What are you excited about?
This award! It’s an absolute honour to be shortlisted. Also, I’m excited about the new stories I’m writing and ideas I’m creating. To be honest I’m excited about life. Mostly I’m excited about today. Today is packed with possibility and potential.
What are you reading?
‘The Carrot Seed’ by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ by Dr Seuss, ‘Henry Hikes to Fitchburg’ by Donald B. Johnson, ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green, ‘How to be Free’ by Tom Hodgkinson (which I’m kind of re-reading) and in the background I’m dipping in and out of a book called ‘The Personal MBA’ by Josh Kaufman.
Your favourite book?
Since I was ten and still to this day, ‘The Neverending Story’ by Michael Ende.
What is your favourite place?
Who or what inspires you?
Often, I’m most inspired by meeting the very people I write for – children – they have the best imaginations of all – uninhibited by ideas of possible and impossible. Some of my most inspiring days are spent with 6 year olds.
What are your guilty pleasures?
I love a good power ballad. But I don’t feel all that guilty about it.
When are you happiest?
My new book ‘Love Monster & The Perfect Present’ has just come out and I’ve already finished his next adventure ‘Love Monster and The Last Chocolate’ (due out in April 2014). There’ll be more from the Walter and the Woollybottomers and plenty more stories besides. There’s a squirrel, some miniature bears, a rather bolshie lion and all kinds of other made up animals waiting in the wings… but for now, I think it might be time for a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake.
Final thought for the day?
Less worrier, more warrior. Walter would approve, for sure.
“Walter & the No Need To Worry Suit” has been shortlisted in the younger children category of the 2014 Red House Children’s Book Award. The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only national children’s book award voted for entirely by children. It is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, and sponsored by Red House.