How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Mistakes That Make Writers Look Like Amateurs... and How to Avoid Them

Monday, June 4, 2012

High Five Interview #17: Kate Slater and the Great Mystery of Magpie's Treasure


Hi, Kate! Thanks for being a part of HIGH FIVE today! Congratulations on your first written picture book being published as an author/illustrator! You are the first illustrator I have interviewed in my series. Let’s jump in and get started!

Title: Magpie’s Treasure
Author: Kate Slater
Illustrator: Kate Slater
Publisher: Andersen Press
Release date: 28th October 2010
Word count: 450
Short summary or blurb:

Magnus Magpie is a bird with an eye for burglary. He steals only the brightest, shiniest, most dazzling things and stashes them secretly in a hollow at the top of his tree. But do all these riches make him happy? It takes a trip to the moon for Magnus to discover that all that glitters is not gold and that true happiness can often be found at home.

Question ONE: What are some of your favorite picture books? Two for stories and two for illustrations.

These books are all chosen for both stories and illustrations, I think all my favourites have both! It’s been so difficult to decide; there are many, many, many more that I love equally.

  1. Where’s Julius - John Burningham
  2. I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen
  3. Les Poings Sur Les Iles - Elise Fontenaile and Violeta Lopiz
  4. Otto the Book Bear - Katie Cleminson

Question TWO: Despite not having any children of your own, how do you feel that you were drawn to write for them?

I have always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, ever since I was about seven! I had a teacher who told my class about a nine year old girl who wrote a series of children’s books called The Garden Gang. I loved writing stories and drawing so I decided I wanted to be published too, preferably by the time I was eight, so I could be the youngest published author! Twelve years later I applied to the fantastic illustration course at Kingston University and when I graduated in 2008 I was able to visit a few publishers with my portfolio. One of those was Andersen Press who published Magpie’s Treasure.

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom? Do you have any lesson plans available?

I love visiting schools and have done lots of collage workshops with children of all ages. Birds are fantastic to collage and I often take in a giant tree for all the finished birds to perch in, it’s great to leave the school with a huge piece of collaborative artwork up on their wall! I’ve also just heard that my local primary school is going to do a whole week’s work based on Magpie’s Treasure. They’re even creating a crime scene in the school for one of his burglaries, which sounds fantastic! It’s a great way of getting the whole school involved in one project.

Magpie’s Treasure has also been selected by the Children Thinking website as a philosophy resource for young children, which is great as it’s not something I would have thought about!

Question(s) FOUR: How many books had you illustrated before you published YOUR story? How was being the author/illustrator different from being the illustrator only? Do you think one is easier or harder than the other? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you see yourself as mainly an illustrator or more as an author? Do you have more writing projects in the works? Do you have an agent? If so, how did that happen? Does he or she represent your illustrating or your writing or both?

Magpie’s Treasure is my first children’s book. I’ve since illustrated another, ABC London, which is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in June and have just started work illustrating a book for Barefoot Books. I’m also currently working on a new story of my own.

Magpie’s Treasure was the story I wrote and illustrated for my final major project at university. When I took it to Andersen I think they were surprised by how little it needed changing, but that was probably because I’d been working on it for about 7 months beforehand! While the story hardly altered, the illustrations are quite different from those I first showed them. I was working in 3D collage and suspending pieces of the illustration from wires which they thought were a bit too sophisticated for a children’s book, so they asked me to try working in flat collage. I also made the illustrations much brighter and they became a lot more detailed as I developed my flat collage style. The illustrations definitely take far, far longer than the writing, but it usually works best if I think about the illustrations as I write the story. I tend to try and write the story first and then end up with a ridiculously high word count that will never fit into a picture book, so I’ve started to try and plan the page layouts a bit as I go along.

Being the illustrator is quite different from being the author too, although for ABC London the writing doesn’t play as much of a role as the only text on each page is “A is for Art, B is for Brick Lane” etc. With the book I’m illustrating now in some ways it’s less of a balancing act, because the text and the pacing has already been decided on, so I can focus on telling the story in an engaging, unique way and making sure the illustrations fit in with the rhythm of the text while also adding to the story. If it was my own story I’d constantly be thinking about cutting out a line here, or moving this bit of text to the next page.
Magnus the Magpie Perching for the reading
I don’t have a preference for one or the other, although I’d love to write and illustrate together all the time. I think it would be quite strange to write a story for someone else to illustrate but I really enjoy illustrating other peoples’ stories. I definitely see myself as more of an illustrator, but that’s because illustrating is what I do the majority of the time. I’ve  illustrated for magazines, book covers, advertising and I also make and sell my work online (www.katefete.etsy.com) and in shops and galleries, whereas I’ve only written one children’s book so far!

I don’t have an agent. At the moment I promote my work myself, although it’s something I would consider in the future.

Question FIVE: As an illustrator, what are some writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication? What types of things should writers try to consider from an illustrator’s perspective?

I think the main thing is to leave room in the story for the illustrations. Not just in terms of page layout but remember that the pictures will tell just as much of your story as the words do, so you don’t need to describe every little thing. You could give quite detailed notes to explain what’s going on in the story, but it’s also good to leave the illustrator to interpret your text on their own, rather than having very set ideas about exactly what each page will look like. In general, most children’s books are 32 pages and you end up with 24 of them to tell the story, or 12 double page spreads. I find it so difficult to stick to this when I’m writing though. I usually have to cut great chunks out of the text to make it fit which can be quite painful! Usually I find that if I leave the story for a while, when I come back to it I can be much more ruthless!

Thank you so much for being with us today. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience with us. Hope to see around the web in the future.

Feel free to ask Kate more questions in the comments below and to visit her website.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on the success of Magpie, and thank you both for a very interesting interview! Good luck with all your projects in the works!

    ReplyDelete

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