Thursday, 30 April 2009

Book DNA - Anne Rooney

A novelist is the sole parent of an immaculate conception. Despite the midwifery of the editor, the baby is all yours. An illustrated book is a very different matter. It has two parents – writer and artist. I’ve just corrected the first proofs of a story that will be out later this year, and seen the pictures in colour for the first time. It’s always exciting to see the other half of the book-baby’s DNA. Sometimes there are surprises – ‘Ooh, look at that lovely ginger hair!’, or ‘I didn’t expect him to like cheese’, or ‘Doesn’t she live in a big house?’ Sometimes, as with a real child, there is a feature you’d rather not see in the offspring – that ugly nose, or the sullen scowl. Occasionally one of your own features stares out at you, horribly: do I really use semi-colons like that?

Sometimes, a writer and illustrator work closely together, and the offspring has two parents intimately involved with each other – an ideal situation in publishing as in life. This book, though, is the product of IVF by donor. I had some say in the choice of co-parent, checking the agency website and looking at his portfolio, and the black and white roughs showed there were no horrors lurking. But the first colour proofs are the moment of truth.

A good picture book is an organic whole, with words and pictures inseparable. The writer needs to leave scope for the illustrator’s imagination, and the book is richer for having someone else’s take on the story. As a writer, you can learn more about your own story from the way the illustrator has interpreted it. It can be hard to step back and give the other parent space, but it’s as essential in picture books as in families. You might not like your co-parent letting the baby stay up late, and you might not like pictures with quite so much brown in, but you both have equal rights over the progeny and the mother/writer is not necessarily always right. Even so, I still wish he didn’t have that nose and dress sense, and I don’t like the way his mouth goes when he does that thing. Must be his dad’s fault, because I don’t do that.


Bill Kirton said...

Subtle little parallel Anne. I've had kids, and I remember cradling my first book as if I'd actually had to go into labour to produce it, but I've not yet worked with an illustrator. But when I think of illustrated books - children's and adults' - it's obvious that they complement one another. Now how about extending your image to include plays. Writer, director, actor, set designer - more of a custody battle than a family affair.

Linda Strachan said...

Loved this one. I have worked both closely with an illustrator and completely removed from them. Not sure which I prefer, they are both such different processes. Although the close collaboration can be time-consuming it can also be exciting, as long as both 'parents' have enough respect for each other's work and ideas. It can be a great way of bouncing ideas about to make both sides more than they would have been singly.

On the other hand, as long as there are no horrible surprises it can be quite exciting to see what the other creative 'parent' has added to the story in your absence.

I must admit to finding that first opening of the envelope, to see the finished artwork, can be a bit scary - but I have only once hated what was done with one of my stories.

I agree it is a work of two halves but you do have to be able to let go a little!

Katherine Langrish said...

Congratulations Anne - on both book and post...

Anonymous said...

Did you mean 'virgin birth' rather than immaculate conception, Anne? You're not suggesting that -- like the Virgin Mary -- a novelist must be free from all sin, surely? That would take away half the fun!