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.