Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Collaboration - Dianne Hofmeyr

The Oxford dictionary defines to collaborate as:
  1. to work jointly esp. in a literary or artistic production.

  2. to cooperate traitorously with the enemy.
Perhaps it’s this sinister connotation that publishers have in mind when they try to keep authors and illustrators apart (in case the author and illustrator start collaborating against them). But don’t be put off - there’s something very positive about working with your illustrator.
Jude Daly and I have collaborated for many years. I claim her as one claims my agent and my publisher - mine even though she works for others. Since we both grew up next to the sea on opposite sides of the same bay, I like to think there were currents flowing between us, long before we met. The same sea washed up on her beach that washed up on mine and I like to imagine when the South-Easter blew my beach ball out to sea, it landed up safely in her hands on the other side of the bay!
The great plus of a partnership is that you give your illustrator the unthinkably impossible - you sprinkle words lightly, mix them all together and hand over the dough to rise in someone else’s kitchen, because you’re confidant they’ll know what’s inside your head. The sweep of the Persian desert, the void at the beginning of creation, the overwhelming loneliness of the Atlantic Ocean, are handed over without qualms. Not only does she succeed but she expands these concepts so that the scorching desert lives on beyond the double page spread of the book’s borders and the mists of the ocean curl up around the end pages. Baking at its best!
Another plus of collaboration is that as the images emerge, your words can be edited. (Eventually all the words could be redundant but it’s hard to convince your friends and family that you’re a writer when you show them your wordless book!)
The whole process becomes a playful one. Here are a few excerpts from Jude's emails while she was working on The Faraway Island
I am painting pomegranates on Ferdinand's pomegranate tree while his pineapples and bananas dry. Callas is serenading him, and me. As fast as I paint though, the sailors are picking the fruit!’
And… ‘A sparkling day in CT. (Cape Town) Our gardener and seamstress are about to set foot on his island. And, as you wrote, "on the long journey, she busied herself mending the ship's sails" - in full flight, which just goes to show her incorrigible nature.’
Finally… ‘I don't think I have been as enchanted by the characters I'm illustrating as I am with these… they have really got to me.'
So don’t be put off by publishers who say ‘we like to keep our authors and illustrators separate’. A collaboration is the best kind of picture book where ideas flow freely between you and your illustrator but at the same time you’re still breathless with awe when you see the illustrations in full colour for the first time.


adele said...

This is really fascinating Diane! Thank you...I have only once or twice even met my illustrators and it's always been fun when I did. Doreen Caldwell actually used my daughter as a model for a very ancient book called, to my eternal shame, THE PAINTED GARDEN! I had quite forgotten that that's the name of the sequel to Ballet Shoes...My bad, as they say.

Anonymous said...

How lovely to hear of a successful collaboration! This year I've had one illustrator whose work I really didn't like, and one whose work I did like but he didn't speak any English (and I wasn't allowed to communicate with him, even in his native Italian, everything had to go through first an editor and then a translator!) [and, in case he's looking, one illustrator who spoke English and whose work I did like!] - so I it's really encouraging to hear of such a successful and open relationship with an illustrator. Obviously it can work, and be so fruitful. What lovely comments from her!

Anonymous said...

I had never worked WITH an illustrator until I wrote two illustrated books with my friend, Jane Ray. And now I am in a genuine collaboration with Ros Asquith. It was so important to me to have her on this particular book that I said if she couldn't do it, I probably wouldn't do the book!

But mostly my illustrators have just been given my text and in some cases we have never met, or at least not till after the book's publication. Sometimes the results have been wonderful, sometimes not. And I do think it's strange that publishers want to keep writers an artists apart.

Linda Strachan said...

I totally agree that it can be an amazing experience to work with your illustrator. For years I had never met or spoken to any of the illustrators of any of my books, at least until after the books were published - and even then I only spoke to him once.

That was until the Hamish McHaggis books. Sally J. Collins and I have worked together on these (8 so far and we are now working on number 9) It has been fascinating and fun, too. Sally lives only three miles from me so we can meet up regularly.

From the first meeting when I tell her my ideas for the story until we put in the final touch (the little hidden mini beasts - we meet to decide where on the finished images they will go. It has become a kind of ritual 'signing off' of the book) we get together frequently.
As you mentioned, Dianne, the collaboration also means that I can edit my words and she can change her images as we go along. It is a different way of working but has definite advantages.