Monday, 22 August 2016

Picture This… Thinking visually in picture book writing. Lucy Rowland

Our guest this week is Lucy Rowland, who is about to have some very exciting picture books published in 2017. Lucy is a Children's Speech and Language Therapist living and working in London.  She started writing picture books around three years ago and has her first books coming out with Bloomsbury and Macmillan early next year.  

I have always loved language. I have always loved words.  My mum tells me that, from a young age, I had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of nursery rhymes.  I grew up listening to my grandparents’ bedtime stories; poetry by A.A.Milne, Dr Seuss, and the rather strange, but wonderful, story of ‘Augustus who would not have any soup’.  



At school I studied English, French and German and went on to do a degree in Speech and Language Therapy.  So I suppose, in lots of ways, language has always been important to me.  But when I started writing picture books, around 3 years ago, it suddenly all made sense.  This is what I wanted to do!

I was incredibly lucky to find my wonderful agent, Anne Clark (of Anne Clark Literary Agency) in 2013 while I was travelling in Indonesia.  Anne has opened so many doors for me and has given me such valuable advice along the way.  I remember one of her first lessons.  While sitting in an internet cafĂ©, on an island with a somewhat intermittent power supply, Anne emailed me a question about a section of my text- ‘Could this be shown in the illustrations instead?’

I realised that I needed to think much more visually.  Now, this was hard for me. I am not a visual thinker at all!  I don’t tend to have a picture in my head of what my characters look like or how their worlds appear but, in some ways, this makes things all the more exciting!

I’m very new to the picture book world, but so far, one of my favourite parts of the process is that very first time that I get to see the characters.  It honestly feels like Christmas Day to me and I get a real feeling of ‘Oh wow! So that’s what he/she looks like!’  My first picture book with the very talented illustrator, Natasha Rimmington, is called ‘Gecko’s Echo’ and will be published by Bloomsbury in January 2017. 




People sometimes ask me, is that how you imagined Gecko?  But I’m not sure I really did imagine what Gecko looked like.  I’ve watched Natasha develop her over quite a long period of time and I’m amazed when I look at Gecko now and when I look back to Natasha’s initial sketches.  Naively, I had no idea just how much work goes into creating these beautiful illustrations.  For me, the way Natasha uses light in some of her spreads is just magical and she somehow manages to capture the way Bali felt to me.   

I am also lucky enough to have been paired with the wonderful Mark Chambers for two upcoming picture books with Macmillan.  The first of these, ‘Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet’, is out in April 2017.  I couldn’t wait to meet Pirate Pete for the first time and Mark did not disappoint! 



When Mark started working on the book it was really interesting because his ideas helped to change and shape the story even more.  I have always loved language but illustrators are visual story tellers and I’m constantly amazed at all the little details they include in their pictures.  Not only do these help to drive the story forward but they also add a depth to the characters that my words alone just cannot do.  



I’m still working on thinking visually.  It’s a lesson that I constantly remind myself of.   As I write, I try to think about how the words I choose could support the illustrations, how the language could hint at the action which might be happening in the background.  However, in the meantime, I feel incredibly lucky to have been paired with such talented illustrators who are able to show the worlds that I write, and in the most beautiful and powerful of ways.


Lucy’s twitter handle is @lucymayrowland  


18 comments:

  1. Ah seeing the first roughs is always such a lovely moment! I think it may be my favourite stage of picture book making. There's something so special about seeing your words come to life through someone's pencil. Good luck with your new books, Lucy :)

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    1. Thanks Abie! And thank you for the follow too. Yes, I know- it's just so exciting to see how someone else imagines them! :)

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  2. Hello Lucy! Congratulations on your books, they sound wonderful. I found myself nodding along to a lot of what you say above. That said, I do think visually - I think about what might make an arresting or funny image. I think about how to vary the scene from spread to spread so the eye doesn't get bored. But like you, I never picture what my characters might actually look like and it's always a treat to 'meet' them for the first time once an illustrator has conjured them up. It's a charmed job, writing picture books.

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    1. Hi Michelle! Thanks for reading! I've got many of your books at home and dip into them frequently :) I suppose that 'thinking visually' is something I'm starting to do as I learn more about picture book writing. I've been learning about the importance of visual variety, page turns,and how sometimes the illustrations could even contradict what's happening in the text. It's fun! But lots to learn!

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  3. Your love of language is clear just in that wonderful Gecko's Echo title! Both books look great fun. Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks so much Pippa. Ha ha, yes, well I do love language and, as I mentioned before, your books are particularly great for eliciting language from the little ones I work with! 'You choose' is an absolute must have for every Speech and Language Therapist!

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  4. Your excitement at your illustrators' work is really coming through, and your words must have inspired them, too. Well done!

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    1. Thank you Moira. I think I'm just ridiculously excited about the whole process! I didn't realise what a long process it is though! :)

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  5. I love that you are so excited about your illustrations, and with good reason it seems! I have always been a very visual person, so I often have a good idea of what a character looks like or what might be happening in the illustrations if/when a manuscript becomes a book. I have to remind myself, though, that I'm not the one that will be making those decisions. It's kind of a scary adventure!

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    1. Hi Rebecca. I know, they're so fab aren't they! I suppose it is a scary adventure in some ways, but perhaps even more so if you already have a strong idea of what your characters look like? I find it really interesting how we all work in different ways- that you can see your characters as you write them must be quite nice? Thanks for reading my first ever blog post! :)

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  6. Great first post, Lucy!

    I often have an image in my head when I'm writing a story, but one of the pleasures of working with a good illustrator is that they will bring something original to the story in a way that can sometimes confound the author's expectations. My pirate story "Here Be Monsters" was written with a crew of human pirates in mind, but illustrator Poly Bernatene decided to make each pirate a different animal which made the crew look a lot more diverse and characterful.

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    1. Hi Jonathan. Thank you! Yes, I agree and actually sometimes those changes come even earlier, at the editorial stage, and can send the story in a completely different direction. (My meeting today went a bit like that!) It's interesting to see how different people interpret the same text, how the same story could be illustrated a hundred different ways. I've definitely seen your 'Here be Monsters' book before so I will have a good look at it again to check out that pirate crew! Thanks for your comment.

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  7. What an informative post! Like you, I think in words, not set images & scenes, so your observations about how the illustrations not only move the story forward but also add depth to characters resonate. I so look forward to reading and seeing your books in 2017 & beyond, Lucy. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks so much Patricia. Yes, I'm much more of a 'words'person. I'm always very impressed by the people who do both words and pictures!..but it's nice to know there are people out there who work in the same was as me as well! :)

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  8. I enjoyed your first blog post, Lucy, and I too adore seeing the first visual roughs and the way a picture book develops. Personally, I do think visually but as I'm not an illustrator this can be a little problematic if I try to write a text where the illustrations are integral and not clear from just the text. Even with essential illustration notes it can be hard to explain what's in my brain! Yes, I should produce a dummy (embarrassing to look at when you're not an illustrator!), but instead I've returned to writing texts that are understandable without the image.

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    1. Hi Paeony, thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, I can imagine trying to write down and describe the pictures in your head could be quite a challenge! I've never tried making a dummy book...that's a good tip...maybe I'll give it a try!..I probably won't be posting the evidence on Twitter though!:)

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  9. What a lovely post! Your books look great - and I agree it is really exciting seeing how an illustrator interprets your words. Congratulations Lucy!

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  10. Thank you so much Anne :) hopefully see you soon x

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