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Children's Illustrator & Author - Emily Gravett

Emily Gravett left school with few qualifications and spent eight years living on the road, travelling in a variety of vehicles including a truck, a caravan and an RAF petrol bus called Toby Diesel! She eventually settled back in Brighton and is now a successful Author and Illustrator of award winning children's books.

The Interview

Name - Emily Gravett

Location - Brighton

Family - A partner (self employed plumber) One daughter (nearly 9) a dog, and two rats!

 

How did you first get into writing? Did you write or draw as a child?

The writing happened almost accidently. While I was at University studying illustration I started to write just so I'd have something that interested me to illustrate.

Have you had Art School training?

I went to Brighton University to study illustration at the age of 28/29 when my daughter was 4. I'd left school at 16 with not very good GCSE's, and drifted for a long time, but after my daughter was born I realized that I wanted a career, and drawing was my only skill.

Do you think formal training is essential to be a good illustrator?

Not necessarily, but for me I needed the discipline of being in a formal setting, and the feedback about my work from other students and tutors. Also it gave me the time to develop my work that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

Do you write at home? If so where?

I'm very lucky. I work from home in my own studio that we made in the loft of our house. It has big velux windows that I can see the South Downs from.

How many hours do you spend writing a day? Do you have to be quite disciplined?

My partner does the morning school run, so I work from when they leave (8.30am) until I have to pick Olly up from school. If I'm very busy I'll work a bit in the evening as well. I quite often take a sketchbook downstairs on an evening while I watch TV. I'm very self disciplined. I love my work, but I have to treat it like a job. I do no housework during my working hours etc, and make it clear to family and friends that I am 'at work'.

What or who has been your biggest inspiration?

I really don't have one big inspiration. I spend a lot of time looking at picture books, and am influenced by most of them, I loved book binding at university, so I'm influenced by interesting structures in books.

What story do you remember most from your childhood?

The Giant Jam Sandwich, with illustrations by John Vernon Lord. It was fantastic!

What story do you love reading to your daughter?

She's reading independently now, but we still read books at her bedtime. She loves anything with a dark edge. Preferably with death and orphans involved! When she was younger I loved reading her 'Where's my Teddy?' by Jez Alborough,(She could turn the page in the right place by the time she was two) and we knew alot of Dr. Suess off by heart.

How does writing/illustrating fit round spending time with your daughter?

It's pretty good. I'm able to pick her up from school 90% of the time, and I lessen my workload during school holidays. But whatever you do as a parent you end up feeling guilty. I get distracted during certain points of a project, and don't always give her the attention I feel I should.

Has your own daughter been a good 'story tester' for you?

She's pretty good. She used to be a bit too kind, trying not to hurt my feelings, but nowadays she says what she thinks.

In your opinion what makes a great children's story?

I have no idea. It's a bit of a lottery. Some books work, some don't. Different kids respond in different ways. That's a good thing. It keeps you trying hard, and ensures there's a huge variety of books out there.

As children are so visually led do you think good illustrations are key?

I think its more to do with the right balance between text and image, but as somebody who loves drawing, good illustrations are really important to me.

For you what comes first the story or the pictures? Do you get ideas for pictures before you get the words?

It's a mixture. Sometimes I'll build a book around an image I have, but sometimes it's a sequence of words, as it was with Orange Pear Apple Bear. There's no rules or formulas.

Was it hard getting your first book published?

No, I was incredibly lucky. I was at University, and entered Wolves and Orange Pear Apple Bear into a competition run for students by my publishers Macmillan to find illustrators. Wolves won, and they offered to publish both books, and gave me a contract for a 3rd. Since then I've signed a contract for two more books.

Did you have an agent? Do you think they are essential?

I don't have an agent. That's more just the way things have worked out than a consious decision. I think if I had left Uni without work lined up, I would have tried to get an agent before I approached publishers.

What is the best bit of business advice you have been given?

Just to keep records of income and expenditure.

Do you have any words of wisdom for Mums (or Dads!) who would like to become Children's Authors or Illustrators?

Study the subject. It's not a poor relation to grown up writing/illustrating. You really need to have a passion for it!

Books by Emily Gravett

 

Books enjoyed by Emily Gravett

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