The Lost Words, Sexism and the Press. The Curious Case of the Lost Illustrator

The Lost Words has been out in the world for a while now. Both Robert and myself were delighted when we heard that it was shortlisted for The British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, alongside Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Philip Pullman’s glorious La Belle Savage.

I was not so delighted with the press coverage.

Good to know the press have judged it to be a ‘face off’ between Walliams and Pullman and the rest of us are also rans.

Anyone spot the missing illustrator?

It’s hard to say any of this without sounding petulant. At the end of the day it comes from the same source that sees men being paid more than women for the same jobs. At least the authors of Rebel Girls get a passing mention. I spent almost two years illustrating The Lost Words. It is a partnership of image and word, worked together by both myself and Robert. ( can I just add that Robert wanted me to have a larger % of the royalties for this book, the first time any author I have worked with, as he said he recognized the difference in time spent painting and writing for this book. I refused to accept. Words and images in partnership, always 50/50).

So, here I feel I have been hit with the double whammie of sexism and word over image.

The first person to really pick this up in public was the wonderful woman who runs the incredible @womensart1 on her blogged review of The Lost Words, which I think is worth a read. In the research for this she was shocked at the lack of my voice on the making of the book. It was almost always only ever there in the form of the images, often lavishly used with only a micro-credit. It seemed no one was particularly interested in my speaking voice, apart from Elementum and Artist and Illustrator.

So, is it sexism, or is it the way that word is valued over image?

There’s a campaign called #PicturesMeanBusiness that tries to campaign against this in the world of publishing. The campaign was launched by Sarah McIntyre and James Mayhew and has been championed by The Bookseller. I think we still have a long way to go.

I’m told by a spokesperson from the The Bookseller that the original press release sent out about the awards from the press office at The Bookseller included my name as illustrator of The Lost Words. Somehow these words, my name, then became lost words themselves as the press release was syndicated to many magazines and journals.

Philip Jones of The Bookseller said “I’ve asked our PR the same question: they think the original piece was written by the Press Association and syndicated to the other newspapers, so it was one error being repeated. We’ve asked the PA to correct this. I’m very clear that we always credit illustrators in the magazine, and on our awards materials.”`

I first spotted the article when I found it on the website of our local newspaper and couldn’t believe that they had taken my name out of the article, while copying the rest word for word.

Anyway, some time ago Robert and I were accused of sexism also. It’s not a pleasant thing to be on the receiving end of. We had been included in a list of best selling books that contained not one single female character. And while it was lovely to be included in a list of best selling books of the year, it was far from the mark. Via twitter I catalogued for the author of the piece, from acorn to wren, the female characters in the book. Both in word and in image this book contains both male and female creatures and beings. And is this important, well, yes, but the article was flawed by the wrongful  inclusion of our book and we were grateful to receive the apology printed at the bottom of the piece.

So, where is this all going? Well, I would like to know why words are still given dominance over image, when all words are is a collection of images, 26 of them. And images are easier to translate into other languages. I would also like to know why, if my name was on the original press release, it was the only name removed by the Press Association. Seems like a curious piece of editing to me.

And why does the Press Association think in the 21st century that this is a good piece of writing, or even an acceptable piece of writing, to put out and syndicate?

I only hope it wasn’t written by a woman.


About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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9 Responses to The Lost Words, Sexism and the Press. The Curious Case of the Lost Illustrator

  1. Bernie Bell says:

    Phew, Jackie – I was mistaken – this doesn’t look like simply a case of – that Mr. Mac is seen as more well-known, and therefore more ‘saleable’. I don’t know what it is – are we living in 2018, or 1820?
    It must be hard for you to take – that’s putting it mildly.
    The work is the thing – it’s out there, more and more.
    Acknowledgement, would be appreciated – and you are acknowledged, by real folk.
    What you describe here confuses me – I don’t see what’s happening here at all.
    Bloody weird goings on.
    All I can say is – please, keep on keeping on and keep on walking and painting and writing and thinking and being………………..Jackie.
    What a very odd world we live in.

    Have you come across this lady?

    • Jackie says:

      Loved that so much.
      All that is going on here is that someone wrote a press release without engaging their brain. The Hate U Give, also on the shortlist, written by a woman, has a really interesting back story and is a brave and powerful book. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has had an amazing publicity campaign and is written by a women. The lost Words has been having a really interesting time and i have never known another book crowdfunded into schools the way our book has been, and i was left off the listing. And even I thought Kes Grey must be an author illustrator…. but he isn’t. It’s a really poor piece fo journalism.
      That’s all.
      Love that calligraphy.

  2. marly says:

    Jackie, I have frolicked through a batch of your posts (like an otter on ice) but am sad to read this one. Though not surprised, I am sorry…

  3. Christina says:

    I suspect it’s a combination of the two: sexism, and ‘word over image’ bias. And, of course, complete ignorance at the enormous amount of work that goes into illustrating! I used to work with a chap who was a close friend of Shaun Tan’s (gave him his first illustrating jobs actually), and he got to see ‘The Arrival’ while it was still a WIP, and showed me some of Shaun’s work…and mentioned that Shaun had spent about 6 months working on it, then changed direction…and started all over again. The mind boggles! At least that was Shaun’s own book (and a masterpiece completely devoid of words, too!)

    I’ve always been shocked and confused by the way books are marketed and catalogued by author, even when the author has contributed less than a handful of words per page, and the illustrator has clearly spent months on the illustrations. I simply don’t get that at all. I understand that even writing a few words takes skill, but it very often is not on equal par with what the illustrator has contributed. I imagine it’s probably why so many illustrators end up writing their own books.

    But I also suspect that it is even more so the case for women illustrators. I think there’s probably still that old prejudice, that men become artists, and women become illustrators, the ‘lesser’ art.

    You’d think in this day and age we might have got past all this, given that books that are ‘just words’ can so easily be distributed digitally, and with the advances in printing, the actual books that ARE being produced today are often stunningly beautiful, both in design and illustration. But sadly, I don’t think so, not yet.

    • Christina says:

      Just occurred to me, I wonder how Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’, was marketed…was he credited as the ‘author’?! Maybe we need to move on from the words ‘author’ and ‘illustrator’ and use ‘creator’ or something similar instead?

  4. Bernie Bell says:

    Thing is…I don’t think of Jackie as ‘an illustrator’ . Nothing wrong with being ‘an illustrator’! , but…I don’t see Jackie as ‘an illustrator’. Given the task of saying what I do see her as – I could try ‘artist’, but she writes, too – though ‘artist’ could cover that as well.
    It may be nit-picking with words, but…..somehow I always balk at even Jackie using the word ‘illustrator’ of herself – she’s Jackie – magicy woman – witchy woman, who makes all kinds of marks on paper ( and desk tops, and stones, and other surfaces), to great effect. She does things, makes things. She LIVES. She illustrates, in that she illuminates what she comes across. Maybe ‘Illuminator’ is the word I’m after.
    We need words – I have to have a name – folk can’t just say “small, round person with red hair, talks a lot” but – she has a name – Jackie.
    She don’t need a label, of any kind.
    And I’ve tied myself up in words, there – they are useful, wonderful things, but, sometimes, they let us down, when they just don’t convey, what we want to convey. Maybe in an another language, or even one which doesn’t exist any more, there is a word which pulls together and describes all that Jackie does – or, someone could invent one! Come on Mr Mac – that’s your field of expertise – a word for what Jackie does! I’ve described Mr. Mac to people who haven’t heard of him, as a bloke who goes for long walks, with all his senses on ‘receive’, then writes about his encounters. I suppose he is mostly labelled as ’a writer’, but again, that’s not all he does, by a long way. The writing wouldn’t work, if he wasn’t truly living it.
    I’m rambling – I’ll stop!

  5. Bernie Bell says:

    Something just occurred to me…………..Medieval manuscripts are referred to as ‘Illuminated’ manuscripts – not ‘illustrated’, but ‘illuminated’!

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