This year will be my 21st year of illustrating children’s books. For most of that time I have worked with one editor for words, Janetta Otter-Barry, and one editor for images, Judith Escreet, at Frances Lincoln.
An author’s relationship with their editor, if they are lucky, is a curious thing. In publishing these days editors move around between publishing houses so fast it is hard to keep track of who is where, so this long relationship with these two people is unusual in modern publishing.
The relationship has changed over the years. From The Snow Whale, where I was the illustrator, working closely with Judith, trying to capture a ‘style’ a way of interpreting Caroline Pitcher’s lovely characters, to Song of the Golden Hare, which crashed its way across several contracts, pushing everything out of its way.
Each book carries its own challenges. The Snow Whale found me floundering with different techniques until I settled on coloured pencils, which I must go back to one day, working closely with Jude to design pages and keep continuity and carry the story forward.
My relationship with Janetta became closer when I wrote The Snow Leopard. I had published two books that I had written, Bears, Bears and More Bears and The Seal Children, but these had happened almost accidentally. The Snow Leopard was more of a conscious push towards writing and this move was championed by Janetta who had confidence in my ability with words. Later she took up East of the Sun, West of the Moon when other publishers turned it away as they could not understand where it would fit ‘on their lists’. Janetta saw it for what it was, a small piece of work that stood alone, something different. Jude worked with me to put it into the shape I wanted it in, small, with pictures punctuating a story with no chapters. There were few roughs, although it took a month, back and forward with ideas to find the cover. But there was trust.
And Janetta really championed both myself and Catherine Hyde when we took the proposal of Little Evie in the Wild Wood to her, a book written by me, and illustrated by Catherine, now nominated for The Greenaway. It’s a strange thing introducing a fellow artist to your publisher. A delicate thing. I love Catherine’s work and I felt very strongly that she would be a strong, powerful voice to be added to Frances Lincoln’s ‘catalogue’.
20 years. Janetta and Jude’s working relationships with me are exceptional, unique. They are like no other relationship I have. It’s like family, but different. It is about trust, respect, professionalism. It’s like a marriage, but not the same. Sometimes it has an edge like a razor, sometimes it’s as close as sisters ( or maybe those two things are the same?) It’s maddening. It’s about give and take. There are arguments, sometimes about something as small as a full stop, a three letter word, a tense. Sometimes it is so close a relationship, supportive, giving courage to continue, championing an idea for me, fighting my corner.
Jude has retired now from Frances Lincoln. I didn’t get a chance to thank her for all the long hours of work she put in making my books as beautiful as they could be, so am doing that now. You taught me a lot.
I have a new art editor at Frances Lincoln, but hope to still work with Jude in a freelance capacity.
Janetta also has taught me so much and I hope to go on learning. She has one of the strongest lists in publishing today, with many classic books on the backlist and beautiful new work being published every year. She is a champion of poetry books for children when other publishers have dropped them, saying that they don’t sell. She works hard to produce beautiful and exceptional books that respect their audience and delight children.
So thank you Janetta, Jude and now Andrew Watson. Here’s hoping for a wonderful new year to all who work at Frances Lincoln, and to all those who take the time to read my blog.