Many people ask how long it takes to put a book together. This book grew over a long time. It began with a story I heard on the radio, written by Kevin Crossley-Holland, about a girl who hears a story whispered by the wind in a sea shell. The story was about a selkie, a magical creature, a seal in the water and a woman on land, and it was beautiful in both language and as a first introduction to these wonderful creatures.
When I came to live in a place surrounded by sea, where seals breed late in the summer and sing on the beaches all the selkie stories came back to me, different know, as I was much older and had children of my own. The landscape and the seascape and the seals and birds wove themselves together into the story which is The Seal Children.
Having written the text once I started to work on the drawings to go with it and soon realised that my strength was in the painting, not the writing, so I threw it away and began again. First I took a blank book, the right size, with the right number of pages and worked out what I wanted to paint and a rough idea of the story. I wrote notes on those small yellow post-it tabs and put them in the right places and then sketched rough ideas of pictures. Then I went back to the writing again and this time the words came through stronger, although they still needed the work of an editor.
For me this was the main difference with working on a text written by myself, and illustrating someone else Here the two processes feed far more off each other, words and pictures working together like weaving, hopefully to make a stronger whole.
The book was very close to my heart both physically and emotionally. I would start my working day by walking through the landscape of the book, with ravens tumbling overhead and stonechats in the gorse, and the sound of sealsong carried on the wind, return to my studio and paint all day, and then walk again through the landscape of my paintings in the evening.
I saw the village through all the seasons, with foxgloves high on the walls, gorseflowers making the air rich with their heavy coconut perfume, in fog and mist, and rain, on sunbaked days and days when the wind blew so hard you could lean against it and spindrift flew through the air like snow.