Emily House - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview
We adore Bailey & Blanket, so couldn't wait to learn a bit about author-illustrator Emily House! She was kind enough to take a break from illustrating her latest titles on her iPad to answer our questions from sunny Cape Town, South Africa. She talks about her creative process, gives us a glimpse into her music playlist, and encourages us to "embrace the wiggly road." Please enjoy this delightful interview!!
Can you tell us about what inspired you to write Bailey & Blanket?
This story was inspired by my daughter and her fondness for her blanket when she was small. I was always so amazed how insistent she was that it came everywhere and all the different ways she used her imagination to play with it. I think it's a story that a lot of us can relate to as many of us had a special toy when we were small. My daughter's blanket has gone from being a beautiful, fleece-lined quilt to a greying strip of fleece. She is 16 now, and it has certainly been well-loved!
Can you talk about your illustration process?
Once the story, text positioning, and pagination has been decided, I start by doing small thumbnail sketches of the scenes for each page. I want the pictures to ebb and flow along with the text and ensure there is enough space for the text to breathe on the page. The text and illustrations need to sit together nicely and weave in with one other. I also do some designs for the characters. Once I'm happy with the sketches - which I often play around with on scrap paper - I then move to my iPad and start to work on the finished illustrations. Some days I am very productive, other days I am not! I love the iPad as it gives me the glorious option of an undo button, but I try to keep my illustrations full of texture and avoid them looking too digital.
(Image from Blue Dot Press)
What is your favorite page of this book and why?
I think my favorite page is of dad in his shed. This was one of the first images I drew for the book, and it was a sample I submitted to the publisher.
What book that you've written are you most proud of?
I am very proud of this book! It is the first picture book story I have written, but a special mention has to go to Earth Takes a Break. I wrote that one in lockdown and it has a special place in my heart.
What inspired you to become an author and/or illustrator?
It may sound cheesy but it was my childhood dream! I've always loved drawing pictures and creating stories to go with them and would often be found holed-up in my bedroom doing just that when I was small. I am the eldest of six children so we had picture books around for a long time in my house, and I think I loved reading some of the classics by Janet and Allan Alhberg and Judith Kerr as well as Shirley Hughes.
What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?
Ooo lots of things!
- When the words and pictures weave together seamlessly.
- When the illustrations are as such that the reader spots something new within them each time
- When there is an emotional reaction of some kind
- Silliness and fun
- The book itself has to be beautifully finished and feel great to handle
What was your favorite picture book growing up?
I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr, mainly because at the end of the story, the little girl got to go out for dinner in her pajamas!
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?
I've just finished reading The Push by Ashley Audrain - It's quite dark. Probably not for everyone but amazingly executed.
If you weren’t an author what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?
I am very lucky to be doing what I love. I think if I didn't have to think about earning a living I would be a career hobbyist! I am always wanting to try new things but don't have time.
What would you want your ten-year-old self to know?
Embrace the wiggly road! The direct path is not always the best one! I only started as a picture book illustrator a few years ago in my late 30s! I left school, worked in television production marketing and graphic design, moved from England to South Africa, took a career break and worked for a charity, organized music festivals and more. It was not a direct path, but I've loved every moment, and it's given me such a vast experience to draw from.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I am illustrating a book for another author about a squirrel who has a nut allergy! Writing-wise, I have a few stories up my sleeve. I am in the process of making a dummy book for one of them in preparation for sending it out on submission.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
That's easy! Flying! Who doesn't want to fly?
What is on your current playlist?
Goodness, I have such random taste. At the moment, Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire are pretty much on repeat and one of my favorite songs is Human Heart by Coldplay, We Are KING, and Jacob Collier.
Who are your favorite writers and illustrators?
Oliver Jeffers has to be up there with one of my favorites, but there are so many incredibly talented authors and illustrators out there.
- Interview by Abby Gallagher