The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Ellie Sandall
|The Interview: Bookbag talks to Ellie Sandall|
|Summary: Ellie Sandall's Birdsong features a superb rhyme woven around lots of different bird calls. It's a picture book that any young book fan will love, so we jumped at the opportunity to interview her.|
|Date: 8 February 2010|
|Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath|
- Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Ellie Sandall: I would say I see a mixture of the children I have most recently read Birdsong to - the last group I read to were a mixed class of year three and four children at a school in Peterborough, who really enjoyed helping me out when reading the big bird’s shout of Keeyaaaaaaa!. They were very loud!
- BB: What inspired you to create a book based simply around bird song?
ES: When I was at Bath Spa University I used to walk down to Victoria Park, where there is an aviary. I was listening to the birds there one day while sketching them, and I loved the way in which all the different sounds wove together to create a seemingly continuous conversation. I wrote down some of the bird sounds in my sketchbook, and I liked the idea of a single bird being joined by more and more friends so that the air became filled with different calls, only to be silenced by the screech of the biggest bird. I created a tiny dummy book (it was only about 2 inches square!) and took it along to Egmont, and the story evolved from there.
- BB: Do you have a favourite bird?
ES: There are lots of different birds that I like - I love ducks, especially call ducks, which are very small with tiny beaks, but very loud voices! I also like zebra finches, because they make a very funny meep noise that always makes me laugh. I love penguins, which are very graceful in water but waddle about comically on land. My favourite birds, though, would have to be the barn owl who lives in Stowgate, Lincolnshire, and flies alongside my car when I drive at dusk, and the robin who visits my gran's house where my studio is and knocks on the kitchen window, demanding to be fed mealworms!
- BB: Do you remember listening to birdsong as child? What did it mean to you?
ES: I suppose there must always have been birdsong around me when I was growing up, as the area where I live is fairly rural. The one bird that comes to mind, though, is my budgie Percy, who was bought by my parents for my tenth birthday. Percy boasted quite a range of different calls, from a pleasant chirrup when he greeted me, to a warbling chatter when he spoke to himself in the mirror, to a harsh screeching noise that invariably ended with my mum throwing a tea towel over his cage to shut him up!
- BB: We loved your illustrations. Which other illustrators or artists have influenced you?
ES: My favourite artists are, among others, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and the wallpaper designs of William Morris. As for illustrators, I really love the work of Brian Wildsmith - his colours and patterns are just beautiful. Eric Carle has always been a favourite too, from a very early age, and John Burningham's books are lovely- I really like the relationship between the words and pictures and I think they complement each other perfectly. Other favourites include Polly Dunbar, Catherine Rayner and Alexis Deacon, whose fantastic books adorn my shelves. A special mention goes to James Mayhew, who was my tutor at Cambridge School of Art and who continues to be a good friend and source of illustration wisdom!
- BB: Is it hard for children's authors and illustrators to get the recognition that adult novelists get?
ES: I would imagine it depends on who it is you want to recognize your work - a children's author may not gain the same amount of recognition as an adult novelist from the same audience, but then the work of a children's author is aimed at a different age group. Children's authors are much better known by people who either work with children or have children of their own, which would suit me fine!
- BB: What advice would you give to prospective children's authors and illustrators?
ES: I would say keep persevering! From my experience, getting a book to the publishing stage is a long process with a lot of waiting involved, and it can seem far easier just to give up. Also, try to see several different publishers as, even if they might not sign you up, they often have some valuable pointers about how you could improve your work. Another good piece of advice, and something that I am not that good at following myself, is to keep a sketchbook with you as much as possible, so that you can jot down ideas for stories, characters, settings etc. as they come to you. My ideas tend to end up being scribbled on the back of receipts and scraps of crumpled up paper, which are just too easy to lose!
- BB: Which three books should every child read?
ES: It’s difficult to choose just three! Here are three of my favourites, though there are many more that could be on the list.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle - a childhood favourite of mine and countless others as well I'm sure- my copy was much loved, which you can tell by the fact it is dogeared and held together with tape!
Penguin by Polly Dunbar - I love this book, especially the part where the penguin describes to the little boy everything that they have done together, speaking entirely in pictures. I think that is a great way to get young children to reflect on the story they have just read.
For slightly older children, I really like My Dad's a Birdman by David Almond (illustrated by Polly Dunbar) - this book touches on some tough emotions such as sadness and loss, but in a very humorous way, and there is a lovely relationship between the father and the little girl.
- BB: Ooh, excellent choices! What are you reading at the moment?
ES: I have just finished the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga - I thought I ought to read them to see what all the fuss was about! I am about to start The Return by Victoria Hislop - I read The Island a while ago and really enjoyed it.
- BB: What's next for Ellie Sandall?
ES: I have two books in the pipeline at the moment. My second book with Egmont is about a cow with a very special talent, which will hopefully be released next year. I am also just about to start working on a book with Hodder, which is based on the theme of the relationship between a child and a (sometimes annoying) younger sibling. I am also hoping to do some more school visits this year, as I enjoy meeting new children and running art activities with them!
- BB: Thanks, Ellie. We can't wait to read your new books!
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