The Art of Writing and Illustration – complimenting and enhancing each other
They say that writing is both an art and a science and I agree…literally. I was an avid diary keeper in my formative years enjoying the daily confidential sharing. My curious nature led me to excel in science subjects and I veered towards Biochemistry and Microbiology during my student days at UCD. Unfortunately, whilst pandering to my practical tendencies, it did knock my flair for the rhythmic musicality of writing into the more formulaic experiment instructions required.
Many moons later I returned to my love of expression in the form of writing. I had always wondered about others speaking of ‘the muse, downloading the story or hearing the call’. What did they mean? Where did this come from and was it accessible to mere mortals like me or a divine vocation only gifted to a select few? I have heard the saying “there is a book in everyone” and I hold that to be true. We Irish are innate storytellers and often have a way of weaving our experiences into glorious anecdotes that could easily translate to the printed word. However, it was only when I explored the holistic world and learned how to meditate that I could quiet my mind to ‘listen’ to the energy of a book as it wished to be expressed on the page.
Initially I began by writing articles for holistic magazines. Indeed, I still write quarterly for Naturally Good Health, a popular stalwart of the plethora of Irish health stores. Eventually I realised that if I wove all those pieces together, I would have the bones of an interesting book in the self-help genre. I co-wrote The Health Squad Guide to Health and Fitness in 2007 and was invited to write my first solo book Change a Little to Change a Lot by Merlin Press in 2009. The former featured colour photography of the various exercises, food and holistic items, the latter was black and white with a vibrant cover. However, I am a very visual person and realised that the design of future books was to be a very important aspect of my work.
Initially it was pure instinct that led to the exciting collaboration between me as writer and the designers and illustrators I have been privileged to work with over the years. Bernie Sexton, from Acrobat Design and I have had a truly wonderful and fruitful career together over many years. At this stage she knows intimately what I like and how the energy of the book speaks through me to her during our briefing sessions.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with my first illustrator, the very talented Paula McGloin on our children’s book Glorious Goddesses of Ancient Ireland. We had both been commissioned independently by Síne Quinn, publishing editor extraordinaire, who felt we were a good match. That certainly proved to be a wise assumption. I found the whole process to be tender, intuitive which like any new relationship ebbs and flows.
To begin, there is the ‘getting to know each other’ stage when both party’s review each other’s previous work. Not unlike online dating I imagine! Then there is the formal introduction, usually by the commissioning editor or publisher themselves. The book concept is explored at this stage. It is very important that the brief is given in either writing and/or verbally by the writer themselves, in conjunction with the publishing team of course. When everyone is happy that they are on the proverbial ‘same page’, then and only then may the project proceed. For me this is a key step in the process as each book’s unique voice needs to be expressed in writing and matched visually. There is a suspension of time, a holding if you will, as each creative brings the book jointly to form. In this case, my first children’s book, the stories were sent in their long form to Paula, and she responded with detailed pencil drawings based on her own meticulous research. I could see how sensitive she was to the very particular energies of these 9 feisty Irish Celtic goddesses, some of whom she had not been familiar with. In the meantime, I began to hone down their intricate stories while retaining the essence of their myths and legends.
The most crucial stage was when Paula and I worked together online, sharing the images of each goddess, combing through the stories, and matching each nuanced piece literally one by one. With initial trepidation, we began this hour-long process. As creative women, who express themselves in different but complementary forms, there was the inevitable nervous excitement. We both sighed with relief as the process began to flow after a matter of minutes. There was a mutual acknowledgement of each other’s craft and the pleasure of recognising the compatibility of both.
I am delighted to say that pre-launch, our beautiful children’s book has received a truly wonderful reaction at the Frankfurt Book Fair, by the book shops and buyers (featuring in several Christmas lists) and being included in the prestigious Late Late Toy Show ‘book cabin’.
(c) Dr Karen Ward
About Glorious Goddesses of Ancient Ireland:
A beautifully illustrated children’s book celebrating nine Irish goddesses. The goddesses depict a diverse range of ages, shapes and sizes, each with incredible stories: Áine, Aisling, Boann, Brigid, Danu, Ériu, Gráinne, the Cailleach and the Morrigan. Written in an accessible style with fascinating facts and amusing tales, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers. It can be pitched in the industry as a gift book/tourist book and as an educational resource. Paula McGloin’s captivating illustrations highlight the goddesses’ diversity as well as emphasising their ingenuity, power and magnificence.
Order your copy online here.