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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Bool Buzz - Interview with Sophie Gilmore

I have the great pleasure to introduce you to another debut author/illustrator, Sophie Gilmore.

Sophie is an author and illustrator now living in Pisa, Italy. While making this book, she was living on a houseboat in London, England, and like the beasts in this story, she is happiest around water. And just like her beasts, she has a wicked sense of humor. Her debut picture book, Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast, releases March 15th.

Welcome Sophie, thank you for taking the time to visit with us..

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been illustrating/writing? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

SOPHIE: Hello! I have been working as an illustrator for around 9 years, with varying degrees of success (not very much success at all), but always the dream of getting into picture books. Only a couple of years ago did things start to come together, and now here is my first! I used to work from a shared studio with a gorgeous gang of illustrators in London, but now we’re in Pisa & I work from home. I generally enjoy working on my own, but it can become isolating, so I nip out for regular gelato breaks. I usually hash out a story in a notebook, lots of scoring out and scrawled notes that make no sense a day later. Then type it up and send it to my agent to see if it is any good! Usually, it isn’t.

I am so glad you stuck with it! Personally, I think having a nearby gelato place is almost as dangerous as a nearby Starbucks! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I harbour a strong desire to learn the banjo.

Uh oh! Though it might be easier than the clarinet (at least for your neighbors). Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Oh, too hard. Mr. Sendak of course. Patrick Benson illustrating The Minpins - every single spread is a wonder to behold. Absolutely anything the Ahlbergs did, but especially Funnybones. Margaret Mahy and Jenny Williams did some wonderful stuff together, like The Lion in the Meadow (the colours!), and The Witch in the Cherry Tree; a book called Avocado Baby by John Burningham; and a lot of Babette Cole!

What a fun collection of books and illustration styles. I enjoyed looking up the ones I was unfamiliar with - like Avocado Baby. How do you shift between illustrations and writing? (Which comes first? Which is the hardest? Which took the most revisions?)

I arrived pretty late to the writing party, so illustration will always come more naturally. Having said that, both can be equally as enraging as they are therapeutic. Writing your own books is great because you can avoid things you can’t draw! Like horses.

So well said. I do envy you the creative ability to control an entire book. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

Sennelier half-pans and Copic fine liners, with the tiniest nibs, always. It’s been years since I tried it, but screen-printing baffles me- I cannot wrap my head around having layers with each colour, combining to make something great. It’s probably magic.

*Chuckle* Where did you get the inspiration for the story of Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast? The inspiration for the illustrations?

We call my sister’s husband the crocodile doctor, over in Australia. His field tales of catching and then releasing these creatures with the team are a white-knuckle ride. I hoped to write a story about crocodiles, but have people see them as they would, say, a bear: the potential to be ferocious is there, but they’re just an animal worried about their little ones. And Little Doctor absolutely had to be a girl.

Wow, I love getting these behind the scenes glimpses. You definitely succeeded in making the crocodiles more relatable. Which spread/scene was the easiest to do? The most difficult?

The easiest was where a crocodile (in her cone of shame) is telling Little Doctor a wild tale full of terrible danger. But the most satisfying was a final spread, where Big Mean tells the story of the Little Doctor. So many characters on one spread! Something difficult is figuring out how to fit the words around, or within, an illustration.

I might have guessed the reverse on those spreads. The wild tale spread is phenomenal in its complexity and design. What's something you want your readers to know about Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast?

Little Doctor was written on my breaks while working another job and feeling as though I should probably give up on the illustration dream.

We are all so lucky you didn't give up. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)

As a kid (half in New Zealand, half in Scotland), imagination stemmed from utter boredom. As an adult, inspiration hits when I’m in transit- trains, planes, boats. So, probably, still boredom.

You've had me smiling and chuckling throughout this whole interview. If necessity is the mother of invention, then boredom is the mother of creativity. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast? Could you share one or more with us?

Image © Sophie Gilmore, 2019.

There is a golden mobile hanging in Little Doctor’s waiting room. It shows how I imagined Big Mean and her hatchlings getting into their predicament: swimming too close to a fishing boat, maybe getting tangled in litter blown over the side. Golden mobiles remind me of Kit Williams’ mysterious golden hare.

(Upper right corner. If you are unfamiliar with this reference to Kit Williams golden mobile that sparked a 30-year British literary treasure hunt, go here.)

Nice touch. You made me hunt for the reference! Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on the illustrations for my next book, which will also be published by the wonderful Owlkids! The story follows a girl and her beetle who grows and grows. I named the girl after my paternal granny, Freda.

Congrats! I'm looking forward to seeing it. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Read a lot and stay weird.

Great advice. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?

Hmm. Rejection is part and parcel of the whole process! And in relation to books: the period between creating a book and its publishing date- roughly one year- is just long enough to start seriously doubting if it is any good at all.

I bet! What is your favorite animal? Why? Or a current animal you are enamored with?

I love a good beetle. And anteaters are great to draw. They are so odd, all shaggy coat and claws.

Thank you Sophie so much for stopping by to talk about your writing and illustrating.

Thank you so much!

Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast.

To find out more about Sophie Gilmore, or get in touch with her:

Also, check out Sophie's cover for the novel, The Mystery of the Color Thief by Ewa Jozefkowick (Harper Collins 2018).

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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