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Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori

Q: What for you is the start of an idea for a picture book - the main character, the setting or the central idea?

A: The start of the idea usually is a single image around which I try to dream up a story. With the Bookworm, it was different, since it came from the old words for dragons -wyrmes and flytes. Wyrmes lived beneath, and flytes flew. I think the overall idea slowly grew out of that.


Q: Authors often talk about 'ideas notebooks'. As an illustrator, do you constantly have a notepad of doodles, or is it ideas you're jotting down?

A: No. I'm not a constant keeper of sketchbooks. I always have one or ten of them on the go (I have a fascination for stationery and love finding new and beautiful sketchbooks), but most of my notes aren't drawings, they're words. Much to the despair of my illustration tutor at Art School many years ago. Does that mean I'm more of an author than an illustrator?


Q: In The Bookworm, Max wants a pet. Why did you include such unusual 'alternative pets' like the wasps and ants?

A: I included wasps and ants because they tend to include themselves - we have end of summer infestations where I live, and I imagine the incoming hordes of wasps and ants would love it if I welcomed them, fed them and sheltered them (like a proper pet) and didn't summarily eject them like unwanted guests.


Q: Do you enjoy illustrating bugs, as there are quite a few of them in your picture books?

A: I hadn't thought about this at all - I like the geometric perfection of insects and their exquisite colours, so yes, I enjoy drawing them - some of them are like little jewels.

I also love to anthropomorphize them and imagine character traits they might have. So many small people shriek 'EWWWWWW' if they see an insect or squash them automatically - I think by making up personalities for them, we might come to think before we shriek or squish them.

Although, I do struggle to like bluebottles and ants in my muesli are an ant too far...


Q: Instead of the bugs, Max finds a worm - or Bookworm - to be his pet. How hard was it to illustrate the worm, and to make it look appealing without giving away too much?

A: Oh, crikey. Have you got a few days? After I'd painted half of the watercolour spreads and submitted them for scrutiny by the art editor, it emerged that the colour and shape and general articulation of the Bookworm was going to become an issue.

The original drawings were seen to be too pink, too much like a human body part (don't ask), too unappealing and too worm-like. No kidding, too worm-like? I think what we ended up with was an 'idea' of a worm. He had to be almost prettified to make him more appealing.

Regardless of his external appeal, I was more interested in his inner life - mainly what his life was like before Max plucked him out of his underground burrow. I began to really get under the skin of the Bookworm (so to speak!) as soon as I drew his little underground house. When I drew his very long and thin bath, his 1970's reclining chair and his kitchen storage jars full of earth and leaves, I felt huge sympathy for him. When pets are taken from their first home so that they can become 'ours', it must be so hard for them.


Q: Is it important to give children visual clues in the story about Bookworm's true heritage? eg chilli-flavour crisps?

A: Yes - children love to spot something that the adult reading the actual text of the story hasn't seen yet.


Q: And do you always want to include humour in the story, too?

A: I learned this the hard way. It's a great leveller, humour. I've had lovely texts fall completely flat because some groups of small children didn't want soulful stories that made them think, or stories that made them empathise, or stories that made them examine and self-regulate their own behaviour; they simply wanted stories that entertained. Most of all, they wanted to laugh.

Humour is an excellent tool for reaching reluctant readers, or engaging children whose homes don't contain many books.


Q: Max has another unusual pet at the end of the book - will we be seeing more of Max?

A: Actually, I'd rather see more of the Bookworm than Max. Heaven knows what that says about me...


Q: How do you go about creating your images for the finished picture book?

A: I begin with little pencil thumbnails which nobody except me ever sees because they're so vague and scribbly, but they're also very lively and fresh. Then I draw full-size rough pencil images of each double page spread with the text handwritten in place.

I send these to my publishers for approval (or not - the Bookworm went through so many changes that I lost track) and once we're all happy with how it's shaping up, I begin to draft out the ink line drawing that is finally painted in watercolour.

At this stage, any changes usually require me to begin again, so it's helpful if we can iron out all required changes at the pencil rough stage. These days, with Photoshop (I don't do anything digital, so this, to me, is the equivalent of witchcraft) an art editor can alter artwork in such a way that the reader would never ever know that any alterations have been made. Seamless is the word I'm looking for.

Despite this amazing technology and its ability to render utterly perfect, mistake-free artwork, I am still wedded to the older methods of painting, using pans and tubes of pigments, mixing dishes, wax resists, masking fluids, brushes and pens. It's riskier - one slip of the brush and all is lost, but I prefer the imperfect but very human end result.


Q: Do you have a favourite spread in this story?

A: I am fond of the spread where we see the Bookworm's little underground house. The point where the poor little worm's life is irrevocably changed. Maybe he was a wyrme, but by being plucked above ground, he had to evolve into a flyte. Crikey. The dra**n protection league would have something to say about that.


Q: Can you describe your studio, and is this where you write your picture books, too?

A: Yes. I write and draw in a garden shed with velux windows all round two walls plus an extra two in the ceiling to allow the fabled North light to pour in. Actually, in Scotland, it doesn't pour, it trickles, but still...

My studio is filled to bursting with paper in all its forms; apart from hundreds of books, there's a plan chest with current work, huge sheets of watercolour paper, a roll of drawing paper taller than me, a large artist's easel, a draftsman's table, a long trestle table with piles of work in progress, findings, things I mean to paint but haven't got round to yet, a wrapround desk for destroying my posture while I write, and a very long bit of useless furniture that a visiting US editor once described as a credenza (nope, me either).

If I turned round 180 degrees, I'd have a stunning view of the Lammermuir hills, but as it is, I face a blank wall when I'm painting (the view inside my head is what I'm after).


Q: What do you most enjoy doing when you're not writing or illustrating?

A: It's summer, so swimming in the sea is top of the list. Utter heaven. Cold heaven, but that moment when I push off into the blue... it's the closest feeling to bliss that I've found.

Published Books


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Max and the Millions

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Max and the Millions

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Meet the Author


THE BOOKWORM by DEBBIE GLIORI is a gorgeous treat of a story about a boy, Max, and his search for the perfect pet. When Max finds a baby worm that seems to be 'just right', little does he know what the worm will grow up into...

Read more