AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Kate Davies, Isabelle Follath

    Kate Davies, Isabelle Follath

    THE INCREDIBLE HOTEL

    FRANCES LINCOLN CHILDREN'S BOOKS

    FEBRUARY 2020


    THE INCREDIBLE HOTEL brims with colour, characters - and the most delicious food you'll ever see in a picture book!

    Stefan, the kitchen porter, keeps everything running on time at The Incredible Hotel, but he dreams of becoming a chef. That looks unlikely, until the day he helps set fire to the hotel, and creates a profiterole masterpiece!

    We asked author KATE DAVIES and illustrator ISABELLE FOLLATH to tell us more about THE INCREDIBLE HOTEL:


    Questions for Kate

    Q: You work as an editor, can you tell us a little about how you started to write picture book texts?

    A: I actually work as a freelance novelist and screenwriter now, but I worked in children's publishing for twelve years. My first job was at Usborne as an inhouse writer, and that's where I learned how to write for children. It was a brilliant apprenticeship in both writing and editing. I've written books for every publisher I worked for, but this is the first fictional picture book text I've written. I'm so lucky that Isabelle agreed to illustrate it - her pictures really bring it to life.


    Q: What makes a great picture book?

    A: I love picture books that allow you to escape into another world - that's what I wanted to achieve with the Incredible Hotel. When I was younger, I loved books with detailed illustrations, and pouring over the pictures while someone read me the text, spotting things other people hadn't noticed. Isabelle has done the most brilliantly intricate pictures for this book. I love that there's a cat and a mouse to spot on each page.

    For a picture book to be great, the words should only do half the work - the pictures should add information that isn't there in the text. I love books like I Want My Hat Back where the illustrations contradict the words... picture books are like films, in a way.


    Q: Can you give us three words to describe your new picture book, The Incredible Hotel?

    A: Funny, warm, fantastical


    Q: Did anything in particular spark this idea about a boy porter who dreams of becoming a chef?

    A: I was inspired by a BBC documentary I saw a few years ago, Inside Claridges. Claridges looked like such a magical place to stay that I wanted to create my own fantasy version. As a child, I loved books that involved detailed descriptions of food. Food in books is always more delicious than food in real life. That's why I dreamed up the profiterole tower, which Isabelle brought so brilliantly to life.


    Q: Do you find it hard to develop a story and characters in such a short text?

    A: The Incredible Hotel is actually quite long for a picture book because I want it to have a rich story and lots of dialogue to bring the characters to life. Some people think writing picture books is easy but they're actually very tricky, because there are so few words.

    Illustrations are helpful in developing character and telling the story. Think of Rosie's Walk: the text just talks about Rosie (a hen) going on a walk. But in the pictures you can see that all the way through the book, a fox is trying to catch her. You wouldn't have a clue about this crucial strand of the plot if you just read the text and didn't see the pictures.


    Q: What do you think about Isabelle Follath's illustrations for the picture book?

    A: Isabelle's illustrations are AMAZING. There are very few illustrators who can capture character in the way she can. She illustrated the hotel just as I imagined it, too - I wanted Delaunay to be a cross between the Paris of Ratatouille, the London of Mary Poppins and the world of Wes Anderson.

    I think my favourite spread is the very first spread because the hotel looks so magical. I love the pink of the dawn sky, and the ridiculous topiary in the hotel garden.


    Q: The Incredible Hotel is very glamorous - where's the most exciting place you have ever stayed? And what would be your snack of choice?

    A: The most exciting place I've stayed was a hotel in Siem Reap, in Cambodia. The bedroom was pastel pink and looked like something out of Mad Men. I could have stayed there all day, drinking coconut water and ordering passionfruit sorbet from room service.

    My snack of choice is probably strawberries and cream. Or salt and vinegar crisps. Or maybe a delicious slice of Victoria sponge.


    Q: Do you have more picture books coming through? What are you writing now?

    A: I'm writing a new picture book at the moment, which I'm very excited about! I'm also working on my second novel for adults.


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

    A: When I'm not working I love performing improv comedy. I also love dance classes, seeing my friends, going to the theatre and cinema and reading books.



    Questions for Isabelle

    Q: How did you start working in children's book illustration and what other kinds of illustration do you do?

    A: I've been illustrating for magazines and advertising companies for quite some time. But when I took an online class on illustrating for children's books, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! Now I'm almost exclusively working on children's books.


    Q: Can you describe your studio where you create your illustrations?

    A: It's a fairly small room in my flat, that also serves as guest room, nothing romantic at all! But it has a lovely view and I'm surrounded by an insane amount of coloured pencils, watercolour palettes and pens, which makes it the most magical little space.


    Q: What was it about The Incredible Hotel text that made you want to work on it?

    A: I immediately fell in love with the characters, especially with Stefan, who doesn't give up on his dream to become a chef, and with the wonderfully grumpy Zagat. And then there was all the action bits and the hotel setting, what's not to love about this! Kate is a brilliant author!


    Q: Were there any parts of the text that stood out for you and which you particularly enjoyed illustrating?

    A: The morning scene in the hotel, where everything runs like clockwork was so tempting, I always wanted to draw a cut through scene of a house. And of course, I loved drawing all the food, especially the profiterole tower!


    Q: Why did you decide to put the hotel back in time and to set the illustrations in the 1920s/30s?

    A: I felt that the hotel, the guests and above all, the duchess, had to be very glamorous, with amazing costumes and accessories, just like on a cover of a vintage Vogue magazine from the 1920s.

    I did some research on patterns and costumes, but there is a lot of material out there, so this was fairly easy. And I consulted Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, an endless source of inspiration for amazing dishes.


    Q: How do you create your illustrations - by hand or digitally and what media do you use?

    A: I mainly work with watercolour and coloured pencil. I then scan the drawings and do some cleaning up in Photoshop, where I also change some colours, add details and things that I would be too afraid of doing by hand in the original drawing, things like smoke or rain.


    Q: Are you working on other picture books?

    A: I have just finished a picture book with Nosy Crow, publishing in October, and I'm now working on illustrations for middle grade fiction books, all in black and white, which is quite nice for a change.


    Q: What are your favourite escapes from your studio?

    A: I enjoy spending time with my family, doing anything really, as long as there's a lot of fresh air and movement involved. I spend too much time sitting!