AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Joseph Coelho, Allison Colpoys

    Joseph Coelho, Allison Colpoys

    IF ALL THE WORLD WERE

    FIRST EDITIONS (LINCOLN CHILDREN'S BOOKS)

    JUNE 2018


    IF ALL THE WORLD WERE by award-winning poet JOSEPH COELHO, illustrated by ALLISON COLPOYS, explores big ideas around family ties, bereavement and how we remember people we love, within a beautifully-depicted story about a young girl and her grandfather.

    The story is structured simply around the seasons. It builds the child and grandfather's relationship through the detail of the small things they love to do together and the colours the child associates with these. When he is gone, she is left with 'A kaleidoscope of memories' of her grandfather.

    We asked JOSEPH COELHO and ALLISON COLPOYS to tell us more about IF ALL THE WORLD WERE...


    QUESTIONS FOR JOSEPH COELHO:


    Q: This is a gorgeous picture book that is focused on a young girl and her grandfather, why did you decide on exploring this relationship?

    JOSEPH COELHO: Thank you. In part it reflects the relationship I remember having with my grandfather who would tell me stories about India and come home with second-hand toys. I chose a young girl as the protagonist as I'm very aware that young girls don't often get to be the main subject of books, it also felt nice to explore a relationship between a granddaughter and grandfather as opposed to granddaughter/grandmother or grandfather/grandson pairings that are more familiar.


    Q: You give the family in your picture book Indian heritage, how well do you feel multicultural families are represented in picture books?

    A: Yes it reflects what I know and what I grew up with. I feel we can always do better in reflecting multicultural families in books; it is very hard to put into words the distance that is felt by a child who never sees themselves reflected as the protagonist of a story, or who is only reflected in a negative light.

    What I do know is that as an adult I have discovered books with characters that might look or sound like me and that I have been taken aback at how emotive an experience it can be to suddenly see yourself in the story.

    As I now re-read the classics from my youth I wonder what the little me who adored Roald Dahl and Jill Murphy and the 'choose your own adventure' series should have taken away from those stories if they had been more reflective of society as a whole. Would I have seen myself as a potential hero? would I have considered myself capable of being a writer earlier? Would I have moved around my day to day life with more confidence?


    Q: Does your experience as a poet help you when you're writing your picture book texts, particularly this text which reads as a poem?

    A: Poetry and picture books have a great deal in common, they are both short mediums that are most powerful when there is a strong idea behind them, an observation of a moment in time fleshed out and placed under the microscope.

    Poetry has definitely served me when writing picture book texts as has the many years I've spent writing plays for adults and children where narrative and storytelling is key, I think essentially all good writing centres around great storytelling and I hope I've picked up a few things from the various crafts I've been fortunate enough to explore.


    Q: Does your background in poetry also encourage you to explore 'big' questions for young children; in this picture book, you look at bereavement and memories.

    A: I'm not sure if it is poetry that encourages me to explore Big questions, if anything much of poetry is concerned with the tiny, the little moments (which in turn often reflect on the larger questions). But poetry does, like playwriting, encourage a writer to look for the why of a thing, to interrogate an idea, and most ideas when interrogated fully lead to our fears and hopes that so often spring from a fear of dying and a hope to not be left alone.


    Q: Why did you decide to explore this through the cycle of seasons

    A: I was drawn by the cyclical nature of the seasons and their resonance with life and death. The seasons also make for a lovely way to universally anchor a time and a setting; winter brings to mind cold and snow, summer heat and long lazy days. The seasons can provide lots of details without the need for the writer to write in that detail.


    Q: Did you enjoy seeing the illustrations for this text and were there any surprises?

    A: I loved seeing Allison Colpoys illustrations, I felt and feel so lucky to be paired with such a talented illustrator. I was blown away by the vibrancy of her artwork and how the world of the story jumps off the page.


    Q: Do you have a favourite spread?

    A: It's very hard to choose one as a love them all, but the Kaleidoscopic spread that shows Grandad's stories through the prism of a kaleidoscope originally wowed me and still does both for its beauty and its visual interpretation of the text.


    Q: Are you planning to write more picture books?

    A: Yes most definitely - I have a few in the pipeline that I am very excited about that will be coming out in 2019.


    Q: What are your writing at the moment? do you ever stop writing?

    A: I'm currently writing some middle grade and some poems, and I tend to write fairly constantly. I did struggle for a while juggling events and writing time but have now found a very healthy medium. It does mean I'm writing lots on trains (as I am now) but in some ways working like this is lovely, it allows ideas to cogitate and appeals to the hyperactive side of my personality.


    Q: Where do you write and how does your writing day go?

    A: Everywhere and anywhere, hotel rooms, cafes, trains, park benches and occasionally at home! A perfect writing day would see me writing at home, in my study at my standing desk, surrounded by books, and photos and my pin board filled with all sorts of vaguely inspirational stuff. I tend to write in fits and starts, writing a sentence and then pacing, writing another sentence, having a coffee, then writing a couple of chapters in a frenzy before breaking for a walk or a binge of some mindless thing on TV that gives my mind space to prepare for the next writing stint... oh and chocolate...chocolate is very important.


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

    A: I love gardening at the moment I'm working on a new pond in the garden in the hope of one day getting frogs, unfortunately the pond has a leak so I am slowly deconstructing and rebuilding. This will be the first season that I haven't gone hell for leather with growing edibles but many of the fruit trees and shrubs I've planted in previous years are now starting to crop so I think I'll have my hands full this growing season. I find that gardening is a great, active, way to clear my mind and to ponder the ideas behind what it is I want to write.


    QUESTIONS FOR ALLISON COLPOYS:


    Q: What appealed to you about illustrating Joseph Coelho's 'If all the world were...' text?

    A: Everything! Joe's text really resonated with me. Especially its sensitivity. When I first read the text (and many times after, I must admit) I cried. I found it incredibly moving and I knew immediately that I would absolutely love to illustrate it, and I feel very grateful to Rachel Williams, who commissioned the book, for getting in touch and giving me the opportunity to.

    I also love how the text takes us through the seasons as not only is it a beautiful way to evoke time passing, it also meant I had the opportunity to draw nature - my favourite! I grew up at the top end of Australia, and spent a lot of my childhood outdoors. My parents are also brilliant gardeners, and I think that's how I developed my deep love of the natural world.

    I lived in London in my twenties, and experiencing the English seasons - each so distinct - was one of my favourite parts of living there. In Australia, the transitions are milder and the differences between seasons aren't as pronounced. It was freeing to be able to use those memories to draw the seasons in their iconic northern hemisphere fullness! For most of us here, snow is a concept, rather than a reality.


    Q: How much freedom did you feel you had with the text?

    A: I felt like there was a lot of creative freedom coupled with the perfect amount of expert guidance and encouragement. The book's designer and editor, Zoe Tucker and Kate Davies, really helped me with mapping out the book and loosely planning what was going to happen in the illustrations. Of course things aren't always set in stone and ideas would change and develop along with way, so having the team there to bounce ideas off and receive feedback from throughout the process was incredibly valuable.


    Q: How did you decide on the colour palette and how did you create a consistent feel for the pages?

    A: For some reason I had red, blue and black in my head for this book from the start, which was lovely but felt a little cold and the team at Frances Lincoln were keen for the illustrations to feel warm, bright and almost celebratory to emphasise the special bond between the two characters. So I presented about 5-6 more palette options and everyone settled on red, blue and black but with the addition of a lovely bright yellow, which I love. It feels very summery and uplifting to me.


    Q: What media did you use to create your images?

    A: Ink, pencil and charcoal.


    Q: Is there a spread that you are particularly pleased with?

    A: I think perhaps the spread where the little girl is 'painting her bright Grandad feelings over sad places'. However, this choice might be highly influenced by Joe's beautiful words, because that spread has my favourite passage from the book.


    Q: Where do you work and what else are you working on?

    A: I have a desk and computer set up in the spare room of our small apartment. However, I tend to commandeer the kitchen table for painting and drawing as well - the light and general vibe is so much nicer in that room! Plus, it has the added bonus of looking out onto a big gum tree that is usually full of very cool, noisy birds - those birds are the best!

    In terms of other projects, I just sent another picture book to press last week, which is very exciting. It is written by Davina Bell and will be out later this year through Scribble/Scribe.


    IF ALL THE WORLD WERE... (Frances Lincoln Children's Books) is available now and cost 12.99.