• Clare Helen Walsh, Ashling Lindsay

    Clare Helen Walsh, Ashling Lindsay



    MAY 2019

    CLARE HELEN WALSH and ASHLING LINDSAY have created a warm and tender story about a little girl and her granddad sharing a day at the seaside that also gently introduces children to dementia and explores how it can affect older people, and our relationships with them.

    As the tide comes and goes, the picture book explores how sometimes our memories come and go. During their day at the seaside, some of granddad's actions are puzzling but, as the story develops, they become less frightening; the focus remains on how deeply granddad and his granddaughter care for each other. Their family day at the seaside, we know, will become a memory that the child will treasure.

    We asked author and illustrator CLARE HELEN WALSH and, below, ASHLING LINDSAY to tell us how THE TIDE developed:

    CLARE HELEN WALSH responds:

    Q: How did you first get involved in writing picture book texts for children and what draws you to this form of writing?

    A: I am a list lover! I have lists on my computer (Trello boards are excellent!) I have lists on my phone. I hand write lists. I have lists within lists! And yes, I am one of those people who writes things on lists just to have the satisfaction of ticking them off!

    For a long time, my friend and I have been writing a list every New Year's Eve, with two or three new challenges on to try in the New Year. In 2012, I had the brilliant idea to add 'to write a children's book' on mine. Of course, I had no idea just how difficult writing a book would be! But I also had no idea how much I was going to love it. Writing has changed my life for the better and I wouldn't and couldn't be without it now.

    And for me, picture books are the ultimate read; a perfect blend of words and pictures. They can give you that warm feeling, make you laugh out loud or bring a tear to your eye. Maybe even all three! The best ones are so well constructed and satisfying to read, that we come back to them over and over. What an accolade.

    Q: With your day job of teaching, when do you squeeze in the hours to write? And what are the advantages of coming to writing for children with a background in teaching?

    A: I mostly write on weekends and in the evenings, once the tea is cooked, the homework is done (mine and my children's!) and when everyone is asleep. I don't really watch much TV so I think this frees up a lot of time. I often work quite late... and have been known to send emails at very unsociable hours. But I seem to be more productive the less time I have, so it works for now. Time management is definitely key. (Lists come in very handy here!)

    And yes, a background in teaching definitely has its advantages. I think, inevitably, spending time with young children gives you a good idea of what they love ... and what they don't! Having plenty of opportunity to read stories aloud to an audience is great for getting to know what holds people's attention; refrains, page turns and dialogue, for example. And, whilst I still get nervous at times, being a teacher definitely helps when it comes to events. I feel at home speaking, reading and being ridiculous in front of an audience. And helping others be ridiculous, too!

    Q: Your most recent book is The Tide, which explains to young children how dementia can affect older people. Was there one moment or idea that inspired you to write this text?

    A: The Tide was initially inspired by a day at the beach in Cornwall. You might be imagining a beautifully hot, sunny day with turquoise waters... but at this point, I should say it was pretty chilly.

    But it was still a beautiful day. It was the first time my children really learned about tides. They spent the whole day running in and around the rock pools singing, 'The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!' and I wrote about their play. It was about six months later that I re-wrote the story with the dementia theme.

    We actually went back to the same Cornish beach last month, almost four years to the day I wrote The Tide there. Another very lovely memory.

    Q: How difficult was it to write this text, which is beautifully pared back and deceptively simple?

    A: Thank you, I am so pleased with our finished story and with the reviews The Tide has received! Some texts are easier to write than others, but this one wasn't toooooo bad. Possibly because I was writing about something I had experience of and felt strongly about. Over the years, I've got better at thinking visually and writing in a few words, but the key is definitely to edit, edit, edit!

    Creating a picture book is 100% a team effort. I have to credit my wonderful agent, Alice, for reading and commenting enthusiastically on my drafts and spotting the potential. (Even in the bad ones!) And working with the team at Little Tiger is a dream. Not only do they have the expertise to help you hone and perfect the words, but they send you lovely emails and tell you when you've done a good job, too! It's with enormous thanks to these lovely people, that the text shines. (This includes the amazing Ashling Lindsay. She comes in Question 7!)

    Q: The Tide also feels like a very personal response to a family situation, is this a book that is close to your heart?

    A: Yes, very much so. The Tide was initially a story about a day at the beach. But my husband's grandmother, Ronnie Spry, lived with dementia and it was because of her that I was inspired to write about it.

    When I first met Ronnie, dementia was already a big part of her life. I wish I had known her before, when she was a nurse, a primary school teacher and an artist, too. But what was abundantly clear, even when dementia had taken its grip, was that Ronnie loved to be around children, especially her grandchildren. Her face lit up. Her manner changed. She would sit happily for an hour or more with our son on her lap, chatting and singing and smiling away.

    My own children were too young to understand what was happening, although this wasn't the case for all of Ronnie's grandchildren. I am so proud to have created such a beautiful and sensitive book, in Ronnie's memory, that can hopefully help families all over the world live well with dementia.

    Q: As a teacher, how would you like The Tide to be shared in class?

    A: I am in the process of planning events and a little pack of resources to accompany The Tide, which I hope will support teachers to start a dialogue with their classes about looking after others, particularly the elderly. The Tide is a book about dementia, but the potential is also there to discuss values of kindness and being considerate to others, too. Stories can be a great vehicle for developing empathy and helping us see things from somebody else's point of view.

    Q: How did you respond to Ashling Lindsay's illustrations, and do you have a favourite spread?

    A: I first saw an early blad of The Tide at London Book Fair in 2018. It was the first physical copy of Ashling's artwork I'd seen. Saying I was totally thrilled doesn't cover it. Ashling is a total genius and I am a huge fan of her books. So, needless to say, I was over the moon to hear that she had agreed to take on the project.

    Every page of Ashling's illustrations is a work of art, but my favourite has to be the rock pools! I love rock pools anyway, but these ones are magical. I have this spread on my living room wall.

    Q: Where is your favourite place to write and do you have other picture books underway?

    A: My bedroom! It's comfortable and it's where I'm most efficient. I have a stack of books, notepads and a plug all close by. However, if the mood takes me, I can pretty much write anywhere. I can often be found at the library, in a cafe, or somewhere with a view.

    I'm currently working on edits for a sequel to a book with Quarto, my second book with Little Tiger and a picture book with Andersen. I also have some exciting non-fiction projects in the pipeline!

    Q: What do you do to escape when you're not working or writing?

    A: I'm the kind of person that finds it hard to switch off. Ever. I only really rest when I sleep, which is pretty exhausting. I'm not sure I would recommend it. But I find writing very therapeutic. It's a creative outlet that gives me downtime from being a teacher and a Mummy. Who knows what kind of adventure your imagination will take you on?!

    I do love having adventures of the physical kind, too. A beach walk, a ramble on the moors or discovering a new place with family and friends is a real treat!

    Thank you, Reading Zone, for the fun interview. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading The Tide. We are all very proud of it!

    ASHLING LINDSAY responds:

    Q: You work as a storyteller and illustrator. How did you start illustrating picture books and what has been your favourite artistic project to date?

    A: I love books, so it's always been an ambition of mine to make them. I worked in animation right out of university but I kept developing my illustration portfolio on the side. I signed with The Bright Agency and started getting picture book offers within a few months. I don't think I have a favourite project, I have enjoyed it all.

    Q: The Tide is a very evocative picture book, what attracted you to illustrating it?

    A: The first two picture books I worked on (The Night Box, and Between Tick and Tock) were very lyrical and sometimes complicated texts. Some of the concepts were difficult to harmonize in the pictures.

    When I read The Tide, the story and emotions were so clear and I knew I wanted to try and work on a book like that - to see how I could work with it. I guess I saw it as a new challenge and an opportunity to approach a book in a different way than I had before.

    Q: How did you decide to approach the illustrations, to reflect the tone of the text? Can you tell us about the colours you've used and any spreads that stand out for you?

    A: There's a sequence of spreads that I feel was key to getting the balance in subject matter and emotion right in The Tide. The first spread in this sequence is the one with the girl standing on a rock in a rock pool with her granddad. On the next spread the girl is contemplating that one day granddad might forget her (because he forgets lots of things). This was a really important moment in the text, a very real human emotion - a momentary loss of connection between her and her granddad who she loves.

    The way I chose to approached this was to repeat the image of the girl on the rock from the spread before, but to strip everything else out of the illustration so that it was just her on a rock alone in empty space, thinking about the possibility of being forgotten. This quiet moment treats that fear seriously and allows us some room to contemplate that emotion, but the lull also sets the book to climb back up to a high point in the following spreads. I think in this instance less was definitely more. Other than this important sequence I wanted the book to feel warm and reassuring so I used a nice combination of greens, oranges and pinks.

    Q: How do you go about illustrating a book, what is the process for you?

    A: The process is always changing, it depends on the project, who I'm working with and the tools I'm using. I always start by printing the text, and thumb nailing on the print out as I read through. I do this a few times, changing things as my understanding of the text changes. Then, when I'm satisfied with the sketches, I do the first set of digital roughs and send them to the editor. Then I revise the roughs based on the feedback and then usually move on to make the final artwork.

    Q: What media have you used for the The Tide?

    A: I worked digitally to make the artwork for The Tide.

    Q: Where do you work and what is your favourite thing in your studio?

    A: I just recently finished my MA so am getting used to working in my studio full-time again. My favourite thing in my studio is probably my collection of picture books.

    Q: What are you working on now?

    A: Right now I'm finishing up some illustrations for another picture book and am developing the text and illustrations for my first authored book!