A massive welcome to Lynne Rickards who joins us for today’s Bookworm Blethers. We are huge funs of Lynne’s picture books. Sit back, have a read and enjoy!
Tell us about your journey to becoming an author?
I was born in Canada and loved drawing and writing stories from a young age. My first picture book was a 12-page laminated creation called Princesses and Pirates which I hand-lettered and illustrated with watercolours when I was about twelve. For most of my childhood I was convinced I would be an artist when I grew up.
In school I loved languages, and studied French and Latin. When I finished high school, I decided to combine my two interests, and started a joint BA at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto (illustration) and the University of Guelph (French Literature and Translation). Things rarely work out as you plan, and in time I realised illustration was not for me. I transferred to the University of Toronto and finished my degree in French Literature, then moved to Montreal, Quebec, where I worked as a bilingual proofreader and translator for three years. I immersed myself in the literature of Michel Tremblay and the newly emerging theatre of Robert Lepage. It was a complex time of francophone identity politics and increasing calls for Quebec independence.
In the end, I decided to return to university in Toronto to do a Masters in Museum Studies, and that is what brought me to Scotland in the summer of 1991. I can hardly believe it’s been nearly 30 years! Coming to Glasgow changed my life, as I met the man of my dreams and settled in the UK permanently in 1992. We had two children, and they are the reason I became a children’s writer. Thanks to the encouragement of my agent and good friend Lindsey Fraser, I was able to break into the challenging picture book market in 2005, and I haven’t looked back!
Where do get the inspiration for your stories?
My early work was naturally inspired by my two growing children. Pip Likes Snow was written purely because my 5-year-old son Cameron loved penguins. Jack’s Bed revolves around the struggles we had keeping a toddler in bed, and I Win! is about the endless bickering and rivalry between two siblings. My breakthrough hit was Pink! which features a penguin (of course) who wakes up pink. This was a concept my 8-year-old daughter Anna came up with, but she hadn’t hammered out the details. “What a great title for a book!” I enthused, and set about writing it.
Picture books must start with a problem to be solved, so the pink penguin had to be a boy whose friends would tease him about being such a ‘girly’ colour. The story evolved organically, as Patrick tried fitting in with flamingos, only to discover that he really belonged at the South Pole, whatever his colour. His friends had missed him so much that his pinkness was forgotten, and he decided it was ok to be different after all. Pink! was first published by Chicken House, and I didn’t have any strong feelings about how the penguins should look. Normally an author has little input into the choice of illustrator, but I was delighted with Margaret Chamberlain’s beautiful illustrations.
How does a picture book all come together?
A picture book is very much a collaborative effort, where an author, editor, illustrator and designer each bring unique skills to the project. In many cases the author and illustrator never meet. An author can give ‘stage directions’ in the text to convey what they imagine on the page. (I sometimes do a rough illustration to show what I mean.) Illustrators can also add visual details that the author might not have though of. The designer is the one who decides where the text goes, how each page is laid out and what the cover (front and back) and endpapers should look like. An illustrator is chosen by the design and editorial teams with a specific style in mind. Often it is crucial to match a story with the right illustrator, and a project can fall at the last hurdle if no one can agree on who that illustrator should be.
What books did you love as child? Who has influenced you?
When I was young, my favourite picture book was called Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats. The story of two best friends who decide to exchange places for a day is silly and charming, and the illustrations by Nancy Grossman are beautiful black-and-white line-and-wash drawings. I still have my battered copy of the book, published in 1968, and have devoted a blog post to it here:
Another book I have kept from the age of nine is called Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. This is a very clever and suspenseful story about a girl who goes to boarding school in the 1950s and wakes up the next morning in the same bed forty years earlier, in 1918 during the First World War. Instead of Charlotte, all the girls are calling her Clare and expecting her to know who they are. She and Clare alternate in each other’s lives, going to the same school forty years apart and communicating with each other in a notebook stuffed into the hollow bedpost. It’s the most brilliantly conceived and executed story, and I was delighted to discover I could follow the author Penelope Farmer on Twitter!
Much of my writing has been in rhyme, no doubt inspired by all the Dr Seuss books and A.A. Milne poems I loved as a child. When my own children were small I discovered Shel Silverstein, whose poems and ink drawings are cheeky and subversive. We also loved Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books and Aileen Paterson’s Maisie the cat adventures. Satoshi Kitamura was another favourite illustrator with his intensely coloured inks and wonky perspective. Lauren Child was also a firm favourite in our family, particularly That Pesky Rat.
My children are now 21 and 24, so I am not quite so up-to-date with the latest authors and illustrators as I used to be. The pandemic has cut me off from school visits and book festivals, where I used to rub shoulders with primary teachers, children’s librarians and fellow authors. I am Patron of Reading for Comely Park Primary School in Falkirk, and have loved taking part in school book launches, writing workshops and poetry projects. Comely Park also crowns a new School Makar (poet laureate) every year, something I used to announce at the final assembly. I hope it won’t be long before all those activities can resume, as it’s so important for children to develop a love of reading and writing for pleasure. Reading sets you up for life, building inner resources in times of trouble (and boredom), sparking imagination and developing empathy for others. In these long days of lockdown, there is no better adventure than a good book!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and fascinating response, Lynne! Find out more about Lynne and her beautiful books by following the links below.