Tuesday 27 August 2013

Exclusive Interview with Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, creators of 'Oliver and the Seawigs'

What inspired your collaboration on ‘Oliver and the Seawigs’?

PR: Sarah McIntyre is one of my favourite illustrators, and also one of my favourite people. We met at the Edinburgh International Book Festival three years ago, and started talking about books and drawings and swapping ideas, and eventually we just had to start writing books together.

SM: We first wrote a four-page comic for The Phoenix Comic. We did swapsies: I wrote it and Philip drew it, but we tossed it back and forth several times and we were both able to pitch in with words or pictures when something was needed. We wanted to do something longer together, maybe a sea story, and I was talking with him about going to a meeting of the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Group (CWIG). I hate acronyms and always try to turn them into real words, and the word ‘Seawig’ set off a whole flow of ideas. 

Are your characters inspired by people you know?

PR: Not usually, but when I was growing up, my parents used to pack me and my sister into their camper van and go exploring all the wildest and wettest parts of Britain in the school holidays, so I can sympathise with Oliver ...

SM: And Iris the mermaid is short-sighted with a big bum, which of course is nothing like me. I wanted to be a mermaid when I was little and actually believed I could breathe underwater. So yeah, Iris is my avatar, really.

How do you create an illustrated novel – do the pictures come first or the words, or do they both play a part in creating the story as you go along?

PR: Oliver and the Seawigs isn't the usual sort of illustrated book where a writer writes something and then an illustrator illustrates it. Sarah was involved right from the start. The words are mine, but at least half of the ideas are hers.

SM: Philip was nice; if I made a mistake in the drawings, he’d tinker with the text so I wouldn’t have to redraw everything. For example, there’s one scene where an island giant emerges from the sea with a silly looking narwal on its head. And the text said the giant’s head was bare. But Philip thought, why would we want to get rid of a perfectly good narwal? And he wrote it into the story. 

If you could go back in time and explore anywhere, where would you choose and why?

SM: I’d have to get laser eye surgery first; if I went back very far in time I’d be completely blind and lost. And I think I’d also want to be a man, so I could do more things without getting burned as a witch or something. I think I’d hang out with the explorer James Cook and get a job as an artist on one of his sea voyages, drawing all the flora and fauna we discover. I once interviewed for a job as a rigger on the Cutty Sark, so I could train and get work fixing up masted ships around the world. But someone else got the job and they hired me instead as Ship’s Illustrator, and the Cutty Sark doesn’t go anywhere.

Or I’d even quite like to go just to the 1970s in Britain; it would have been fun to have been school friends with Philip and seen all these telly shows he’s always going on about. We had very different childhoods.

PR: the great thing about is having an imagination is that you don't need to go back in time and put up with all the witch-burning and lack of medicine and stuff. So I'm always exploring somewhere - Ancient Rome or Victorian London or the Gobi Desert - but I do it through books, from the comfort of my sofa. And I do still spend a lot of time in the 1970s and early '80s - those growing-up years are where most of ideas and influences still come from. It would have been fun if McIntyre had been there!

What were your favourite books as a child?

PR: Too many to list, really, but my favourites were all fantasy (like
The Lord of the Rings) or historical (like The Eagle of the Ninth) or funny ones (the Asterix books, and the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle (a great author/illustrator partnership!).

SM: Lots!
The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pène du Bois, Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Runaway Robot by Lester del Ray, No Coins Please by Gordon Korman, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  

What are your future literary ambitions?

PR: I've really enjoyed working with Sarah on
Oliver and the Seawigs. It's a real change of pace and approach after my longer, more YA-ish novels, and in many ways, it feels like a fresh start. So I hope there will be many more books like this, and that we'll build on the style we've developed and experiment with it. The next book will take us to outer space, the one after that to the frozen north (we think), and after that, who knows?

SM: I’d like to keep writing bonkers stories with my best friends, swanning around the world in awesome costumes, experimenting with new kinds of projects, and getting enough time to make silly drawings that aren’t for any project, just for me. I’d also like a full-time PA to deal with all the e-mails and things that keep me from drawing and writing stories.  

Do you have any top tips for budding writers and artists?

PR: I HATE writers' tips, and all those lists of rules for writing. Why are people so keen on rules? Writing should be about breaking rules and writing whatever you want to. The best way to learn is by reading a lot, and thinking about what makes your favourite stories work. It's quite a slow process, but if you keep reading and writing, it will come.

SM: If you particularly want to make books, don’t just study how to make pictures … make books! Make lots of books, make books quickly, don’t always be a perfectionist about them; the more books you make, the better you will get at making books. A little photocopied book makes a great business card, and making books teaches you about all the elements of book design. You can even learn about marketing your book by taking a stack of your home-made books to an indie comics fair or artist book fair where you’ve booked a table. You’ll learn how to present your work and discover what makes people stop, look and buy your books. Get a blog where you can build up an audience who like the way you work. 

Do you have a special place you write and illustrate?

PR: I have a studio in my garden which I write in; I like the peace and quiet, and there's no internet access so I don't have that distraction.  But I can write on trains or in
cafés if I need to, I'm not too fussy.

SM: I can sketch anywhere, but I do most of my book drawing in my studio, the Fleece Station. It’s a room in old police station in Deptford that I share with comics artist Gary Northfield and graffiti knitter Lauren O’Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade). When I’m writing, it helps to go to a café and tank myself up with some coffee.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?

PR: We're working on some follow-ups to Oliver and the Seawigs, which will be new stories featuring new characters. The first is called Cakes in Space and is about a girl on a long space voyage where all sorts of things go wrong. There are aliens, and robots, and cakes. I've finished writing it and I'm looking forward to seeing Sarah's pictures.

SM: I’m trying not to get ahead of myself and start planning the costumes already. Artwork first. Oh, and did I tell you that I’m going to be drawing much of the book on the International Space Station? I want to test how India ink flows in zero gravity. Oxford University Press are having to stretch their budget for this, but it will TOTALLY BE WORTH IT. That’s why people need to buy lots of our books, to pay for rocket fuel. I might even record a David Bowie song in space –
Changes - and wear a different-coloured sparkly space suit for each verse.

Where can fans of your work find out more about you and your work?
PR: My website is www.philip-reeve.com, and I blog at philipreeve.blogspot.com I'm also on Twitter as @philipreeve1, and I have a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Philip-Reeve/104518809593653

SM: I make activity sheets for every book I do, so you can download Make-Your-Own-Seawig sheets, a sheet showing you how to draw a sea monkey and several other things. I think I’m going to keep adding to it:
Twitter: @jabberworks

Can you sum up ‘Oliver and the Seawigs’ in just 3 words?

PR: No I can't!


A huge thank you to Philip and Sarah for taking time to answer our questions! Please read on for Teagan Pritchard's review of 'Oliver and the Seawigs' ...

'Oliver and the Seawigs'
By Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Published by Oxford University Press on the 5th September 2013
RRP £8.99 (hardback)
ISBN 9780192734556
Reviewed by Teagan Pritchard, aged 9

Oliver grew up in a family of explorers but his big adventure is about to begin, along with his newly- made friends, including a short-sighted mermaid, a grumpy old albatross and a friendly island called Cliff.

Oliver goes in search of his missing parents but before he can put his plan into action to rescue them there is Stacey de Lacey to deal with and, yes she is evil! Oliver also has to deal with an army of greasy sea monkeys that keep getting in the way.

This book was very exciting and funny. The pictures and illustrations are very clear and detailed. A good read to keep you guessing ...

Highly recommended for readers aged 7+


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