Today I’m joined by Edinburgh writer Rosemary Hector who explains how her collaboration with illustrator Kirralee Fisher came about. It is really interesting to read about what the process was like as they worked on their book Oren Leibowitz – Tuesday.
Collaboration across the faultline – a writer and illustrator self-publish Oren Leibowitz – Tuesday
I have always written. Growing up in Ireland, where words are taken seriously, working with words is considered to be quite an ordinary and acceptable calling.
As a young teacher, through a chance meeting with an editor at a children’s fair, I was invited to contribute to a text book for sixth formers. Someone on the original writing team dropped out and the editor remembered my parting shot as we each retrieved our children from the carousel – ‘if you need someone to write, let me know’.
That initial work led to a second textbook contribution. Over the years I gained experience as a writer. I worked with words as well as people in the NHS, as the day job. I had poetry, my first love, published in anthologies and magazines.
With illustrated work, the system in formal publishing is simple. Text is delivered, and the publishing house takes over. In due course, illustrations or photographs appear with the text in proof copies.
The writer rejoices at the choice of visual work.
More often, she weeps.
Rarely is the writer’s vision realised. I have come to accept that this ‘faultline’ between writer and illustrator is typical, in the way that obstetricians and midwives, staff in sales and marketing, and ground and airborne staff in airports all have a common purpose but … different perspectives.
I had a question.
What if I could write a story and liaise as I went along with an illustrator rather than delivering copy and waiting for the inevitable disappointment?
I knew Kirralee Fisher having originally met her at an exhibition of her work. I had shown her what I was working on – text to accompany photographs for a pre-school child. She proposed we work together on a new children’s book. We agreed to meet and together work out a story and illustrations.
There followed many cups of tea and discussions in the Blue Bear café in Canonmills in North Edinburgh.
We visited the children’s book area of a big bookshop and were overwhelmed. We agreed not to keep looking over our shoulders at what others had done and forge our own path.
Over a series of months, we developed our main character. There were many diversions. One of us became obsessed with the Israeli rugby team. At one point, Indian movies featured as source material. I wanted to include poems, but they looked odd with a story. Those ideas were abandoned. One of us kept going to her default and favourite motifs of hats and scarves. Collaboration is hard work. We had to support and discipline each other to stay on track.
We worked out what a ten-year-old would be expected to know at school and what his interests could be. Soon we had a spreadsheet with the whole biography of Oren Leibowitz, a refugee who had recently come to Edinburgh. He wasn’t impressed with Scottish weather and the city seemed gritty and forbidding to him. We therefore decided to have black and white illustrations. Eventually we agreed that the story would follow one of his early experiences of school for one day, a Tuesday. That gave us the title Oren Leibowitz – Tuesday. The story was drafted.
At one point, I became interested in the bins outside a school; you can tell a lot about a society from what goes into bins. (Also, what doesn’t quite reach the bins.) I thought someone new to a city might find them interesting. Kirralee, however, not only drew some wonderful, scruffy bins, but added in some snails. I hate snails. Their presence in the illustrations meant I had to somehow add in snails to the story. How different from delivering copy and waiting!
We looked at the possibility of having the work packaged by a self-publishing support business. We wanted more artistic freedom than that allowed. Nor will a self-publishing support business necessarily help with advertising and distribution without yet more cost.
Our original choice of printer suddenly ceased trading, but the person with whom we had been working set up his own business and it was good to continue working with him. Eventually we agreed on a number of copies and planned a launch. We were quaking as we looked at the first proof. There were surprising numbers of errors. A friend, an expert in children’s literature, read it and commented helpfully. We had to check and take time to ensure that every line of text was included. Kirralee worked on the typesetting. I drew up mailing and invitation lists.
The launch was fun. Family and friends came. A friend who is a swordsman showed everyone various moves with his sword, since a sword features in the book, and he interviewed us with questions which made the whole business of speaking much easier. Later we had a series of sessions ending with a short reading from the book with ten-year olds in a school and in one of Edinburgh’s public libraries.
We had brisk sales at the beginning and to our delight Typewronger Books in Haddington Place, Edinburgh, agreed to stock copies. Many independent bookshops will not stock self-published books fearing quality issues and pleading the paperwork involved. We are confident ours is a high quality book, but yes, the paperwork involved for a bookshop is tedious.
We learned a lot not only about collaboration but also just how different the post-publication process is from preparing the text. It’s hard work and draws on different skills from the more introverted ones required to write and illustrate!
We plan a further book to follow Oren when he is perhaps a year older. In the meantime, Kirralee has taken up spray painting on a large scale, and I have been preparing for a publication of poetry for Christmas.
You can purchase Oren Leibowitz – Tuesday at
Typewronger Books, 4a Haddington Place, Edinburgh EH7 4AE
Or through the artist’s website at
You can follow Kirralee Fisher on Instagram at @therusticfisher
Rosemary Hector’s work Labyrinth is available at Handsel Press at http://www.handselpress.co.uk