Last week, I spotted a special book. What was it? you ask. Well, dear friends, it was The Best Book in the World by Rilla Alexander. Published in June by Flying Eye Books, this glorious book is a celebration of colour, energy and beautiful illustrations - truly. I'll be writing a review very soon, but before that I'm really pleased to share an interview with Rilla.
Thank you so much for letting me interview you – you are my very first overseas interviewee! First off, please can you tell POP readers a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for inviting me! I am Australian, though haven’t lived at home for many years. I spent the last eight years in Berlin and have recently arrived in Portland, Oregon. Moving from country to country is challenging when you are a book lover with a much loved and gigantic bookshelf! Leaving books behind is akin to saying goodbye to friends – and as many as possible have joined me on this adventure.
My favourite thing to do is dream up characters, let them tell me their stories and see them come to life as books and toys, sculptures and prints – but also on plates, fabrics and other things that last and can be loved.
Your work is multi-faceted – encompassing picture books, workshops and ceramics, to name just a few. How do you find the time to be so enterprising?!
I come from a family who never stop making things and aren’t very good at relaxing. Coming up with ideas is so much fun but I have to constantly remind myself actually doing them is much slower. In fact, sometimes it’s a lot like work!
Doing workshops means I get to share my enthusiasm for making things and see many more ideas developed and rapidly finished. I love that!
How did you get into illustrating children’s books?
From as early as I can remember, I would dictate stories to my mother who would type them directly onto my drawings and bind the pages into books complete with an author’s bio. My family gave these books for Christmas and birthday presents and they were loved and treasured. As a teenager I made my first book about books for a subject called Library Studies. It was an elaborate picture book with stuffed arms and legs and contained an audio tape that my entire family contributed to. You would think it would be hard for me to stop – and yet, as time went on, I procrastinated about finishing any books because I knew how good I wanted them to be. Eventually I came to realise that getting any book done is better than none.
(As an aside, when I tell this to a class I’ve learnt I need to explain what a typewriter and an audio tape are.)
What do you enjoy most about the book-making process?
When you are first working on an idea absolutely everything you see, hear or read seems to relate to it somehow. Like a rolling snowball, the idea gets bigger and better and the momentum is so strong that you get swept away with it.
You chose to self-publish one of your books (Jorinde & Joringel) – how did your experience of this differ from working with a publisher?
The huge difference is in the collaboration, feedback and support – having somebody there who cares about what you are working on is invaluable in those moments where self-doubt gets the better of you. And then, of course, when the book is finally finished somebody else will put it into boxes and carry it up and down the stairs all over the world! (Obviously this is a highly simplified version of what the publisher does but I’m sure you understand what I am saying.)
But not everybody has a publisher to work with – and that is why I am such a strong proponent of simply making books. I suggest people forget all the rules that may be holding them back. Don’t try and make something you think a publisher will like – just make something. And when you are finished, have it printed in a limited edition, give it to friends, put on an exhibition, send it to people who might be interested and be very proud of yourself for finishing a book. Once you have made one, you can make another one and you’ll get better and better and probably won’t stop.
If you could meet any authors or illustrators, alive or dead, who would they be?
Can I please go back in time and play with Tove Jansson (and Tuulikki Pietilä and Pentti Eistola) building the Moominhouse?
What are your views on the picture book market right now?
I am completely overwhelmed when I walk into the Bologna or Frankfurt Book Fair by the sheer quantity of books and the true understanding of the word “industry”.
But I feel lucky to know a lot of people making beautiful books – among them Chris Haughton, Kitty Crowther, Vivian Schwarz, Ben Newman, Oliver Jeffers, Jim Stoten, Benji Davies and Kevin Waldron – and the simple fact that they are making the work they are making, and that it is being published and loved, says a lot.
Describe yourself in five words
Very likely red. Nothing more!