Book People: Emma Quay
I have loved the work of Emma Quay ever since ‘Bear and Chook’ (written by Lisa Shanahan, illustrated by Emma Quay) first landed in my library. It was pretty much love at first sight (I especially bonded with chook:)) and I think I’ve purchased that book for just about every small child in my life, along with ‘Rudie, Nudie’. I met Emma when she attended a Children’s Book Council of Australia event in Brisbane for ‘Across the Story Bridge’ at which I was the MC and therefore had to stick to the script and not gush too much over people like Emma. I’m never very good at this. Emma’s work is truly exquisite and sophisticated, yet maintains major child appeal – lots of movement, colour and seeming simplicity. Her latest book, ‘Scarlett, Starlet’ (my review is here) is perfect for giving to small movers and groovers in your life – those children who just don’t stop twirling and stomping from sun up to sun down. Or in the case of my seven year old, those who handstand around the house from sun up to sun down without even realising they are doing it…thank you Eden Riley for the handstand lessons (she says with gritted teeth).
Emma thank you so much for joining us here today and I couldn’t agree more with your wish for the world…it is my wish too…and yes, Mr Mark Macleod is a pretty special dude huh?
All 70+ Book People interviews can be seen here.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Emma Quay
- Tell us about your latest book.
It’s called Scarlett, Starlet, and it’s a picture book about a little girl who starts to dance from the moment she hops out of bed in the morning. Scarlett leaps and twirls across the pages and her parents think she’s the bees knees, but she can’t help wondering what it would be like to perform on a real stage, for a real audience… not just Mummy and Daddy.
I wrote Scarlett, Starlet for the child that dances all the time without knowing they’re doing so. The book is about doing something for the love of it, and I suppose it’s also my counter to all the films and books about reaching for the stars and getting them. Scarlett dreams of the stage but finds her true rhythm at home, dancing for her mum and dad, to the sound of her little dog’s paws tap-tap-tapping on the tiles.
- How did you get started as a writer and illustrator?
After graduating with an Honours degree in Graphic Design in the UK, I lugged my huge portfolio of college work around the London publishing houses. Each had a certain day when prospective illustrators could leave their work to be viewed by commissioning editors. After a few months, I began to wonder if anyone was actually bothering to look at the portfolios, so I did the old spy trick and taped a hair across the zip of mine. At the end of the day, the hair was still intact! I decided it was time to change my strategy, so I joined an illustrators’ agency and worked in the educational books market. It was a great start, but the illustration briefs were quite restrictive and eventually I longed to splash out in full colour and have more of a chance to express myself. So, after I moved to Australia, I took the evening class in Children’s Book Illustration at Sydney Uni’s Centre for Continuing Education, to find out about the publishing industry in this country. Donna Rawlins introduced me to Mark Macleod, who at that stage had his own imprint at Random House. It was a meeting that changed my life: Mark and I worked on quite a few trade picture books together, including Good Night, Me, Daddy’s Having a Horse and Rudie Nudie, and I think of him as my mentor. Mark taught me so much about illustration, and also published the first book I both wrote and illustrated, Reggie and Lu (and the same to you!).
- What does a typical day look like for you?
It starts early, and involves walking the dog, drawing, painting, scanning, Photoshopping, opening computer files to fiddle with stories in progress, Pilates, yoga, playing the flute, watching DVDs with my husband, driving my daughters and their friends to dance classes, dinners at home with the family or out with friends, trying to stay on top of email correspondence, as little cooking as I can get away with and the odd exhibition or theatre visit – not all of them every day, and not necessarily in that order.
- Can you describe your workspace for us?
Messy! I fight to keep things under control, but I usually lose.
I have tables for painting, an old cane couch for sitting and drawing (I seem to draw better with my work balanced on my knee), an ergonomically-designed desk chair to look after my back (although I invariably end up balancing on it, cross-legged and huddled over my computer!), lots of art materials scattered and spreading… and my little dog, Apollo, at my feet. Apollo gets terribly bored in the studio, and his little paws tend to tip-tap on the floor, too, when he gets restless.
This is a photo of my painting table, taken this morning. I’m working in mixed media at the moment, so I need everything to hand – well, that’s my excuse. It’s all lids and loo roll! Looking closely, I can see my studio buddy at the edge of the picture… and very little room left on the table for my paper.
- Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
In the publishing industry, we all hear the word ‘no’ (in many guises) – from illustrators, editors, publishers, manuscript assessors, booksellers, agents… Don’t be disheartened, but do listen. ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘never’ – sometimes it means ‘not yet’, or ‘nearly’, or ‘try again’, or ‘maybe put that one away for a while and work on something else’. Heeding a ‘no’ can sometimes save one from embarrassment! So, my advice seems to be, ‘Do take no for an answer, but don’t give up’.
- Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I think it might be Chook from Bear and Chook, written by Lisa Shanahan. He is so kind, trusting and supportive – a great friend, willing to take on any of the challenges Bear throws at him, despite his always ending up in a scrape of some sort, as a result. When I read Bear and Chook to schoolchildren, they really respond to Chook and feel for him. There is always absolute silence when the two friends’ makeshift theatre collapses, and the children wonder if Chook is hurt, followed by an audible “Ahhh” of relief when he wriggles out from underneath the stage, and Bear gives him a big hug.
- If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
My original Plan B was to be a primary school teacher, and I hope to someday find the time to crank up my print press and do more printmaking again.
- What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I love food and music, but when I’m working I tend to forget about both of them and it’s a mostly silent studio, with the odd bite taken at my desk (no wonder Apollo is bored!).
- How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
My friends laugh and say the ‘voice’ of my books is utterly me, and I guess the pages are full of childhood memories, my musings and observations, but I never actually draw myself. I doubt I ever will.
My daughters say, “Whatever we do, Mum, you end up writing a book about it!” I suppose that’s true: I wouldn’t have written Scarlett, Starlet if they hadn’t started dancing, and I hadn’t spent so much time in glitter-charged changing rooms, and sitting on plastic school hall chairs at dance eisteddfods. However, Scarlett isn’t based on anyone I know – she emerged out of the experience of watching so many dancing children.
- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
Sustainability, so we still have a world.
Thanks for asking, Megan. I’ve enjoyed thinking about my answers. 🙂