Your first time can be magical… It can also be anxiety-ridden, awkward and filled with tears, and the life of a published author or illustrator is filled with them. This series will give us a look at some of the first times of our favorite creators.
This time: Gabriel Alborozo is an author-illustrator based in South London. He has provided illustrations for numerous magazines and books. His first solo work was 2014’s Let’s Paint!, published by Allen and Unwin. His latest book is the fantastic Good Night, Firefly, released in 2015 by Henry Holt. His next will be 2016’s Come On, Tom Tiger, from Simon & Schuster in 2016. Gabe previously took part in Kinderlit’s The Exquisite Corpse game.
1. WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?
When I was very young, maybe four or five. My dad would read Winnie the Pooh to me as a bedtime story. The illustrations by E.H Sheperd (right) are the main thing for me though. There was something about them that was so real and so magical about them that it was something I just couldn’t stop thinking about. There is something very safe and comforting about his work that almost no one else has captured since (I think).
I would set to work with my pencils and pens and try to copy them, and try to work out how he achieved various effects. For some reason I never actually thought that E.H Sheperd actually had a job drawing. When my dad explained that yes, he got paid to draw Pooh and Piglet, that was when I knew what I wanted to do, and by that point had to do.
2. TELL US ABOUT FINDING OUT YOU WERE GOING TO BE PUBLISHED FOR THE FIRST TIME.
My first time published is something I will never forget. I had spent years training myself to be a gag cartoonist. Absorbing everything Punch and Private Eye, etc. had to offer. I began submitting when I was 13 and I’ve lost count of how many gags I sent out to magazines over time, but its easily in the thousands. I got my first hit from Private Eye two years later.
To say ‘happy’ is the understatement of the century. The thing I remember most though is walking into the newsagent with my dad, flipping through the copy and seeing my cartoon sitting in the corner of the page. I literally can’t describe the feeling. When I got the cheque from them that was also pretty major. I’d never seen that much money in one go. AND IT WAS MINE!!!
3. WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF PUTTING YOUR FIRST BOOK TOGETHER LIKE?
Picture books are a very different kettle of fish though. My debut picture book, Let’s Paint, was a real learning curve. It was compiled mainly from stand alone (almost) gag cartoon style images. I thought it was going to be a breeze, but the editorial process and art direction process was pretty complex. I had no idea initially that so much from so many would be going into making such a simple book. It was very different from a magazine editor just saying “make the nose / feet smaller.” But again, publication was a buzz and it didn’t put me off.
4. WHEN DID YOU FIRST SEE ONE OF YOUR BOOKS IN A STORE? HOW DID YOU FEEL?
When Let’s Paint hit the shelves, the first time I saw it was in Tate Modern bookshop, sitting in a little pile. It was a very weird experience. Much stranger than seeing a magazine. There was a stack of my work just sitting there waiting to be bought! If someone bought one they’d be buying it specifically for its own sake. Not because it was attached to something else, like a magazine column. It felt like quite a responsibility actually and still does.
I lingered for a bit looking shady until I saw someone by one. Then I relaxed a bit.
5. WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM THE PROCESS OF PUBLISHING YOUR FIRST BOOK THAT YOU’VE APPLIED TO SUBSEQUENT BOOKS?
The whole process of children’s books has been a huge learning curve and remains so to this day. The biggest lesson I have taken from it though is that there is so much input from editorial and art departments, not to mention the HUGE impact sales and marketing teams have in the production of a book; that right from the very first hint that what you are creating is going to be published you have to let go of any proprietorial feelings you might have for an idea.
A great many people are going take your ideas, play with them, twist them, shake them vigorously, play catch with them and then hand them back to you to iron out.
It’s stressful and hard work, but the end result is a picture book sitting on the shelf. Also a pay cheque, which means you can spend all day in your house wearing a dressing gown and drawing funny animals, so it’s always worth it.
So really the lesson is “Let go.”