Our guest: Insanely talented author-illustrator Briony May Smith’s first picture book, Imelda and the Goblin King, was published by Flying Eye Books in 2015. It won the prestigious Kindie Award for Best Picture Book – International and was nominated in the Emmylou’s Choice category.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
My earliest memories of children’s books are ones of my parents reading me my favourite stories. These included The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base, filled with minute details, games and clues, as well as fantastic rhyme. We would put over the pages as it was read to us, myself and my little brother and sister.
Another favourite was Portly’s Hat, by Lucy Cousins, which was so amusing, and still amuses me today.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
I LOVED Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. It’s a take on Cinderella, but entirely it’s own novel. This question is hard because book characters are much larger than life, so it’s hard to identify with any particular one. Ella Enchanted has a fantastic heroine, I borrowed it so many times from my school library. So maybe Ella, as a role model more than anything else.
But Cicely Mary Barker, in her flower fairy collection, had two Bryony fairies, so naturally I loved them when I was little!
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
This is too hard, I’m afraid! I couldn’t choose! Here are some favourites from picture books:
Cicely Mary Barker (childhood favourite)
Kitty Crowther (right)
I keep adding, so I must stop now!
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Walt Disney, Arthur Rackham, John William Waterhouse, John Bauer and Cicely Mary Barker (left). These are all huge inspirations for me, so if Kinderlit could make it possible, I’d love to pick their brains!
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I couldn’t say. I think the joy of children’s books is that there are no limitations. I’d say that the creator has to have as much fun creating the book as the children who will read them.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Probably folklore, I love reading fairy and folk tales and this influences all my other interests, so I think this is a main characteristic of my work. The nature and rhythm and humour of folklore.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Maybe Matilda. I’d like magic powers.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Having only one picture book published, I suppose I’d like to have had added a few more animals in Imelda and the Goblin King!
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
None specifically, but my parents were hugely helpful as I developed my doodling. They were always the first to see and advise on my pictures from primary school to university! And they still have to listen to me test ideas on them. Mum said, “Always look at the thing you’re drawing more than your piece of paper,” and that has come in pretty handy.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I normally sit down to draw from my imagination, creatures and fairy tales and nature, and the things around me, and if I create a character I like the look of, I develop them further, and think about the world they might live in. Normally they sit in my head whilst I try and make a story for them.
It’s really useful to draw and write at the same time, so that your mind wanders as you sketch, helping to move the story along. And once the story is mapped out and has some direction, I start to form proper spreads and layouts and thumbnails, before moving on to drawing it all up properly!
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
I think it would be The Eleventh Hour, for sentimentality. It’s got incredible illustrations, with hidden clocks to find and immense detail. It’s a mystery too, you have to figure out yourself who ate the birthday dinner. There’s a secret code and a whole page you unseal once you think you know who it is, filled with all the secrets hidden on the pages. Both adults and children are kept entertained because it’s so clever and witty. And the rhyme is just brilliant, it is a joy to read aloud and return to again and again.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.