x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Drawing in the crowds: the renowned illustrator and author Sarah McIntyre on picture books

The illustrator and writer of children’s books Sarah McIntyre says picture books are invaluable.

The award-winning illustrator and writer of children's books, Sarah McIntyre. Courtesy Nahim Azfal
The award-winning illustrator and writer of children's books, Sarah McIntyre. Courtesy Nahim Azfal

The illustrator and writer of children’s books Sarah McIntyre, who won the Leeds Graphic Novel Award in 2011 for her book Vern and Lettuce, will conduct workshops on developing and drawing fictional characters and will head a madcap pirate session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this weekend.

Why is it important to engage children in a visual creative process at a young age?

Never discount drawing. Children will happily write long stories in comic form that they would never contemplate writing as plain text. Our world is becoming image-based – think of the internet and of children’s interest in animation. Decoding pictures is a valuable and sometimes underrated skill.

What was your first attempt at illustration?

I remember drawing pictures with my childhood friend Brittany and wheeling them around her neighbourhood in a red wagon. We went door-to-door and sold them to our neighbours for 10 cents each.

Have the type of illustrations and depictions changed over the years?

Yes, modern printing techniques have made new things possible. You see much more interplay between text and image – the words can weave right around the pictures. Also, printing is cheaper, so you get people being able to print up their own books, or post stories and comics on the internet. Publishing is far less exclusive.

Vern and Lettuce was the first book you wrote and illustrated. Was that challenging?

I based Vern the sheep on my husband, Stuart. They have similar personalities. Vern is house-proud, gentle and slightly cautious. Lettuce [the rabbit] is a little bit like me, highly strung and impulsive. So whenever I’d put them in a situation, I knew immediately what sorts of things they’d say. Their dialogue wrote itself, in a way.

Are you working on any new books at the moment?

I’m working on the sequel to Oliver and the Seawigs [2013; written by Philip Reeve, and which she illustrated]. It’s an adventure story but features entirely new characters and will be set in outer space. It’s even more madcap than Seawigs, it’s called Cakes in Space – it has killer cakes – and will be out this autumn, along with another book I’ve done with my friend David O’Connell, called Jampires. I’m also starting to put together a couple of picture books I’ve written myself.

• Sarah McIntyre will hold three sessions today, tomorrow and Saturday. For more information and to book, visit tickets.emirateslitfest.com

aahmed@thenational.ae