February 14, 2012

Interview with Children's Author/Illustrator Katherine Battersby

When did you first know that you wanted to be a children's author and illustrator?

 I have always scribbled word and images. As an internal kind of child it quickly became my way of processing the world, but I didn't always know I wanted to pursue it as a career. First I grew a bit taller and got a bit older. I finished school; started university worked a lot and travelled even more. At university I studied occupational therapy, specialising as a children's counsellor, and it was working with these incredible children that lead me back to my writing. I was drawn to children's literature as a place where reality could be explored alongside wonder and magic, and for about 5 years now I've been addicted to writing and illustrating for young people.

 What inspired you to create your picture book character Squish?
 As writers we're often told: 'write what you know'. I believe what is actually meant by this phrase is to 'write to your emotional truths', or write to the feelings you know and understand. Looking back on my childhood, Squish Rabbit certainly captures my emotional truths. I recall vividly what it was like to feel small in a big world. I remember feeling like I had important things to say in a world where big people got listened to first. I felt a lot like Squish, and still do at times (even as an adult!).
As to why he is a rabbit, well that's a whole other story. Firstly my dad was British, so I spent chunks of my childhood in England visiting relatives. Memories of my time over there are quite dreamlike, almost as if I was wandering through some kind of storybook. The countryside was lush and green and home to the kind of tangly forests where adventures where sure to happen, full of wild animals (like snow-white rabbits) unfamiliar to me. It's no wonder to me that as a writer and illustrator for children, when I need to escape to the storytelling part of my mind this is where I go - back down the rabbit hole. I also grew up in quite an extraordinary house that was built into the side of a hill. It was a bit like a human rabbit warren, so I think this has helped me to sympathise with rabbits!

Congratulations on the upcoming release of Squish 2 ( called, Brave Squish Rabbit). Can you please tell us about it?
It's another adventure about Squish's difficulties in being small. Squish finds that there are many big things to be fearful of, like storms and chickens and especially the dark. The dark is so big it's everywhere. But late one day his friend goes missing and Squish needs to confront his fears in order to help. And, if he's brave, he might just find something quite wonderful about the dark after all.
In true Squish style there is a carrot load of quirk, a good dose of cute and plenty of heart. A few favourite little friends from the first book may also make an appearance... 
You were awarded the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship in 2010 for two years. What was this experience like? 
 Amazing - getting the phone call to say I'd been awarded one was definitely one of my most exciting writing days to date. It has really opened up a world of opportunities for me as a creator. In 2011 I got to do a huge trip to New York to meet my US agent, my wonderful publisher (Viking, Penguin) and attend one of the world's largest children's writing an illustrating conferences (the SCBWI Winter Conference). It was an incredible experience, and really boosted my confidence as an author. It has also allowed me to attend a few incredible Australian conferences. I have my final trip to London planned for next year to research a YA novel I'm writing - I can't wait!
How would you describe your writing and illustrating style?

 It varies depending on the project, but there are certainly things I'm drawn to as a creator. I've long been interested in the tales of misfits - children who are often overlooked in life but have remarkable things inside of them. As a picture book writer I try to write cleanly and sparsely, letting the illustrations carry much of the story. In fact I like to think of each spread as a haiku, keeping the words very limited. Visually I love white space contrasted with bright (but limited) colours. I also love textured art - images that make you want to reach out and touch them. I tend to use a kind of digital collage - ink, watercolour, fabric, textiles and found objects all combined digitally.

I also write novels, which are obviously quite different. I'm drawn to adventures and coming of age tales and stories that are a little darker. I'd also love to create a graphic novel with more layered illustrations. All things I hope to explore more with time.
 What's next?
 That's a very good question, Renee! Like many writers, my creative mind is a bit manic and I have so many projects I want to be working on. There are a couple of picture books calling to me, one for the very young and one that is slightly more emotionally complex (for more mature readers). I'm just completing the edits on a middle-grade novel and also hoping to complete my first YA novel. Now if I can only eliminate the need for sleep, I'll be just fine...

Thank you Katherine for sharing your gorgeous picture book Squish Rabbit. You can read more about Katherine on her blog The Well Read Rabbit.


DimbutNice said...

Lovely post, lovely interview and lovely lovely author and book Renee!

Unknown said...

Katherine is gorgeous and I've really enjoyed getting to know her better through this interview.

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Brave Squish when it comes out.