I am delighted to welcome Simon Philip & Ella Bailey to the blog today to chat about their key inspirations when writing and illustrating. ‘I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat’ arrived at just the right time in our house as we were about to get a new addition to our family, a new kitten. After much deliberation and scouring the book for ideas we eventually settled on Luna after one of our favourite book characters. As you can see she is very helpful when I’m blogging!
Simon Philip – My biggest inspirations
Every writer works differently, but most would probably agree that inspiration is everywhere. I guess that finding inspiration is a mix of actively searching for it; being aware of the world around you and what’s going on in front of your eyes; asking lots of questions about things; and spotting the potential for a story wherever you can. Oh – and luck, of course!
I’m sure many writers have their own tried-and-tested process for generating hundreds of ideas that works every time. I don’t, so I’m a little envious of those who do. If I’m honest, one of the things I find most challenging about writing is coming up with ideas in the first place; once I have one, I find the actual writing-a-story-bit much more straightforward.
However, when I set my mind to it – and that’s a big part of the process for me, being in the right frame of mind – I normally manage to come up with something that’s at least worth getting down on paper.
So, my sources of inspiration tend to be:
I love books, particularly picture books – reading them, writing them, buying them, and I’m building up a nice collection.
I often find that just immersing myself in the world of picture books, reading new books or those I’ve read many times before, can help to spark an idea.
Searching through daily papers can be a great way to find interesting or unusual articles or photos that lend themselves to being turned into a new or different take on a story. Unbelievable but true stories feature more frequently than you might think, and are often perfectly suited for a picture book; the sort of articles where you think, “I couldn’t imagine or write this stuff up if I tried,” and then you do exactly that!
People watching/observing what’s in front of me:
This one’s fairly straightforward. Let’s face it – people are weird. I’m weird. You’re weird. It’s just a fact of life. But some people are weirder than others, and they often make great characters or induce situations that make great stories. Like the man walking a cat through town on a lead. Golden.
Random sentences that just pop into my head:
Sometimes, inspiration just strikes out of nowhere – like a sentence or phrase popping into your head that’s crying out to be a story. Even better if that sentence is already a problem in itself. My cat book, for instance, literally began with the words ‘I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat’ popping into my head. I don’t even own a cat!
This is, quite literally, the stuff of dreams. When you wake up from a dream – usually one of those super-vivid, early morning dreams when you’re flicking in and out of sleep – to find you’ve remembered all of it, and a fully formed idea for a story is ready to be written down. This has happened once to me, and if the story I wrote from it ever gets published, it’ll definitely be the best dream I’ve ever had. Nightmares can also be good inspiration, but less child-friendly.
Ella Bailey – Key Inspirations
Whenever I begin to feel the dreaded shadow of ‘artist’s block’ looming over my head, I try to tear myself away from my desk, and look towards some of the people and things that inspire me most.
The first things (and people) that come to mind, are, perhaps unsurprisingly, books and their illustrators! I have a very tightly crammed bookshelf right by my desk, which is inevitably the first place I turn to when I am feeling the need for a little bit of creative inspiration. Artists such as Mary Blair, Miroslav Sasek and Alain Grée, have had a huge influence on my work. Childhood favourites, such as Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans, are important to me as well. For more contemporary illustrators, I love the ethereal artwork of Jon Klassen, and the gentle illustrations of Isabelle Arsenault, Marc Boutavant, Oliver Jeffers… I could keep this list going for a very long time! I grew up in a house full of picture books, so it is no wonder that they have had such a huge influence on me.
Other than illustration, another big source of inspiration for me is films – especially animated ones! Growing up, I was a BIG Disney buff, and watching The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, over and over and over again, was part of my weekly routine. My love of animation is a big part of what inspired me to become an illustrator in the first place. I also admire the films from Studio Ghibli – I still remember the awe I felt the first time I watched Spirited Away. Not only are the films aesthetically beautiful, but the stories are so wonderfully magical, surreal and often serene – they have a certain feeling I always aspire to capture in my own work.
I am a big animal lover, so the natural world is another area that I use to inspire myself. Living in the city, nature is not so easily accessible first hand (other than the magpies who like to squabble outside my window), but I try to find time to watch nature documentaries (everything David Attenborough!), and again, I have a lot of books about animals! Naturally, I am always on the lookout for things and ideas that I can incorporate into my illustrations, so a lot of my inspiration simply comes from the world around me – places I have been, and people that I know. Sometimes, all the inspiration I need is simply right under my nose!
A huge thank you to Simon Philip and Ella Bailey for stopping by the blog today and to Simon & Schuster for inviting me to join the blog tour and sending me a copy of this fabulous book. Why not join in with the rest of the tour!