Hooray, hooray, hooray! Today is publication day!
Squishy McFluff: Secret Santa has hit the shelves, and I’m just so excited that Ava and Squishy McFluff now have their very own Christmas story. I had huge fun writing the book, remembering all the magical Christmases of my childhood. Of course, Christmas time in the McFluff household is somewhat more chaotic than the ones I remember, but that’s to be expected.
As ever, one of the loveliest parts of making Secret Santa was seeing the wonderful illustrations that would help tell the story. I hope you’ll agree they’re brilliant. And I thought that, as mid-October is perhaps a little bit early to be swapping mince pie recipes on the blog, it would be fun to learn a bit more about the lady behind the pictures.
So… let’s meet Ella!
Hi Ella! How did you end up illustrating books for children?
Hi! Well, I love children’s books and as a child, I was especially fascinated by the illustrations. That fascination stuck with me growing up, and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. I have been working since I graduated in 2000, illustrating stories for authors in the UK, Norway and the US. I love working with authors (you especially! Aw, thanks) and making projects of my own.
For me, seeing your first character sketches of Ava and Squishy was an amazing moment! I knew straight away they were perfect. So how did you go about deciding what they were going to look like?
Ava and Squishy just popped out! After I read the first story, which I instantly loved, I put my pencil on the paper and, as I drew, they came straight away. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes characters are hard to find, and I have to erase and redraw them many times. Ava and Squishy have only changed very slightly slightly since that first drawing.
Tell us about your processes for illustrating Squishy McFluff.
I start by reading the whole story, making visual notes in my head. Then I go through, page by page, and make sketches. There are usually comments on each page from you and the book editor, which is also very helpful. When all the sketches are approved, I make the
final drawing by pencil using a piece of tracing paper on top of the sketch. The colouring is
done by ink on a separate layer of tracing paper. The line drawing and the colours are scanned and put together on a computer. When I’ve finished working on a book, there are usually mountains of tracing paper on my desk!
When you’re illustrating a series like Squishy, does it get easier or harder to draw the same characters over and over again?
It gets easier and easier to draw them as I go along, and I feel like I get to know them really well. It’s like meeting old friends when I’ve been away from them for a while.
Illustrations in children’s books are obviously massively, hugely, fantastically important. What do you think illustrations bring to the storytelling?
The illustrations bring a new dimension to a story. In fact, they tell parts of the story without the need for words. And both parents and children can engage with a story in a special way by looking at the pictures together. New readers also find it much easier to get through a book when there are pictures too, and it’s a proud moment when you can say for the first time: ‘I read a whole book all on my own!’
A question I get asked a lot by children I meet at schools is: how long does it take to make a book? I can tell them how long it takes me to write one, but how long does it take to draw all the pictures for a Squishy book?
It’s quite a long process. When working intensively with a book, it usually takes around two months.
Lots of children have also asked where ‘we’ as in you and I work. There is an assumption we sit side by side to make the books – but of course we work quite separately, not least because you live in Trondheim, Norway! What it’s like where you live? 🙂
Even though we live in different countries, it sometimes feels like we are sitting side by side! It’s easy to communicate through the internet.
Trondheim is the city where I was born and it’s in the middle of Norway. I live in a big house with my husband, three boys and a cat. I was allergic to cats before, but found out earlier this year that I’m not anymore, so we decided to get one. He’s called Lillebror (which means little brother). He follows us everywhere around the house and likes to cuddle. We usually have a lot of snow here in the winter, which is great fun, and on a clear winter evening, we sometimes see the magical Northern lights.
So, absolutely everyone loves your work, Ella – but which other children’s illustrators do you admire?
There are SO many brilliant children’s illustrators I admire! I love the work of Tove Jansson, Oliver Jeffers, Rilla Alexander, Benji Davies and Emily Hughes, to name a few.
If there was one children’s book character you wish you had drawn, which would it be?
That’s a difficult question. I do love the simplicity of Tove Jansson’s universe and her Moomin character. He is instantly recognizable and has so much personality. We have a shelf in our kitchen that’s filled with Moomin cups.
Do you have any advice to children who would love to have a job like yours?
Keep on drawing and have fun doing it!
And just for fun, the quick-fire round!
A slice of home made bread (freshly baked) with Norwegian brown cheese and strawberry jam, and coffee.
I have many, but if I had to pick one it would be green.
Favourite book when you were little?
Lupinella (Lupinchen in German) by Binette Schroeder.
Spring, when everything transforms into green.
Sea or swimming pool?
Definitely sea. If it’s warm enough, I love to swim.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate (both hot and cold!).
Finally, invisible cats or real ones?
Thank you Ella! Now, get back to work, my friend. Squishy McFluff: Seaside Rescue won’t draw itself, you know.
Photo of Ella Okstad courtesy of www.synlig.no