Frances Watts and David Legge have been collaborating on children’s books for years. They’ve gotten so used to working alongside each other that, when working together on their most recent book, David Legge said ‘the line between writer and illustrator was well and truly blurred to the point where I’m not sure where some of the ideas for both words and pictures came from’.
That most recent book is It’s A Story, Rory!, a picture book which invites curious readers behind-the-scenes to explore the process of creating books.
In the spirit of Book Week, Frances and David have shared some insights into their creative process.
It’s a Story, Rory!, our fifth book together, is the continuation of a conversation we began with our second, Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books. Aimed at children who are beginning their journeys towards independent reading, Parsley introduces the physical aspects of books while also actively engaging them as readers. It’s a Story, Rory! takes this a step further by engaging with readers as creators: presenting them with the knowledge and tools—and, we hope, the inspiration—to create stories of their own.
The conversation about stories is one we have been having with each other for more than ten years. With each book our collaboration has grown closer as we have developed a creative relationship built on trust, openness…and a shared love of the absurd! Within our shared creative space, we have the freedom to test out ideas without fear of judgment and failure.
When we decided to try to share the process of creation in a book, we started much the way the book itself begins: with a blank page. Or, rather, two blank pages. We met in a cafe with our notebooks and pens, opened them to blanks pages… and began.
Between meetings, we brainstormed over email.
—– Original Message —–
Our planning session the other day was great fun! And very inspirational. Just to get the ball rolling, here’s a draft of the first few pages.
It starts with a blank page.
[Rory] Hey, Milly, why are we on this blank page?
[Milly] It won’t be blank for long. We’re going to be in a story, Rory!
[Rory] Who’s that doing the talking at the bottom of the page?
[Milly] That’s the narrator. The narrator tells the story.
A couple of questions:
Page 3: While I love the audacity of just having a blank page with a single line of text, now I’m wondering if maybe there should be, say, an inquiring nose and beak coming in from the side of the page to lead the reader in. What do you think?
Page 5: I thought this was a good place to introduce the concept of the narrator. Maybe Rory could be pointing or looking down at the narrator’s line of text?
Subject: Re: Rory
Maybe the illustrations could help lead the reader into the story by leading them into the page. So on page 3, ‘It starts with a blank page’, maybe we could have a zoomed-out view of a sheet of paper, maybe on a desk. There could be screwed up pieces of paper next to it, a worn-down pencil and maybe a coffee ring on the paper? Page 4 could zoom in so just the edges of the paper are seen (i.e. a touch of desk is still visible) and then on page 5, the page is the page and the reader is in the book, if you know what I mean.
After considering the elements used to construct a story—the narrator, the characters, the plot, the setting and so on—we talked about how these work in both text and illustration.
For example, what is the balance between telling and showing?
And, how can visual elements create meaning and how can language be used for effect?
While we do aim to educate and inform, our main focus throughout the writing and illustration of It’s a Story, Rory! was to convey the joy of creation, and to empower readers to express their own ideas through words and pictures.
After all these years, Frances and I are at the stage where our days of tiptoeing around each other are long gone. In fact, we are at the stage where we are more than comfortable to meet with a blank page, put our boots on and joyfully stomp around together with no inhibitions or concerns about standing on each other’s toes.
I have loved working on this book. I think the line between writer and illustrator was well and truly blurred to the point where I’m not sure where some of the ideas for both words and pictures came from, and I think that that is how it should be.
A book that starts with a blank page and can go anywhere! It’s total freedom! It’s scary! It’s exciting! It’s frustrating! It’s joyous! It’s hard work! It’s stepping into a void! It’s the start of every book, and I love being one of the pathfinders alongside Frances!
Frances Watts & David Legge