The Art of Picture Books featuring illustrator Nina Rycroft and publisher Clare Hallifax

5:00 pm - 7:30 pm The Hughenden Hotel, 14 Queen Street - Woollahra, NSW 2025

Clare and Nina began the afternoon by conducting a limited number of manuscript/portfolio critiques and this was followed by lunch and a fascinating afternoon of insights and anecdotes into the art of creating beautiful picture books. You can read feedback below about these sessions.

Clare began by saying what she is looking for when she reads a PB text: she wants to know how it sounds and listens for the rhythm of the piece. She pointed out that the difference for her between a short story and a picture book text is the musicality of the words and making sure that every single word has meaning, importance and has a job to do.

She cautioned that it is hard to be published, to stay published and to keep your books in print….BUT….not to give up, because the journey is the reward. She also mentioned authors were competing with books by celebrities, which can make it hard, because the celebrity has the social standing to help promote that book over regular bods.

Here are a few other major points Clare spoke about when creating a picture book:

·      Your story has to be from the heart

·      Make it child centric

·      Kids enjoy humour and don’t want a lecture

·      Readers want something that moves them

·      It has to communicate to kids' passions and what has meaning for them

·      Less is more: pare the story back to its utter heart. Write it all first, then cut it back.

·      The text that is pitched, often changes in the editing, storyboard and design phase, so that it can be markedly different from the initial idea.

·      Once the book is signed, the author is rarely involved in the process, but are sent illos more as a courtesy.

·      Trends: Humour and animals. In fact, often characters are changed from humans to animals because it is more inclusive, whereas a human is very prescriptive to issues of race and gender, for example. 

·      Make sure your story is finely honed before it is submitted

She spoke about the difficulty of getting a PB approved. She is a very visual person but not everyone else in her team are. When she loves a text she then has to take it an acquisition meeting, which includes many departments including Sales, all of whom have to love that text if they are going to successfully back it. Even though she will champion a book, she said the success rate of getting the books through an acquisition meeting is 2/10.

Yes! Only 2/10 books Clare presents to the acquisition meeting is signed up.

Nina Rycroft

Nina has had 13 PBs published worldwide, but she had 50 rejections before she was invited to have her first chat about a book.

Her first PB was Little Platypus. It came about when she was in Rome and feeling very homesick. She was collecting PBs, drawing and was regularly sending work to publishers, mostly to make them aware of her presence. She sent lots of finished work but also some smaller less finished pieces, and it was one of these of a platypus the publisher really liked.

Her major advice is:

·      Keep going and never give up

·      The story has to emotionally affect you as an illustrator

·      The creation of a book is a process where she’s never sure at the beginning how it is going to end up

·      Bring fun into your drawings…if you're in a bad space, walk, practice yoga, run or shake it off before you keep drawing.

·      Draw your characters from every angle so you get to know them it’s important to know the size and shape of the book

·      Never put anything in the gutter or the bend between pages

·      Every little character and illo has to have a reason for being there

·      She tries not to overwork her illos but will start again if she feels she’s gone too far

·      She believes her artwork has grown faster and stronger because of her collaboration with publishers.

·      She also said, ‘I have made mistakes and they have all been published.’

It was a complete pleasure to have Nina and Clare chat to us for our very first event of the year. Thank you too for the critiques they very generously offered to do. Everyone we spoke with had a rewarding time with these two amazing creators.

Here's what a few of our lucky authors and illustrators said about the critiques:

'Showing your work to editors is always a knee-buckling experience, but a critique session with Scholastic Editor Clare Halifax is an opportunity not to be missed.  I was lucky enough to score one of only three critiques with Clare prior to her SCBWI presentation, ‘The Art Of Picture Books’  at The Hughenden and as expected, Clare was generous in her expertise and knowledge. Her sage advice and edit took my manuscript to a new level. I swear she had a magic wand in that bag of hers! Thank you so much to Clare and SCBWI for such an invaluable experience.'

By author, Rachel Noble

Clare made me see my manuscript in a new light. She gave me an example of how to simplify one of my sentences which once she had pointed it out was obvious. Some were too sophisticated for the age group. Her critique was constructive with ideas on how to make improvements. Eg: get rid of adjectives which I already knew but still had managed to sneak a few in somehow. She also highlighted to me on what my story was about in it's simplest form and how I need to make it more 'active.' By author, Ramona Davey

We all had lots of fun and thank you as always to RA Susanne Gervay for her generosity and leadership.