To coincide with the paperback launch of A Dare for A Hare, their second title for Orchard Books, Charlie Farley and Layn Marlow talk about what it's like to collaborate on picture books…
Layn: Readers often imagine that authors and illustrators work in close collaboration, but that’s rarely the case. When working with any good publisher there are brilliant editors and designers whose job it is to bring the words and pictures together. They help authors and illustrators produce the best books possible, so they don’t necessarily need the two to meet. But writing and illustrating are otherwise solitary jobs and there are moments during the creative process – particularly in the early stages – when it can really help to have some feedback from a trusted source.
Charlie: I didn’t know most authors don’t get involved in picture book illustration. I’m sure publishers and editors have good reasons for this, but I feel lucky that Layn and I have been able to work together. Layn helped with feedback in the early days of both stories. She’s particularly helpful in areas like page breaks and how the story will work visually. Layn also listened to my early thoughts on setting and style, although I leave the magic of illustration and design to the experts.
Layn: Designers are sometimes the unsung heroes in picture book publishing and that’s particularly the case with A Dare For A Hare. I’m indebted to Grahame Lyus and Paula Burgess for their patient suggestions while I did the preparatory artwork, but it was great that I could rely on Charlie’s support too. I also write, and Charlie has a strong sense of visual storytelling, so whatever I’m working on, I value his feedback on both words and pictures. When I was pondering how to illustrate the setting for A Dare for a Hare, Charlie immediately pinged me images he’d found for inspiration.
The inspiring colours of a Dorset sunset
Charlie: I did lots of research on setting when writing A Dare for a Hare. And when Layn told me she was thinking about a dawn to dusk approach, which I love, and some of the peach and coral colours she was considering, I sent her photos of sunsets in Dorset, where I live, which captured the colour scheme perfectly. I adore the colour palette and watercolours Layn has chosen for this book. So warm and comforting. It’s great to see stories come to life with pictures, especially when it’s one Layn has been involved with in the early stages.
©Layn Marlow 2019, pages 30-31 of A Dare for a Hare, by Charlie Farley and Layn Marlow, Orchard Books
Layn: I love it when Charlie shows me his writing! I think one of the reasons our collaboration works is that Charlie is, by nature, open to other people’s ideas. And talking of nature, we’re both interested in the natural world - without being experts. When I saw an early draft of A T-Wit for a T-Woo, I was thrilled that it was based on a fact of nature, but we both agreed it was a little short. I suggested adding extra animals but at that stage I didn’t know I’d be the illustrator. Luckily they happened to be animals I like to draw!
Charlie: Knowing Layn and working together on our books has made the benefits of collaboration and critique clear. I’ve since done a MA in Writing for Young People (with much peer and tutor critiquing) and also, through Layn, I’ve joined a SCBWI picture book crit group, hosted by the lovely and talented Bridget Marzo. For those writing and illustrating picture books, I’d recommend all the trusted collaborations you can find.
Layn: One other benefit of working together has been joint book events. Although I’d had experience doing school and library visits, they can be nerve-wracking on your own. There’s nothing like having another person with you. Especially when you discover that person is not only as brave as the characters in their stories, but also left-handed while you are right-handed – ideal for drawing animals together in public!
Charlie and Layn drawing owls