Friday, May 6, 2011

"Books are made up like sandcastles" - interview with Allan Ahlberg in The Guardian

"Usually you can't build a house without an architect doing drawings - there is an intention prior to the existence of the building. But books are made up like sandcastles: you add stuff and knock it down and change it - and in fact, you didn't even know you were building a castle at first, you thought you were building a garage. Or you were going to have a cave and instead it turned into a garden full of shells" (Allan Ahlberg)

I like to make the weekend papers last the whole week (the Daphne du Maurier story I mentioned in the last post was creepy and brilliant). Yesterday I read this inspiring interview with Allan Ahlberg, also in last Saturday's REVIEW section in the Guardian (you can read it online here):

As I have said here many times, I love children's books. For Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project), reading children's books is her "comfort food" activity, and I feel the same way. Particularly in cases where the combination of writing and illustrations proves to be a perfect, long-lasting match (Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake and Astrid Lindgren/Ilon Wikland come to mind), such books take up residence in my head and heart, and the Ahlbergs' output is one such example.
It was fascinating to read what Ahlberg had to say about the process of creating children's books. I recently started to do illustration work and would like to do more in that area, so it was very encouraging to read things like "I'm far from being the best writer in the world, and Janet was very good but she wasn't the greatest illustrator in the world either [...] it's as though we took my modest talent and we took Janet's modest talent and we poured it into a tiny 32-page thing" (though I am sure he was just being modest saying this!). I sometimes feel there is no point working towards something that might never materialise -though of course there is; it's not only about the end result- and when there are so many people doing it better, but Ahlberg's story gives me hope (on a side note, it also makes me think of this post - I bookmarked it and read it when I feel pessimistic). They received lots of rejections in the beginning, but they persevered and finally made it.
It was also the creative process of "making books" that helped Ahlberg when Janet died in 1994, and I can relate to that - art-making is very therapeutic. This interview came at exactly the right time, just when I needed a gentle reminder that I am on the right path, no matter where it will lead.


  1. I love children's books too, especially when I'm teaching primary school children the books I see are so wonderful!Have you heard of 'The Red Tree' by Shaun Tan? I was shown the book the other day and the art is amazing! I wish you lots of luck with your illustrations, hope you can post some up one day! Take care..Ines xxx

  2. Thanks, Ines! I read about 'The Red Tree' a while ago and put it on my books-to-get list, but I'd forgotten all about it; I'm so glad you mentioned it! I'll post some illustrations soon. Marina xxx