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The LitVox Author Interview: Olivia Hope
Olivia Hope’s debut picture book Be Wild, Little One is illustrated beautifully by Daniel Egnéus. It is a gorgeously immersive picture book that encourages the wildness in all of us to roam free.
Olivia is an Irish writer with a special love for children’s fiction. Before writing, she was a former record breaking athlete, and competed internationally. She has worked with all ages; from nursery schools to nursing homes. She had taught children English, PE, and on one occasion, ice-cream making, which ended badly. She currently lives in the wilds of South West Ireland with her family.
Be Wild, Little One is a story designed to empower children, to help them be brave when exploring the world around them and let them know that it is okay to take risks. Writing picture books is an exercise in restraint; they are rarely longer than 800 words with some as short as 400. How do you make each word count and still manage to tell the story you want?
When I write a picture book I’m very aware that my starting point is always a feeling or a moment in the story that has appeared to me as an idea. My job is to create a story that captures that feeling for a reader. For me first drafts can often take 2000 to 5000 words. I collect a landscape of words, dialogue and moments that I feel encapsulates the original feeling. After that I start distilling and condensing the longer form of the story into scenes that a reader can see or hear a grown-up read. The idea does come quickly, however the process of writing it so I have a final draft can take a bit more
How did you feel seeing the completed book with illustrations for the first time?
When I first discovered Daniel Egnéus was illustrating Be Wild, Little One, I immediately trawled the internet to find out more about the type of artwork he creates. I discovered he works in art as well as children’s illustration, so I was unsure what to expect. The one thing I could be certain of was his palette of rich colours, but in truth nothing prepared me for seeing my story through his art. The effect is such that you have to pause. You cannot simply glance and turn the page, it’s more like visiting an art gallery. You have to look because there was so much to see. I think that’s such a wonderful sign of a picturebook – when it has to be read slowly and with big pauses because there is so much visual brilliance portrayed on each spread.
Is there a book you’re always recommending to readers?
Du Iz Tak by author illustrator Carson Ellis. A non-language story where the main protagonists are insects, with exquisite art that tells a unique story. A complete picture book but not written in any language that we might recognise. It cleverly creates the experience of what it is like meeting new folk when you do not have the same native tongue as them. Carson Ellis is an innovative and alternative illustrator of children’s fiction, as well as designing album covers for quite a few rock bands.
What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it?
I’m reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.
Children’s publishing is possibly one of the few areas where women have higher demographic than men, so is depiction of life in 1950s America, where an intellectual woman cannot get the same breaks as her male scientific equals (or as was the often case for the protagonist Elizabeth Zott – scientific inferiors) is electric.
The speed and rationality of her wit gets her into and out of extraordinary scenarios. I loved the dialogue, story twists and in particular, Six-Thirty.
Is there a book you think deserves to be more widely read?
That’s a tricky one.
Shel Silverstein’s A light in the Attic.
The original Grimm brothers’ fairytales – the translation is quite dark and vengeful.
Shh – Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.
What’s the most important thing someone needs to write well?
Showing up to write. That way you are committing to developing your craft. It’s not particularly exciting but having a writing habit keeps you going. Writing something exciting is easy, writing through edits and structural developments is less exciting but necessary. So give yourself a writing habit.
Are you currently working on anything or is that all hush-hush?
I tend to have three or four picture books that I’m working on at the same time and all tend to be in various states of
disarray. My output can be high when it comes to words, but having something that I am happy to share with my agent or editor well honestly that takes me a lot longer. I am slow writer, I guess. At the moment I’m especially fond of a little story that I have recently shared with my agent as it’s allowing me to explore the darker side of childhood experience; a little horror in a picture book story examing how we deal with our fears. I know the feeling from Be Wild, Little One was about how much we gain from embracing the world and exploring it. This idea is carrying through into my other stories – that exploration and investing time in understanding the world and how it can make the world seem less scary – and that’s what I hope comes out and this spooky picture book I’m working on.