Meet the Author & Illustrator: Chris Saunders

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September 2020 | Authors

Sharing what you have with others is an idea children should learn early. This theme is at the heart of Chris Saunders’s magical debut picture book, Wish.

Constructed in imaginative verses and depicted with soft, dreamy illustrations, it’s a book that all young children will love. Wishes appear as little, bright circles. Fox is lucky enough to have found 3 wishes so he asks his friends, Mouse, Fox and Bear, what he should wish for. When they each share their deepest wish, it makes deciding what to wish for even harder.

Please take a moment to meet our Author of the Month, Chris Saunders, and learn a little about his background and how this lovely story was created.

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Chris, you received an Illustration BA Honours Degree (First Class) from the University of Northampton along with many other awards. It is clear you are very talented. Have you been drawing your entire life?

Drawing has always helped me make sense of the world around me. I believe that creating artwork can be a constructive way to process thoughts and feelings. It’s a beautiful way to communicate ideas and express yourself. I would compare it to learning and speaking a language in that sense.

Wish was your debut book as both the author and illustrator. What made you decide to write it? What was the inspiration?

I simply hoped to write a story about the importance of being kind to one another. Kindness is a quality, much like love, that has the power to transcend everything.

The soft, dreamy illustrations in Wish are some of the best we’ve ever seen. Did the drawings come first and then the story or vice versa?

The words inspire the images, just as the images inspire the words, one would not exist if not for the other. Imagine all the words and images of a story excitedly scattered before you, numerous and fragmented – like a subconscious jigsaw puzzle of sorts. I craft the story by trying to arrange all those pieces together, formulating them in a way that fits as though it was never broken – a state of resolution. In order to do this, I have to explore how the story could unfold, imaging different outcomes and possibilities, trying different variations until the puzzle is complete.

Wish is an imaginative story about a rabbit that finds not just one but three wishes. He asks for help deciding what to wish for from his three friends; mouse, fox and bear. But the book is really about kindness and the power of friendship. Are any of the characters based on real life people in your life?

My wife. This story is about her and her kindness. It is because of her that this book exists at all – something I only truly understood and appreciated upon reflection, after the whole process was complete.

The book is written so the first two lines on each page rhyme and the last two lines rhyme. Was this pattern intentional?

I’m not sure why but the words of a story often come to me as couplets, perhaps it might have something to do with the flowing nature of my illustrative style. Rhythm and repetition are also effective tools for learning and connecting with the words of a story.

Your drawings are absolutely captivating. Can you tell us about your process?

Typically, I begin with a very simple sketch, trying to get the idea out of my head and onto paper as quickly as possible so that I don’t forget it. I believe that the longer we wait to try and capture an idea, the more diluted our recollection of that idea becomes. After sketching, I being to establish a colour palette and a sense of lighting to help define the depth and mood of the rough designs that I’m interested in working with. Your first idea can sometimes be you’re strongest; however, this is not necessarily true all of the time. I often produce several ‘rough’ idea variations until I have a sense that I’ve captured something that ‘feels right’. Each rough idea is intentionally different to the one I am leaning towards. This challenges my decision-making process and provides options to be considered. I find that this is a constructive way of making sure that I am confident with my choices. I often describe illustration, and design in general, as creative problem solving.

What is the best part about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?

Being an author can be an incredibly rewarding profession. The kind words I have received from parents and teachers have been especially heart-warming and I appreciate each and every single reader. The first time I held a physical copy of Wish represented a major milestone for me, as it embodied the culmination of everything it took to reach that point. I was a huge fan of the work of Roald Dahl as a child; however, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is possibly my absolute favourite.

When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?

We are living in unprecedented times. Many of us have spent an increased amount of time at home over the last several months and I hope that as a result, families will have grown closer and stronger together. I can only hope that you and those you care for are safe and well.

As a new parent, my wife and I are looking forward to sharing all of our favourite stories with our little boy. There are many books that we have not yet had chance to read and story-time will be a fantastic opportunity to experience them together, as a family.

Digital media is constantly advancing and children are now able interact with many of their favourite books across multiple platforms, using various devices. I would however encourage parents and teachers to use physical copies as their tactile quality is unmatched and there is something incredibly special about turning the page of a book.

What are you working on now? Anything we can look forward to reading?

I have written a story that explores the importance of believing in yourself and others, considering how we value what makes us special. I’m looking forward to further exploring this world and its characters in the future.

Over the past year or so I have illustrated several picture books with the help of Astound US Agency who have been both understanding and supportive during this challenging time. I have worked with this agency for several years on a variety of exciting projects with clients from around the world, and I am looking forward to their new website launching soon!

Thanks to Chris Saunders for spending time with us and describing how he approaches his work. You can find out more about Chris at his website, here.

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