I’ve always loved writing and illustrating. I’ve got sketchbooks filled with weird little characters I made up when I was little. My favourite is a comic I made about an egg called Smeg. It was a word I used to find pant-wettingly hilarious. I was also obsessed with cringy jokes as a kid. My earliest creation was a plagiarised version of the Marks and Spencer Jolly Joke Book, which was for a long time my favourite book. I loved the drawings in them and spent way too many hours staring at them and learning the jokes by heart.
I have a really strong memory from when I was about 8 or 9 where I was drawing and thinking : «When I grow up, I want to do this ALL day!» It was remembering that memory - after my son, Oscar, was born - that spurred me on to give illustrating a go.
|My first book, aged 5|
I’d always been more confident about writing and when I left university, I started writing a children’s novel, I thought it was going to be the next Harry Potter (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what my submission letters actually said). I sent off the first few chapters and got interest from quite a big agent who wanted to see more. THIS IS IT! I thought. There was only one HUGE problem : I hadn’t finished it! I had done the worst thing a writer can do. Then I did the second worst thing a writer can do. I rushed off an ending, sent it off and never heard from her again...Of course.
I carried on after that but I was also on the verge of setting up my own business - an English language school for French kids, which then grew very quickly. In between running that, I went on two excellent Arvon courses and received great encouragement from Carol Ann Duffy and Malachy Doyle, to whom I am indebted. It wasn’t until I started doing short illustration courses in Paris that I thought I was actually capable of illustrating my own work. Then I joined SCBWI and went to my first Winchester conference in 2012, where I was given the Best Up and Coming Portfolio Prize. It was just the boost I needed to keep going. I came away from that conference with fantastic advice, namely from Barefoot Books Art Director, Vic Tyler.
Over a year later and I am developing one of my stories with a UK publisher - thanks to the 2013 SCBWI conference. I can’t say anything yet, but hopefully I’ll have good news soon...:-) It all depends on how it does at Bologna. In any case, it’s been such a learning curve and I have received so much valuable advice from the editor and art director I’m working with.
I feel a bit of a novice to be giving out tips but what I’ve learnt so far is : make time and space for your creativity and make sure you’re in the right frame of mind for it. I think it was John Cleese who gave a very good talk about creativity and how the brain needs to be relaxed (This is how I convince myself not to work and watch The Good Wife instead, anyway...)
Also, perhaps most importantly of all, don’t give up!
See Jion's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery. Her personal website is here, and blog here. She can be reached at email@example.com