The Oxford dictionary defines to collaborate as:

  1. to work jointly esp. in a literary or artistic production.
  2. to cooperate traitorously with the enemy.

Perhaps it’s this sinister connotation that publishers have in mind when they try to keep authors and illustrators apart (in case the author and illustrator start collaborating against them). But don’t be put off – there’s something very positive about working with your illustrator.

Jude Daly and I have collaborated for many years. I claim her as one claims my agent and my publisher – mine even though she works for others. Since we both grew up next to the sea on opposite sides of the same bay, I like to think there were currents flowing between us, long before we met. The same sea washed up on her beach that washed up on mine and I like to imagine when the South-Easter blew my beach ball out to sea, it landed up safely in her hands on the other side of the bay!

The great plus of a partnership is that you give your illustrator the unthinkably impossible – you sprinkle words lightly, mix them all together and hand over the dough to rise in someone else’s kitchen, because you’re confidant they’ll know what’s inside your head. The sweep of the Persian desert, the void at the beginning of creation, the overwhelming loneliness of the Atlantic Ocean, are handed over without qualms. Not only does she succeed but she expands these concepts so that the scorching desert lives on beyond the double page spread of the book’s borders and the mists of the ocean curl up around the end pages. Baking at its best!

Another plus of collaboration is that as the images emerge, your words can be edited. (Eventually all the words could be redundant but it’s hard to convince your friends and family that you’re a writer when you show them your wordless book!)

The whole process becomes a playful one. Here are a few excerpts from Jude’s emails while she was working on The Faraway Island

I am painting pomegranates on Ferdinand’s pomegranate tree while his pineapples and bananas dry. Callas is serenading him, and me. As fast as I paint though, the sailors are picking the fruit!’

And… ‘A sparkling day in CT. (Cape Town) Our gardener and seamstress are about to set foot on his island. And, as you wrote, “on the long journey, she busied herself mending the ship’s sails” – in full flight, which just goes to show her incorrigible nature.’

Finally… ‘I don’t think I have been as enchanted by the characters I’m illustrating as I am with these… they have really got to me.’

So don’t be put off by publishers who say ‘we like to keep our authors and illustrators separate’. A collaboration is the best kind of picture book where ideas flow freely between you and your illustrator but at the same time you’re still breathless with awe when you see the illustrations in full colour for the first time.