It’s 4:30 am. The highway noises are dim. Tex (husband) is sleeping silently in the other room. Piper (dog) is sleeping in her kennel. My housecoat is warm. My red toenails peer at me from my feet that rest on the coffee table. My knitting is in the basket by my side. My computer is on my lap. I am in my solitary place. All is well with the world.
It’s true. Writing is a private affair. Even so it can get crowded as I sit in the morning calm. The whole gang of my parts—my fingers, my brain, my heart, my eyes, my past, my present, my soul, my future, my mind, my anxieties—gather around the computer and nudge their way into the process. Then there are the characters in the stories and the whole gang of their parts…so you can see that it’s also not true. Writing is not a private or a quiet and calm affair. It can get congested, noisy and hassled. But I’m wandering.
Putting the inner crowds aside I write alone. But as I said in my last post, when I’m making a book I’m part of a team. Each book has a different lineup. Currently I am writing a biography of Elizabeth May (leader of Canada’s Green Party). The book is for middle schoolers and Cate May-Burton, Elizabeth’s daughter, is working with me. Orca Books and its team of editors, artists and designers, etc. are publishing the book—a great team to work with.
As the writer I feel like I (and my co story tellers) occupy the inner circle of the team. With picture books there are two inner circles—the writer and the artist. I was thrilled and humbled when Sheena Lott, an award winning oil and watercolour artist and illustrator agreed to join the Neekah’s Knitting Needles’ team. I had seen her art in local galleries and read several of the books she had illustrated including Jessie’s Island and Salmon Forest. Her work is exquisite and I was excited to see what she would do with our story.
First she read an unedited version and then we met. She listened to my rendition of the story, my explanation of the background and my description of the cast of characters and how I imagined we would portray them. Sheena asked great questions, which gave me confidence that she understood what I was saying.
I pulled together the players: Odelia, Neekah, Joni, Carl and Dorothy and for a week or so we did a photo shoot. Sheena directed and I set up the scenes as she imagined the story should be painted.
Months later she sent me her storyboard. I read it and then we met. Sheena explained her interpretation and described the new picture story. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t altogether a different story, but it wasn’t the same story either. There were expected things you’d think paints would add—texture, colour, mood, style, beauty, and character. But there were also scenes of whales and sheep and dreams I hadn’t written. Our little story became so much more.
The overlapping inner circles of our team made Neekah’s Knitting Needles a beautiful encounter of two stories, one done on a keyboard and another with brushes and watercolours. Thank you thank you thank you Sheena for honouring my art with your art.