Q & A: Coralie Bickford Smith

Posted on 10th January 2016 by Sally Campbell
An author and illustrator, Coralie Bickford-Smith won over the hearts and minds of Waterstones booksellers when they chose her debut book The Fox and The Star as Waterstones Book of the Year for 2015.  Here, in an exclusive interview, the author discusses how she came to create the book and what fires her imagination.

1.       What is a typical day in the life of Coralie Bickford Smith?

My days are mainly spent working on concepts for book covers. Reading manuscripts, staring into space, scribbling ideas down and then wrestling them into the computer so that they can go and be printed.

2.       What does your studio or workspace look like?

My workspace is at the top of my house with two big skylights that flood it with light. There are many books in it which manage to get out of the bookshelves of their own accord and have group meetings all over the floor, desk and chairs.

3.       You usually design book covers, what made you decide to write your own book? What was your inspiration?

 To create an entire book has always been a dream of mine and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to develop my ideas. William Blake, who I have always admired, designed, illustrated, printed and bound his own work and this was a real inspiration for me.

4.       What was your creative process?  Did you write the story or create the illustrations first? And how different was it to illustrate The Fox and The Star than your other design projects?

The basic story came first then storyboarding, trying to fit the words into the right amount of pages so that it flowed, work out what I would illustrate and try to make the images not just reflect the text but create tension and expand the story.  What I cherished about the process for making the book was the time I had to disappear from the world into my studio. I had six months away from my day job of designing book covers in which all I did was draw. It was refreshing to reengage with pen and paper in such a big way. 

5.       How long did the book take to complete? Were there many different formats and colour schemes?

It is hard to put an exact time frame on the process as the story was forming in my mind for a long time. But once I had the basic bones the illustration took six months of long days. It was an intense process which did indeed involve numerous formats and colour schemes! Every element was agonised over, and the colours I could have chosen from seemed impossibly endless. I could write an essay on just the colour choices alone. My entire studio ended up being covered by different mock ups of the book in various formats and colour combinations.

6.       What did it feel like when it was released? And how did it feel when it was named Waterstones Book of The Year?

Absolutely unbelievable! I was shocked and amazed. When I was working I would be submerged in the world of Fox then I would down tools for a break and wonder if it would resonate with any one else. So to be voted for by the booksellers means so much to me. It makes me so happy to think that Fox has touched other people.

7.       Is there another book you would like to write? Can we look forward to another book written and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith? 

I have other stories I would like to tell. The process of creating a book has been such a learning curve and one that I would love to continue to explore and learn more about. So I hope that you will have another book to look forward to.


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