And here is my second awesome interview of the day, and this time with an author/illustrator combo!
Here we go...
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your upcoming books?
I'm Paddy Donnelly, an author illustrator originally from Ireland and now living in Belgium. I've been working as a picture book illustrator for the past three years or so. I've had a number of picture books published so far, however I'm very excited that my debut author illustrated picture book THE VANISHING LAKE will be published on April 20th 2021! I also had another picture book published recently - HERE BE DRAGONS, written by Susannah Lloyd which came out in February of this year.
Something mysterious is happening at Grandad's lake. There are days the lake is beautiful, shimmering, and full. And then there are other days . . . where the lake is completely empty! Meara asks her granddad why the water disappears, but every time doesn't believe his far-fetched stories of mermaids, giants and narwhals. Meara sets out to uncover the truth for herself. Little does she know the answer is much larger than she realizes.
Grab your copy of The Vanishing Lake:
Barnes & Noble
The story is actually based on a real place, close to where I grew up in Ballycastle in Ireland. It’s a lake called Loughareema which actually does disappear and reappear every few days, depending on the weather. Growing up in Ireland, storytelling is an important part of life, so I was surrounded by myths and legends from a young age and I think that’s had a big influence on what stories I like to write about.
A knight is on a mission: to find and slay a dragon. The other knights have told him that there's no such thing as dragons, but he doesn't care. For he has a map, and the map says: "HERE BE DRAGONS." He travels right to the spot marked ‘X’, past treasure, suspicious bones, and many signs telling him to turn back. Will the hapless knight see the dragon before it's too late?!
This type of book really appeals to me. The knight in the story can't spot any signs of the dragon and is saying one thing, but eagle-eyed kids will be able to spot clues for the dragon along the way. I like books like that where kids are one step ahead of the main character and you can see where things are going to go wrong...
Did you always dream of being a writer/illustrator?
I definitely always dreamt of doing something creative as a career but not necessarily as an author/illustrator. I loved drawing and stories as a kid, but never really imagined I would end up in picture books. At university I studied multimedia design, web design and it was only after a number of years working in that field that I decided to try out a little illustration. I've never had any formal education in illustration, but I discovered that I really loved it, and eventually got into designing iPhone apps for kids. This was a lot of fun and nicely combined my design skills with some illustration work. That led me on to considering working in picture books. In the beginning I did a lot of research, tried to figure out how the industry worked and built up my portfolio with children's illustration pieces. I eventually got my agent and they secured me my first picture book projects, and things have just gotten busier and busier over the past year. I'm absolutely loving working in picture books and hopefully I'll have a few more of my own stories in the future.
How long did it take from that first thought to release day?
For my author illustrated picture book, I'd say I had the idea and wrote the first outline for the story around spring 2018. The publisher purchased the rights to the story about a year after that, and I created the artwork during the summer of 2019. The Chinese version of the book was released in fall 2020 and the English language version will be released on April 20th 2021. So in total I'd say three years from idea to publication.
What's been the hardest part of publishing a book so far?
Definitely getting your foot in the door is tough. It's a very competitive industry to work in, however once you've made a connection with a publisher and they know you can deliver the work, they're much more likely to return to you for a second project. So in the beginning you're creating a lot of artwork for your portfolio, sending it out there, showing it off to publishers and sometimes not hearing much back. That can be disheartening, but eventually with enough persistence you start to make little dents into the industry and eventually the projects get better and better, as does your work.
And the easiest, or most enjoyable?
Getting to hold that finished book in your hands is a feeling like no other. All your hard work over the years is just wrapped up in a nice little package. And books live on for many years, so this aspect is definitely more enjoyable to me when I compare it with my previous digital design work. Also, when you hit upon a promising idea for a story and your fingers can't keep up to type all the thoughts tumbling out of your head. That's a great part too.
What's next for you?
I've got a lot of fun book projects on at the moment. I also illustrate middle grade book covers, so a few of those will be released in the upcoming months. I've also got my second author illustrated picture book coming out in spring 2022, which is incredibly exciting! It's called DODOS AREN'T EXTINCT and lets the reader into the secret that extinct animals aren't really gone, they're just disguised as other animals. It's going to be a fun one to work on.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to writers just started their pursuit of publication?
You need to just keep writing, writing, writing and if you're an illustrator you need to keep drawing, drawing, drawing. There aren’t any real shortcuts. It’s so vital to keep up the practice and eventually things will fall into place if you stay committed. Creating children’s books really is a dream job, but there is so much work that goes into it that nobody sees. If it really is your dream to become an author-illustrator, you need to dedicate so much time and effort into it. As well as writing a lot, you need to read, read, read. Read lots of picture books or what and figure out what works especially well in them. Take notes on how the book is structured, how the story grabs you, what details the illustrator has woven into the artwork. It’s important to get really familiar with the picture book world before you can start creating your own stories.
Last picture book you read?
Maybe by Chris Haughton
What picture book are you reading now?
Mini Rabbit Come Home
Best book you've ever read?
Best moment of your writing life?
Getting the email that a publisher wanted to buy the rights to one of my picture books.
Name of your newest WIP?
Dodos Aren't Extinct
If not an author, what would be your dream job?
I would still be illustrating other authors' stories.
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