I am pleased to be featured in the UK’s Books For Keeps magazine, talking about illustation…
Afronaut is a new publishing project from company Alanna Max, featuring books about and for African children, the Afronauts. Many have yet to see themselves in a book, despite the millions of folktales and stories from each culture on the continent.
It’s been a dream of mine to play back all the wonderful ‘nganos’, or stories from my childhood in Zimbabwe. But travelling around the continent it’s become very clear that an African childhood is very different from a European or American one. Some of these children experience or witness things that they really shouldn’t. So we knew from the very start of the project that the list has to be appropriate to its readers.
We’re joining a growing list of African publishers committed to making their businesses work in difficult economic environments as well as to reflecting cultures back to readers.
Afronaut will publish books, ebooks, comics, posters, articles, and educational material over time. The list will focus on African countries first on as many local languages as possible. It will not shy away from being topical or political and is aiming to work alongside international organisations whose focus is children.
Afronaut launches in Spring 2020, with several pre-launch activities planned online and offline.
Need to know more?
Sometimes writers and illustrators question their ability. That’s normal and keeps us pushing for excellence. However, they shouldn’t question their saleability. That is for someone else to do, so let it go. There are people who know as much about selling as you do about creating, so you are in safe hands…
Teamwork is what makes a book succeed or fail. Besides the writer or illustrator, the editor, art director, designer, marketing, publicity, production and printing team members share the responsibility of making an idea the best book it can be.
This means you can concentrate on your special skill, safe in the knowledge that everything else is under control. No one knows for sure how many copies of a book will sell in a given period. You might think yours is the best idea ever, only to find its not a commercial success. Or, you might question why your idea is being taken apart, interrogated so aggressively, only to find on publication day that it is going to be a massive success…. Each member of the team has a valuable contribution to make, raising the overall quality.
Within the team there can be as much conflict as harmony; Editorial and design opinions are historically tense (editors often want more words, designers less). Or, authors who have a strong conviction their words are the exact right ones, and editors who weigh that conviction against sales and marketing insights. And no one is happy when sales people dismiss a cover that they all love. But the right thing for everyone to do is step back have a think and come back with a different option.
So, when you are finally ready to present your masterpiece to a publisher, you should also be ready to let go of your emotional attachment to it. Instead, be open to what your new team will have to say. They will probably point out things you haven’t considered and, more importantly, remind you that presenting your idea isn’t the end of the book building process but the beginning.
#3 Less is more
In books for the very young say as much as possible with a few words. Illustrations have a high literary value. They really speak to the reader.
If you develop your stories with text, write freely first, then each time you revisit your story craft the maximum meaning into fewer and fewer words. If you prefer to work visually, sketch as much as possible until the images start to pick up some of the slack. The reason they are called picture books is because the words and pictures are equally important. More than that they complement each other and together create a new language.
Let’s break that down; Some people write on their own, some illustrate, some do both. Publishers can start the process from either point but tend to work with words first more often. They will read the text and then make a decision about the illustrator based on their company’s style.
Writers, your part of the book project is going to have other hands and brains joining in. It might be a good idea to write with that in mind.
Normally, illustrators are handed a text and asked to interpret it. Some of the decision-making is already done. The illustrator’s main challenge is to interpret the text in a fresh new way, to listen to the comments and guidance from the book designer or art director. Try using the rule that carpenters use: measure twice, cut once. By the time you get to producing the final piece you will have sketched all the possiblilities you can imagine.
For creators who do both, the challenge is all about discipline. It’s really hard to wite and draw at the same time! Plus you have to be honest enough to look at what youve done and say if its good enough… or not. So do one first, then the other. Repeat until you have what you want.
Academically speaking, an oral history is not intended to present a final, verified, or “objective” narrative of events, or a comprehensive history of a place, because it is a primary source of information. Its a spoken account, reflects personal opinion offered by the narrator, and as such it is subjective.
Oral histories are often used together with other sources to gain understanding and insight into history.
Non academically speaking, you get a better feel for an event if it is told to you. It can compensate for dry factual accounts or statistical information. Oral testimony becomes oral history from one generation to the next It is the memory of the past spoken to the next generation.
Professor Phillip Bonner, head of the History Workshop Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS University) in South Africa and National Research Foundation Chair for “Local Histories, Present Realities” has conducted research in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.
“…Many societies in Africa have traditionally been shaped by oral rather than written communication; the literacy rate is often low. Colonialism, Apartheid and other forms of oppression reinforced this tendency throughout the continent, resulting in a lack of written documentation about the past. Historians thus had to find other ways of gathering historical information, and oral history methods have proven to be a very useful tool in their research efforts.”
Oral history predates written history in Africa (some of the most ancient historical texts are drawn from oral testimony). But it was only used in African historical research from the 1960s. Prior to that, there were huge gaps in African history books.
Sure, human memory is unreliable in certain contexts. So the method was initially greeted with a great deal of scepticism. But for African cultures, the word was the history, so they had ways of remembering the important points, something which western scholars seem to have ignored.
Nowadays, people like Professor Bonner hold “live history interviews,” where people are encouraged to speak about their lives from the time they remember being a person. The idea sounds deliciously inviting. In the professor’s experience, asking open questions that don’t presume a specific answer and listening to the interviewee more than asking questions yields the most useful, and sometimes even surprising information.
But live history interviews take time and aren’t cheap, especially transcription and translation of interviews. But they are reliable when added to a pool of collective memory and with a few quality control methods applied. A common truth can be found.
It is all part of one rich historical narrative, told from different perspectives.
I grew up hearing stories from elders, something which sticks with me more than the history books I have read. But I know that using both methods is probably the best way to understand and get an accurate picture of a story, a history. It is another way to feel the lasting effect of an event from long ago.
In my studio I have been developing a way to tell stories through reading out loud. Its very exciting to have finally succeeded in producing a book that instructs the reader how to tell the story within. And it was deceptively straightforward. I am hoping it will be the backbone of major new series in 2019.
I love books, but I love stories even more.