AUTHOR INSIGHT: MEET MEG MCKINLAY

Note: This article was written in 2012.

Ever noticed that when life gets busier, everything becomes a bit of a blur? A deep-seated need to slow down, take time and really see things sub-consciously sowed the seed for Ten Tiny Things, a new picture book written by Meg McKinlay.

On the surface, it’s a story about two children who are forced to walk to school when their car breaks down, but at its heart, Meg says, it’s a thoughtful meditation on how we move through the world.”People see it as a ‘walking to school’ story and there really are all sorts of messages in it,” she said.”People can take different messages away from it – I think that’s really fantastic. But in my mind that’s the literal story. It’s about slowing down, mindfulness, observation. It started with a game (played with her daughter and called Things We Would Never Have Seen If We Had Been Driving), but I think it (also) has to do with the way I’ve seen the pace of my life speed up.”

While finding an artist who could visualise her story was the job of publisher Fremantle Press, Meg says she is delighted with the work of illustrator Kyle Odgers-Hughes.

“I just think he’s the perfect fit for the book,” she said.

“I like the ethos behind the way he sees the world and approaches his art. He really likes vintage styles and de-saturated colour, which is really unusual for children’s books.”

It may surprise some that Meg and Kyle did not work together as such, but in reality, this approach is common in children’s book publishing.

“A lot of people are surprised to hear that – they think the author would have some vision of what the book should look like,” Meg said.

“In fact, I had no clear idea what I wanted to see. I don’t imagine anything (about the design) because I’m not visual at all.
We’re working in very different mediums. I focus on texts, sounds, rhythm … I honestly don’t have any images inside my head.”

So, how do an author and illustrator collaborate on a book without actually meeting until it’s completed?

Meg explained that Fremantle Press searched for an illustrator, sending samples and website links to Meg for her input: “They asked, ‘What do you think of this guy?”. Fremantle Press then facilitated a process that included the submission of rough copies and full colour samples before leaving Kyle to it.

“Something that Fremantle Press is really good at is scouting people in the art world who haven’t done a children?s book before,” Meg said. There are occasions when individual visions – the author’s and the artist’s – for the book differ, but she said that wasn’t the case with Ten Tiny Things.

“I think the artwork is very striking,” she said of the acrylic paint and stain on wood panels. “You can see that the wood grain is coming through in these images.”

The artwork in Ten Tiny Things (reviewed here) certainly is striking, but what also stands out about this story is the rhythmic language that sounds so good when it’s read aloud. Meg laughed wryly as she admitted that she does, at times, read aloud as she writes, because one word can make a big difference.

“Definitely. I come from poetry. I’m particularly tuned into the sounds and care about it quite intensely. I read it through to make sure there are no missteps in the rhythm, no extra beats,” she said.

“I had a lot of fun with the language in this book – it was lots of fun to write. It’s (the language) very simple.”

Ten Tiny Things was launched at the State Library, Perth last month and Meg had her head down signing books for most of the night – an indicator, she says, that things must have gone pretty well. In the meantime, she’s already deep into her next project – finishing off a chapter book that’s a companion to an earlier book – and preparing for a busy month of Children’s Book Week activities. Hopefully she will find time to slow down … somehow.

Check out the Ten Tiny Things blog here – maybe you can add something to it?