Perfect Duo - A conversation with Alison and Diane
With the Writer Spotlight Series, we create a positive image for young girls to refer to, by having conversations with different writers and illustrators. This month we have been doing Q&As with many writers, to get to know more about them and their work. Here, we are showcasing all the questions we have asked Alison Marcotte and Diane Ewen, the author and illustrator of Seeking Best Friend.
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Seeking Best Friend is your latest collaboration. What was the inspiration behind this story and illustration?
A: I wrote this story when I was looking for roommates and reading several listings a day, and that ad format seeped into my mind. I liked the idea of someone looking for a BFF with funny requirements written in a droll way, like “doesn’t breathe fire.” I’ve also always loved cumulative stories, and so I wanted to try to write one!
D: I don’t really know what inspired me with these illustrations. But having said so, I feel the text is lovely and simple and so, was a good project. As for the hair of the opera singer, I had been experimenting with texture (watercolour base and Photoshop elements) around the time I started on this book, and I instantly knew that I wanted to use this on the opera singer who of course is a person of colour.
Could you tell us what's the best part of working together?
A: Since the text was so spare, I had to write a lot of art notes. I was worried that these art notes might feel constricting, but Diane thought of even more plot ideas within those limits (be sure to view the last spread with all the characters!). She’s such a talented storyteller! There’s also a lot going on in this story, and Diane could show this movement and growing mayhem without it feeling overwhelming. Diane is incredibly talented and I’m so honoured I got to work with her on my first children’s book.
D: The best part was when Alison reached out about publicising the book. Alison’s been so good at doing this and has included me in her talks with schools and visits. Alison asked me to make a little video for one of her sessions. It was the first request of this type and after many attempts to get it right; I sent it to Alison who could use it. It’s always hard to make the author/illustrator relationship work when you are so far apart in distance, but I thought this was a brilliant way of including me as the illustrator in her in-person visits. It’s been a great experience.
Why is friendship so important?
A: Friendship can be defined in so many ways. You can have friends you’ve had for years and friends you met just that day. And you don’t need to have only one best friend or any “best” friend.
Whether you’re just classmates who say hi in the hallway or close friends who have play dates every week, friendship is important because it makes us feel more connected and seen. Friends support each other, listen to each other when they need to talk, share experiences together, and make life more fun. And you might have certain friends you go to for different things. My friend Catherine makes me laugh so hard whenever we talk, and my friend Emily listens and gives great advice, and also is very funny.
D: Friendship is important. Life and the world can be so lonely if you don’t have friends /family who are also friends. Finding that special friend is important for children. To be included and be liked by someone other than your family is so important, especially when you are young.
What inspired you to be a writer?
A: I’ve loved writing and doodling since I was a kid. I’m so grateful for my teachers and parents, who encouraged me and gave me the confidence to pursue writing as a career.
What inspired you to be an illustrator?
D: I was inspired to become an illustrator from my love of children’s books and illustrators who create the lovely pictures inside them. I’ve always loved drawing and art and I think working as an illustrator is the perfect job for me. Picture book illustration is the perfect way to engage children. I used to borrow copious amounts of picture books from my library just to understand how they worked. This further encouraged me to want to make them. Lately, I’ve realised that I have an important part to play in making picture books more inclusive and more representative. I now have a renewed inspiration for my work.
How did you develop your own writing style?
A: I went to college for journalism, and so that taught me how to write concisely. I also had a radio journalism internship in Seattle at KNKX Public Radio (then KPLU), which influenced how I write picture books. When writing for radio, you need to write conversationally because the news stories are being read out loud. I remember in one story I wrote the word “many,” and my editor changed it to “plenty of,” because I probably wouldn’t say “many” in normal conversation. In picture book writing, the stories are read aloud, too, and so the language should be lyrical and fun to hear.
I’ve also developed my writing style by reading hundreds of picture books. Some of my favourite authors are Shinsuke Yoshitake, Vera Brosgol, Marianna Coppo, Marta Altes, Julia Sarcone-Roach, Kelly DiPucchio, Ame Dyckman, Mo Willems, Hyewon Yum, Margaret Chiu Greanias, Kyo Maclear, Alice McGinty, Matthew Cordell, Oliver Jeffers, and many, many more!
How did you develop your own illustration style?
D: My Illustration style is simple, eclectic, hopefully fun and vibrant. But I really don’t think I developed it as in I’m going to do it this way, it just developed in a natural organic way. Over the years, I’ve tried different methods and processes, but I always seem to produce the same feel and look to my illustrations.
Quick Fire Round
A favourite quote.
A: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
D: “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.”
What’s one of your favourite friendship memories?
A: My friend Kelly and I formed a band in elementary school (Our only audience was us! And maybe our parents.) We wrote a bunch of songs, recorded them on a cassette tape with my purple boombox and microphone, and designed the cassette tape cover. I still have the tape somewhere at home.
D: My sister is my best friend and I have too many memories to mention.
Where is your happy place?
A: Hiking on a warm summer day or in bed reading a good book!
D: My happy place is being on a beach in Jamaica looking out onto the azure sea, the breeze gently blowing and the sun shining and having no cares in that moment.
Seeking Best Friend By Alison Marcotte Illustrated by Diane Ewen
Available from bookshop.org
About the author
Alison Marcotte has been writing stories since she was a child. She’s passionate about writing stories that are authentic, funny, hopeful, and filled with heart. After going to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for journalism, Alison jumped back into her love for picture book writing and joined SCBWI. Seeking Best Friend is her debut book.
About the Illustrator
Diane Ewen is British illustrator, born in Walsall, in the West Midlands. She has always been in love with art and graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a B.A. Honours Degree in illustration. Diane has illustrated books like Hey You!, I Love You! and Coming To England.