Thursday, 9 March 2017

Celebrating the release day of "William Bee's Wonderful World of Trucks" with an awesome interview (Pavilion Children's Books)

Here's a fantastic interview with super-talented William Bee, the incredible artist and author of "William Bee's Wonderful World of Trucks" which is out TODAY! Hooray!!!

So step right up Mr Bee, and take a seat!

When you first started out in graphic design did you think you'd ever be creating children's books?

I didn't know what graphic design was when I was at school, but my Art teacher said that was what I would end up doing as I tended to paint pictures of racing cars with tobacco sponsors all over them. She was right, but when I did a BA in Graphic Design I spent most of my time doing anything but Graphic design! However, what is very good about Graphic Design as a subject is that it is all about solving creative problems, and that solution might be photographic, typographic, three dimensional, or illustrative.

I ended up doing an MA in Graphics too, but mostly making films and screen printing. I never fancied working for a design agency, so when I left college I mostly worked freelance for fashion companies like Paul Smith and Issey Miyake, and then ended up with an illustration agent by accident. I did illustration work for all sorts of companies, which for a while was interesting, but really I was just working on other people’s ideas. So, I sat down one day and made a list of the things I thought I could do, and decided children's books was the best option.

Do you think your background in advertising has impacted on or influenced your approach to your books?
If it has, it is mostly in my working methods. In advertising, you have to work quickly and get things done to strict deadlines. So, with my children’s books I try and get the illustrations as final as I can before sending them to my agent or publisher for feedback, to try and streamline the process and make everyone’s life easier.

I would say the fashion Industry has been more impactful on my books in some ways. It's bit shameless - more so even than advertising. It's very good at squeezing every last ounce out of an idea. Something that works will be recycled over and over again with the smallest of tweaks, season after season. Neither I nor my publishers would go that far; more than anything we want to do new things. But building on previous books and characters is a good thing to do. For example, the traffic cones in my latest book, William Bee's Wonderful World of Trucks, first appeared in an ad for Vodafone I did. Then they appeared in my first Migloo book - hot out of the moulding machine. They grew arms and legs in the second book, and now they have proper supporting roles in in this new series. And here is more mileage in them, yet, I think.

How do you create each spread - do you draw freehand initially and play about with composition?
I seem to have a set of 'rules' in every book I have done, which I had no idea I had. One is that the books are always in scale - no close-ups or distance shots. This does makes composing a spread quite easy, and with these vehicle books I keep the big things on the spreads – such as buildings and trucks – flat, viewed side-on or front-on.

Once the text is pretty much final, I know what illustrations are going on each page and draw the basic vehicles, up to a certain standard, for 80/90 % of the book. Once I’ve had feedback on the general composition, the next stage is 'prettifying' everything up, playing with line thicknesses, adding graphics and colour motifs – to bring it all to life. Then I add the characters and little narratives before getting further feedback and making any smaller tweaks.

Through the whole process my editor - Neil Dunnicliffe - is always a source of help. If I send a spread that isn't working, we'll usually work it out together, sometimes bringing in my art director, Lee May Lim, too.

How did your first publishing deal come about?

Having decided to 'do' a children's book, and not having a writer to work with, I thought I would quickly write up an idea, illustrate it, and see where that got me. I wrote a simple story called 'Whatever' about a child who was not impressed with anything and gets his comeuppance. The attraction of the idea was that each spread was largely stand alone, something I was used to doing. I designed and illustrated it quite quickly, then bought a hardback sketch book, cut it down to size, printed out all the pages, and glued them into the sketchbook, and put a wrap-around cover on it. It looked pretty convincing as a finished book.

And then I wondered who to send it to. I had literally just finished it, when my illustration agent called and said Walker Books had my portfolio and wanted to see me. Believe it or not I made no link between the two. I went in to London the next day and met Deirdre McDermott at Walker. She was very nice about my work, then said “we have nothing for you to do, but would you like to write and illustrate a children's book?” (I never found out why they thought I could write such a thing). So I said I had just made one, but I hadn't thought to take it with me. I posted it the next day, with one request: that they let me know it had arrived safely. I was out when Deirdre rang, and she left a message to say it had arrived, and if I didn't hear anything in the next three weeks, to give her a call. The next message on my answer machine – after she must have looked at the book – was really positive. And that was that! Whatever was published in 2006 and since then I’ve created the Stanley series and several other children’s books.

Have you always been interested in cars/motor vehicles, even as a child? Is Trucks the kind of book you would have loved as a boy?

 can still remember the car we had, our neighbours’ cars, and the lady who picked me up for nursery having a biscuit coloured VW Beetle. I would have been about three. I still have all the toy cars I had then. So, yes!

I guess all the books I have created would have appealed to me as a kid.;I think illustrators in particular have quite a strong thread to their childhood because they have never stopped drawing. I cannot remember the picture books I had as a child – there would have been plenty – but I remember the books I read on my own. In fact, I would say children's TV was more influential – things like The Clangers and The Magic Roundabout etc.

In previous books you've snuck in little details from your interest in F1 and classic cars - are there any references in Trucks we should look out for?

Trucks (and future books in the series) are more straight forward I would say, so little is hidden. The fictional Elephant Oil company products, and the toy rabbit that belongs to the tiny traffic cone are snuck in I suppose. The racing transporter in my book, to pre-empt your next question, carries one of my hero’s cars – Niki Lauda's Ferrari.

If you could drive any kind of truck, what would it be?

I have driven a car transporter, but not such a big one as featured in my book. It was to take my Vintage (1929) Austin Chummy 'racer' to Silverstone and Brooklands race tracks for competitions. Of all the trucks in the book, a full blown classic race transporter would be very special. The originals can go for £2 million at auction…

What are you working on now? What’s next in the Wonderful World Of… series?

The next book in the William Bee's Wonderful World of ... series is Trains and Boats and Planes.

That is finished, and also features a hovercraft, a submarine, and a space rocket.

Tractors and Farm Machines is well underway. We have a few more titles we may do, and a spin off book, and possibly another series which takes some of the ideas into a new series.

And I may have come up with something a bit different that would be aimed at adults, which will be interesting I think!

Thanks for a fascinating insight William!

"William Bee's Wonderful World of Trucks" is out today, published by Pavilion Books.