When we tell people that we work together; that Amit’s an illustrator and I’m a writer, the reply is usually ‘You’ve a readymade team at home! How convenient!’
Actually, it’s anything but! It’s exhilarating, challenging, dynamic – but it’s not very convenient. If you’re a writer and you live with an artist, then you have two sets of creative tantrums to put up with. Not only are we constantly working on our marriage–all couples do–we’re also working on our careers at home. How far can one be critical of another’s creativity without ruining one’s love life? On the other hand, everyone values constructive criticism–so how do you balance love and creative differences?
The solution–which we’ve discovered after five years of bickering–is to trust the other, but finally, to also go with your gut feeling. I love Amit’s suggestions–being a trained filmmaker he understands the narrative form. Though he’s extremely cautious, he’s also fairly ruthless. He’s made me dump 2500 word stories and re-write them. I crib and mutter under my breath. Only to go through with it and realize that he was right all along!
Then it’s his turn–he’s drawing and I’m watching. Most of the time I’m happy with his work, but there are others when I’m not. I have to be careful. I can’t pretend I like something I don’t, but too much criticism and pencils will be downed! A few doodles, a couple of references to other books, some layout suggestions, and usually we’re good to go.
Those are the parts I love – when we interface and manage to solve problems. The part I hate? When he’s illustrating and goes into Prima Donna mode. Nothing about his work pleases him then. He draws stuff and rejects it summarily–nothing anyone says will alleviate the dark sulk. With time and much doodling, however, the cloud passes. There’s a breakthrough and he’s drawing like a fiend! The household heaves a sigh. All is well. The master is smiling again!
Anita and I worked on our first two books together. But this year I illustrated three books and surprise, surprise! Not one was by her. We just worked together on some concepts, a competition entry and a magazine dummy. Anita too had stories published by Puffin, but they weren’t illustrated by me.
Though we enjoy working together, it’s usually not our decision. Most of the time, Art Directors send you work from authors who you will probably never meet. And I discovered that it’s not a bad thing at all! I can pretty much do whatever I want to with my characters and their environs (with the Art Director’s blessings), and be sure that Ruskin Bond, for instance, won’t charge down from the hills brandishing his cane because I gave his character a coat and not a dark-green-striped pullover!
To be fair, I ventured into children’s book illustration only because of Anita. But having said that, it’s also a pain to have the writer peering over your shoulder, breathing down your aching neck to see if you’ve got her favourite character’s expression ‘just right’.
Writers tend to think that the story can exist only in their imaginations and that a mere pencil-pusher cannot be trusted totally with their work. I like working with authors and interpreting their words with them, but sometimes it can hinder rather than help. A 70-year-old writer called to say that she wanted “two mischievous-looking children (resembling her grandchildren), one Pomeranian pooch and a raggedy cat (both her own pets) and a cuuuute-looking elephant” to appear all together on one tiny book cover! She even sent me photos of her family and other animals so that I could see the ‘naughty glint in their eyes’! She also wanted me to put her photo on the back cover. But thankfully the publishers drew the line at that one…