♦ Viðtalsgrein: Þetta viðtal birtist í bókamessublaðinu Show Daily á alþjóðlegu bókamessunni í Abu Dhabi fyrr í mánuðinum. Viðtalið tók Marcia Lynx Qualey og gaf leyfi fyrir birtingu þess hér á vefsíðunni. Kærar þakkir!
Um höfundinn: Marcia Lynx Qualey er öflugur blaðamaður og menningarrýnir og starfar fyrir m.a. Guardian, World Literature Today, Egypt Independent, Believer og fleiri rit. Hún heldur úti vinsælu vefriti: Arabic Literature in English. Marcia Lynx Qualey býr í Kaíró í Egyptalandi ásamt eiginmanni og þremur börnum.
♦ Interview – article: This interview appeared in Abu Dhabi International Book Fair’s magazine: Show Daily in the first days of the fair. I was granted a permission by the author, Marcia Lynx Qualey, to publish the article here on my blog. Many thanks to Marcia for the permission and her professionalism.
About the author: Marcia Lynx Qualey is a freelance writer, book critic, editor and a cultural journalist for World Literature Today, the Guardian, the Believer, Al Masry Al Youm English edition, to mention a few. She also runs a popular blog: Arabic Literature in English. Marcia Lynx Qualey lives in Cairo, Egypt, with her husband and three children.
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair – Show Daily – 7.-13. May 2015
Taking the Story’s Temperature and Tasting its Words:
A talk with children’s book author and illustrator Áslaug Jónsdóttir
By Marcia Lynx Qualey
Jónsdóttir fell into the world of children’s books soon after graduating from visual arts college in 1989. Her first book was published a year later, and since that time she has written and illustrated a number of award-winning children’s books, written three children’s plays, drawn for newspapers and magazines, and has worked on stage design, all of which has earned her plaudits from around the world. She wrote her first book because she was asked to, she said in a pre-fair interview. She was looking for work after graduation and had a slim picture book in her portfolio about a yellow bird that finds a golden feather. The book had no words in it, and a publisher asked if she could write the story down.
“So I did,” Jónsdóttir said. “To publish a book without any words in it was probably unthinkable in Iceland at that time. And perhaps still is. Writing is highly valued in Iceland, and the visual arts still have a way to go to reach the same status. So a book without words was not a proper book.”
The success of her first, image-driven book encouraged her to do more projects for children. Over the last twenty-five years, she has come to believe strongly in the importance of graphic design to the whole book experience. Design, she said, “is very much underrated in children’s books. So the writer in me has great respect for the designer and visual artist in me, and vice versa.”
These two elements working together is critical, she said, and writing is definitely not primary. Jónsdóttir said she writes because she draws, not the other way around. “I don’t agree that the illustrations are there to support an idea that is created in words. The words might just as well be there to support the pictures.”
When she is both the illustrator and author, Jónsdóttir said that she can develop both aspects of the story simultaneously. But when she illustrates the texts of other authors, a different approach is required. “When I receive a manuscript, I have to find that certain atmosphere to suit the pictures for the story. One has to take the story’s temperature, taste the words, and somehow make it your own although you didn’t write it.”
“Every book deserves its own special visual world,” she said. “I never just pick a style because it’s easy for me to use.” Jónsdóttir has worked on a number of high-profile projects. She illustrated and designed Andri Snær Magnason’s well-loved The Story of the Blue Planet, which has been widely translated, including an English edition from Pushkin Press. The Story of the Blue Planet, she said, was “quite a task.” It took a while before they decided on a final form. “It started as a 60- to 70-page small-sized book with black and white illustrations, but ended with almost 100 pages and full-color images in a larger format.”
Designing the book wasn’t just about drawing pictures, Jónsdóttir said. However uninteresting the layout may be, “the text is always a picture on the page. Letters and words are visual pictures too. A book is a visual thing!” Jónsdóttir, who has also written three plays for children, said she feels that picture books are “very much in kinship with theater.” In both of them, she said you are “setting the stage, choosing the right backdrop, drawing the curtains.” Once a reader opens a book, he or she is “entering and accepting the world that’s behind the curtains.”
Her advice to emerging writers and illustrators was adamant: “Never, ever think that it’s just a children’s book. Don’t underestimate the readers because of their young age. Put everything you have in your work, and then a little extra more.”
Illustrating and writing for children is particularly enjoyable for her, Jónsdóttir said, because “it allows me to dwell in that wonderful and sometimes not-so-wonderful world of childhood and to study topics and feelings the way a child would. It keeps me sane in a mad world.” She said that, no matter how many children’s books there are, the world will always need more.
“It is a genre that has kept alive all the honest ways of telling a good story: tales that are humorous, clever, poetical, magical, adventurous, silly, incredible, sad, and more. Stories that can be read by everyone in the world. Isn’t that something?”
This is Jónsdóttir’s first time in Abu Dhabi, and she’s looking forward to it. “I hope I meet some eager publishers who would like to translate and publish my books. I hope I see some inspiring books I can take home with me. Unfortunately I don’t read Arabic, but I can always admire the illustrations and the beautiful lettering!”
On Saturday, May 9 at 2 p.m., you can meet renowned Icelandic children’s book author and illustrator Áslaug Jónsdóttir at the Literature Oasis.
Article: Text © Marcia Lynx Qualey – Abu Dhabi International Book Fair – Show Daily