Emma O’Donovan meets much-loved illustrator Oliver Jeffers and children’s author Eoin Colfer, the creative Irish duo behind picture book Imaginary Fred
Imaginary Fred is a heart-warming tale about the true meaning of friendship. Have you two been friends for a while?
OJ Are we friends? When did that start? Ha!
EC ‘Friends’ is a strong word. Acquaintances? We met two years ago on the New Zealand book festival circuit and decided we wanted to work together somehow.
OJ Eoin had the idea and emailed me about two weeks later.
EC I thought I might be being a bit keen, but I knew this idea might work for Oliver as there’s a heart-warming sensibility.
How did the collaboration work with you both being in different countries?
EC As simple as that. I sent him a manuscript and Oliver sent me one illustration of Fred to see if I liked that direction. I totally loved it. I really looked forward to those Skype calls when Oliver would hold up the pictures. It was a thrill.
OJ Once we got to the rough layouts, we printed that into a physical thing just to test the pace of it. I sent that in the post.
EC It is wonderful when you have the physical page in your hands. It’s much nicer.
You were both out of your comfort zones in terms of book length. How did you handle this?
EC With an illustrated piece you have to think in those terms, which I hadn’t been. Oliver sat me down and said, “Sometimes we show the words with pictures,” and I said, “Aaaah, now I understand!” That was a lightbulb moment.
OJ With picture books, sometimes the art drives the story, but this story was so well set that I treated it like a chapter book to begin with and more like a picture book later.
What do you enjoy most about London?
OJ For me, it’s going to get good fish and chips. Living in Brooklyn, you don’t get good fish and chips. My brother lives here, so I love catching up with him. I love London.
EC I love coming here. I always stay in Soho, so I know those streets but that’s all. I love going to the theatre. I go down to the Comedy Store in Leicester Square, which is great.
How are you inspired by where you live?
OJ Very inspired. My studio is in Brooklyn so I’m surrounded by artists. It’s a real community and a wonderful source of perspective and shared skill that informs the way I work.
EC I visited Oliver’s studio and said, “I need a studio. I need to be surrounded by artists,” and he said, “You have a laptop and you don’t really need a studio for that.” I was very jealous because it was in this sunny street.
What do you enjoy about Ireland?
OJ Family and decent pint of Guinness.
EC I’ll agree with that. I also love Oliver’s family [laughs]. I live there so it’s home for me, and my family and friends are there.
Has being a parent changed the way you both tell stories?
OJ I’ve only got three months under my belt, so it’s too early to tell. I’m reading stories to him, but I haven’t been involved in a project from the conception stage since he’s been born.
EC I think it changes the way you do everything because your decision-making process has an extra element. You can’t help thinking, “Will my son like this?”
What is the most enjoyable part of creating a children’s book?
OJ Seeing the final product in your hands and in the hands of kids and adults who enjoy it.
Oliver, you also work as a fine artist. How do you feel the illustration world is represented by the visual arts world?
OJ Illustration is still a dirty word – they are never called illustrations in the fine art world. But because picture books are more in fashion, it’s more socially acceptable to be making them and be in the fine art world.
What are you reading at the moment?
EC Oliver is reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt and I’m reading the follow-up, which is Undermajordomo Minor. It’s my favourite book of this year.
Oliver, your beautiful picture book Lost and Found was made into an animation. Do you have plans for any more animations?
OJ I made some stop-motion stuff with a friend called Mac, which was held together with spit and Sellotape. There’s a certain charm in that. So, yes, lots of plans, but for now it’s all top secret.
Where can we catch you both on tour?
OJ Manchester, Dublin and Belfast next.
EC We’re looking forward to Belfast because our family and friends will be there. It should be a good laugh.
Imaginary Fred, £12.99, HarperCollins