I’ll Give You The Sun is a breath-taking novel for young adults from the highly acclaimed writer Jandy Nelson. Hailed as ‘the next John Green’, it quickly becomes apparent why that's the case. Her characters have that same jump-right-off-the-page-and-into-your-heart thing going on. We become wrapped in them as we discover the truths of their minds and hearts.
A hot-pot of love, betrayal, sex and secrets; this book is on fire. It tells the story of Noah and Jude, two couldn’t-be-closer twins who find their world turned upside down. The book jumps between different stages of the twin’s lives; Noah’s narrative chapters are when they’re 13 years old, Jude’s when they’re 16, with each chapter throwing a little more light on their fragile relationship. This dance between past and present keeps their story fresh and alive to the reader – just as I can’t take the tension anymore, I frantically turn the page only to be released, like a pebble in water, softly descending into yet another piece of the puzzle – from another point of view and from a different time. All the while loving them and hating them and wondering how it could all have gone so wrong.
Noah practically explodes off the page in the opening chapter; the tornado of his feelings swallows you up. His shame, humility, rage and arousal are absolutely scalding. It’s this immediacy, this urgency that these characters exude, that keeps us running through the pages at a rate of knots. The seething hate that boils between them is so bitter at points you can taste it. Jude’s pain at her mothers’ preference for her brother is deep and settles in the pit of your stomach. The electricity that bounces between Noah and Brian, the new boy who lives next door, fizzes and bubbles under your skin. It takes Jude longer than Noah to pull us into her world; perfectly reflecting her more brooding character and the emotional barrier she has put up against the world. A barrier that is slowly removed by Jude's blossoming friendship with her new teacher and his beautiful, mysterious protégé.
Eloquent descriptions fill the book, creating vivid images that immerse us deeper and deeper into the story.
“Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you've been in before - you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to.”
“He floated into the air high above the sleeping forest, his green hat spinning a few feet above his head. In his hand was the open suitcase and out of it spilled a whole sky of stars.”
For me, these characters are more visceral, more believable, and more human than in anything else I’ve read. There is so much going on in this book it fills you up and makes you breathless. Noah’s character spoke to me in particular; my only gripe with this wonderful book is that I would have loved to have it finish from his point of view. That said, I love it, and I urge you to read it. This is one of those books that if you let it; will change how you see yourself and those around you.
I leave you with a quote from this Jackson Browne song which kept playing in my head whilst I was reading. Perhaps Jandy had it in her mind when she wrote the book.
I'm gonna find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we'll fill in the missing colors
In each other's paint-by-number dreams
And then we'll put our dark glasses on
And we'll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We'll get up and do it again
- The Pretender
Thank you for reading part one of my interview with Sarah - I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! With no further ado, here's part two...
Sarah, what picture books do you remember from your childhood?
So many! I loved traditional fairy tales ornately illustrated by Errol Le Cain. I adored the bold, flat colours of Ezra Jack Keats stories such as The Snowy Day, and seeing kids build a diorama out of a shoebox in The Trip.
Did the books you read as a child influence your style as an illustrator?
Of course! Maurice Sendak was a huge influence on me. I loved the soft, warm roundedness of the bread dough airplane in The Night Kitchen and the amazing kitchen nightscape. In Calvin & Hobbes, I loved the expressiveness of Calvin’s face, the huge physical movements of his tiger, Hobbes, and their sometimes surreal settings. I loved the warmth of characters and the line work in For Better or For Worse daily comics in The Seattle Times newspaper. (My mother bought Calvin & Hobbes and For Better or For Worse anthologies and I read them over and over and over again.)
The sign of a good book! How much does the writer inform your illustrations - is it always a collaborative effort?
In my early books, I was given a text and I worked to the text, with my editor. But there was still loads of room for me to do my own thing. Morris the Mankiest Monster, for example, didn’t really give any idea of how Morris would look or the kind of world he would live in. I made up all that. But I did run the character designs by the writer, Giles Andreae, via e-mail, and he gave me the go-ahead. (And he also got his agent to take me on. Thanks, Giles!) I only met him a couple years later, at the launch of the DFC comic (now The Phoenix Comic). With Gillian Rogerson (You Can’t Scare a Princess!), Anne Cottringer (When Titus Took the Train) and Claire Freedman (Superkid), I only met them once the books were finished.
What's been the greatest challenge you've faced as an illustrator?
When I went into illustration, I thought it would mostly be sitting at a desk, drawing. I had no idea how much e-mailing, paperwork and publicity events would be involved. I’d say these take up at least 70% of my time and I feel like I’m working four full-time jobs. So making time to spend with my husband, my friends, doing simple things like going to the cinema, those are my greatest challenges.
Yes, I remember you did a post on your blog about the other jobs you have to balance as an illustrator. So what challenges do you face as a writer?
I still have a lot to learn about crafting words. Philip Reeve is a master at this, and his pages are full of unique ideas, lovely sounds, well-timed humour, and phrases that create the most vivid mental pictures. I think it’s just like drawing, I get better at it with practice and good advice. I’m lucky, I’ve surrounded myself with hugely talented people who will often give me help if I ask them. And I learn by reading my stories aloud to kids, seeing what works best.
Who's been your favourite character to illustrate?
It would have to be either Vern the sheep (from Vern and Lettuce, who’s based very much on my husband) or Iris the mermaid from Oliver and the Seawigs, who’s based on me. I know these characters so well and having them do things is almost like dressing up in a costume. I always know exactly how they’ll act. I love how Iris is a bit chubby, with a big backside, and still gorgeous.
Quite right! What three tools can't you live without?
An automatic pencil, a dip pen with ink and my lightbox!
Can we see your workspace?
Sure! I’m afraid it’s usually terribly messy. I work in an old police station and share the studio with Gary Northfield and Elissa Elwick.
Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Not really! Events and promotion always keep me hopping. Some days I’ll be up at the crack of dawn, throwing on an over-the-top dressy outfit, and rushing off to a school, where I’ll perform on stage, talking about my books. Some days I’m working in the studio and chatting with my studio mates. Last year my job took me out of the country, to Ireland, Norway, Spain and Dubai.
Wow! I hope you like to travel. Here’s a bit of a cheeky question - what's your favourite spread you've illustrated? Can we see it?
I had lots of fun creating Dinoville, the world where my dinosaurs live in my upcoming picture book with Scholastic UK, Dinosaur Police. I got to invent a world for my dinosaurs. If you turn a few pages, you can look closely at the cinema listings, and there’s a film playing with a human going on the rampage in a city.
What is the best thing about your job?
Drawing is my favourite thing to do in my free time, so it’s awesome I get to do it for my job. I also love it when I see a kid light up over something in one of my stories or because of a story they’ve written or picture they’ve drawn. And I love my colleagues. Of all the people I’ve ever worked with, picture book people are the most kind and encouraging. Put us together in a room and we have so much fun messing about and drawing silly pictures.
Sounds great! Has there been anything totally unexpected in making a career out of illustration?
No one told me I’d need to become a stage performer! When we’re told to go in front of an audience of 200 6-year-olds and ‘talk about our book’ for an hour, they don’t really mean that. I had to learn very quickly how to put together a book-themed stage show.
Do you have any advice to offer budding illustrators?
1. Try to learn about public speaking and performing on stage. Kids love watching us draw, so get comfortable with live drawing; get used to the idea that these drawings might not be as good as the careful drawings we make in our books, but know that the kids won’t mind. They just think it’s magic, that we can think something in our head and make it happen on paper, and make it funny, with big teeth, poos and farts.
2. Take developing your artwork seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. (See the poos and farts of the last point.)
3. Don’t get jealous of your colleagues. If we all big each other up and help each other, it’s a lot more fun.
I’m sure anyone reading this who’s studying at Art College will be listening! Last but not least - what's in the pipeline?
Several things! Dinosaur Police comes out in May, and I hope people will find it a terrific romp of a picture book. My third book with Philip Reeve, Pugs of the Frozen North, comes out with Oxford University Press in September. I’m in the middle of drawing that one right now!
I’m also working on a picture book with the Vern and Lettuce characters for David Fickling Books. Philip and I are already brainstorming our fourth book together, and he’s planning to start writing that in the next month or two. I’m planning to take a bit of time off work this summer to visit an artist friend in Chicago and learn some etching skills. I’ve always wanted to do that!
I want to offer Sarah a HUGE thanks for chatting to me! I also want to thank her for shedding more light on such an important facet of publishing. Its high time we were showing our illustrators the same respect as we show our authors!
If you missed it last time, you can show your support by using #picturesmeanbusiness in any related tweets and you can find out more about the campaign on Sarah's blog. You can follow her on Twitter and don't forget to check out her brilliant website!