Mem and Me
This is the story of how I got to illustrate a children’s book written by Mem Fox
by Laura Ljungkvist
After the publication of my first children’s book, I made a holy promise to myself I would never illustrate another author’s book. Being an editorial illustrator for many years, ”solving other peoples problems” by communicating their messages visually, I was finally “solving my own problems“. All of a sudden I was being called “author”, which is something I never really aspired to. I simply wanted to be able to follow my own narrative!
For my 6th book, Pepi Sings a New Song, I had a 2 book deal with the publisher, Beach Lane Books, but unfortunately sales did not justify another book about Pepi.
Then something happened that reinforced to me that I am so not an author, I got to meet a real one!
I was at the time going through a very stressful and difficult time professionally and there was no way on this earth I was going to “spit out another idea” to fulfill my contractual obligations.
My editor whom I loved, knew what I was going trough, so she sent me a manuscript to see if I would possibly reconsider illustrating somebody else’s story and take on a manuscript by Mem Fox.
I asked if this author had published anything else because I didn’t think that a “semi known” illustrator (me) and a debut author would be such a good match.
Her e-mail back to me said - Yes. Just a simple - yes.
Now, here I have to explain something – what I do, I do because it’s a total love /passion/obsession of mine. I don’t get my inspiration from other people’s work (except in one case – thanx J.Otto!). I don’t really care, nor am I that interested in, “what’s out there”, “who’s who”, or “who does what."
My inspiration comes from hardware stores, flea markets, packaging of all kinds, airline safety on-board brochures, street fashion, signs, menus, odd vintage stuff, tickets, NEW YORK CITY and every day utilitarian design that is just “there”.
So when I asked my editor if this woman had published anything else, I really didn’t know who Mem Fox was!
I read the manuscript. It was quite lovely. So I agreed, reluctantly….
I started without great enthusiasm, but as my work progressed I lost my self in the work. I had a hard time turning the computer off at the end of the day and I immersed myself in the world of this book and it became a refuge from all my other worries. I didn’t have the responsibilities or pressures of “authoring” but could just focus on what I am most happy doing – illustrating!
And then to receive in the mail, a handwritten folded gift card from Mem, full of praise for my work, calling me a genius!!!
I had the pleasure of meeting Mem when she came to New York one time. By now I knew what a gifted, successful author she is, but I learned over lunch that she is also generous, humble and wise. And on top of all that, absolutely hilarious!
Although I will soon have published 10 books that I have written myself, I would never call myself an author in this woman’s presence!
Look for Laura's latest book this October: