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19 March 2015

Mem and Me - a Guest Post by Laura Ljungkvist

I recently had Laura Ljungkvist on to talk about her latest book, A LINE CAN BE. When I found out she had illustrated a book for Mem Fox - one of my kid lit faves - I asked her to please come back and tell us about it! So here she is again to talk about...

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!
      When my work was done, I did some research on this Australian woman with the funny name and I understood that I had just illustrated, as I explained to my daughter – “the Steven Spielberg of children’s literature’s” latest book, that I realized how hilarious my question must have been to my editor - Has she published anything else? Ha ha!!!
      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:

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