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Interview: Chris Gurney and Lael Chisholm talk about The Hug Blanket

Chris Gurney and Lael Chisholm talk to NZ Booklovers about The Hug Blanket.

Tell us a little about The Hug Blanket. What inspired you to write or illustrate this book?

C – I was inspired to write this story after observing how my four year old granddaughter processed my Mum’s sudden death. This is a true story. I didn’t need to come up with a plot, just the right words to do it justice. I wanted to write a book that talked about love and loss, to which a child could easily relate.

What research was involved?

C – Not so much research, but I drew on the talent of the people in my fabulous author critique group. They encouraged and helped when I was too close to the story to see what needed to be included or discarded. I’m very thankful for their input.

L – I gathered lots of imagery that related to the story to use as reference for my illustrations, such as beaches, shells, crochet blankets, and even bread rolls! Chris also provided photos from real life that I tried to incorporate as much as I could. I wanted my illustrations to be flowing and bright and dreamy but still have aspects of the real-life story visible throughout the book.

How did you collaborate as writer and illustrator together?

C – I sent some photographs which showed the story as it happened in real life. Lael wove them beautifully into the story, as well as adding her extra special touches. I’m delighted how her illustrations create a soft, whimsical touch to what is quite a hard topic.

What was your routine or process when writing/illustrating this book?

C – I wrote the initial story for the first anniversary of my Mum’s death and read it with the family gathered at her graveside. Then that story was rewritten many many times over before I submitted it and Scholastic eventually accepted it for publication.

L – I received the manuscript from Scholastic and read through it multiple times jotting down notes and quick little drawings of how I saw each “scene” of the story in my head. I then transferred those ideas into a storyboard, and then into rough drafts of each page. There was lots of discussion and feedback and adjusting and tweaking the drafts with the Publishers and Chris until we were all happy with how it looked, and then the final illustrations were ready to be painted. Once these were completed and I had sent photos of each page to the publishers for approval I packaged it all up and send it off to be scanned.

What did you enjoy the most about writing/illustrating this book?

C – Many tears were mixed in with the words as the story took shape! But it was a joy to write it to honour my Mum, and Olivia and Noah’s ‘Nana B’.

L – I felt honoured to be illustrating such a special story. One of the things I enjoyed most while I was working on it was the opportunity to explore how I could visually express things that you can’t actually see, such as emotions and memories, through my illustrations. I wanted Nana’s memory and the connection she had with her granddaughter to be present throughout the whole story even though she is not physically in the picture on every page.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

C – The celebration happened when lovely Penny from Scholastic contacted me to say they were going to publish the book. Imagine shrieky phone calls and of course the happy dance!

L – I finished my final artwork during the lockdown in March earlier this year, so I celebrated by going to bed early (I had spent a lot of late nights painting!) and catching up on jobs around the house.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

L – I was given Ollie and Augustus by Gabriel Evans for my birthday this year. I think I like it because Augustus (the dog) is such a giant, quirky dog and is amusingly intelligent – he is not a regular dog that does regular dog stuff! I also love Gabriel Evans' illustration style.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

C – I generally have a story or two brewing in my cauldron. And more stories sighing impatiently in the piles of manuscripts within publisher’s offices! I do have another ‘Kiwi Corker’ picture book being released by Scholastic NZ in 2021.

L – I have a couple of picture books to illustrate coming up, which should keep me busy for a while!


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