Interview: Laura Shallcrass talks about What Colour is the Sky?
Laura Shallcrass is an artist and author, and a busy mum of two boys. Laura works from her home in the hills near Queenstown where she lives with her husband and children, along with an ever-growing zoo of furry friends.
Laura’s previous book, Hare & Ruru, was shortlisted for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, the NZ Booklovers Children’s Book Award 2021, and the PANZ Design Awards 2021 for Best Children’s Book. Hare & Ruru won the Russell Clark Award for Best Illustrated Book at the NZ Book Awards 2021. Laura talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about your new picture book, What Colour is the Sky?
What Colour is the Sky? is a story of discovery, about learning to look beyond your own experiences and gain a deeper understanding of others. But if that's all a bit serious it's also a story about some cute animals on a quest! I try really hard to have a message in my books but also, if you or your kid isn't in the mood, to have something nice to read, without too much effort which has everyone in a good place at the end.
What inspired you to write and illustrate this book?
After Hare & Ruru came out I knew I wanted to do more with that world. It was part way through 2020 and I was thinking about a story with themes which mean as much to me as the ones behind Hare & Ruru. My mum is from the US and a large portion of my family still live there, so I take an interest in their politics. I used to feel very confronted and defensive when I encountered people strongly supportive of, for example, Donald Trump, everything he stands for is so completely opposed to my personal views that I felt attacked. But since reading a few books about human evolution and group instinct I was able to understand my own reactions and the position of the other person in a much more profound way.
I was interested to see if I could make any of the lessons I learned through that process understandable for children. It's vastly simplified obviously but that was the thought process which went into the book and it's themes.
What research was involved?
I read a lot of books! Both adult books and children's books, on human evolution, politics and lots of scientific material around the vision of various animals. I talked to scientists, watched lots of David Attenborough and did lots of internet research.
What was your routine or process when writing and illustrating this book?
I start with very loose storyboards and an outline of the plot. Both the writing and the illustrations develop side by side for me until the point where I'm ready to start illustrating the spreads. Then that becomes the focus, knocking out pages, and this is the most time consuming part of the process. Towards the end I look for input from my publisher and editors etc. There's usually some more development here and in the case of What Colour is the Sky we tore it all apart only to put it back the way it was! Both story and Illustrations are changing right up until production tho.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Valerie June is one of my favorite artists so there's definitely be some of her songs on there. I feel like Frog has a bit more of a Courtney Barnet vibe though, asking interesting questions and describing what they see.
What did you enjoy the most about creating this picture book?
I love doing the illustrations. My favourite kind of day starts with sitting down at my desk knowing I have an amazing audiobook or podcast to listen to and nothing to achieve but draw all day.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I don't think I did any work for about a week after. Producing a book for print is so mentally exhausting that I'm incapable of doing anything much except housework and horse riding for a while after sending a book to print! I finished this one during school holidays so it was a perfect excuse to hang out with the kids and do adventures or stay home and clean!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Gosh so many! Like everyone else I love Sally Rooney but if I have to choose a favourite maybe Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have an idea for another book slowly forming in my mind but I'm currently obsessed with repeat patterns and have been spending way too much time creating wallpaper and fabric repeats for an imaginary wallpaper or home furnishing company!