I'm delighted to welcome author Ian Beck who will be giving us an insight into his writing life, as well as talking about the inspiration behind the book and what projects he has planned next.
The transition from illustrator to author
I have always been a voracious reader. Even when I was a callow art student at the Brighton School of Art in the 1960s I was reading all the time and writing too as well as drawing. The pieces I wrote were just fragments really, little bits and pieces in imitation of the writers I admired. They were precious bits of story in the manner of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, and bits of imitation Ray Bradbury, Alain-Fournier and Vladimir Nabokov, all of whom I was, and still am, crazy about. None of the pieces were ever sustained or finished, and I certainly never told anyone much that I was writing at all or even had ambitions to write.
After I moved to London all my energy went on pursuing my career as an illustrator. I was eventually successful at it, and within a few years was working steadily as a freelance illustrator for magazines, newspapers and design groups. Occasionally I would start writing something, and again I never finished any of it. I took a creative writing class for a while at the City Literary Institute in Drury Lane but the whole tenor of the course was more to encourage self examination and instil an avant garde (for 1971) approach to text which was based on the theories of Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe Grillet. I was looking for a way to understand conventional narrative and structure and this was not encouraged and I was effectively put off writing for a while. All of this is by way of saying that the transition from illustrating to writing was not a sudden overnight thing but a gradual building up over many years.
I was lucky enough in the early 1980s to meet and work with David Fickling who was then a youthful editor at Oxford University Press. I illustrated several books for him and eventually after his move to what is now Random House Children’s books he encouraged me to write my own text to illustrate which became The Teddy Robber (Doubleday 1989) during the making of that book I also worked for the first time with Annie Eaton. The Teddy Robber led on to me illustrating a whole series of picture books which I also wrote, and many of which are happily still in print. I was still ambitious to attempt a larger form, a longer story and with the death of one of my closest friends in 2003 my mind was concentrated. If I wanted to do it then I had to get on and do it before it was too late for me too, and that was when I wrote the first of the three Tom Trueheart books; (The Secret History of Tom Trueheart Boy Adventurer, Oxford University Press 2006). The other books since have all been enabled by actually finishing and then heavily rewriting that first book in 2004/5.
I am happy to say that 23 years later I am still working with Annie Eaton at RHCB she was my editor along with Natalie Doherty on the very recently published; The Haunting of Charity Delafield (The Bodley head 2011)
My process is I suppose like most other writer’s, simply to write the story. A deceptively simple task and I am sure that every writer has a different method of approaching it. I like to write a very free first draft. This will often differ from any synopsis that I may have made. I like to discover the story as I write it. After that it is the graft of editing and rewriting and it is that stage that I think the book is really made.
The inspiration behind 'Charity Delafield' and how the idea for the story came about
Charity began life as a watercolour drawing of a girl out in the snow in a bright red coat. Originally I had plans to make a picture book out of her, but that came to nothing. Both my agent and my editor at RHCB Annie Eaton liked her and they would occasionally prod my conscience about her. It was several years down the line that I realised that she might be a long story after all. There were many false starts before she settled into her stride. I wanted to include a house as a character in its own right. I know a particularly interesting one which features many of the long gloomy corridors that I have forced poor Charity to dream about. The house was added to the mix, as was the all important cat whose name I stole from a friend of mine whose best friend’s cat was actually called Mr Tompkins so I appropriated the name for Charity’s cat, and so on. The story progressed as things were added and taken away in turn and finally there came the day when after three complete drafts written over a long period she was finally finished.
Future projects as a writer and illustrator
I do have things in the pipeline, which I can only be very vague about at the moment for obvious reasons. One is a sequel to my YA novel Pastworld, another is an adventure story set in World War 2 London, another is a possible historical novel about a very precious substance, and I am keen to find out what happens to the character of Silas Jones from The Haunting of Charity Delafield I am eager to follow him and see where he leads. I very much enjoyed the process of making the illustrations for Philip Pullman’s version of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp (Scholastic 2011) it would be nice to think that there was the possibility of another such collaboration somewhere in the future.