Alina Surnaite left Cambridge School of Art with an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration and with a book contract! Like her artistic hero Maurice Sendak, she doesn’t believe in shying away from exploring darker themes. Alina’s #firstpicturebook I LOVE YOU, BUNNY is a bedtime book about overcoming those nighttime fears that all of us have had. Thank you Alina for participating in the Q&A and congrats on your debut!Q. Did you work as a book illustrator before I LOVE YOU, BUNNY? If so, how did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I was studying and making my own picture books. I was fortunate to get an offer for my Master's Project (I Love You, Bunny) when I finished the MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I have been working on a few self-initiated projects illustrating classic children's fiction. It allows me to experiment with techniques and character designs.Q. Was I LOVE YOU, BUNNY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was my sixth picture book story. The first one was Little Frog from Trash Kingdom about a young frog's journey outside his pond. It was created during the week-long Summer School at Cambridge School of Art and was very different from my current work. It did receive interest from a few publishers, but Little Frog is now quietly sitting on my shelf with other dummy books.Q. What inspired I LOVE YOU, BUNNY?
3. My younger self when I used to wake up at dawn, my little sister and her bunny toy, my cat-loving mum and our childhood tabby cat. A handful of other books from different authors also influenced my story, including Komako Sakai, Eileen and Marc Rosenthals and Alexis Deacon. I was also inspired by the dark autumn days in the UK and beautiful sunrises.Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The book was titled Morning Monster first, but my publisher and I changed it later.Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like this ending scene, which is also part of the cover, with the characters happily reunited and having a well-deserved rest. It was not part of my first draft, but is a much better ending for a bedtime story.Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I like simple and short names, such as Suzy. The cat was hunting in the morning mist in my original story so I called her Misty.Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. My editor suggested to add a narrator as my original story did not have one and thus could not be read as a bedtime story.Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I LOVE YOU, BUNNY?
A. I had an idea of a girl waking up at dawn and discovering night creatures. It slowly developed as I received feedback from my MA tutors and course mates, which I am very grateful for.Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I wrote it as a short poem first, then started sketching and storyboarding.Q. Did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No. The publisher approached me just before the MA Children's Book Illustration degree show with an interest in my Master's Project. Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I LOVE YOU, BUNNY.
11. A lot of excitement with a bit of fear of the unknown. Q. How long did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two and a half years.Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I liked the endpapers that were part of my first draft, but were a bit too scary for a bedtime story about the fear of darkness. I am happy with the yellow endpapers and the nice vignettes to start and end the story in the final book.Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
14. Don't get too precious about your work and never take any critique personally.
Seek constructive feedback on your book (such as in SCBWI critique groups, writing retreats, and workshops with industry people), be open to changes, but also know your values and listen to your heart first.Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like writing down observations and ideas on my phone whenever something inspires me, sometimes it turns out rhymed, sometimes not. I wish I had a daily writing exercise to practise my writing skills.
As for marketing, I think that you have to show your voice in your social media posts as well as in your books. It is a new form of storytelling
and, ideally, your posts should be adapted for each specific platform, which takes time and practice. Posting regularly helps, even if weekly.Q. What are you working on now?
A. Two very different picture book stories. One is a project about sharing space that I started during the last term of my MA studies. The other one is part of a narrative non-fiction series featuring twin sisters enjoying nature and different seasons.Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website: www.alinasurnaite.com
I can also be found here:
Thanks for inviting me for this nice interview on your blog, Karlin! Read More