“I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy.
So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.”
Illustrator Puck Koper lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the most Dutch street you can imagine—complete with sailing boats, drawbridges, and a windmill. Inspired by her childhood visits to department stores, Puck created her #firstpicturebook WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? which includes some extra storylines for observant readers.
Q. Was WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes it was! It is my very first book. It was my graduation project for the Master Children's Book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art in the UK. And at that time the story didn't have any text. Which was quite hard, having to tell the story with just pictures. But later when it got picked up, my publisher and I decided to give the story text. And I am really pleased we did!
Q. What inspired WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?
A. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She lives in the city centre of Rotterdam and we would always go shopping. Just like the twins in my book, I would stand on the escalator, without being able to look over the edge. And one of the spreads in the book, shows the shoe department, that was my favorite place as a child. You wouldn't believe how happy I was when I finally fit into the smallest women sized shoes! You could leave me there for hours.
Since then I've always had a fascination for department stores. It's the best place for people watching, one of my favourite pastimes. While working on the book I spent a lot of time in John Lewis in Cambridge. The perfume department is the best place to observe fancy ladies in their natural habitat. It was hard to not put everyone I saw into my book.
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. At the time of my Master, when the book didn't have text yet, I was struggling with one page—the page where Mum discovers that Harriet is not behind her anymore. Because I felt it needed the text: "Where is your sister?" But it being a wordless book, that was a bit of a difficulty. I discussed it on a walk along the river Cam with my dear friend Angela. And she suggested, why don't you make that the title. And after that I never changed it, it just fit.
Q. Do you draw by hand or on the computer?
A. I make all my drawings by hand. I fill sketchbook after sketchbook and wouldn't even know how to draw directly with the computer. However, I do use the computer to colour my artwork. While working on this book on the course, I was planning to screen print the illustrations. But by using the computer, I've found a way to skip some steps in the screen printing process. A great way to get the feel of a screen print, but it saves a lot of time and is easier to edit.
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Oh, that is a really tough question! I had so much fun making this book! Coming up with this whole store, all the departments, and especially all the people in the shop. If I had to choose it might be the endpapers. While I used to dream about my own very own picture book, the endpapers always felt as the most exciting part! And making these endpapers was maybe the most fun of all. I think it's because it's the last thing I made and it finishes the book perfectly, they make it a real book. They feature all the people you can spot in the book. And on the last endpaper, they're all on their way home, with their shopping bags. I've added a couple of extra storylines for the observant readers. For example, there's a thief in the store you can follow. I wanted to make a book you can read more than once, and really hope that every time you read it, you notice something new.
Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. The story is told by Harriet's sister. I really like it when books are written from the perspective of the child. And I loved to give this book an extra layer. I think her comments make that it's not just a simple chase through the store.
Q. Why did you write WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? in present tense?
A. My book is written in present tense, for me that's the only way it can be told. It really adds to the excitement in the book.
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Most of my stories are created while drawing, with playing around on the paper. Drawing different characters is something I have done since I was very little. And while drawing them, I get to know them and figure out their story. I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy. So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.
Q. Did WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, it didn't. Quite the opposite actually! When I presented the book on the Master's graduation show I got so many interest that I had to turn down quite a lot of publishers when I chose Two Hoots, Macmillan. I still can't believe it! Those weeks, having the show, all the stress and all the love. It was incredible.
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?
A. I was over the moon! I couldn't believe anyone wanted to publish my book. It was on my way to the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy, two years ago. And I had the most amazing week, knowing that very soon my book will be among all those incredible books!
Q. How long was the publication process for WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? — from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took quite some time. Which is very normal in the publishing world. But I think it also had to do with the fact that this is my first book. It was all new to me. I worked and reworked the story for about a year. While in the meantime moving back home to Rotterdam, after living in the UK for almost 2 years. The whole process of planning, storyboarding and sketching was quite long. But the actual finished illustrations just took me a couple of weeks. And they were the most amazing weeks, just doing what I love most, having everything thought out already. When I just had to do it. It felt incredible!
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. Working on a book like this takes time, which means I made so many drawings that didn't end up in the book at all. I've got illustrations to fill 5 books. But that's how it works. I did have to kill some darlings, but just because there are not enough spreads to show them all.
Q. When you read WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. There is a part in the book where mum screams “HARRRRIET!” which everyone loved at the graduation show.
But because the book isn't out yet, I haven't had the chance to read it to children. When you think about it, it's quite funny how only adults are involved in the process of making a picture book. I look forward to having kids myself, so I can test my ideas in the middle of the process and get inspired by how they see the world.
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Instagram, it's an incredible tool, to show your work and to get inspired. Don't be afraid to post stuff! Which is something I am saying as much to myself as to you, haha!
Q. What are you working on now?
A. At the moment, I am working on two new books, a series of screen prints, and lots of exciting new things. My next book is about a boy that's moving to a block of flats.
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. 24th of April I will have a book launch together with Jessica Meserve and Celina Buckley, at the bookstore Heffers in Cambridge, UK.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)