Interview with Storybook Artist Emma Levey

I had the pleasure to interview storybook artist Emma Levey! To celebrate the release of her newest book Hattie Peck: The Journey Home, she talks here about her creative inspiration and advice for other aspiring artists. This book introduces readers to Hattie and her diverse brood. Since she cannot lay eggs herself, she fosters abandoned eggs and cares for them like her own. Then, one day, they must all fly the coop. I must say that I welled up a bit reading Hattie. All it takes is a cutely drawn hen with a heart of gold to get me going. This is a very cute story to read as a family, and I would imagine it’d be a especially nice to read around Mother’s Day—to celebrate all caregivers.
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Elizabeth:
I love your illustration style! What storybook artists have you been most inspired by?

Emma: I’m constantly inspired by other picture book makers and there are some in particular that I return to. Some, to name a few include Oliver Jeffers, Emma Chichester Clark, Benji Davies, Marta Altes and Quentin Blake. Each of them have their own distinct qualities and all of them are brilliant at pacing, composition and bringing characters to life.
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Elizabeth: In Hattie Peck: The Journey Home we meet a delightful hen with a big heart. When Hattie’s family moves away and she returns home alone, I felt my heart swell. Her babies literally flew the coop! It made me think about my own mother. What made you want to write a story about a hen’s babies growing up? What aspect of your own family inspired you?

Emma: After writing the first Hattie Peck, I felt there was still more to say. I still do, even now. What drove me to write a story about flying the nest was to illustrate a family dynamic, documenting them growing up and showing Hattie return them to where they were found and positively guiding them to their independence. I wanted to show how love endures, no matter what the distance or how much time passes and I hope I’ve been able to do that justice. I wouldn’t say I was consciously inspired by my family but the story is certainly based around a chaotic and loving one so I’m sure it came through subliminally.
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Elizabeth: What is your writing and illustration process like?

Emma: My writing and illustrating processes are quite different and sort of bounce around and intertwine. When I’m thinking of ideas, I usually visit or sit in a place that I can’t distract myself in; Public transport and my favourite cafe are two that spring to mind. At this stage, I may have a few words down and some character sketches. Once I’ve got an idea, I have to write in complete silence. When I’m illustrating ideas I need the opposite, lots of music. Both the writing and the illustrating take it in turns until I’m ready to pitch my idea and develop it further.
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Elizabeth: Where is your favorite place to create?

Emma: Well I think little cafe’s including my most favourite one around the corner are great for the beginnings of my process but when I’m working on the finals of a book, I’ve got a great studio that I’m a part of with other creative people. The support and friendship that they all offer is really invaluable.

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Elizabeth: Do you have advice for aspiring storybook artists?

Emma: I think the best advice I can give is to keep writing, keep drawing, work from your heart and DON’T give up! At the beginning of my career I had three different part-time jobs just to make sure I could keep a roof over my head. Juggling my time was really difficult but it’s definitely worth putting all the hard work in as I really do love what I do. All along the way you will doubt yourself; so long as you always prove your doubts wrong, even when you find it really tough, you’ll eventually get there.
 
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Elizabeth: Can you tell us what project you are working on or brainstorming next?

Emma: I’ve recently been illustrating other books for different publishers, but I’m really looking forward to developing my next idea further. It’s about my pet cat and I’m still deciding what story I want to tell about him. He really was a short but wonderful joy in my life and I want to make sure I do him justice.
 

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Elizabeth: Where can readers find your books and artwork?

Emma: My books are available online, as well as many different bookshops and I also have a website, an etsy shop where I sell prints and originals from my books as well as various social media platforms where I share my work from time to time.
 
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About Emma Levey
Emma Levey works in everything from print and gouache, to photography and 3-D. Emma is based in a teeny, tiny village called Llancarfan, in the south of Wales.
 
About Hattie Peck: The Journey Home
cover.jpg;h1000.jpegHattie Peck adores eggs of all kinds. However, she cannot make any of her own. No worries—Hattie has collected eggs from all over the world, hatched them, and raised her blended family of cockatoos, storks, owls, anything from an egg—even reptiles.

But now it’s time. They all need to leave her big loving nest. So off the flock goes, on their biggest—and saddest—adventure. Even though, in her heart, Hattie knows it’s best.

A poignant story about family and differences, making hard decisions, letting go and inclusion. It’s not all sad, though, due to a nice twist ending as in the first book.

Bright colorful and lively illustrations and lots of information about egg-bearing animals round out the story.

Find it on IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or with other fine booksellers.

Literary Food Recipes

For those that love words and food, the combination is heaven. My first encounter with literary food writing was through Dr. Suess. Green Eggs and Ham, man. Then, I remember reading how Edmund couldn’t resist Turkish Delights and loved how an author could make a sugary treat sound so tempting. I don’t need that much convincing, but it’s always pleasant to experience lovely language mixed with food. Preview: Dainty slapjacks garnished with honey and puddings made of delightful creaminess.

In short I became very ravenous, especially for pudding, figuring out which literary recipes to present. You might too. And hey, maybe there are some book club/food ideas in here!

Turkish Delight – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund inhaled the Snow Queen’s Turkish Delight and betrayed his siblings! Then, he had the gall to ask for more.

Turkish Delight is comprised of sugar, gelatin, water, and cornstarch, and it is commonly flavored with rosewater, lemon or mint. History says a Turkish man named Bekir Effendi, who opened up a confectionary shop in Istanbul in 1776, unveiled the delicacy in his sweet boutique. Legend has it that an Englishman stumbled upon the treat and began shipping cases back to Britain calling it “Turkish Delight.” Soon, it became a ritual among socialites to exchange Turkish Delights wrapped in silk handkerchiefs as gfts.

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Recipe

Pickled Limes – Little Women
The youngest sister, Amy, in Louis May Alcott’s Little Women was crazy for pickled limes.
“Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she give her a lime. If she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck.”

Anyone who is anyone eats pickled limes.

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Recipe

Ichabod’s Slapjacks – Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may be open for interpretation, but pancakes are not! Ichabod may have been a fool about the true nature of the headless horsemen, but he knew a fine stack of slapjacks when he saw one. And, he appreciated the hand that buttered them. Get in the mood:

“As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast stores of apples, some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees, some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market, others heaped up in rich piles for the cider press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.”

—Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Recipe

 Crab Casserole – The Hours
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, reveals one day in the lives of three characters, much like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (the book reflected in the The Hours). Condensing action in a short period of time allows the reader to reflect on how characters navigate through a day’s ups and downs and what their responses say about their whole lives. For Clarissa Dalloway, preparing a crab casserole as a gift for her friend Richard shows her nurturing spirit and love for him and his favorite dish, which they both refer to as the “crab thing.”

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Recipe

Green Eggs and Ham
Green Eggs and Ham contains only fifty words due to a bet with Seuss’ publisher that he could write a book for children under 225 words (Cat in the Hat word count). The recipe contains seven: ham, eggs, green food coloring, cooking oil.

For true Seuss enthusiasts, try this recipe inside of a box and call it a day. Also, this exists.

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Snow Candy – Little House on the Prairie
The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are a staple of children’s literature. Western Frontier dishes and desserts were an important part of the series, which led to a spinoff cookbook that highlights many of the recipes just like this one called Snow Candy. It is supposed to resemble a snowy landscape with dark syrupy streams. The kids will love this one! You will too. Who doesn’t love making yummy snow-covered paths out of molten sugar?

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Fried Green Tomatoes – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
In Fannie Flagg’s novel, the Whistle Stop Café in Whistle Stop, Alabama is known for its fried green tomatoes. Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman living in a nursing home, tells her stories of yesteryear, recounting tales of people she used to know and the succulent fried tomatoes she used to chomp on. This is a great snack for out-of-season tomatoes and the tomato lovers in your life. Raises hand.

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Recipe

Queen of Puddings – Ulysses
If James Joyce wrote recipes, I’d never eat. I’d be too caught up in romance and eating violet petals instead of dinner. Take his description of Gerty’s food predicament for instance.

“… for Gerty was womanly wise and knew that a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. Her griddlecakes done to a golden-brown hue and queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess had won golden opinions from all because she had a lucky hand also for lighting a fire, dredge in the fine self-raising flour and always stir in the same directions, then cream the milk and sugar and whisk well the whites of eggs though she didn’t like the eating part when there were many people that made her shy and often she wondered why you couldn’t eat something poetical like violets or roses…”

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Recipe

Boeuf en Daube – To the Lighthouse
If you happen to be burdened by large helpings of meat, then this recipe inspired by Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is right up your alley. Considered one of the best English novels of the 20th century, To the Lighthouse is a glimpse into Woolf’s vivid imagination. Her ability to shape thoughts through words is beautiful; she’s a true artist of language, even when describing meat. But, listen to Ginny and don’t overcook! “The beef, the bayleaf, and the wine – all must be done to a turn. To keep it waiting was out of the question.”

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Recipe

Aunt Petunia’s violet pudding – Harry Potter
“Aunt Petunia’s masterpiece of a pudding, the mountain of cream and sugared violets, was floating up near the ceiling.” Now, J.K. Rowling did not impart this recipe verbatim, so here is a recipe for a Strawberry Trifle, a traditional British dessert. As long as it doesn’t land on your head, you’re in good shape.

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Happy reading/eating!

The Silver Linings of a Trump Presidency

As someone who writes fiction, I consistently find myself writing on the theme of hope. Yet, lately I’ve been feeling hopeless.

The election of Trump felt like a blow to the gut for many, including me. I believe it was especially hurtful for individuals who were excited to continue moving mountains in terms of racial and gender equality, climate policy, equal pay, income inequality, healthcare and education reform, and many other things that would actually make America great. It wasn’t about Hillary, it’s what she represented in terms of sustaining progress. We had come so far, only to see the carrot on a string dangle further away.

So, here I was writing how my characters need hope to power through when I was simultaneously posting memes on how the end of the world was nigh.

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I thought carefully about the next four years. In the same way one of my characters would find hope, I wanted to find a silver lining as well.

So, here are the silver linings I believe come with a Trump presidency and the hope I see for those concerned.

We are having an awakening

The SNL skit that featured Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle was spot on. It showed how many are living inside a bubble, unaware of everyday racism. And it’s not just everyday racism that is rising to the surface, it’s the uncovering of America’s extreme hate groups like neo-Nazism. It’s nice to pretend that these groups don’t exist. But they do. Of course, many people were already extremely aware, but now it’s out in the open like an ugly wound. And wounds can only be healed once exposed. For many, it’s a privilege to be blind to such hate and discrimination. We must recognize that. I believe it’s good we’re having these conversations and seeing the underbelly of this nation. If we don’t, we can’t fix it.

We are getting stronger

A revolution is spreading across social media in the United States and beyond. While racial, gender, and income inequality conversations were certainly being had before Trump, they are on full throttle now. Soon, this revolution will take full shape and be on visible display at the Women’s March on Washington. There are tons of sister marches as well. A striking quote has gone viral, and it couldn’t be more accurate.

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We are organizing

Pre-Trump, I think many people thought, “my vote doesn’t count” or “they already know who won, what’s it matter” or “I can’t stop the Illuminati, so why even try.” Or who knows what people thought, really. I just know, people seem to be paying more attention to their own voting and organizing rights now more than ever. In the wake of Trump’s election, a petition to stop Trump circulated, citizens made asserted efforts to call their local officials, and many people banned together to show the next administration that they stand up for the liberty, justice, and respect for ALL people. All a hopeful sign that many people are looking to the future and will be ready in 2020.

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Class warfare is common ground

There have been a lot of articles challenging anti-Trumpsters to at least see where Trump supporters are coming from. This one, in particular, is pretty good. And there have been viral memes, tweets, articles, and other online content that’s been generated to show Trumpsters that there’s just no forgiveness on this one. But when all is said and done, income inequality is still a huge reason many people voted for Trump. These were valid concerns, and it’s just a shame a con man recognized this and provided false hope.

Income inequality has been the heart of Bernie Sanders’ message his entire career. Just because there are a lot of other issues that need to be dealt with in the coming years, this one can’t go away. Perhaps, when the Trump facade fades for those who sing his praises, we can all find common ground on this issue.

While I still think a Trump presidency is a blowback to civil rights—and perhaps that is an understatement—I also know that, like my characters, you don’t achieve anything by staying stagnant. There is always a way out, always an opportunity to build up bravery, always a silver lining. And we have four years to figure this one out, much longer than a three-act play, but we will.

Stay hopeful.

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