Interview with Pam Smy!

Hello there! Good Morning from the Southeast side of the world! Today, I’m excited to share with everyone my virtual interview session with Pam Smy, author of Thornhill! That book just crept me out and kind of shocked some little nerves on my body but above all, I love the book! She’s also the artist of the illustrations that you could find in her book. Isn’t that just simply amazing?




I know you might be tired hearing this question but who or what inspires you to write the story of Thornhill?
I was trying to come up with an idea for a project to propose to my publisher in the UK, David Fickling. I was out for a walk and really stuck – I just couldn’t think of anything. But then I passed an old, boarded-up house behind a high brick wall. The wall had ‘keep-out’ signs on it and I was intrigued. I had a sketchbook with me, whipped it out and did a quick drawing of the house, took it home and straight away started to imagine who could live in a house like that, and what stories it may keep locked away. I just kept drawing and drawing and the story of Thornhill grew. 
What was the hardest part of writing and making Thornhill? The story development or the illustrations?
The illustration, definitely! I am an illustrator and am used to illustrating texts, but trying to tell part of the story with no words, and the amount of images that took (it was 165 paintings in total) meant that the illustrations were months and months of work.
How did you come up with the idea of putting an illustration on your book regardless of the fact that your book is included as a middle-grade book that targets young audience?
I am an illustrator and I think in pictures, so the story is in my head like a film and I have to find the best way to draw it out so that other people can see what I am imagining. I think that people of all ages love interpreting images – in comics, in films, in computer games, in picture books, and I don’t think this is any different for those who read middle-grade or older fiction. 
What do you think are the perks of being an artist or an illustrator and an author all at the same time?
This is hard for me to answer because I LOVE being given another author’s text to illustrate. I have worked on some wonderful books by brilliant authors as an illustrator. But, if I had to name one thing that I love about writing and illustrating a whole book it is that I can invent the whole world of my story, and the look, feel and atmosphere of that world and the characters in it. 
How does being an artist contributes to your career as an author?
Well, this is the first book I have written, so I don’t yet know how it will contribute to my career. But I think of myself as an illustrator who has written some words for her illustrated book, rather than an author who also illustrates. For me, illustration is a wonderful form of storytelling and I would never want to give it up. 
Which do you dream first? Being an illustrator or a writer first? Or was it your dream to become both?
I have always dreamt of being an illustrator and never considered writing. It was only when asked to come up with my dream project by my publisher that I realized I would have to write it myself if I was to be given the chance to illustrate something darker and more mysterious. 
If you are going to give an advice to your 10-year old self, what do you think would it be?
Always be confident in what you do, and never be afraid of making mistakes. 
How much the writing process does take when you were writing Thornhill? How about the illustrations? How much time do you spend on making one of the illustrations on your book?
This is tricky. The written section of the book didn’t take me long, and I had fabulous support from the editor, Alice, who helped me rework the bits that didn’t make sense or weren’t useful to the overall story. The illustrations took ages! The rough drawings for the book took about a year because it went through many versions and edits. And the final artwork took me 9 months. Each image took me between 8 and 12 hours to paint.
If you are going to give an advice to aspiring writers and illustrators, what would it be and how do you want them to perceive art?
To aspiring illustrators, I would encourage them to learn to draw from life – to go out and draw people in the street and buildings and animals. Draw and draw and draw and draw and then draw some more. This helps you draw from imagination convincingly. To be an illustrator is a way of life – it makes a difference to how you see the world around you, how your memory works,  how you record information and how you read and tell stories. It is the best job!
What is your favorite line on Thornhill and why is that your favorite among others?
I don’t have one favourite line in Thornhill, so can I cheat in this answer and quote the opening paragraph… 

I knew it was too good to last. She is back. Without even looking I knew it. I heard her laughter echoing up the stairwell, the usual thumping on each of the doors in the corridor as she made her way back to her old room. I froze as I heard those sounds. Fear tingled into my neck and down my back as the old feeling seeped into my bones.

I don’t believe it. What will I do now? 

I like this because it is the first passage I wrote for the book, and it has remained largely unchanged from the first draft through to the published book. 
Can you share one of your philosophies in life and how does it motivate you?
I believe in two things. The first is always trying to be kind and I think that is self-explanatory. I also think that there is always a way to make every situation better, and this applies to everyday life and creating words and pictures. If something doesn’t go well there is always a chance to improve on it next time. 
Random Question: Top 5 favorite foods!
Eer… Cheese sandwiches and a flask of tea (preferably on a windy beach), my daughter’s home-baked bread with butter, wine gums on a car journey, fish curry with my friends and hard boiled eggs for breakfast. 
What are the books and authors that influence you as a reader and a writer today?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I have read these books over and over again, and I used elements from all these books in Thornhill. 
One thing that you learned about life that you want to share with us.
That making mistake is essential to get better at something.
If you are going to date someone, fictional or not, dead or alive, who would it be and why? What are the things that you are going to do on your date?
I would go on a date with Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, because, even though I love the book and have read it many, many times, I still can’t see what Jane sees in him… I would have to go on a long walk with him around the grounds of Thornfield Hall and try and work out what the attraction is!


Pam Smy PhotoThis month’s Featured Illustrator is Pam Smy. Senior Lecturer of the Illustration Course for the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University, Pam is an amazingly evocative illustrator in her own right, and as a writer is about to release her first novel. Tomorrow (11th March) she’s running the SCBWI Masterclass workshop Building Words for Your Character at The House of Illustration near King’s Cross in London. 

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