Friday 17 February 2017

Writing for Children - Bryan Collier on Inspiration, Passion and the need for Diverse Books.

By Kathryn Evans

 I've just returned from the SCBWI New York conference. I know - get me! Gadding about the planet. It's huge too - over 1100 people attend and it's packed with very well known American book people this Brit has never heard of. One of them was the first keynote speaker: artist and picture book writer and illustrator,  Bryan Collier.

Bryan Collier and Kathryn Evans
He spoke about his passion:

"Your dream's should scare you they should be so outlandish - hold on to them."

His inspiration:

"Pay attention to all the little things that happen to you, even if it's painful," 
One of his great influences were the quilts his grandmother  had sewn when he was a child.  At the time, he hadn't taken much notice, but the way the patchwork was created became a part of him and a part of his art.

This resonated with me. As a child, I lived so much in books, they are as important to my writing as the laughter and the tragedy I've lived through. They make the patchwork of my books - stories about relationships with a sci-fi twist and a spoonful of horror.  When I embraced that, I found my voice.

He talked too, of his own oddity:

"The things you feel awkward about are the things that are special about you. That's your unique gift. Let that shine."
As a writer of pretty weird books, I wanted to cheer at this. We all have our own oddities - let them breathe.

On why he creates for children:

" There's nothing you can't touch and talk about in picture books."
Bryan's latest illustrations are for Daniel Beaty's story, Knock, Knock -  an intricate tale of loss.
 Knock, Knock

And his need:

Bryan first saw himself in Ezra Jack Keats " The Snowy Day." He was four years old and,

 "Peter was wearing my pyjamas".

Candy Gourlay has often said that she didn't think girls like her could be in books because she never saw Filipino children in books. It matters that all children see themselves in books. As Bryan said:

"Somebody is waiting for you to be courageous enough to say 'I have a story to tell' - that's what's at stake."

 You know, it didn't matter that I didn't know Bryan's work - his words brought me to tears and the entire audience to its feet.  And he finished with this:

 "Let's do this, lock the doors, get desperate."
Children are waiting.

Kathryn Evans is the award winning author of More of MeA gripping thriller with a sinister sci-fi edge, exploring family, identity and sacrifice. She is Co-RA of SCWBI British Isles. Find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and twitter @mrsbung  More of Me will be released in the USA, June 2017


  1. Ahhh now you've made me desperate to hear the rest of the speech. Will now be searching YouTube for videos of Bryan Collier!

  2. You would have LOVED him - Tahereh Mafi and Sarah Pennypacker were also fabulous - and Pax has made the Carnegie longlist!

  3. Words to live by. Sounds like you had a fab time, too!

  4. What an inspiration. I'm embracing my quirkiness!


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