Today I’m thrilled to be posting an interview with the creators of The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones, a lovely graphic novel for children aged 7+. I reviewed the book yesterday, you can find it here. Vicky kindly took the time to answer some questions for me, this is part 1 and part 2 will be posted this afternoon.
Firstly could you tell me a little about yourselves?
We live in a cottage by the sea on the south coast of England. The Adventures of Tooki – The Secret of the Stones is our first book project, a joint (ad)venture!
Jamie has spent much of his working life in the film and special effects world. He was for many years the Creative Director of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Camden Town, designing and supervising creature effects for a wide variety of movies, including: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Snow Queen, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Flintstones and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for which he won an EMMY award. Given his background in film special effects, it’s not surprising that Jamie is an extraordinary and determined inventor: if it’s broken, he’ll fix it, if it doesn’t exist but should, he’ll bring it into being and if it needs musical accompaniment, he’ll reach for a guitar. Drawing has always been a part of his life; he is also the creator of the intricately drawn Wildergorn Colour-In Posters, which can be found at www.wildergorn.com.
I am a writer and singer-songwriter (performing regularly with Jamie at venues along the south coast) and worked for many years in television, researching, directing and presenting (sometimes flying a plane in) my own films both for the BBC and for Anglia TV. I have written regularly for a wide variety of magazines and am currently at work on a book about the 19 Century Irish poet and diarist, William Allingham, a friend and observer of the famous (Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle) and of the equally fascinating but not-so-famous. I love walking, particularly in the woods, am potty about gardening, about film (especially the black and white movies of the 40’s); and underpinning all is a passion for literature, for poetry and for the potential beauty and clarity to be found in words.
How did this project come about – have you worked together before?
One day in 2005, I discovered in an old plan chest an original draft of Tooki (then called Tooki and the Usks), which Jamie had devised and drawn in pencil years before, having been inspired by the dear memory of sitting on the knee of his mother (artist, Elizabeth Spurr) whilst she told and sketched her own stories for him. I was enchanted both by the drawings and by Jamie’s extraordinary concept. At that time only 30 pages existed. The context was in place, i.e. the extraordinary idea of the two tribes being interdependent but unaware of each other, and the story ran up until the point at which Tooki and Obo, learning of their interdependence, realize that the Stones are not at all what they had believed them to be.
But then the story stopped (Jamie having got caught up and distracted by the film business) just when one felt that the characters ought to be responding to and acting upon this earthshattering information; the narrative clearly needed to drive forward and to contain some sort of further antagonist (the twister) in order to create an emotional journey for the characters. But even as it was, I felt strongly that it had huge potential and this view was confirmed by Anna Home, the former Head of the Children’s Film Foundation, who we had invited to lunch to share with her another project that we were working on back in 2006, a screenplay called The Knits. Anna liked The Knits but felt that it would take years to get off the ground being an animation film project. Instinctively I showed Tooki to her: instantly she thought it looked exciting, unique and told us to shelve The Knits and to get on with Tooki. And that was that.
How did you go about creating the book, was it a very collaborative process or did one side of it get completed before the other side began?
It makes me smile to look back: the process was hugely and amusingly collaborative. Jamie and I were simultaneously the fiercest critics and warmest supporters of each other’s ideas. For every idea I came up with, Jamie would immediately and passionately say: “No!” and for every idea he came up with, I’d equally passionately say “No!” Each of us would then think about the other’s idea and nine times out of ten, would come round to it as a very fine one. The process felt rather akin to having a baby, both of us conceiving and nurturing as parents but producing a feisty individual in its own right.
Initially, many of the original 30 pages had to be re-thought and rewritten, as they were often text-heavy, too wordy and the sometimes complex story needed to be dramatized (rather than told) as simply and with as few words as was possible. That way, readers would be swept along by the adventure, without being bogged down by exposition. So for instance, the discovery by Tooki and Obo of how both tribes had unknowingly been growing crops for each other, had initially taken place within only two frames, these frames containing a huge amount of explanatory text – too complex for the reader to take in, so instead we dramatized the discovery over a period of 8 pages, had Tooki and Obo working it out together in real time so that the reader is also able to work it out with them. Hard to explain; hard to pull off … do read the book!
And then came a whole raft of scenes that didn’t exist but which needed to exist in order for Tooki to go through his emotional arc of believing in the Stones, losing his faith and finding his way through that earth-shattering discovery. Sometimes Jamie would come up with an idea, sometimes I would, then would follow the usual argy bargy, always punctuated by laughter as well as indignation. Sometimes the text would come first, followed by the pictures, and sometimes the pictures would come first followed by the text. Rarely did both text and pictures come simultaneously.
When we finished the book, we realised we hadn’t finished. We revised and revised, showed it to people whose opinions we valued (thank you dear Jocelyn Stevenson and Professor Michael Irwin) and continued to ponder. We sent it to a handful of agents and when each time it came back with a disappointing: “We like it, but it’s not quite us”, we felt galvanized to look again with fresher eyes and ask ourselves why it still wasn’t ready. And one day, Lizzie Spratt, Commissioning Editor at Walker Books, saw it and liked it. It was ready. Hooray for dear Lizzie Spratt!
Make sure you come back this afternoon for part of this fascinating interview with Vicky where she talks about the input they had into each other’s work, their influences, hopes for future books and more.