Friday 8 February 2019

For All the Stars Across the Sky - Interview with author Karl Newson

For all the stars across the sky, big and little and bright. Here’s a wish from me to you, before we say goodnight…

For All the Stars Across the Sky is written by Karl Newson and illustrated by Japanese artist Chiaki Okada. It is a beautiful, lyrical bedtime read that celebrates the bond and love between a mother and baby bear, and the fantastical imaginary adventures that unfold when they’re together. 

To celebrate its release this month, author Karl Newson talks with editor Tanya Rosie about his inspiration for the story, and gives aspiring picture book writers his nuggets of advice.

This tender mother and daughter story is all about that special time a parent and child share together right at the end of the day, before bed. Was it inspired by a routine you had with your own children, or with your own mum or dad?

I did have a routine with my boys, which unsurprisingly involved reading lots of books! But the story For All the Stars Across the Sky was actually inspired by a song I wrote for them when they were teeny. It features possibly my best grammatical bloop EVER...

For all the stars across the sky
There’s one for you, and one for I (EEEK!)
You make a wish – I’ll make it true,
I’ll wrap you up in daffodils and send you to the moon
in a red balloon, high above the deep blue sea,
humming your favourite tune,
you and me...

The idea was there, at least!

The title line was inspired by my fascination with stars, which began when I was a child, sat at a dining room table, drawing with my Popie (my grandfather), Ron. He taught me how to draw a star, and it is to him and my boys that For All the Stars Across the Sky is dedicated.

Chiaki’s art is full of the most beautiful, majestic detail – I love the moment little Luna sits atop the dandelion stalk, soft fluff floating all around. Is there anything about Chiaki’s interpretation of your story that surprised you? And do you have a favourite scene or moment? 

I absolutely LOVE Chiaki’s art. It’s a thrill to see what I didn’t see when I was writing it, if you get me. But my most favourite moment of all is where Luna and Mum are small, riding on a snail, exploring the undergrowth. Chiaki captures it beautifully. In fact, I believe we tweaked the text to reflect it, in ‘“Let’s catch a ride,” says Mum’. The snail-riding image relates to me in a different way as well: my favourite amusement park ride as a child was the ‘snails’ at Joyland, Great Yarmouth. So it really is magical.  

Chiaki’s illustrations are moments to pause and explore in the story. I thank my lucky stars that we were teamed up! 

For All the Stars Across the Sky is going to be published in Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Japan, as well as in the UK and the US – which is so wonderful. What do you think it is about your words and Chiaki’s art that has resonated with readers the world over?

I always try to make my stories universal. I want a child to read it and think ‘That's me!’ or ‘That's here!’ and I think that’s part of the appeal in For All the Stars Across the Sky – it’s for everyone, it’s everywhere – we all live under the same starry sky. Of course, what makes it so attractive and inspiring are Chiaki Okada’s illustrations. They give it depth and engagement in more ways than my text ever could. They’re wondrous!

Your voice, Karl, is so lyrical and melodic, and this book is a joy to read aloud – it feels very much part of that timeless and wonderful tradition of the bedtime book. Are there any bedtime stories you still vividly remember, or that you remember from when you were a child?

Thank you very much! Sadly, I don’t remember many books at all from my childhood. Only a single picture book: Panda and the Snow, by Oda Taro, which I remember being the one I made my parents read me EVERY SINGLE NIGHT; and just the one Young Fiction book, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson and illustrated by Joanne Cole, which is SUCH a clever story. It still gets me.

This story is brimming over with incredible, imaginary adventures – becoming giants, becoming teeny-tiny, flying above the mountains, swimming with the whales. If you could go on only one of them, which one would you choose?

I’d choose to fly. To be able to go anywhere and to see the earth from above would be tremendous.

As a writer, when do you do your best thinking?

Ideas are always brewing in the back of my mind. They come in at any time of the day and from anywhere. I’m a night owl so I’d guess most of my thinking is done then! ZzzzzzzzZZZZZzzzz

For aspiring picture book writers, my advice is to read as many picture books as possible. Old classics. New favourites. Everything. Soak them all up. Then write and write and write. If you find you’re struggling to find your ‘writing voice’, imagine it as someone else’s instead – I’ve tried writing in the style of David Attenborough’s narration before! It’s great for escaping your own traits.

What is your earliest memory of writing a story?

I used to draw stories at my grandparents’ houses when I was small. There’d always be a new sketchbook waiting for me in the cupboard once an old one was filled. When I look back now at how I got here – to be the writer of a story being published by Walker Books! WOW! – it leads right back to being sat at their dining tables and just being lost for hours in a drawing or story, with supplies of biscuits, Turkish Delights and homemade jam tarts always at the ready. I was lucky to have my imagination fed by my family. It planted a seed that’s taking me on the most AMAZING adventure I could ever have imagined.

What is the best writing advice you have been given?

KNOW WHEN TO STOP. If it’s not working it’s OK to leave it be for a while. Don’t push it if it doesn’t want to be pushed. As soon as I let one idea rest I often find a bunch of others jump out of nowhere, almost as if they’ve been waiting their turn.

FUEL FOR THE FIRE. It reminds me that nothing is ever a waste. It’s all practice and learning. If something goes completely wrong then I treat it as fuel for the fire that keeps me going.


You can pick up a copy of For All the Stars Across the Sky from your local bookshop.