Thursday 20 May 2021

Ernest the Elephant - Q&A with Anthony Browne

We are delighted to welcome Anthony Browne onto Picture Book Party for a Q&A on Ernest the Elephant!

Ernest is a happy baby elephant. But when his curiosity gets the better of him, and he leaves the rest of his herd to explore the alluring and dangerous jungle, he becomes very lost indeed. Amongst the undergrowth, he meets a rude gorilla, a weary lion, an impolite hippo and an uncaring crocodile. Will anyone help Ernest find his way out of the jungle and home to his mum?

From the international phenomenon, Anthony Browne, comes a heartfelt, visually stunning picture book about finding help in unexpected places.

Q&A with Anthony Browne

What was the inspiration behind Ernest the Elephant?

The idea for this book came from a version of the story I first wrote and illustrated in 1975, before I’d ever been published - my first attempt at making a picture book. I vaguely remember a story that my parents would often read to me about an elephant who lost his way, and I can strongly recall the relief I felt every time he found his mum.

Original illustrations from the first version of Ernest the Elephant (1975)

I looked at the works of Brian Wildsmith and John Burningham and was influenced by their use of colour and also by 1960’s record covers. I submitted the dummy to the publisher Hamish Hamilton but I had no idea how picture books worked.

I was introduced to the editor Julia MacRae and, although she liked the story, she felt it wasn’t suitable for publication at that time, and so we developed another idea which became my first book, Through the Magic Mirror. Julia became my regular editor for the next 20 years, and she was extremely helpful in encouraging me to develop as an author and illustrator. 

Another original illustration of Ernest the Elephant (1975)

Tell us a little bit more about your process?

 I have recently moved house and am now working in the best studio I’ve ever had. It has a lot of light (North light which is the best light to work in), loads of space and a fantastic view. I work fairly regular hours, about 7 hours a day, but because it’s in my home, I can go and have a sneaky look at what I’ve been working on any time of the day or night.

When I have an idea for a book, the first thing I do is to make a storyboard which is a sequence of little rough drawings and words - a bit like a comic. It’s rather like planning to make a film where every picture represents a new scene. When I’m reasonably pleased with that, I make a dummy - a tiny version of the book, again roughly drawn and with a text which I know will change. After meeting and discussions with my editor, I then work on the full size finished paintings, mostly done in watercolour.

Do you have a favourite spread in the book?

I think I have 3 favourites - The scene where Ernest is fascinated by the jungle but  feels a little bit frightened, the crocodile (which is almost exactly the same as the crocodile I painted in the first version forty-odd years ago) and the last picture of Ernest and his mum walking away.
What was your favourite picture book when you were a child?

It was a book called Fudge in Toffeetown by Ken Reid, a comic album about some kind of elf who travels to a town where everything is made of sweets.
I loved sweets and later also loved Surrealism.

To find out how to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book and this stunning print, click here!


A special thanks to our guest this week, Anthony Browne!
Ernest the Elephant is now available to buy from all good booksellers.