Tuesday 24 August 2021

Ergo - Q&A with author Alexis Deacon

Today we welcome Alexis Deacon onto Picture Book Party to talk about his new picture book, Ergo, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz.  

"I find favourites hard - but if I did have one, my favourite picture book of the year would probably be Ergo. A triumph in design. Profound simplicity." - Nikki Gamble

For budding philosophers of all ages, this is the uplifting story of Ergo the chick. Ergo wakes up and sets about exploring her world. She discovers her toes. She discovers her wings and her beak. She has discovered EVERYTHING! But then she considers the wall. And something outside the wall goes BUMP. What could it be? The only way to find out is to peck peck peck through to the other side...

This is an inspiring story told with heaps of humour. Like its predecessor, I Am Henry Finch, Ergo is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. A profound picture book experience told with simplicity and style.

Q&A with Alexis Deacon

 What was the inspiration behind Ergo?

I once heard that the best place to start a story is as close to the ending as possible. I feel as though much of my work, especially my work in collaboration with Viviane Schwarz, has been about beginnings as much as endings.

The characters start in a closed or confined world and by the time the story has finished, the world has opened up for them and they are ready to begin a larger journey. In that sense, the inspiration for Ergo has been with me for some time. Having come closer and closer to the beginning of my character’s lives it seemed fitting that I take the logical next step and set a story in the moments before a character is born.

How did you begin writing Ergo and did it differ from I am Henry Finch?

Ergo came to be for a number of reasons. I had wanted to write a story in celebration of the spirit of curiosity and the power of the enquiring mind. This story began as the tale of three tadpoles called, Why, Why and Why (‘Why,’ was the only word they ever said). 

Through their constant questioning, the grown-ups in the story were forced to look at their world in a different way and ultimately saved from disaster. Somehow it was all too complicated and had too many characters and I had to give it up. I didn’t forget the concept though. A couple of years later, after the success of I Am Henry Finch, my editors wanted to know whether I had any other story ideas that might make a good follow-up. I thought about a little bird in an egg. Just by looking and asking questions, she learns about her world and finds the courage to break through her shell and be born.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

My writing process is similar to the way a sculptor might work with a block of marble. I write down whatever comes into my head and it fills the pages with a great lump of stuff; lots of ideas, mostly useless but a few that shine out. Then it is a question of chipping away at this block, trying to reveal the story at the heart of it all. 
Viv is a great help with this, alongside my editors and designer at Walker Books, Lizzie Sitton, Rachel Boden and Ben Norland. Between us, we try to find the simplest, clearest version of the story I hoped to tell.
What was it like seeing Viviane’s illustrations for the first time?

Alongside the text, I have some idea of what we will see in the pictures as I write. A good picturebook story should put some information in the words, some in the pictures and some in the mind of the reader. Viv is brilliant at this herself and always has good ideas for what the pictures might add so I try to work in collaboration with her as early as possible. It was such a joy to see Ergo’s bright-eyed, golden face peering out at me for the first time. The colour choices throughout the book are perfect. The yellow of the cover is so friendly and inviting. It shines out at you in the best way.

Do you have a favourite spread in the story?

I like several moments in this story very much. If I had to pick one it would be the moment Ergo first guesses that there might be other beings like her. In the illustration we see the page filled with dozens of little Ergos, all stuck in their own eggs. At the time I wrote the book there was no COVID 19, no self-isolation, no lockdown. Somehow, this picture seems to capture the energy, both the hope and the despair, of what we have all been through. It wasn’t intentional but it feels very relatable.

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?

I have a young niece who lives in a different town. Because we can’t see each other very often, we like to read stories together. As a result, I have discovered a lot of picturebooks recently that I wouldn’t otherwise have read. My personal favourites are two new books by Chris Haughton, Don’t Worry, Little Crab and Maybe. We have also loved reading The Runaway Pea by Kjarten Poskitt and Alex
Willmore and The Pirates Are Coming by Matt Hunt and John Condon.

In terms of a book for picturebook nerds like me, Small in the City by Sydney Smith is a masterpiece of the form.

There are so many wonderful books that have inspired me, both in childhood and as a creator myself. William Steig has been a great influence on my work and I regard many of his books as pinnacles of picturebook making. My niece would recommend, The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer and Would You Rather by John Burningham. Who am I to disagree?


A special thanks to our guest this week, Alexis Deacon!
Ergo is now available to buy from all good booksellers.