Today I’m delighted to bring you an interview with Sandra van Doorn. I met Sandra and her husband Edward at last year’s Independent Publishing Conference in Melbourne and we had a great time chatting about books, publishing, creative work, and France!
Sandra is a French illustrator who has had books published in several different countries, including the award-winning Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl). Born and brought up in France, then globetrotting to the UK, USA, Russia, Europe she’s now living with her husband Edward in sunny Perth, Australia.
But now Sandra is embarking on a brand-new adventure. She is the founder and publisher of Red Paper Kite, which will exclusively publish picture books, and is launching its first title (Hugo) in May 2019.
Sandra, can you tell us about how you came to establish Red Paper Kite?
The idea of creating a small press for picture books simply came from a need for more creative space and professional growth; publishing picture books felt like a natural evolution from being an illustrator.
As someone who has also done the ‘double act’ of creator and publisher, I know it’s a steep learning curve, setting up a publishing house. How’s the journey been so far for you?
You are right it is a very steep learning curve!
And it can be overwhelming at times.
As a tiny press, I juggle many facets of the business on my own. Finding the right information is not always easy, you find yourself constantly asking “Am I making the right decision?”
But you do knock on a few doors, and meet amazing people along the way, people who are genuinely interested in making your journey easier. People like you Sophie!
I feel grateful for the support I have received from within the industry – particularly my publisher in the UK (Lantana Publishing), who has been very generous in sharing their journey as a small publisher.
But in truth part of the adventure is figuring things out.
What can you tell us about RPK’s Books?
When I was a child, I used to scribble in all my books. It got me into a lot of trouble, but I firmly argued it was meant to be that way. I wanted that idea to translate into our books by creating books that give permission to our readers to scribble and add to the narrative. So, all our books include colouring pages.
Our readers become the illustrators and authors for a moment, they are part of the story. They can stay with our books a little longer, get to know our characters a little better … It’s a fun experience.
Visual narratives can be understood across the world, but of course different cultures have different approaches to illustration and picture books. What are the differences (and commonalities) that you see between, say, French and Australian picture book traditions and trends? (Please do mention any other picture book cultures you might like to as well!)
In France picture books are more than a childhood phase – there is a love for visual art rooted in our culture that goes beyond age, and so we are huge consumers of picture books – even in our adult life whether you have children or not.
Our cultural heritage definitely influences our approach to illustration; our illustrations can be more poetic, sentimental and censorship is a little broader in France.
But rather than comparing, we can choose to embrace and mix all those differences, aiming at creating a richer reading experience. Because really, who wants to read the same type of books over and over?
What are you looking for, in terms of both texts and illustrations, for Red Paper Kite?
There is no perfect profile, but we are curious about authors and illustrators who don’t feel too mainstream. A little fun, a good dose of quirkiness. Stories that reflect the world we live in.
Stories that will appeal to grown-ups too. A story within a story.
I guess we love stories and people with that little “Je ne sais quoi”.
You will be launching the first Red Paper Kite book in May can you tell us a little about it?
HUGO – The boy with the curious mark, (written by Yohann Devezy and illustrated by Manuela Adreani) is coming out in May.
It’s a sweet story about a boy born with a curious mark, a rainbow.
Hugo’s Rainbow broaches a theme that gets revisited over and over, but with a contemporary edge to it.
His story will teach the importance of acceptance no matter what your difference.
You will love HUGO. Because really, who doesn’t like a rainbow?
How has starting a publishing house impacted on your career as an illustrator? (Or how do you see it impacting it?)
Well … I miss my drawing table!
Hopefully I will get an opportunity to draw again. I still hope to illustrate a few classics, such as Alice in Wonderland or Le Petit Prince.
Can you tell us something about your work as an illustrator, and the books you worked on? How did you start as a professional illustrator?
My career as an illustrator started when I was living in Vancouver, Canada.
I decided to attend art classes at Emily Carr’s University, and Paper Hearts – my first picture book project – was picked up for publishing. It was the beginning of an amazing (and sometimes wonderfully hard!) journey.
After that, I was lucky enough to meet Alice Curry (Lantana Publishing) via the Bologna Children’s book fair which led me to illustrate books about Uganda. It was a wonderful experience, pushing boundaries professionally and culturally – sitting at my desk, I was travelling and discovering a part of the world I didn’t know much about.
What illustrators have influenced you–from childhood to now?
My all-time favourite is Lisbeth Zwerger– her work is pure poetry and her talent is beyond words.