The Snatchabook was a wonderful tale that captured my heart so when I saw The Screen Thief was being published, I immediately knew it was one I would love. It also prompted me to check out other titles from Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty!
I am thrilled to be able to share an interview with Thomas Docherty as part of the blog tour!
How did you and Helen start making picture books together? What are the upsides and/or challenges of creating books as a couple?
One of the first things that Helen and I talked about when we met was our favourite picture books. I also discovered that Helen had always wanted to be a writer and had spent hours writing her own stories when she was young. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before we wrote our first book together, Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure. It’s set in a city very much like Bristol, where we were living at the time. Soon after that Helen wrote The Snatchabook, our first rhyming picture book together, and since then our books have gone from strength to strength. We still talk about stories and picture books all the time and now it’s a huge part of both our working lives. Helen’s stories are full of fun, compassion and humour and I love the process of building the visual world around Helen’s words.
The character design of the Snaffle is full of personality – how did you go about creating it?
The words of the story tell us nothing about the Snaffle other than she is small and blue, and since I had never seen a Snaffle before, I had a lot of freedom when it came to deciding what she looks like. I wanted her to be childlike and curious and innocent. Over the course of the book she inadvertently creates a lot of mayhem but this also brings out her vulnerable side. I did loads of sketches to try out different shapes and forms, basing my designs on mixtures of different animals. In the end I settled for the rabbit ears and trunk because of the expressive possibilities that these give. When I came to painting her, I found a particularly nice bottle of blue ink. I re-named it SNAFFLE BLUE and used it only to paint her, and nothing else!
There’s a great reference to The Snatchabook at the beginning of The Screen Thief – what was it like creating The Screen Thief compared to The Snatchabook and your other books with Helen?
The biggest difference with The Snatchabook in particular is that The Screen Thief takes place in the city rather than in the country. It was great fun thinking about the sort of buildings I could draw and include details like buses, adverts and zebra crossings. The action in the story takes us to a library, a cinema, a TV shop and the park, so it really felt like I was planning a whole city. I really enjoy putting in the extra details in our books because I know that children will spot them. Can you find the famous painting for sale in a shop window? A bicycle with only one wheel? A cat cleaning the streets? And do you recognise the board games they are playing in the park?
Could you talk us through a scene from The Screen Thief that you particularly enjoyed illustrating?
The second to last page is set in the park at night. It looks like a party because there are lights hung up and everyone is doing things together. There is a band playing in the bandstand, people dancing, skateboarding, reading, gardening, playing games and relaxing. After drawing most of the book with the characters either staring at their screens or being angry it was lovely to do a picture where everyone was enjoying each other’s company in such a magical setting.
The Screen Thief is full of brilliantly-imagined locations – were there any places in the book that were especially fun to draw?
I enjoyed drawing all the locations, but the cinema was my favourite. I still remember going to the local cinema with my dad when I was young and the grand, old fashioned feel of the place must have left an impression. I love all the red velvet seats, the patterned carpet, the boxes of popcorn and the beam of the projector focused on the screen.
What was your favourite part of creating The Screen Thief?
I love the planning stage of the process where I develop all the ideas and sketch out the pages for the rough draft. It’s exciting to build a whole new world around the story as the characters and scenes slowly come to life.
What do you think the role of reading/drawing/writing might be for getting kids away from their screens?
I’m not against screens and technology at all. There are loads of creative things that children can do with phones and tablets that I would have loved when I was young, like drawing, writing and making films and animations. What is less positive is when screens are used just for passively consuming comercial content. Drawing, reading and writing can be a great way to inspire children to use screens in a creative way to express their ideas, and of course to share them with other people.
The Screen Thief by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty is out now, published by Alison Green Books