TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori is an award-winning picture book author-illustrator and has written and illustrated numerous picture books.

About her life and her work Debi Gliori says:

“I can still remember the first time I fell into a story; falling to such an extent that the real world, the world with its smell of dancing dust, the world of sunshine highlighting the imperfections in the Victorian glass of the windows of our house in Glasgow, the world of my mother cooking far away downstairs in the kitchen, the world of muted traffic outside on the Great Western Road; all this fell away as I turned the pages of the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows and stepped into the world of Mole and Ratty, taking the first steps that led, many years later, many miles of words both written and read, to the place where I am now, a writer of stories.

Of course I didn’t know then that I would write stories. All I knew then was that I loved reading them. For me stories were brothers, sisters and friends; filling the long hours between childhood and adolescence, holding up a true mirror in which I might find out who I was, rather than a distorted reflection of who I was expected to become.

Growing up a lonely only child prepared me for the years of solitude spent as a writer; years spent in the company of people who don’t exist, imaginary people you have conversations with. It’s a paid form of madness, this writing stuff. Salaried insanity, I guess, though not much salary was involved at the beginning, as I recall. Back then, we ate a heck of a lot of lentils, ignored the fact we could see our breath inside the house during winter, and dragged on another sweater instead of turning up the thermostat. I’ve written stories in a succession of damp, drafty, miles-from-anywhere-therefore-relying-on-rusting-car-to-get-kids-to-school cottages; I’ve squeezed my illustrator’s studio into one dimly-lit bonsai cupboard after another, and I’ve met pressing deadlines with my fax machine balanced on top of the toilet, and my drafting table perched at the top of a staircase so cold, I had to wear gloves to stop my hands from seizing up in the icy atmosphere. Oh, yes, cough, wheeze, I’ve suffered for my art.

Not that much, though. These days I work in a toasty light-drenched studio tucked in a corner of the garden between the compost bins, the logpile and the raspberry canes. Despite the fact the studio looks out of five windows onto a picture perfect view of sky, hills and wide open spaces, I work with my blinds firmly drawn, daylight filtered through their white canvas, a painterly northern light falling through two big skylights above my table, and nothing visible outside to distract me.

This is because I’m trying to see my characters in my head. I’m hoping that they will not only appear, but will also express themselves loudly and unselfconsciously within range of my hearing. At least, that’s the plan. While I wait for my characters to show up, I sit with a fountain pen in my left hand and give a good impression of being a writer. I write. I score out what I’ve written and I re-write. I score out parts of that and I re-draft it. I fill my fountain pen with ink it probably doesn’t need yet, and polish its nib on a bit of hoarded blotting paper. I stare into space and sigh a lot. I write something, read it, and score it out. I re-write it, remove all the adjectives and then put them back, one by one. I score that out with rather unseemly force, and then start a new paragraph. . . .

It’s a very dull thing to watch, a writer at work. So dull that whole casts of characters show up just to watch the boring writer, writing. The characters blow into their cupped hands, shuffle their feet and chat to each other, while the writer avidly eavesdrops on their conversations, rapidly transcribing what is being said and what he or she can glean from a series of furtive glances in the character’s direction.

There are great days...and then there are days I’d swap jobs with anyone. There are whole months at a time when my head is so full of ideas that I wake in the middle of the night and lie in the dark telling myself stories. There are also long dark nights when I just know I’ll never write another word, I’m finished, empty, a husk. . . . Oh dear, yes, twitch, yawn, how I’ve suffered insomnia for my art.

I write at a desk which wraps itself round 2 walls of my studio. This desk is a complete tip–littered with paper, manuscript clips, pens, unpaid bills, bits of computer paraphenalia, a massive desk diary, two laptops, a cardboard cut-out of one of my picture-book characters, a tax demand, drawings, notes, photos of castles on the West coast of Scotland and postcards of lighthouses. When I’m illustrating books rather than writing them, I move to a drawing board tucked in a corner on the other side of my studio, a space that is far tidier, a space where I sit surrounded by preparatory character drawings in pencil and watercolour on one wall, and heaps of photos of my five children on the other.

Nowadays I have a fairly good idea of who I am, and I’m no longer bored, stuck between childhood and adolescence, waiting for my life to begin. I still read a lot; the mirror of words still has many things to show me. But now I’m the mother, cooking in the kitchen, and my children, and other people’s children are the ones falling into the world of words. And guess what? Some of those words are mine.”

From Random House Inc.


Books Illustrated: