What do a spoon, an action toy and a biscuit have in common? If you have no clue, ask your children. I’m pretty sure they will point you in the right direction. Behind the egg that wants to fly, a little mouse that becomes a detective and a never-ending friendship between a spoon and a dish there is one woman: Mini Grey. Acclaimed Oxford-based children’s book author.
Once you’ve opened her books, you just want to embrace every page and discover one after the other – her style is exceptional, between comic-strips, collages and drawings she lays out a world into which you plunge and never want to get out.
My favourite one? To be completed honest with you, I devoured them all with pleasure – and sadness that they all find an end. Perhaps that’s why I’m particularly in love with her last book (published in March 2014) Hermelin, the Detective Mouse. Indeed, the last pages awoke in me the secret hopes that this adventure might continue. As French I like the “British” atmosphere in the Offley street (which actually looks a lot like our street in Oxford) with all these cute neighbours that have lost something dear to them. I was (and still am) “sous charme” by our little Hermelin Mouse. He assumed the role of the detective for everyone. During the last pages my fingers got clammy: How would the people react towards a mouse as guardian angel?
I cannot hide it, I strongly recommend to you to offer Hermelin, the Detective Mouse to your child – or to yourself if you are still in love with your childhood. And if you can’t get enough, what about Three by the sea, which is my second in the top three list, just before Traction Man is here (picture cover below).
But now it’s time, not only to talk about me, but to let Mini Grey talk about herself and her passion: writing and illustrating books for children.
MINI IN 15 SECONDS
* Describe yourself in 5 words
Biscuit-obsessed, experimental, distracted, messy and disorganised.
*Why would you not change your job as a children’s writer?
Well it is quite brilliant to be able to make stories about absolutely anything you want (provided my publisher likes them too), and having a job you’d do just for the fun of it even if you weren’t paid has got to be a bit of a privilege.
*Your favourite place in one of your books
I think perhaps it is the rock pool in Traction Man & the Beach Odyssey. I love rock pools and the way they seem to be a whole world in miniature.
*Your best friend in one of your books
I would like Biscuit Bear to be my friend. The story originally came from my desperate longing (when I was a child) for my own home-made bear-shaped biscuit to come to life.
“What you pay attention to is what you get more of.”
(sorry about the bad grammar!)
MINI AND HER WORK
*How does it feel to begin the adventure of a new book and which comes first, illustration or text?
The very beginning of a new story starts with suspending disbelief and just not worrying whether it will work or not, just seeing what will happen when you explore an idea. I go plundering about looking for a starting place – nursery rhymes and fairy tales are fertile hunting grounds. I sort of think of a question and try to collect lots of ideas about it – I doodle little pictures of the ideas. I collect everything in my sketch books – doodles, scribbles, newspaper cuttings, inspiring pictures, sweet wrappers, anything. If it turns into a story I am overjoyed – getting the story to work is the trickiest bit. With picture vs text – it is very different from book to book. For The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon, the story started with asking the question: What things could a dish and a spoon do together?
*How do you work out the illustrations between drawings, cartoons or newspapers extracts?
The picture has just as much work to do at telling the story as the words have. Maybe more! So it’s working out the ingredients to visually put across the story that needs to be told. Cutting and sticking and collaging is lots of fun too, of course.
*What do you hope children (and parents) to feel when they read your books?
I think the test of a good picture book is whether, when you finish it, you feel you’ve been somewhere else entirely.
*Dish and Spoon, Hermelin Mouse, Traction Man – where did you find them?
The Dish & Spoon escaped from a well-known nursery rhyme, Traction Man was based on my brother’s action toy, and Hermelin started off as an interestingly packaged brand of cheese from Prague.
*The end of your last book Hermelin, the Detective Mouse gives us the impression that there will be a next episode, would you like to make a series like Traction Man?
Well, it would be an interesting thing to try!
To explore more: http://minigrey.com/