The First Slodge is beautifully written by award-winning Jeanne Willis and illustrated using mixed media, by the highly talented Jenni Desmond and we were lucky enough to grab a short interview with them both. Here’s what Jeanne had to say:
PBB: So why the ‘Slodge’? JW: Why not? It’s a suitably sludgy name for a creature who had recently crawled out the primordial soup. And it alliterates nicely with ‘slime.’
PBB: Did you have a picture of the Slodge in mind and did Jenni come close? JW: Jenni came very close. In fact, I thought Jenni must have found one and taken a photo. She can’t have though, because Slodges are prehistoric, pre-dating T-Rex by millions of years. They’ve evolved now, of course. Their closest living relative is the Hedgeslodge.
PBB: You’ve written many award winners, does this book stand out for you? JW: Thanks for reminding me about my many awards. Glad someone noticed. Yes, this book does stand out for me. Jenni’s illustrations are very different from anything else around and I love the cover design, it really pops out against a sea of colour in a book display and the deceptively simple illustrations compliment my minimalistic text. I’ve tested the story in several schools and the theme of friendship/sharing and the endearing but feisty characters really appealed to them, and there was an audible sigh of relief when the first Slodge was saved from the jaws of the Snork. I always try to get a message into a picture book, whether it’s a sensible one or a silly one.
PBB: Where do you find the inspiration for your picture books? JW: I don’t find inspiration, it finds me. Pursues me hotly, in fact. Who knows from which muddy well my stories spring? The First Slodge may have come from a fascination with evolution and a fondness for pond life, mixed with the desire to be deliciously selfish whilst ironically wishing to share the good things with a like-minded soul of the same species for fear of loneliness and extinction, but I didn’t realise that until after it was written and you asked me to explain myself. It might not be true though. Maybe I simply wrote it in a fit of rage because someone ate my strawberry. Inspiration comes from sources too numerous to mention, so here are a few; childhood fears, memories, illustrations, fascinating facts or things strangers tell me on trains. In truth, it’s possible to make a story out of anything.
PBB: If you were the first person in the universe, what would you do first? JW: Invent an imaginary friend until the real thing came along.
PBB: We think you got the Slodge spot on, how many attempts did it take to get him right? JD: Thank you! To find the Slodge, I drew lots of pencil sketches in my sketchbook of creatures that I thought were a bit splodgy and slodgy and showed them to my editor at Little Tiger. Because she emerges from slime, and her name is Slodge, I envisioned her to be quite blobby, almost like some kind of organic matter. We discussed the sketches and I drew some more, then we discussed them again and I did some coloured ones, and some more and in the end, when we all came to an agreement, this Slodge was born. I like her.
JD: I always work by hand right up until the last minute where I might use a bit of Photoshop. I often paint lots of different papers to use for collage and I use a lot of acrylic paint, watercolour and pencil crayons. Once I found the right colour for the Slodge, I painted lots of pieces of paper with identical shades of slodge-green, then using a lightbox I would trace a pencil sketch of the slodge onto the collage paper and then cut it out and glue it onto the rest of the artwork.
JD: Oh! This question is so hard! Pencil.
JD: Thanks! It took a long time to get the initial pencil sketches right as my editor (Enchanted Lion Books) and I kept batting ideas to each other about how this non-fiction book should play our and I also had to get my blue whale facts correct. When you write a book as well the options are limitless and this is sometimes quite hard as you keep getting excited about new directions the book could go in. The First Slodge was already written by Jeanne, so I already had a story structure in place and only had to think about the images which was lovely. But The Blue Whale took nearly 2 years to do with the final artwork/paint stage taking about 3 months.
PBB: If you were the first person on the universe what would you do first? JD: Build myself a beautiful home with my imaginary amazing carpentry skills.
A huge thank you to Jeanne and Jenni for taking the time to answer our questions, the answers were fascinating and we hope The First Slodge is the first of many collaborations together.