Category Archives: Illustrator

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

Hi Emma, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019