The Making of Grandad's Secret Giant with the Award-Winning David Litchfield
last updated 10 April 2017
David Litchfield is an award winning children’s author and illustrator: His books are always something to look forward to, and after the success of The Bear and the Piano, you could say he had a challenge on his hands!
I urge every parent to buy a copy of David’s new picture book. It’s a story about acceptance, described and illustrated in such an empathetic way, and on a subject that isn’t easy to explain. It feels ever more prevalent that we teach our children in every way possible, that being different from one another is absolutely okay.
David thought of this book idea a long time ago — before The Bear and the Piano was even a twinkle in his eye… (well almost!) Here he talks about the journey, the development and how it all came to be… LM
DL“I had the very beginnings of the idea a fair few years ago. I liked the idea of trying to keep a big Giant secret in modern day suburban settings and having him hide behind houses and lamp posts and things. Once this initial idea started forming I decided to create some drawings based around this concept of hiding the giant. This was a few years ago and I wasn’t yet a full time illustrator but I was working as a teacher and creating the drawings in the evenings.
I made three or four images based around this idea and I really liked them so I put them on-line to get some feedback. Lots of people seemed to like the drawings, particularly the one of the Giant hiding in the city. It got shared around social media quite a bit. In fact, I owe this image a lot as this particular image was seen by Creative Managing Agent, Anne Moore Armstrong (@childbookart) on twitter and it prompted her to get in touch and talk to me about signing to Bright. Which was amazing.
Read more about Creative Managing Agent, Anne Moore-Armstrong in From Art School to Publication: Why Having an Agent is Key. A mini blog series also featuring David’s journey into picture book illustration.
Anyhoo, I came up with a very loose story based around the drawings I had. It was about a Grandad who is travelling the world one day and finds the Giant hiding in a forest in Peru. He feels sorry for the Giant and attempts to sneak him home to England with him so they could be friends forever. That was literally all I had in terms of story. It obviously needed a lot of work. Also, the character of the Giant was super scary looking and just looked totally weird.
Soon after Anne signed me up to Bright, I was invited to pitch some book ideas to the publisher, Frances Lincoln. So I took the Giant drawings and the story idea along, and pitched the idea to them. This is the same meeting that I also pitched The Bear and the Piano, which is the one they obviously asked me to develop first, and not the giant story that I had been thinking about for so long. None the less, they did see a spark in the Secret Giant story and asked me to keep it on the back burner and be thinking about it whilst also working on The Bear & The Piano.
Whilst making The Bear and the Piano I was learning so much and I was able to use this new found knowledge regarding story telling and character design in the eventual development of Grandad’s Secret Giant.
So when the time came to really focus on the new book the story had changed quite considerably and the Giant had undergone a complete make over; he became more appealing and less terrifying.
It’s a bit strange really, because The Bear and the Piano happened really quickly and the idea for that book and how it came together was pretty smooth. Whereas, I feel Grandad’s Secret Giant has been on much more of a journey. I’m super happy with how the end result has turned out and I personally feel that the whole project — from those very first sketches to the final design of the book, has been one massive learning curve for me as a picture book maker.
I have always thought that every good book, film or piece of art should have a meaningful message within the story, even if it’s hidden in a metaphor. I thought that this story was a great opportunity to express an idea of accepting people for who they are and also accepting yourself for who you are. I also think the book is about embracing your oddness. Your oddness is what makes you you after all.
I do obviously try and teach my own children as much as I can about tolerance, acceptance and friendship. And maybe this does also merge in to my story ideas. But I also think that children’s books in general teach us so much in terms of human values and I think that is why they are rightly celebrated so much.
With both my own books and the books I draw for other authors, I will start by creating some character designs. I try and create a few versions of each of the characters. I then discuss these with the editor and art director on the book and we decide which designs will work best.
I then will draw a ‘rough’ which is basically a sketched out version of the entire book. Again this will be looked at by the editor and art director and together we iron out any issues with the compositions, the layout or the pace of the story.
Once we are all generally happy with this stage I will then start to create the artwork. However, even at this stage things can change and the idea or design will be tweaked. In fact all the way up to the very last few moments before the book gets sent off to print, changes will happen.
The whole process is all a total collaboration. Even though it is my name on the front of the book, there are a number of incredibly talented and clever people involved in bringing these books to life.
Do you test your ideas out on your little boy? (great to have a captive audience!)
“Ha ha… I do actually. I show him the drawings when I’m working on them and I know from his reaction if we are on to a winner or not. If he really looks at the drawing for a while and asks me a lot of questions I know I’m on the right track. He is at a very good age now in terms of running ideas by him (he’s coming up to five) and recently he is actually starting to offer some very good and structured critique. Some of it can be quite cutting; like the other day he said that the tortoise I drew looked too much like a frog. I was completely devastated.” DL
If you’d like to read more about the making of Grandad’s Secret Giant, you can do so here.
Watch his TedX talk!
And if you’d like to work with David, you can get in touch via his agent, Anne Moore-Armstrong here.