Elys Dolan is an author and illustrator based in Cambridge where she studied children’s book illustration. Elys Dolan works predominantly with ink, newfangled digital witchcraft and coloured pencils of which she is apparently the proud owner of 178. When not doing pictures and making things up Elys Dolan says that she enjoys growing cacti, working on her PhD about funny picture books and eating excessive amounts of fondant fancies. Her work has been recognised with numerous awards, she is the winner of the Zena Sutherland Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature 2015, Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2014, Nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2014, 2015, 2017, shortlisted for The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013, Second place in the Macmillan Prize 2011, Shortlisted for Waterstone’s Picture This 2011. Please enjoy my interview with the wonderful Elys Dolan…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
Children’s author and illustrator’. Then people either go ‘awww that must be lovely’, as if my job is cuddling puppies, or shrug and walk off.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My Mum reading me and my brothers In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. She did the voices.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
That’s a big ask to think of one book that will cover all of the young people. How young are these people? Are they 5? Are they 25? Either way, I think there’ll be a laugh for any age in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Stupid Fairy Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith and I’d say go for that one young people.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I worked in a bar for a bit. I didn’t mind it too much but I’m partially deaf and it was a very loud place so I never really heard the orders. A lot of people got the wrong drinks but I usually managed to convince them that really Cinzano was what they wanted, they just might not have known it at the time.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Not at all. I spend an awful lot of time making books. The illustration side is particularly time-consuming. That really eats into the time I should spend reading them.
Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury and all the illustrated kids books you can get your mitts on.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
The Where’s Wally Books by Martin Handford. I just can never find that elusive stripy guy. Curse you, Wally!
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I’m always telling people to read Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant. It’s a really densely illustrated picture book full of great animal characters and varied places. It’s one of those books where you can go back to it and always find something you didn’t spot before.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Of course, I’m a big picture book/highly illustrated young fiction fan but I’m not sure you can call those genres. I’m a bit of an escapist, I think that’s why I write and illustrate, so I’m always a big fan of fantasy but don’t tell anyone. I’m still trying to pretend I’m cool.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Well, I’d be an unemployed vagrant for starters. All that creative energy would have to go somewhere so I think we’d have an even more varied world of film, television, games etc.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
There are a fair few children’s authors who I’m always keen to see what they’ve done next. I love Meg McLaren’s hilarious picture books, I can’t wait to see the next world created in the Reeves and McIntyre young fiction books and I’ve been holding my breath for the next Geis from Alexis Deacon.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I don’t think so. Especially with illustrated books so much of the appeal comes from the book as an artefact. The feel of the paper, the turning of the page and even the smell are part of the experience. These things make a book a desirable object to own, not just a convenient repository of information.
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
This country wants to take a long, hard look at The Island by Armin Greder and probably The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Frankly, we could do with a laugh too so go and read Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long.
That’s hard to say and I’ll probably give a different answer to this tomorrow but for now, I’d say The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I’ve got strong memories of my Mum reading me a chapter from it each night and I think that’s when I realised how rich the alternate worlds that books create can really be.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
If you’d like to know how picture books are made do go and have a look at How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex. It’s very accurate.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I don’t have a plan. Do you make a plan? Do people plan this stuff?
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Colouring In and Lying to Kids: Confessions of a Children’s Author.