It is no secret that we are hugely fond of Alice Melvin and her beautiful illustrative style. Ever since we fell in love with the intricate drawings in The High Street (Tate Publishing, £9.99) we have been desperate to quiz Alice and find out more about her. Not only is she a mighty mama of two running the gauntlet of work vs parenting, she is also so lovely, welcoming and humble.
We nearly fell off our chair when Alice agreed to contribute to our blog and here is the end result, complete with her original illustrations and photographs. If you have ever wondered how a book comes together or where inspiration comes from then read on, it is the loveliest story of a memorable childhood and let's face it, we are all trying to create that for our own kids. Thank you Alice, we are smitten.
If this feast isn't enough then head on over to our Instagram feed to enter a competition to win a signed copy of The High Street. Good luck!!!
The High Street
The High Street, my third book for Tate, was inspired by childhood passions. Growing up, I loved miniature worlds, and spent many an afternoon creating houses and shops out of cardboard boxes. I would get completely absorbed in the detail: papering the walls with wrapping paper, finding pretty patterned fabric for the curtains, and making teeny-weeny books for the little bookcases! I also had a collection of tiny tin houses that I would open with great care and excitement to reveal hidden interiors executed in painstaking detail.
My background is in book art; and my book concepts often emerge as physical objects rather than narratives. So The High Street, began life as many blank paper mock-ups which I used to work out how to evoke, through a book, the experience of walking down the High Street. I wanted to capture the experience of peering into the windows, and of discovering what lay behind the shops’ front doors. The story, and the words came after that – thought up by my husband Will and I over many cups of tea in Edinburgh’s lovely cafes. (This was before the birth of our first child, so there was a lot more time to indulge in creative processes in such conducive environments!)
Once I had sorted the framework of the text and the physical format of the book, I began to draw. It was an epic illustration task, and took over a year to complete. I originally underestimated the amount of work required; but, thankfully, Tate were very understanding when the artwork deadline kept getting pushed back!
My original intention had been to screenprint the artwork, as I had done with my previous titles. But, as I worked on the drawings they started to develop in a new direction. I began scanning my ink drawings and assembling the compositions on a computer. Colour and texture were added digitally to my scanned drawings of all the various elements – crates of tiny tomatoes, bunches of flowers , trays of buns, etc. These were then gradually built into the finished pages. This process led to some rather huge Photoshop files, as I kept everything saved in separate layers which I juggled around until the page looked just right. It was a very laborious, time-consuming process - cups of tea and a huge library of audio books saved my sanity whilst I worked!
Weaved into The High Street are aspects of my own life. For example, upstairs in the Mr Hughes’ Hardware Shop can be found (a youthful version of!) my woodwork-loving dad, Hugh, making a dolls’ house based on the one he made for me in real life. Mrs Millard in the Music shop is based on my husband’s Nan, Christine Millard. And Sally visits Foggin’s Sweetshop just as I did as a child on the way home from school. The real Foggin’s, a newsagent run by the kindly Mr Foggin bore little resemblance to the grand sweet emporium Sally visits; but, to a schoolgirl, the row of tantalising sweet jars behind the newspaper counter was just as wonderful.
One problem with working so intensively on a project over such a large period of time was that my drawing style changed and evolved during this time. Therefore I had to re-draw sections of earlier illustrations in order to keep the book stylistically coherent. If there had been no publication date looming over me, I might still be working on The High Street, forever adding extra little details!
The High Street was a wonderful project to work on, and I still have to pinch myself that something I have created has actually been published. Having been passionate throughout my life about children’s books, I feel honoured and humbled when I hear from complete strangers that my books have a special place in their lives.