I am really delighted to share with you all an interview with Jo Loring-Fisher on her new book, Taking Time, which draws on principles of mindfulness. Now more than ever, I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate the people and world around us.
Taking Time is a fantastic introduction to the principles of mindfulness for children. This gentle, illustrated poem invites children from all walks of life, to take the time to appreciate all the wonderful things around us. From the sound of the sea, to the shape of a snowflake. And most importantly, to take the time to cherish one another. Each and every time I read this book, I am left feeling calm and grateful for all the wonderful things in the world.
You can read my review of the book here.
Hello, Jo, and thank you for “taking the time” to share your thoughts, journey and insights with us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about the book and the inspiration behind it?
I wrote Taking Time when I was out walking the dog in my old home of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I often write when I am walking, jotting ideas down on the Notes app on my phone, which I later email to myself. I was specifically writing for Lantana Publishing, who I had just completed illustrating Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, for. I was looking up at the trees watching birds, when the concept came to me.
I knew I wanted the work to be multi-cultural and about the things that connect us as humans. We always hear about our cultural differences, but I feel there are so many more similarities than differences, between us.
I like that a child in the UK could see a flock of birds and appreciate them in the same way that a child in Ecuador could, for example.
I didn’t consciously write the text as a poem about mindfulness, it was my publisher Alice Curry, that saw this. I love that another person can see something in my work, and of course, she was right! Those moments that make us stop and notice something outside of ourselves, are so important. As a child, I was always the one to point out the spider spinning a web on the way to school, or a fern leaf unfurling and I am unchanged in that way. When I feel stressed or my mood is a bit low, taking a walk in the open with my dog, Flossie, always helps.
Why do you feel the principals of mindfulness are important for children?
Although mindfulness is an innate skill in many ways, I think it has been lost because we are all under so much pressure and this, unfortunately, applies to children. Consciously bringing mindfulness to our attention in a simple way and accessible way, is important, I feel. I like the idea that parents or carers can sit quietly with a child, look at each spread and pause to discuss the words and images and perhaps chat about how this relates to the child. For example, what does he or she see on the way to school? What does it feel like when you bury your hand in your dog’s fur? I hope that it will do the same for the adults sharing the book as well. We all need a bit of that!
I think the skills of mindfulness are so lost to us they can be hard to relearn, but they really are a life skill and I hope that Taking Time is a gentle way to encourage this.
Each line of the poem invites us to take time to reflect on an aspect of the natural world and I love how you’ve have showcased different cultures (and keepsakes!) in the illustrations. Can you give us an insight into how you decided on the art work for each line? Do you have a favourite spread?
Sometimes an idea comes to me as words first and other times it’s images that take the lead. When I’m working the images out I might jot down a very rough sketch. These are then turned into thumbnails-tiny illustrations that allow you to put together your ideas and help you to see how the spreads will work as a whole. Some images come to me very easily and remain pretty much unchanged, and other times I am unsure of how they will be until I work on them. It was like this with the Ecuador image, where I had a rough idea, but the finished image came to me as I was putting it together.
I knew I wanted to show a child from a different nation in each spread. It was my husband, who lived in Tanzania for a spell, who told me about the fisherwomen there who stride out into the sea to cast their nets. We both felt it would make a beautiful image, and it was one of the first I came up with. It is also the cover of Taking Time, but I changed it slightly and added one of the boats typical of the region, so as to maintain the impact of the spread within the book.
I love vibrant colour and with my love of the natural world, I look to paint subjects that I enjoy and know I can make visually impactful, Taking Time was a complete dream in that respect! I like to add a bit of magic in my work and snow is a favourite subject matter (this will be featuring strongly in another book I have coming out early 2021). I wanted to feature as many different types of landscapes as possible, such as the jungle and the desert. I visited Ecuador many years ago, and the man with the little girl in that image-watching the flock of macaws, is based on my late uncle who was on that trip with me. He was also an artist and an inspiration to me. I like to add personal elements to my work, as well as items that are symbolic in some way. My daughter suggested that I included the Northern Lights and that was a great idea!
I think the image I like the best is the one set in the desert. I like to show sensitivity in my male characters and seek ways to do this. I like how the little boy’s hand rests tenderly on his father’s, there is an intimacy there, and his little bare foot. I love children’s bare feet!
Here are some of the thumbnails for Taking Time. The final images are very similar to these ones.
Did you always want to be a writer and illustrator?
Yes, I did, but it took me a long time to get here. I have done many jobs, but the most important one was raising my four children, three of whom are now adults. I’ve been a nurse, a child minder, worked with older people in the community and in a specialist palliative care day centre, been employed as a retail assistant and personnel manager, an exams invigilator and a library assistant! But always, always I held onto the dream of illustrating and writing for children.
Can you tell us about your experience completing an illustration degree and MA and your publishing journey?
I decided to study art when I was about 24, before that I had spent a year training to be a nurse in London before deciding it wasn’t for me. I found myself working in retail as a stop gap and I ended up going into human resources, which I quite enjoyed, but it was never going to fulfil me. Art was always my favourite subject and the one I was best at, and so I decided to study it further. I did a year-long foundation course, which I absolutely loved – it was the best part of all my art education experience and I appreciated it all the more for having worked for a few years beforehand.
I then went to what was Norwich School of Art and Design at the time, now NUA, initially studying Fine Art. During the next three years I had two children and returned to the college, switching to illustration, which I much preferred. I had great training there. I went on to have two more children, and this and life took over, making it very hard to develop my career. I found this very hard, but when I discovered the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and was offered a place, it was the turning point. The course was tough and demanding, but it taught me so much and because of its reputation, helped to get my work noticed. It was on their stand at the Bologna Book Fair that my work got noticed.
Alongside Taking Time, you’ve also illustrated another Lantana book, Maisie’s Scrapbook written by Samuel Narh. Is it different illustrating your own text versus someone else’s?
It is quite different, yes. In some ways it can be easier and in other ways it isn’t! With Maisie’s Scrapbook, I needed to speak to Samuel to understand the cultural references, such as the character of Ananse, who features in many African tales and who he used in Maisie’s Scrapbook. Luckily, he was pleased with what I produced! The book allowed me to make big, sweeping landscapes, which I always love to do.
What advice would you give to aspiring author/illustrators?
I would say to practice their craft. Draw lots from observation and persevere.
I advise my daughters, who have chosen to take a similar route as me, to learn other skills so they can earn a living, because it can be hard to do that in the creative industries. Research children’s books wherever you can, and don’t assume that because the work is for children that it is easy, it isn’t!
The industry is highly competitive. When your work is rejected-that goes with the territory, try not to let it get you down. It can be extremely hard and frustrating but use the time to hone your skills and be patient. Always be polite and friendly. Using social media can be good, but it can also give you the false sense that everyone but you, are doing well. I try to limit the content that I look at for that reason.
What’s next for you, in terms of writing/illustrating projects?
As well as Taking Time, I have two more picture books publishing in the next few months. Just Like You is due out in August and published by Otter-Barry Books. The other is with Frances Lincoln, and about a little girl who is having a tough time at school. I have just finished that one and I’m now developing some new ideas, which is exciting.
Thank you so much, Jo! I can’t wait to read your upcoming books.
Due to the current global pandemic, Lantana have had to make the difficult decision to delay the UK publication date of Taking Time. But there is good news! It is still available to buy through their website!
Buy Now from Lantana!
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Publication date: 12 September 2020 (Mindfulness Day)
More about Jo:
As a child, Jo’s favourite pastime was drawing and writing stories. She grew up in Sussex, close to Ashdown Forest where Winnie-the-pooh was written and felt that forest’s magic! She now lives in the beautiful city of Bath with her husband, and two younger daughters. The natural world inspires her greatly. She also loves to people-watch and living in a city gives her lots of opportunities to do just that!
Being passionate about art and children’s books, Jo finds it wonderful to be able to spend her time combining the two. As a mum of four, Jo has spent many an hour sharing her love of books with her children and has witnessed the impact this has had on them.
Jo has a BA in Illustration from Norwich School of Art (NUA) and holds an MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art. Jo’s work is comprised of drawing, printmaking, painting and collage.