I am so excited to be interviewing the incredible Bethan Woollvin, as part of the blog tour for her new picture book, Three Little Vikings.
Once upon a time, there lived three little Vikings. They were convinced something strange was going on in the village. Why else was there so much bashing and crashing and noises coming from the forest? But Chieftain had an answer for everything and he knew best. Or so he said… Can the girls figure out what’s really going on, and if they can, will they be able to save the day?
As you know we are HUGE fans of Bethan’s books, particularly I Can Catch a Monster. This latest book is another fresh and original fairy tale with an empowering message for young girls. The three brave little Viking work together and stand up for what they think is right. My daughter loves Bethan’s striking and recognisable art style and we loved all the little clues hidden in the illustrations.
I couldn’t wait to interview Bethan to find out more about the book and her work as an illustrator…
Hi Bethan, please can you tell us a little bit about the book and the inspiration behind it?
The very first ideas for my new tale, Three Little Vikings came together in early 2020, after doing some fascinating research into Viking history and folklore. The plan was to create another original tale centred around an era in history, just the same as my previous tale, I Can Catch a Monster, which is set in a medieval kingdom. At first, I was drawn to Norse mythology associated with the Vikings, but this took a sharp left turn when I discovered that many Vikings believed in, feared and protected themselves against all kinds of mythical creatures!
Finding this absolutely fascinating, I steadily began to develop my story to include a horrid forest dwelling creature who lived within this Viking world. But how would the Vikings rid themselves of this horrid creature? (cue three tenacious shield maidens…). Naturally, like all of my protagonists, my shield maidens would be feisty, brave and full of wit, just what the Viking village would need with a destructive creature on the loose! Soon enough, I had created Helga, Ebba and Wren, my heroic Viking trio.
Helga, Ebba and Wren discover that something is amiss in the Viking village long before anyone else. That something is stomping around at night causing chaos and destruction! But despite raising the alarm and telling the Chieftain, the Viking trio simply cannot get their voices heard.
Women and young girls know the feeling all too well of having your voice ignored by men, and it’s not acceptable.
My aim for this book was to encourage young readers to challenge authority, question the world around them, and to stand up and do something – even if your voice isn’t being heard.
What comes first for you, the words or the pictures?
During the early stages of a book idea, I often do a lot of writing and doodling in tandem, usually in the form of a storyboard. I’m a visual storyteller, and I love to use illustrations to my advantage, challenging myself to tell as much of the story within the illustrations as I can. I think this encourages readers to really engage with a book, as they need to focus on the illustrations as well as reading along to fully understand the story. While I’m storyboarding, I might be thinking of words or refrains to include alongside the illustrations, but generally my ideas for the text and illustrations come together quite naturally and simultaneously.
My daughter and I loved the shadows in spread two with the hint of a forest monster. Do you like to put little clues like this in your books?
I love putting clues within my illustrations! It’s essentially a storytelling tool that I use as a type of puzzle for my young readers to work out. I drop clues like breadcrumbs throughout my books, which might be in the form of objects, creatures or side-eye glances. Sometimes the clue might be that an object or creature is missing entirely! If the clue is essential to the story, I usually highlight them in a bold colour to make them stand out for the reader.
By giving my books this interactive element, it gives my readers a real sense of achievement when they spot something important. This way, they can work out the significance of the clue to the story. These special moments are what I think about when I’m creating books, all with the purpose to encourage pleasure in reading.
Your limited colour palettes makes all your books so recognisable and my daughters adore your illustrations. How do you decide which colours to use?
I’m often experimenting with colour palettes long before I pick up a paintbrush and begin the final artwork. It can take a while to pick a combination that works for the book, but I usually begin experimenting with my colour swatch booklets and pairing good colour combinations. I like to pin up swatches on my studio wall and let them sit a while before making any decisions.
Often my colour palette is directed by an item, character or part of an environment which might need to be illustrated in a certain colour to be recognised. This is a really important factor in choosing colour. For example – you might not want to illustrate fire in green, as it’s not a colour we associate with heat and warmth.
I also like to use colour in the complete opposite way (I know, very confusing). I sometimes use colours you wouldn’t associate with the setting or the time period. For example, when we think about the Viking era, we think of neutral colours – black, browns, greens and greys. When picking the colour palette for Three Little Vikings, I experimented with colour especially to use very bright, modern colours to visualise the era in a new way.
What appeals to you about creating fairy tales?
There’s just something about fairytales, isn’t there? I remember that my grandparents would often buy me a fairytale compendium for Christmas, which became a bit of a tradition in my household. Fairytales captivate me, even now. A perfect mixture of royalty, magic, witches, fanciful kingdoms and of course – evildoers, come together to make such brilliant tales. Even with a lack of any slightly interesting female protagonists, I still enjoyed reading fairytales!
I believe that part of the appeal of fairytales is probably to do with the historic time periods they originate from. Humans are fascinated by history, and what came before us, and these tales transport us back to eras that we can hardly imagine. I like to remember too, that these tales only exist today because they’ve been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years!
But for me, the biggest appeal is the darkness of traditional tales. Parents don’t think twice about giving children traditional tales to read, because they’ve been created for and read by children for hundreds of years. I remember reading these tales as a child and realising how much darker they were to the other books I had been reading – and I loved them for that. Reading them almost made me feel mischievous, as if my parents had messed up by giving me a grown up book.
In a world where so many things are softened for children, traditional tales stand out as the complete opposite. That’s why I love writing my own dark, subverted or original tales for children, now, because as a child it’s absolutely what I would have loved to read.
What is your favourite traditional fairy tale?
My favourite traditional fairy tale has to be Hansel & Gretel, which if you read the Brothers Grimm version, is an incredibly dark story. It starts out sweet, with two children coming across a gingerbread house in a forest, covered in confectionary, only to realise that this is essentially a trap by a wicked old witch who plans to eat Hansel & Gretel for her dinner. As a story, I loved the coming together of two siblings to defeat the witch, but my favourite part was always where Gretel pushed the witch into the oven. Hilarious! And it serves that horrid witch right!
What advice would you give to someone trying to become an author-illustrator?
I think one of the most valuable pieces of advice I can give, is to work and keep working on the way you tell your stories, whether visually or with words. The way in which you deliver your story will be unique to you and that’s what will make your stories special.
For those who wish to become author/illustrators, try to experiment with the relationship between text and illustrations and how they can work together. This way the illustrations and text will work together to elevate the story, instead of repeating the same information.
For example, when I’m creating books I’m often trying to take full advantage of the text and illustrations. My text could say one thing, but I could illustrate extra details which give you a little more story, illustrate silent clues that aren’t mentioned in the text, or even convey the complete opposite of the text. This gives you as the creator, the perfect opportunity to add in pockets of humour, sub plots, and little secret pieces of information for your readers to pick up on. You might find that readers even engage with your story more, if there’s extra things to spot and hidden clues to figure out.
Thank you so much for chatting with me, Bethan!
Three Little Vikings is published by Two Hoots, 22 July 2021
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour!
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary review contains my honest opinion.