Kitty Black and Jess Rose talk about the two picture books in their new ‘Follow Your Feelings’ series: Max and Worry and Lucy and Sad (published Affirm Press)
Kitty Black, author:
Follow Your Feelings began its physical life as a form of procrastination, but I suspect it had been taking shape in the back of my mind for quite a while. I scribbled down the first draft of Lucy and Sad on the back page of the manuscript I was ‘supposed’ to be working on.
I vividly remember the way the words gathered together on the page. It was one of those experiences all writers love, when the words flow easily and it feels right. However, once I really looked at what I’d written, I was torn.
Having studied psychology and worked as wellbeing counsellor in schools, I’d spent a long time telling people I would ‘never write about feelings! Feelings are what I do all day and writing is about escape!’
Honestly, what did I expect.
To my delight and chagrin, I had written the book I’d wanted to read to every child I’d had contact with. The book I wanted to read to my own children. The book I needed as a kid, and also probably more than once or twice as an adult. I had written the book I’d sworn to never write.
Knowing the quality of emotions books currently in the market, I wasn’t sure if mine would find a place. The point of difference between the books I’d been using in my day job and what I’d written lay in emotional acceptance, which seemed like a big concept to smoosh into 32 pages and offer to a child. But, I knew I didn’t want to leave my sad and sweet little story, at that point called ‘What Sad Wanted’, to languish in a notebook.
With some trepidation, I took it to my next writer’s group, deliberately unedited and unread since it had been tossed onto the page. I read it out loud to my group, comprised of mothers, allied health workers and teachers – all experts in the range and depth of kid’s emotions. ‘I need that, give it to me,’ one of them said, laughing but serious, hand held out.
The support of my group was unanimous and confidence boosting. I ran over the manuscript and when I was ready, sent it to my agent. Quickly, especially in publishing time, contracts were signed and I was piecing together more books.
By this stage I had faith in my background, my lived experience and whatever creativity occurs when someone is in the presence of pen and paper. I wanted to write the books, I wanted to write about feelings.
When I saw Jess’s first illustration draft I knew we were making something not just useful, but heartfelt and important. Not to mention utterly adorable! I feel like these books brought both halves of my life together, and I’m grateful for that, and for the opportunity to give my writing group the feelings books we all, definitely, need. And yes, I gave them all copies.
Jess Rose, illustrator:
When I first read the Follow Your Feelings manuscripts I could instantly see the characters and picture plenty of fun to illustrate. I always know it’s going to be a good project when this happens because my imagination is already full of ideas before I even start to drawing anything.
Kitty’s writing is was so lovely, and easy to work with. It balanced humour with more a serious topic of how children handle emotions. I knew we would be a good match because I often like to do the same with my own work.
Creating my characters for both books was the most enjoyable part, I could see them all straight away and as soon as I put pencil to paper they came to life. Sad is definitely my favourite of the characters because he’s just so big and sad but becomes small and needs to be tucked up in bed. In my head he had a little voice from the start and even now when I look at him I can hear his deep gentle voice questioning what biscuits are.
When I got the brief that the books should be black and grey with pops of colour I was even more excited. I love working in this style and balancing minimal colour throughout characters and background spreads.
I think this style makes the books feel really unique and playful. We went through a few different colour combos before we landed on the final colours and I am really happy with how they turned out.
Taking both characters on their emotional journey was an absolute pleasure and I am really happy to see these beautiful stories in print.
About the author
Kitty Black (BSc – Psych, GradDipPsych, MGuidCouns) is a children’s author from Perth. Kitty has a background in psychology and education. Her first picture book, Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf, was published in 2019, followed by A Crocodile in the Family and Mr Bat Wants a Hat.
About the illustrator
Jess Rose is an illustrator and designer living in Yorkshire, England. She has always loved to draw, and what was once a hobby growing up is now her career. She feels incredibly fortunate to get to spend her days doing something she loves this much!