How to Create a Magical Christmas Book

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There are so many wonderful Christmas books around at this time of year, each fantastically festive and unique. In celebration of the wide variety of great Christmas books on offer, we spoke to two of the creators of two very different Christmas books.

Jarvis is the illustrator of Pick a Pine Tree, a beautiful picture-book about the magic festive experience of picking a Christmas tree, written in rhyming verse by Patricia Toht, whilst Laura Wood is the author of four adventure-filled titles in the Poppy Pym Series, including her latest festive title, Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard. Both are award-winning. They talked to us about the detail that goes into creating a Christmas book, what makes the season special, and how you capture that magic in a fantastic festive book.

Jarvis

Jarvis is the creator of Fred Forgets, Alan’s Big Scary Teeth, which won the 2017 V&A Book Illustration award, and Mrs Mole, I’m Home! He is also the illustrator of Ready, Set, Build!, written by Meg Fleming, and Odd Bods, which was authored by Steven Butler and nominated for the prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. His latest book, Pick a Pine Treeis an exquisite festive treat, written in verse by Patricia Toht.

When there are so many Christmas books being published, how do you make yours stand out?
Oh I can’t really think about that, I just try and make a book that would stand out to me. I rely on my instinct, Mrs Jarvis’ opinion and Audrey at Walker books who steadies the ship and looks out for icebergs.

We’re obsessed with your pine trees. How many did you have to create and are they all different?
So many. Oh so many trees. I often come to a project not knowing how I’m going to illustrate it so I spent months trying out different kinds of trees, inky ones, pencil scratchy ones, paper ones, chalk ones, digital ones…and I couldn’t decide which so in the end I think there’s a few of each in there. The main ones are ink trees which I thought captured that organic natural shape.

How do you capture the warmth, magic and excitement of Christmas as an illustrator, in colour and tone?
Well I hope Pick a Pine Tree does that. One of my first illustrations was the car with the tree strapped to the roof. The colours of this initial illustration set the tone for the book. The answer isn’t very magical or exciting, it’s really lots of trial and error!

The illustrations for Pick a Pine Tree are beautifully translucent in places. Why did you choose that style and how did you create it?
I like to use different mediums to make marks. I just think having a mish-mash collage of marks, lines and densities makes the eye bounce around an image, and give it a bit of depth.

What images best represent Christmas to you?
The anticipation of Christmas is what it is all about for the Jarvis household. So that initial image of the family just heading in to the pine tree market captures that anticipation and excitement about what is to come (even though I get my tree from Tesco’s!)

Do you have a favourite Christmas story?
Well…how do you beat The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or his Father Christmas too.

I have a little Christmas story – Me and my sister once went downstairs early on Christmas morning. We were about to open the front room door to see what Father Christmas had brought us, when we heard something…a loud rustling noise. What was it? We concluded that Father Christmas hadn’t quite finished his delivery, we didn’t want to interrupt him, it might spoil the magic…so we waited on the stairs for 30 minutes. When we finally burst in to the living room we were met with a new pet hamster, not Father Christmas…

Let’s settle it once and for all – what is the definitive Christmas tree shape?
The bigger the better obviously!

Jarvis’s previous work – Alan’s Big Scary Teeth and Mrs Mole I’m Home!

Win a signed copy of Pick a Pine Tree by entering our competition by 15th December 2017.

Pick a Pine Tree is published by Walker. Follow Jarvis @heyimjarvis on twitter and @booksbyjarvis on instagram (where you can see lots of his lovely creations!) You can also visit his website here.

 Laura Wood

In 2014 Laura won the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and her first children’s book, Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse, was published the following year by Scholastic. Since then she has written three more hugely successful Poppy Pym books including Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard, which was published for Christmas this year. She recently completed her PhD in English Literature at the University of Warwick.

How do you capture the warmth, magic and excitement of Christmas as an author?
I think the great thing about Christmas stories is that so much of the work is done for you. There are all these brilliant details that you can use that tug at people’s memories and conjure up all those feelings, like a glorious Christmassy-feeling shorthand. Food is a big thing, but so is the idea of being snuggled up in front of a fire when it’s cold and snowy outside. Of course, Christmas is also about being surrounded by the people you love, and so this is a really special book for me because it’s the first time that Poppy has her circus family and her school family all in one place, which I think is lovely.

What time of year did you write Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard? Was it hard to write about Christmas if it wasn’t actually the festive season?
Yes! I wrote it in the summer and it was very strange to be getting in the festive spirit during the warmest time of the year, when we were having a bit of a heatwave. In some ways I quite enjoyed it though… when it was too hot outside it was nice to sit down and dream of snow!

When your festive book is part of a series, what role does Christmas have in developing the story?
Well, structurally it was actually really helpful because the books are set at a boarding school, so it gave me a great opportunity to bring all my characters together for the winter break. I wanted to write a locked room mystery, and a well-timed snowstorm was the perfect answer. It all grew out of that really.

How do you make sure it feels Christmassy throughout the book, even when there’s lots of action taking place?
Leaving space for all the fun, magical things about Christmas is important so I made sure that the locations felt festive, and that there was a party atmosphere around the whole thing. Tinsel and twinkle lights, Turkish Delight, steaming mugs of cocoa, oddly shaped presents wrapped in shiny paper, Christmas carols and snowball fights… there are just so many great things to write about that sit really well alongside all the action.

We love the description of the St Smithens library decorated for Christmas. Is winter your favourite time to read?
I would say there’s never a bad time to read, but winter might be my favourite. There’s nothing better than curling up in front of the fire with a good book. I often find myself returning to old favourites at this time of year, because I want to read things that are cosy and familiar. A nice cup of tea and a biscuit are also important accompaniments!

Do you have a favourite Christmas story?
I love Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas books and I don’t think there’s a more magical book than The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I also love a good festive mystery. This year I’m excited to get stuck into the short story collection, Murder on Christmas Eve.

We also love the descriptions of Christmas food and especially Kip’s foody epilogue. It must be a lot of fun to write! What actually is the best Christmas food of all time?
Oh, but there are so many! It’s tough to choose. I make a really mean mince pie and I think it’s hard to beat that with brandy butter and all the various creams that my mum keeps in the fridge! It was so much fun to write about Kip’s greedy adventures, and I’m sure he’d approve of my choice.

Poppy Pym and the Beastly Blizzard is published by Scholastic. Laura has a website you can visit here, an instagram @lauracwood and twitter @lauraclarewood.

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