Interview with Sally Anne Garland

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Paper Ren did a lovely interview with Sally Anne Garland, who authored and illustrated Nook and Stuck Inside. You can find more interviews with authors and illustrators and reviews on their website, including reviews on both Nook and Stuck Inside.

– Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an author-illustrator?

“I studied illustration and graphic design at Edinburgh College Of Art. After graduating my first job was designing prints for children’s fabrics and clothing, after which I worked as an in-house graphic/surface designer for a number of other retail companies. I always had a passion for children’s book illustration and about 11 years ago, I was signed up with Advocate Art Ltd as a children’s book illustrator. Eventually I also began writing my own stories and became part of the Caroline Wakeman Literacy Agency.”


– Your latest book,  explores themes such as friendship and kindness. What motivated you to write and illustrate this book?

“In my son’s old school playground, there was a number of old trees that were the focus of a lot of play and gave a steady supply of sticks and leafs to have all sorts of fun with. One particular tree grew very close to the fence and had a deep hollow that was a perfect seat and faced away from the noise and chaos of the playground. It was kind of a secret nook where a child could sit if they wanted to be alone. Maybe they felt a bit unwell, a bit shy or maybe had sensory difficulties and sitting in the hollow made them feel a bit safer and calmer. There seemed to be an unwritten rule in the playground that sitting in this hollow meant you needed to be by yourself and amazing this was largely respected with just the occasional check from another child; usually with the silent proffering of something to tempt whoever was in the nook out. A simple, kind gesture I saw happen a number of times and I included in one of the illustrations in the book where the little fox tries to coax Nook out to play with a twig.

I always thought this particular tree looked like it was hugging whoever sat in it and grew deliberately with its back to the playground, like a sort of protective, understanding friend. I think most of us from time to time feel the need for a reassuring hug. It is not only an emotional but also a sensory need that has the effect of producing calming hormones in our bodies. For some children, like Nook, the need for deep pressure by hugging tightly, squeezing into tight spaces and pressing against things, is especially important when coping with a challenging environment. I made this the main characteristic of Nook and I imagined her sitting in the hollow of that tree and in small spaces like boxes and the corners of a playroom. I then thought it would nice to write a wee story around themes of inclusion, friendship and kindness based around her little character.

“Everyone has their own uniqueness that has the potential, like the tree nook in my son’s old playground, to be something that makes the world a nicer place to be in.”

– The book carries a gentle storyline about shyness and inclusion. What message do you hope young readers will take away from Nook?

“Everyone has their own uniqueness that has the potential, like the tree nook in my son’s old playground, to be something that makes the world a nicer place to be in. Inclusion doesn’t mean being the same or being part of a big game. It means being not judged and allowed the space to be different by being understood, respected and supported so we can be together in our own individual ways. At the end of the story Nook becomes less nervous and gains confidence enough not to ‘need’ to sit in the hollow by simply realising that the others had respected and understood her need. This allowed her to be able to join the others in the middle of the playground knowing she is accepted as her own unique, quiet self. I hope my book Nook will sit on a child’s bookshelf somewhere alongside lots of other books (I always think a book likes a lot of company) and if a question should be asked about shyness or differences, maybe reading Nook will help spark a little conversation.”


“I tend to draw in a bit of a rush before I forget an idea so there is a sort of scribbled feel to my drawings. I also really enjoy drawing with graphite pencils which are very soft and textural and lend themselves really well to being coloured and enhanced digitally. It’s a technique I have used for a while now and I like how the digital enhancement sort of picks up on subtle marks of my drawing that I hadn’t seen. It’s sort of like putting your pencil line under a microscope and seeing things you hadn’t realised were there.”

– What 3 words would you use to describe your style?

“Expressive, textural and subtle.”

– Can you share with us any books that have most inspired your work?

“I really respect the author and illustrator Shirley Hughes. Her books such as Dogger and the Alfie stories are so amazingly observed that they are timeless. She has a very comforting, warm, straight forward voice to her storytelling and an incredible eye for everyday detail in her illustrations that generations of children have loved and will keep loving.”

– What advice would you give to any budding illustrators looking to follow in your footsteps?

“Creatively my advice would be to observe, draw or write from the everyday as much as possible, particularly if it is children’s publishing you wish to work in. The nuances and details of day to day life is often the things that children most recognise, engage and relate to in a story or illustration, even if it is a totally make believe fairytale. From the point of view of working professionally and creating an income from what you do, I have personally benefited hugely from having a good agent. I’m lucky enough to be part of Advocate Art Ltd agency and also the Caroline Wakeman Literary Agency which has given me not just the opportunity of working with lots of brilliant publishers such as Sunbird Books but also I’m part of a fantastically, supportive artistic community.”

– Do you have any projects in the pipeline that you would like to share?

“I’m currently illustrating books for a couple of wonderful authors and also I have in development a number of new stories I have written with Caroline Wakeman Literary Agency.”

All images courtesy of Sally Anne Garland. This interview was conducted over email.

Thank you to Sally Anne Garland for your time. You can see more of Sally Anne Garland’s work here.

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