An interview with Harriet Birkinshaw, Senior Commissioning Editor at Flying Eye Books, and editor of The Journey by Francesca Sanna

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is one of five books on the shortlist for the 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize. The judges described it highly original and praised the superb interplay between text and illustration.

When did you first come across Francesca’s art and what was it about it that caught your eye?

Francesca submitted her book to our unsolicited submissions email address. As soon as I read it I was completely in awe of how she had shown the plight of refugees so sensitively and empathetically. My response while reading the book was overwhelmingly emotional and I knew we had to publish it as soon as possible.

How complete, or at what stage was The Journey when you acquired it for your list?

Francesca had completed the book for her Art masters final project and she sent in a full pdf of the dummy book.

Could you describe how you and your designers worked on the book with Francesca. What sort of editorial advice did you give her?

Although Francesca had finished the book, we felt that the page count was too long for the age range and the story. First of all, I edited the text and worked on developing it with Francesca. Francesca speaks very good English, but it isn’t her first language so we worked together on the text to make her intentions a little clearer. However, I wanted to keep the narrator's voice sounding a little foreign as she is from a different country. Then with the new text Francesca, myself and Camille, our senior designer, worked together on the illustrations and overall reading experience. With the new version of the text it meant some of Francesca’s artwork had to be tweaked and reworked. Overall, our changes were minimal because we felt that Francesca had already created a wonderful book and we wanted to respect that.

Which is your favourite spread in the book and why?

This is a very hard question for me to answer! The spread I have the strongest response to is when the children and their mother have to spend the night in the forest. Here the illustration expands to show the mother crying while the children sleep unaware in her arms. Francesca has created a wonderful synergy between what the text says and the pictures show. I feel that she has captured beautifully what must be a very desperate situation for a lot of people fleeing a war-torn country and how the decision to leave one’s home cannot be easy.

Can you sum up what Flying Eye looks for when commissioning illustrated books for children?

An artist or writer that has a strong vision whether that be for non-fiction or fiction books. We want to publish books with soul that are created by artists and writers that really care about what they are making.

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The Klaus Flugge Prize is funded personally by Klaus Flugge and run independently of Andersen Press.

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