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It's the book birthday of Boundless Sky and we're delighted to have the talented author and illustrator Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani here on the blog to talk about the making of their book, a powerful and moving story about the parallel migrations of a British swallow and an African refugee in search of a new place to call home. Read on for some behind-the-book goodness!
On the illustrations
Amanda: Manuela, your illustrations for Boundless Sky are so beautiful. What about the story of Boundless Sky made you feel it was the right story for you to illustrate?
Manuela: When I first read the story, I actually found it challenging to represent, and therefore interesting to work on. I’m also a dreamer who believes that there shouldn’t be barriers, especially when people need help, and have to leave their own country.
Amanda: Yes, I get that. I originally trained as an illustrator and understand the challenges. I sometimes wonder if that is why I turned to writing! You’ve managed to bring more to the story by small details which complement rather than retell the text. Especially toward the end where Leila’s journey is alluded to by bird’s flight path, rather than depicting just one migrant story, your less didactic approach allows for telling many stories and to open up a conversation with readers.
Manuela in her studio
Manuela: I did not know you were an illustrator, too. How interesting! I also was drawn to your story because I love birds. They are beautiful creatures that can fly. I wish I could fly, too.
Amanda: Me too! Flight is always the superpower I’d love to have.
Manuela: Yes indeed.
Amanda: Did the characters of the children Leila and Alfie come ready formed in your mind?
Manuela: Well, no really, I didn’t have an idea of how Leila and Alfie would look like. I studied the features of African and English kids to represent the two characters. It was easier to find the look of Bird. I wanted her to be full of happiness, and I really hope I have portrayed that.
Amanda: I think you’ve done an amazing job with the different children Bird meets along the way. Bird is beautifully drawn and is such a strong, resilient and joyful character. Bird really does bring joy to every page, and wherever she flies. I am so pleased!
Manuela: So glad you appreciate my work.
Amanda: How did you approach visualising the different landscapes that Bird flies over? Have you visited any of these places? Do you like to travel?
Manuela: I love travelling, and would love to travel more than I actually do. I’ve never been to Africa or the Pyrenees but I did live and travel a little bit in England.
Amanda: I love travelling too. I’ve always been so inspired by travelling. There’s something about experiencing new places which sparks the creative juices. I always take a little sketchbook wherever I go as a kind of diary.
Manuela: Thanks to the internet, which was a huge help, I could search for actual photos and see what the skies look like in the different places Bird has travelled to in the story. I also had to figure out the journey swallows usually take when they migrate in search of a warmer climate.
Manuela's sketches of Bird and the finished work
Amanda: I love painting skies too. Where I live in Norfolk is known for its big skies. I often watch the birds flying over, those migrating, and this time of year the geese and rooks off to roost at sundown.
Manuela: That sounds so beautiful.
Amanda: Do you have a favourite spread/page? If so, why?
Manuela: I like the very first spread with Bird and Alfie. I find it sweet. But you know, talking about my illustrations is strange to me. There’s always something I would have done differently. I’m just learning to be happy with the way the book looks in the end, with no regrets.
Amanda: I agree. Sometimes it can be hard to know when a work is finished. That’s where a good editor is so important – thanks Alice at Lantana! I now settle for the best version of something – and to have done my best!
On the writing
Manuela: Why did you think to write a story about migration? Is Boundless Sky your first story?
Amanda: Boundless Sky is my first full-length picture book story. I also write for adults and seem to return again and again to the theme of home, leaving home and finding home. My adult novel, Laura’s Handmade Life is about a family leaving London to live in rural Norfolk.
Migration is one of our greatest strengths and challenges as humans. Whenever I pass through Liverpool Street Station I am moved to see the Kindertransport sculpture, commemorating the initiative to send children who were fleeing for their lives from Nazi Germany to the UK.
Ultimately stories are about transformation and overcoming adversity, to find our better selves and migration themed stories allow us to explore that topic.
After all, we are all travellers and migrants through place and time. For all of us have ancestors that go back to Africa.
Manuela: Life is a journey indeed, and by the way, where has your journey brought you, so far, what is your main job where do you write and, what do you like about writing?
Amanda: I initially studied at Chelsea School of Art and worked in illustration, graphics and set design. I became more and more interested in books and completed an MA in Writing the Visual where I was able to link my two interests of word and image.
I fell into teaching as I love to share ideas and work in a creative environment. I teach Writing for Sequential Images to animators and illustrators at Anglia Ruskin University, Art & Design City College Norwich and Creative Writing at Norwich Castle Museum. Never a dull moment! I have a couple of mornings a week which I keep for writing. I always begin those days with a country walk – I live in rural Norfolk and am lucky enough to have footpaths from my doorstep! My brain is then in gear to sit and write for a few hours. For me, writing is a similar process to painting or other creative pursuits in that it allows me to be ‘in the zone’ – a kind of mindfulness which has a tangible outcome. It also allows me to unravel puzzles – as storytelling is a way to understand the world.
Snapshot of Amanda's travels. At a desert camp in Jordan
Manuela: So you are used to working with illustrators, but what did you feel when you saw the words you wrote shaped into images?
Amanda: It was so exciting! Having studied illustration I was especially in awe of what you were able to do in bringing Bird, Leila, Alfie and all the story locations to life. The bold compositions and use of colour are so evocative of the different locations: countryside, sea, jungle, desert, mountains.
Manuela: I’m so pleased you liked my work, especially because you are a painter too. Do you have a favorite illustration in the story?
Amanda: Such a hard question! I am tempted to say that I love each of them! For each has something special in terms of landscape and weather. But my favourite page is where Bird meets Leila at the oasis and she welcomes him with a drink. Leila notices Bird in a way that the adults don’t! And I love that child’s view of the world.
Manuela: One of my wishes is indeed to work with kids, to see how they look at things... Are you working on a new book? if so, what is it about?
Amanda: I’m working on story ideas for children and adults continuing to explore themes of home and homelessness and the healing power of the natural world.
And you, what illustration projects are you working on at the moment?
Manuela: I’m gonna start a new book soon, but I cannot say anything about it, yet.
Amanda: Is that because you like to have time to ‘sow the seed’ of an idea and cultivate it before sharing it? Or is it the publisher’s choice?
Manuela: It's the publisher's choice, but I agree that it's the right thing to do during the making of the book.
Thank you, Amanda and Manuela! Head on over to our Instagram for a glimpse of Manuela's illustration process in photos. Want to know what others think of Boundless Sky? Check out these reviews on LoveReading4Kids, The Letterpress Project and Book Murmuration.
Click HERE to see more from this uplifting tale about a bird looking for a place to nest, and a girl from northern Africa looking for a place of peace.
Amanda Addison's work is inspired by the natural world, travel and textiles. Long-listed for the Commonword and Virginia Prize, translated into German and Italian, she holds an MA in Writing the Visual and lectures in Art and Creative Writing. To learn more about Amanda, follow her on Twitter or visit her at amandaaddison.com
Manuela Adreani is a children’s book illustrator from Italy whose books have been published worldwide. She has won the illustration contest for the 130th anniversary of the creation of Pinocchio and been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. You can follow Manuela on Instagram and Facebook see more of her stunning illustrations on manuelaadreani.blogspot.com