Marie-Louise Gay is an internationally acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator. She is best known for her Stella and Sam series. In fact, the last time Marie-Louise visited Telling Tales was in 2013 with Read Me a Story, Stella. Coming all the way from Montreal, Quebec, Marie-Louise is excited to share her new picture book, Hopscotch, with us!

Q & A with Author–Illustrator Marie-Louise Gay

Where do you find the inspiration for your books? Are you inspired to create the pictures or the story first?

I am inspired by many things: my childhood memories and the memories of my two children’s young years. Travelling inspires me—the new landscapes, the different variety of trees, flowers, birds; the colors; and the stories you hear. I always carry a notebook with me in which I write down thoughts that could evolve into stories, or I scribble little sketches of people and animals that could become alive in one of my books…

I usually create the story and the pictures together. I start thinking of a story and I immediately want to know what the main character would look like, so I sketch him or her out. Then I return to my writing. I go back and forth between words and images during the whole creative process.

What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?

Babar the Elephant; Tintin; Astérix; Grimm’s fairy tales; Le Petit Nicolas; The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe; the Lord of the Rings trilogy; and many many more.

I saw myself or a part of myself in every book I read and enjoyed.

What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?

I learned that I never know in advance how the story will end, and I am always surprised at the the winding paths, the crossroads and the circuitous routes that I must take to get there. 

What is a challenge you have faced as an author and/or illustrator?

At the beginning of my career, the challenge that I faced was to realize that I had to evoke emotion, humour , laughter, tears and adventures in a minimum of words that resonated for children.  As an illustrator of picture books, I had to understand that children “read” every detail of an illustration, so the image must be detailed, subtle and vibrant.

What advice do you have for kids who are interested in art or writing?

Read a lot, a variety of books: picture books, cartoon books, graphic novels, and novels. Look at art, illustrations, drawings… in museums, on the street, in books.

Observe the details of life around you. Take notes. Sketch.

Write, write, write. Draw, draw, draw.

Use your imagination.