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Sara O'Leary & Alea Marley talk about making This is Ruby


Sara: At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?

Alea: As soon as I saw that the manuscript was written by you, Sara, I felt ecstatic. I instantly knew I was going to accept it as one of my favourite picture books is ‘This Is Sadie’ I felt even more excited once I realised that the manuscript was actually for its companion!


Sara: Do you like or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?

Alea: I enjoy hearing how an author pictured a scene, object, person or when they leave little notes aside different spreads about what they envisioned (which you did Sara!) I don’t feel it impedes on my creativity at all and I like to take into account what they think. Anything an illustrator creates is going to look different to what an author pictures most of the time, what’s important though it that they both like what they create and what is being created.


Alea: How was the character in your imagination different from the one I created?

Sara: This is weirdly the hardest question. For me Ruby just looks like Ruby in a way that’s difficult to explain.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had a dream that he was already around a year old and I was carrying him on my back. I knew he was there but I also knew I hadn’t yet seen him. I couldn’t turn my head far enough to see his face or maybe he was turning it away from me. Then I had the idea of standing in front of a mirror and at first, he hid from me and then his face peaked out from behind mine, laughing at me. It was such a joyful moment and I expect I’ll remember it always even though it never happened! In the dream he looked exactly the way he did when he was actually a baby of that age. Of course, this is impossible but it’s the way I remember it. And so, when I remember creating Ruby, in my mind she looks exactly the way she does as you drew her.


Sara: Have you ever wanted to write your own text?

Alea: For the longest time I’ve been wanting to create my own words as well as pictures, but would be overwhelmed with feelings of self-doubt about writing. However, I’m happy to say that over the past year I’ve written two texts. One is completed whilst the other is still being tinkered with and I must say I have enormously enjoyed the process. Creating something that is solely mine feels wonderful.


Alea: Are you tempted to pick up a pencil and start drawing?

Sara: I am occasionally tempted! But I also feel like I’ve discovered this very clever cheat in that I can just set a handful of words down a page and somehow be rewarded (months or maybe years later, granted) with pages that are almost inexpressibly beautiful thanks to the work of brilliant illustrators such as yourself. So, I think I will just carry on as I am.


Sara: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?

Alea: The hardest part was probably the beginning, the experimental phase where I’m figuring out how I’m going to approach doing final art. This book was the first time I tried out a new style, I was quite nervous about showing my ideas to the team at Tundra as my usual way of working looks very different but they loved it! It was extremely encouraging and from that point on I felt creativity flow more than ever before as I got the opportunity to experiment to the full, have many of my points of view listened too and used!


Alea: What part was hard for you?

Sara: Because this book is a sort of companion to a book I made a few years ago with Julie Morstad, it felt tricky to me. It needed to be the same but different and in the beginning I wasn’t fully confident about achieving that. Once you came on board Alea, I felt a lot better—your work is completely distinct from Julie’s and yet somehow I feel there’s a world now where Sadie and Ruby could meet up and share adventures.


Alea: Can you name a nice surprise or two in what I added to the story?

Sara: I really want to say all of it. Maybe the nicest thing for me is when Ruby uses her time machine to go back and see her parents as they were before she was born. It’s such a beautiful spread and the fact that it’s set in Barbados makes me happy because me it signals that the story is just as much yours as mine. Also, the kaleidoscope page because it’s just so amazingly beautiful that I’d like to have it blown up as wallpaper.


Sara: Where and when do you do your best work?

Alea: I prefer to mull over ideas in my head for a while instead of going straight to drawing. I usually go for a nice long walk, hopefully spotting many dogs and once I’m home I’ll get set up in my little office, play some instrumental music and draw away.


Sara: Who wrote or illustrated some of your favourite books from childhood?

Alea: Rover by Michael Rosen and Neal Layton

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The Witches by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake


Sara: If you could live in ANY house in ANY children’s book, which would you choose?

Alea: I’ve always loved Badger’s house in The Wind In The Willows, it’s so rustic and cosy.


Alea: How about you?

Sara: I always wanted Arriety’s cigar-box room from The Borrowers. I think if I were a child now, I might want Ruby’s room!


Sara: What is your favourite spread in the final book?

Alea: I adore the kaleidoscope spread, it was the first one I worked on. I spent many days playing around with colours, textures and how the shapes fit together. It was a lot of fun. A little note about that spread is that the kaleidoscope Ruby is holding is actually a paper cut out I did with coloured pencils! (I also love the dinosaur spread!)


Alea: What is your favourite spread?

Sara: I’ve used this question as a pretext for going back and paging through the book again and my answer is all of them.




Sara O’Leary can be found at https://saraoleary.ca/

Alea Marley can be found at https://aleamarley.co.uk/