Mem Fox and Freya Blackwood, author and illustrator of The Tiny Star answer some questions about their book. We thank Mem, Freya and Penguin Books Australia for this interview.
The melding of your words and illustrations flawlessly come together with the highest level of emotion and warmth. Can you explain a bit about your collaboration and what it meant to work with one another?
Mem: Contrary to expectations, I didn’t collaborate with Freya at all. I rarely collaborate with illustrators. I feel it’s both foolish and arrogant for a person like me, who can barely draw a stick man, to suggest anything to the genius artists who elevate my words into more glorious realms than I could ever have imagined myself. Having said that, I was over the moon when I saw Freya’s illustrations.
Freya: Mem and I didn’t actually work together on this book. I rarely communicate directly with an author about a project but instead work with a publisher or editor. It’s a great honour to be given someone’s story, especially something as special as The Tiny Star, and to be trusted to create the right characters and feelings. I think this story really suits my style of work and the theme was one I could absolutely associate with, therefore my response feels honest.
How long did the creative process of producing The Tiny Star take?
Mem: It began, for me, six years before it was eventually published. For much of that time, The Tiny Star was resting untouched in my computer files, or in a hard-copy folder. I find that leaving a story alone for long periods of time, is a great way of seeing its faults when I come back to it. If I had been writing it full time, I wouldn’t have been be able to stand back and be the fierce judge of rhythm and word choice that I needed to be. Brevity looks easy, but the 285 words in this story had to be polished many times before they were sufficiently shiny.
Freya: I first read The Tiny Star several years before I was able to start work on it. While the book sat on the back burner it allowed me time to process the story and develop ideas. The actual creation of the illustrations took seven or eight month
What would be your favourite or most meaningful part of the story? Why?
Mem: There are two favourite moments for me, although I know only one favourite is allowed! The first is the page with the empty chair and the child alone, grief-stricken. The picture says the word ‘died’, which meant I never had to use that word myself. (I never used the word ‘birth’ either, even though this book is a life-cycle story.)
My other favourite moment is the second last page, which is a sort of soaring of hope and happiness that mends readers’ hearts, not just the hearts of the characters in the book.
Freya: My favourite moment in the book is when all the neighbours come to see the new baby and bring gifts. I love the way the baby brings a renewed sense of purpose, hope and excitement to everyone.
What do you hope readers will take away from their experience with The Tiny Star?
Mem: I hope that readers, especially adult readers, will allow themselves a touch of grieving, followed by a renewed understanding that life is always followed by death—it’s a natural occurrence. But for children in particular, I’d like a beautiful feeling to remain, a knowledge that all is not lost when a loved one dies: that among the stars are our dear departed, still caring for us, wherever they have been placed in the heavens above. I’m not aiming at truth. My aim is simply to comfort.
Freya: I want readers to experience a taste of the varied emotions of the characters in the book – love and joy, emptiness and sadness – and experience how these characters deal with their grief. My work seems to easily convey sadness, so my aim was to make sure the illustrations weren’t too sad but were ultimately uplifting so readers’ tears had dried by the last page!
Thank you so much! 😊
Read Romi Sharp’s review of The Tiny Star