Is your artwork one means through which you’re able to achieve this?

Drawing in a sketchbook is certainly one way, such as the sharp observation of an object in real life, a landscape, a person’s face, a simple glass of water. The more you study things in stillness, the weirder they become. The more you appreciate their uniqueness as phenomena, rather than just recognisable or useful things of preconceived value. They become special. The other kind of drawing that works is random doodling, a bit like finding shapes in clouds. The fact that lines do funny things, create odd illusions on the page, means they open up a kind of conversation with reality, and then again you tune into the special qualities of that reality, a reality of memory. Words and writing of course do the same.

Interestingly, a new way of looking at things also happens with accidents of perception. Things like misheard phrases or contextual errors. The story in Tales about horses, for instance, came from a comment our two-year-old daughter made during a night drive. She called out ‘elephants running!’ and I could see her looking up at passing electrical wires. To me it immediately conjured the image of animals running alongside us, or ghosts of animals on wires. She was actually commenting on the music in the car, which perhaps was Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk, but the error of interpretation was enough to make me think about the history of animals in urban spaces, especially animals used for transport, and so I began researching that, and the story and painting about horses resulted. I believe it takes a little derailing from ordinary thinking to develop any new insight, a little stone on the tracks of our neural networks. Otherwise it’s quite hard to break with programming.

How far do you feel visual storytelling represents a way of breaking with that programming and seeing things in a different way?

I’m basically very interested in the experience of seeing something for the first time and not knowing at all what it is. I’m fascinated by first contact stories between civilisations, by how toddlers or any other young animals engage with new sights, sounds and experiences, and how they must do so without language. I also like to see what a reader will make of things, such as in the ‘Dog’ story in Tales from the Inner City, when you remove much of the narrative and just show the same landscape changing over aeons. It’s probably what also attracts me to children’s literature as a genre that I find myself in, that it’s all about elemental experiences, pretty raw, undescribed experiences that have yet to be processed and named. Sometimes they can’t be named, but you can still draw and paint them very precisely. Anything from migrant stories to the inner worlds of animals.

Tales from the Inner City is published by Walker Books, 978-1406383843, £25.00 hbk.

Jake Hope is chair of the working party for Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. He is a children’s book and reading development consultant and is currently working on Seeing Sense, a book about visual literacy.

Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 13

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