Nicki Greenberg, Children’s Author and Illustrator : The Writer’s Studio

Nicki Greenberg is a writer, illustrator and comic artist. She has re-interpreted The Great Gatsby and Hamlet as well as creating her own wildly original works. Here, she talks coffee, morning rituals and how her physical space impacts on her creative output. (She also has one of the most inspiring work spaces seen in The Writer’s Studio.)

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I wrote/illustrated my last three books – Hamlet, Monkey Red Monkey Blue and BOM! Went the Bear, plus part of The Great Gatsby, in my studio at home, which I call my “drawing room”. My drawing room is enormously important to me as a dedicated space where I can spread out my scribbling gear, my research and source material and all the piles of paper that accumulate whenever I am at work. I have a lot of odd scraps of paper and pictures blu-tacked onto the walls for inspiration, and for the happy feeling of being surrounded by beautiful and interesting images.

My drawing room has two desks in it – one for drawing and one for computer work. While the two types of work complement each other and are both essential to the books that I do, I like them to be separate spaces. For Hamlet, which required a lot of involved Photoshop work, I was still using an ancient PC. I’ve since moved to a Mac and am astounded that I was able to do such a big project on the old clunker.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
When I am working on a book I like to add pictures to the walls as points of reference or for stimulation. For example, when working on Hamlet I drew inspiration for the background stage sets from a card that a friend had sent me showing a section of a painting by Vittorio Zecchin. I kept it on the wall as close to eye level as possible so that I could take “sips” of it whenever I felt like it. As I finish one book and start another, I tend to keep the older material up on the wall for sentimental reasons, and also because they are images that I really enjoy. For the last two books I strung a wire across my desk so that I could peg finished artwork on it to refer to while working on other pages.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I have had a “drawing room” in every house I’ve lived in for the past eleven years, and have carried my blue-tacked bits of paper from house to house. This room is certainly the nicest, with a large window onto the garden. It has evolved by becoming fuller and more cluttered despite my frequent attempts to purge and tidy. For a long time I used to also write and draw in local cafes, pubs and during one month of renovations, in the local library. This was only for preparatory work – research, sketchpad scribbling, concept work, notes and brainstorming and some rough drafts. For the time-consuming and meticulous work of the final drawings, I need to work in my room with all my gear.

Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
Before my two darling girls were born, I worked to a very strict schedule. I used to work part-time (and before that, full-time) as a lawyer, so I had to be very disciplined about making (and using!) regular time for working on my books. When I was at the office full time and working on Gatsby, I drew every morning before work. When I went part-time, I spent my home days drawing from about 8am to 6pm, often without a break. Now, with a baby and a toddler, I just have to seize my moments when I can! It has been a learning experience, as I was very accustomed to devising and sticking to a strict work schedule. Now I have to be more flexible and work in fits and starts.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
My morning ritual when I worked on Gatsby was to make a powerful double espresso and drink it from a little bone china cup with a rose on it as I began to work. By the time I was doing Hamlet, I had switched to tea brewed in a teapot which I painted for my husband. I still remember with fondness the rush of the coffee, and how it lifted me into the swing of early morning drawing sessions. When I have coffee now, it reminds me of that time. 

Next week, legendary children’s author Isobelle Carmody (The Obernewtyn Chronicles and the upcoming Metro Winds) will be sharing her writing spaces in Prague and the Great Ocean Road. Some beautiful images and video to share in The Writer’s Studio.


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