Author Interview: Stian Hole

Stian Hole is a Norwegian author and illustrator. His picture books include Garmann's Street and Garmann's Summer, which won a BolognaRagazzi Award, a Batchelder Award Honor, and an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. The book also was recently named to the IBBY Honour List for 2010.

Books by Stian Hole
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What was your source of inspiration for Garmann's Summer?
The story came to me in my garden one summer evening when I saw a glimpse in my oldest son's eye that I remembered from my own childhood. I saw that he was afraid of starting school. So I tried to remember what the world looked like through the eyes of a six-year-old. That was the starting point of the project. I did not know where it would end, but I knew from that moment on that this was something I had to explore.

Afterwards, I realize that a sense of place — the Nordic landscape, an atmosphere of color and changing seasons where I live — also influence my work.

Is Garmann's character based on anyone you know? If so, who?
Garmann has his own life independent of me. I am getting to know him little by little. Nevertheless, I realize that there are some experiences and incidents that Garmann and I share in life.

Either way, Garmann's story is far more interesting than mine.

What comes first, the illustrations or the story?
Since I both write and illustrate, I am in the privileged position to easily adapt the pictures and words to each other. I am trained as an illustrator, and in my first picture book, The Old Man and the Whale (2005), which is set in a fjord on the coast of northern Norway, the illustrations came first. In Garmann's Summer, however, my editor encouraged me to write the text first.
The book ends with these two sentences: Thirteen hours until school starts. And Garmann is scared. Tell us why you chose to keep the ending unresolved.
The story has an open ending, like life itself. Every ending is also the beginning of something new.
The illustrations in Garmann's Summer are unique and imaginative. How did you create them?
The illustrations are made as seamless, layered digital montages in Photoshop. I collect textures, digital photos, scans, notes, and sketches, and then in Photoshop, I rearrange, scale, and flip them until something interesting happens. Digital tools are brilliant for working this way.

The process is very time-consuming, but for me all these hours of work are light-filled and joyful. I love to play and explore as I arrange and rearrange the elements. I forget myself, time, and what happens around me when working on images.

While this is a children's book, it seems to also appeal to adults. Why do you think that is?
I am glad that you noticed that! I have been told that this is a characteristic trait in modern Scandinavian picture books, which are often labeled "All-age books."

One of the many good things about picture books is that adults and children often read them together. When I read with my children, I always appreciate the small messages and humor in the story that is there for me as an adult reader. Anyway, when I work, I don't spend too much time thinking about the reader's age. I try to tell the story right. My experience is that children don't fear what they don't understand. For me, both making and reading picture books is a way of sharpening my senses.

Did you always want to create children's books? If not, what was your first career choice?
I graduated with a master's from the Institute of Visual Arts in the National College of Art and Design here in Oslo, where I now work as a book designer. I design more than 100 book covers each year, and I also read a lot of manuscripts.

I have always wanted to tell my own stories, and Garmann has given me that opportunity.

What piece of advice did someone give you that you would pass along to aspiring authors and/or illustrators? OR, What advice would you pass along that you wish someone had given you?
I don't have enough experience as a writer to give others advice yet. But, my personal mantra is to be true to your heart and work hard. I know it's a long way to go. It takes time to be good, and I have only just started.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Yes, a few days ago my new picture book, Garmanns Gate (Garmann´s Street) was sent to the printing house in Denmark. Now I feel restless and empty. I have to start a new project very soon. I feel so happy when I work on these projects that it's like stepping into another world.

I don't know where to begin a new story yet, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the twins that appear on one of the spreads in Garmann´s Summer. There is something odd about twins. Where does the first one end and the other one start?

Tell us something that people may not know about you.
Hm, what should that be?

My wife, Anna-Birgitte, and I have been together since first grade. We were in the same class, even seated in the same row, for 12 years! I remember she started to cry when she wasn't able to open the zipper on her pencil case the first day of school. I fell in love with her then and still am.