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70 Years Celebration



In 2004, whilst working towards her final degree assignment at Brighton University, Emily Gravett entered a book she had produced during her course for the Macmillan Prize for Illustration. The award, funded by Macmillan Children's Books, was established in 1985 in order to stimulate new work from young illustrators in art school and to help launch their professional careers. Previous winners include Lucy Cousins of Maisy fame.

Wolves won the award hands down, and was immediately accepted for publication by Macmillan. "It was quite obvious who the winner was going to be", commented Suzanne Carnell, Macmillan Children's editorial director. "Emily entered Wolves in a beautiful dummy format, and really we had to do very little work on it before it was published. She's a bookbinder as well as an artist; a real creator of books. So from the production point of view we went all out to make it as special as we could".

Wolves, aimed at children of four and above, went on to be published to huge acclaim, and rights to the book have been sold in five countries.

Emily was born in Brighton in 1972, the younger of two daughters. Her father was a printmaker and her mother an art teacher. Her parents split up when she was young, but Emily remained close to her dad with whom she would go out drawing, visiting such places such as the Booth Museum, Brighton's Museum of Natural History where they would sketch bird skeletons. Emily's favourite picture book when she was young was The Giant Jam Sandwich, illustrated by John Vernon Lord.

Education and Formative Years
At the age of 16, Emily left school with an A grade in her GCSE Art, but few other formal qualifications. She spent the next eight years living on the road, travelling in a variety of vehicles, and going to music festivals. She and her fellow travellers spent between a day and 6 months in places all over England, Scotland and Wales. Along the way she met her partner Mik. "When we weren't travelling, we made a living fruit picking, and I sold a few pictures to holidaymakers". Emily and Mik eventually settled in Pembrokeshire in West Wales, where they had a daughter Oleander, and Emily embarked on an Art Foundation course. "After my daughter was born I realised that I wanted a career, and drawing was my only skill".

Brighton University
In 2001, Emily, Mik and Oleander returned to Brighton, where Emily had to fight tooth and nail to convince Brighton University to give her an interview for the degree course in Illustration, despite her lack of A-levels. "I rang every number I could find in the prospectus, and eventually, the head of the course just happened to be passing and answered it". She began the course in September 2001, and during her second year, entered the Macmillan Prize for the first time, gaining a Highly Commended for her entry. The following summer, during the final term of her course, she entered two books, one of which was Wolves. Her two entries split the judges, who looked at the field without knowing who any of the authors are. They were delighted to discover that their top two choices were by the same person. Emily was still working on her final degree assignment when she heard she had won the Prize.

The Genesis of Wolves
Wolves was originally a college project which Emily Gravett had to complete in six weeks. "I didn't have a lot of time to think about it", she says. The story came to her early on, and the book started life as tiny thumbnail pencil sketches on the pages of a sketchbook. Emily had previously done a sketch of a wolf for another project: a book about a woodcutter cutting down trees, produced to work with the set title: United We Stand, Divided We Fall. The drawing is very similar to the one she uses in Wolves where the wolf is disguised as a clump of trees in the park.

Emily takes up the story. "I knew I wanted to use a wolf again. And I already had the rabbit as well, in the form of a doodle which came out of my Ideas Folder (see below). In the first version of the book, the words came out from behind the rabbit to form the wolf, but this didn't quite work.

"The alternative happy ending was completely accidental. I'd completed the artwork up to the page which ends "They also enjoy smaller mammals like beavers, voles, and rabbits". And then I found I didn't know how to end the book. Then I decided to put the word "rabbit" over on the next page. My partner and daughter wanted me to stop there with this nasty ending but in the end I decided to have an alternative version for the squeamish". Readers will note however that the "happy ending" page is made up of the torn fragments of a book after a ferocious wolf attack.

Emily also studied bookbinding at university, something she really enjoyed. "It was the nicest thing on the course. It's so exciting making a book". For Wolves, Emily made up a red dummy of the book, from book board covered in book cloth. To simulate the impact of the wolf's teeth, she tried to get her dog to chew it but despite being a habitual chewer he just wouldn't get the message. "So eventually I had to chew it myself. It tasted disgusting", laughs Emily.

The result was so accomplished that Macmillan chose to keep Wolves almost as it was when Emily first submitted it. "I was amazed; I thought they'd change everything", says Emily. The endpaper showing the letter-strewn doormat is the only spread which was added afterwards, and Emily admits to having "really good fun" with it.

Working Methods
Emily works in an attic studio at the top of her house in Brighton, with views of the South Downs. If she gets stuck for inspiration, she looks in her "Ideas Folder" where she keeps scraps of paper with words or drawings on them, feathers, tickets, receipts, envelopes. Anything in fact that might be useful for a book one day.

It's impossible to generalise about how Emily works. Wolves took her 6 weeks, but she produced Orange Pear Apple Bear in 11 hours from start to finish. She had been reading Lynne Truss' book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and woke up on Mother's Day morning with four words circulating in her head: orange, pear, apple, bear. She stayed in bed listening to The Archers and sketched the whole book out in one go. Meerkat Mail, a much more complicated book, took a lot longer.

Emily does try her books out on her daughter Olly. "She used to be a bit too kind, trying not to hurt my feelings, but nowadays she says what she thinks".

Awards & Reviews
As well as the Macmillan Prize for Illustration 2004, Emily won the Nestlé Children's Book Prize Bronze Award for Wolves in 2005.

Wolves also received rave reviews in the national press when it was first published in August last year.

First-time illustrator Emily Gravett's spare illustrations and brilliant use of the page create a visually sophisticated story full of entertaining scary stuff
The Guardian

The deserving winner of the Macmillan prize for new illustration, "Wolves" uses a delightful mélange of skilful drawing. . . By the time another delivery of punning post arrives on a doormat in the endpaper, we, too, have been swallowed up by the book and have become very fond of it.
The Sunday Times (Children's Book of the Week)

"Wolves" will thrill brave young readers as they follow the unsuspecting rabbit hero. . . into very big trouble.
Financial Times Magazine

An irresistible picture book for 3-6s, in which a library book about wolves comes scarily to life
The Sunday Times

What's Next
Emily's second picture book, Orange Pear Apple Bear was published in March 2006, and her third, Meerkat Mail comes out this August. After that, she plans a well-deserved holiday - her first ever with her family - in the Greek islands.

In 2007, Macmillan Children's Books will publish Emily Gravett's fourth and fifth titles, Monkey and Me (March) and Little Mouse's Book of Fears (August). And there are at least two more to come after that!

How She Feels About Winning the CILIP Kate Greenaway
"I felt over the moon when Wolves made the shortlist, but to win is something I didn't even dare dream about. It's fantastic!"


7 July 2006