Five Questions with Stian Hole
The rules of our Five Questions interview series are simple: we send each of our guests a long list of questions. Some are serious; some are . . . not so serious. They choose their favorites and respond.
Our guest today is Stian Hole, author and illustrator of numerous EBYR books, including the award-winning Garmann’s Summer. His newest project is Night Guard, a collection of poems for children written by Synne Lea and illustrated by Hole.
* * *
1. Why did you choose to work with children’s books?
The act of creating children’s books is my playground, a place to explore everything that feels important in life. It’s a place to learn and live parallel lives, almost like embarking upon a continuous search for something I will likely never find. The world of picture book creation is a space where I can add and deduct, a method of lying that is not false by its very nature. Is this what Siri Hustvedt refers to when she describe the concept of “conscious dreaming”?
2. How did your collaboration with Synne Lea materialize, and what is your process for working together?
Since the first time I read Synne’s poems and later heard her read the opening of her novel Leo and Mei at a book talk in Oslo without once looking down at the manuscript, I was deeply moved by the many layers of her stories and her gentle poetry. I experienced an instant recognition but also new angles and strange secrets. The rhythm and order of the words and the sometimes surprising line shifts also caught my attention and made me awake. I told her editor in the publishing house, and he connected us. After a brief meeting, Synne and I started sending each other words and sketches. We had no master plan or map of where to go; we just started walking.
Behind the short and tense poems in Night Guard there exists hundreds of pages of text. The making of Night Guard became a very special experience for me. Synne is a wonderful person, and I will never forget all the things I have learned from her — not only about poetry and images, but about sensitivity, vulnerability, doubt, empathy, love, and life.
3. What challenges did you face in illustrating Night Guard?
There are many difficulties in putting illustrations next to poetry. Obviously, the main challenge is that the imagery should be made inside the reader’s head. Books need readers to come alive. It is the reader’s experiences, longings, hopes, and associations that breathe life into the words and images printed in a book. Readers of different ages bring different suitcases with them into a book. This is something an artist can hardly can plan or predict, but the author and illustrator can try to open up the story and lay the groundwork for these things to happen.
What we were striving for in Night Guard was that the words and images complement and enhance each other. It is the same process when I work with picture books: words and images need one another and interact with one another, yet aren’t required to say the same thing. The dialogue between them helps to drive the story forward so that their sum forms a magic whole. Like a brilliant play in the theater, a good picture book is a place in which you see one thing, hear another, and understand something entirely different.
Thankfully, I soon learned that Synne was very helpful and skilled when it came to the visual part of the book. She saw details and possibilities, and at the same time she was able to keep a view of the whole. And little by little, all the small pieces fit into a bigger puzzle or mosaic.
4. What artist or work of art has done the most to make you the artist you are today?
I am curious about dreams, so the work of the surrealist René Magritte is a source of inspiration for me. I also admire the paintings of Edward Hopper. I return to his motifs almost every day. There is something about the way he captures the loneliness of life — and also the feeling of secretly observing a sort of intimacy in strangers’ private lives. The silence and the feeling of time passing is also present in his brilliant work. When I see his paintings, I often feel like an observer of a situation shortly after something important has happened in someone’s life.
5. Which book has done the most to make you who you are today?
I have always been fond of reading, and probably always will be. When I was a child I read mostly books for adults, and now, as an adult, I find many remarkable and important thoughts depicted within children’s literature. There are several stories that have been important in my life. When I close my eyes and try to think of one book, it is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. When I first read it, I immediately recognized the flow of thoughts through the head of the main character. I am still impressed by the way the author captures this flow in her text. If I am allowed to choose one children’s book as well (all good children’s books should be read by adults, though), I choose The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. I always have it beside my bed.
* * *