Encyclopedia of Grannies: Q&A with Eric Veillé

Eric Veillé has written and illustrated over twenty books, characterised by their wit and subversive comedy. He was born in 1976 in Laval and studied at the Duperré School in Paris. While working as an artistic director in publishing, he decided one spring day to devote himself to writing and children’s book illustration. His new book, Encyclopedia of Grannies, released in April 2019, is an offbeat book full of word play and humour, answering all your questions about grandmas – especially the ones you never thought to ask.

Where did the idea for this book come from? What inspired it?

I had already used a non-fiction style to write a book about the big bad wolf (Tout sur le grand méchant loup, Actes Sud Junior, 2013). I like the discrepancy created by the style of a non-fiction book, with its scientific and accurate aspect, with content that I try to make gentle and absurd.

The grannies idea came while I was watching an elderly woman in the street. I was thinking that most people would see her only as an old lady, even though both the girl and the woman that she once was were still there inside her. I thought this topic would be ideal to talk about transition, time, tenderness… life and death. I always feel that the way grannies are presented in children’s books is a little clichéd. I wanted to show their complexity without avoiding anything, and without losing light-heartedness and humour to try to make grannies and their grandchildren laugh together!

How did you create the illustrations for the book – what medium/tools do you use and what is your process?

I sketch on notebooks while I walk around. Then I draw with a black felt pen on paper sheets. I rework my drawings with a graphic tablet and apply colours chosen from a Pantone colour chart.

For me, the drawing serves the idea. I emphasise action and the characters’ expressions – superflulous details don’t interest me. Sometimes I change my text to suit the drawings… to me, text and illustration are closely linked.

Tell us about your grannies!
I love my grandmothers very much – they passed down a lot to me. Closing my eyes brings back sensations. Places that hint at memories with my grandmothers: people opening oysters in a kitchen, summer times or afternoons that last forever…

One of my grandmothers, Rose, told me that sometimes, lying under the covers in the morning, she would think about memories from her childhood and relive them inside. That gave me the idea of the page “Inside Granny’s bed”…

But with this book, I tried to portray a universal grandmother. I took inspiration from my own memories, but also from all the grannies I’ve met. I spent hours at cafes in Paris, listening to grannies talk and writing down stories or lines/phrases they said.

A lot of your books involve puns and rhymes – did you enjoy playing with words as a child?

I enjoy playing with words and get surprised by them. Sometimes, sounds inspire me, and the words pop up in front of me, bringing a new reality, unexpected and funny. As a child, I loved writing poems and, most of all, telling stories to myself.

What author or illustrator working today would you love to work with, or do you particularly admire?

I love Kitty Crowther’s work and how she can talk about everything without any taboo, Catharina Valckx’s well thought-out and funny stories, and Axel Scheffler drawings.

What did you love to draw when you were a child?

When I was a child, I drew horses, monsters and battles, as many children do. I participated in a competition where I had to imagine Laval (my city) in the distant future – the year 2000! I had good fun.

Eric Veillé is touring New Zealand in May with another award-winning French picture book author-illustrator Clotilde Perrin. Check the tour’s page for dates and locations for their public appearances, which include fun with Grannies, Villains, live drawings, workshops and readings for small readers; as well as conversation about the creative process and life as a European children’s author for big readers.

Gecko Press books by Eric Veillé

Encyclopedia of Grannies by Eric Veillé. A book for kids published by Gecko Press
My Pictures After The Storm, Childrens book New Zealand