The Fox and the Star author/illustrator Coralie Bickford-Smith on her new book about ‘being in the moment’

Following winning Waterstones Book of the Year 2015, Penguin's in-house designer tells us about The Worm and the Bird – a beautiful-yet-ironic story about different perspectives.

Following the surprising success from Penguin in-house designer Coralie Bickford-Smith’s first children’s book of aesthetic perfection – The Fox and the Star – back in 2015, fans can start frothing over her similarly styled second book.

The Worm and the Bird has been illustrated and written by Coralie and is out today (you can buy it from Amazon or Waterstones), but rather than exploring the very real effects of grief, this book explores the idea of busyness and gaining a new perspective – things Coralie knows well after winning Waterstones Book of the Year in 2015.

The story follows a worm living underground that is frustrated with being surrounded by other animals and busyness. But when the worm finally breaks free from the dirt, it’s swept up by a bird. The bird then follows the same process of feeling surrounded by lots of other birds, yet the bird doesn’t see it negatively. It’s an ironic twist.

Coralie assures us she has always wanted to create more than one book. In fact, she’s meant to be drafting the third, but she’s “a bit exhausted” from finishing up The Worm and the Bird.

“The success of The Fox and the Star totally blew me away. I never expected to win Waterstones Book of the Year,” she says.

Wanting to create elements different to The Fox and the Star, Coralie explores the tension between text and images, inspired by the children’s book Rosie’s Walk. In the book the hen walks around the farmyard and the fox is chasing the hen, but it’s never mentioned in the text.

“So as far as the hen's concerned, she's having a really good day, but the fox keeps getting into all sorts of trouble,” says Coralie. “And I really love that, the way that really great authors and illustrators can sort of leave a gap for the audience to fill in.”

Coralie says the worm strives to be above ground, but isn’t aware of its peril – the bird – which is never mentioned in the text.

“So the bird started off as this sort of visual pun and then I realised that actually the bird had more to say.”

The bird serves as a contrast to the crazy nature of the worm, but Coralie says she can relate to both animals.

“I started off really identifying the worm as like, as many city people will, as being busy and there's not much time to be in the moment.

“And then slowly I started to realise that I wasn't being in the moment and I just wanted to finish this book, and I think the success of The Fox and the Star started to have an impact on me because I was  worrying about how this book would be received.

“And then when I read a Seneca quote [from On the Shortness of Life] I suddenly came back to the moment and that's when I started to take on a bit of the bird and start to actually be in the moment.

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“I realised in my life as a whole I wasn't really being in the moment, so it started to make me re-evaluate how I was working, how I was living.”

Coralie wants readers of The Worm and the Bird to understand that they too can change perspective.

“So when you feel stuck you can actually think around it like the bird does, because the bird has the same problems as well; he's busy, he's crowded, but he sees it in a different way, he sees it in a positive way.

“So I'd like for the reader to feel that maybe they could change their perspective and feel more hope in a situation and be able to enjoy the moment rather than being caught up in worries about the future.”

The Worm and the Bird takes on a very different colour palette to The Fox and the Star’s blues, whites and reds. Coralie says choosing to centre a children’s book around a worm underground amused a few people, but she managed create a beautiful underground aesthetic without limiting her colours

It was made more impactful by contrasting the deep earthy browns and maroons with a vibrant, Patone orange used for the pages about the bird, alongside striking metallic colours.

“I used two metallic inks and that was the challenge because with metallic ink and uncoated paper, that I love, don't really work well,” says Coralie. “But metallic ink, it needs like a nice surface where it doesn't sink into too much. So I had big doubts about using metallic ink but the printers found a way to use the paper that I love with the ink and actually make it shimmer.”

For above ground Coralie used yellow, and slowly as the story progresses the yellow gets brighter and brighter.

“It was quite a difficult process to find a colour palette that wasn't too dark and dense, but I think the metallic really helped to lift it,” she says.

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Although Coralie may be known for the success of The Fox and the Star, she’s spent more time designing book covers for Penguin, rather than authoring her own.

Here’s her cover design for The Temple – a selection of poems. In the The Temple, priest George Herbert describes the layout of a cathedral he would often visit in Salisbury. As a reader you feel like you’re walking past the the nave, the altar. Coralie reflected his theme by illustrating an imaginary map of a cathedral on the cover.

“I looked at old drawings of cathedrals and then readapted it for the cover. I really love that graphic sense of the area that he's describing, and I love the really muted colour palettes. It's got a really classical feel but yet modern,” says Coralie.

In this process, Coralie is given almost complete creative freedom.

“Those I'm totally left alone with the text to sort of let me imagination take me wherever I want to go. So I do have a lot of creative freedom which sometimes can be a bit scary but then with a lot of my series I'm nailed down to a grid, materials, a head. So I do have some limitations to keep me grounded and focused on what I'm doing.”

When designing chooses the cloth type, colours, the head and tail bands, end papers and the ribbons when designing a book cover.

Now that Coralie’s finished with The Worm and the Bird, she wants to explore printmaking, screen printing, lithography and mark making using ink, wax and crayons.

She says she wants to ”get more involved in making a mess”, away from the constraints of designing a book in Illustrator.

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