After Nyne Meets…Penguin Book Designer & Author Coralie Bickford-Smith

Coralie Bickford-Smith is a designer at Penguin Books whose book covers for the Penguin Classics series have gained her international attention.

In her first book as author, she has been able to combine her intricate design work with a story for all ages.

The Fox And The Star sees Fox, seeking to find his lost friend Star, finding his way through love, loss and ultimately hope.

After Nyne’s Editor Claire Meadows went to meet Coralie ahead of the book launch.

Author Photo: David Mackintosh
Author Photo: David Mackintosh

Coralie congratulations first of all on the publication of The Fox & The Star. When you’re working on a graphic book, what do you take as your starting point?

Thank you! It has been such an interesting process – there was so much to learn and think about. The starting point was the story I wanted to tell. Unlike so much of the work I’ve previously done, this book had to be more than a piece of visual art.

It needed a strong premise. I knew that there was potential for the illustration and design to be special if the story was compelling. Most importantly, it had to mean something to me personally in order for the book to stand a chance in connecting with other people.

For us, it worked on a number of levels. As the author, what would you say is the central theme?

The central themes for me are love, loss and learning to accept change. I feel that there are so many instances of change in life and hopefully this book can relate to any of them. Whether it’s changing schools or jobs, losing a friend or loved one, moving away, there are endless opportunities for feeling anxious and alone.

But overcoming life’s difficulties is a big part of what makes us who we are. I think it can be difficult to become resilient but it’s such an empowering feeling to overcome life’s obstacles – it’s a wonderful reaffirmation of who you are.

The book is inspired by your own personal journey. How did you weave this into the fab

When I was writing the story I could not help but draw on my own experiences. I integrate my life into everything I create, otherwise it feels meaningless. I, like everyone, have gone through some really tough times. Sometimes I wanted to make life easier for Fox but this wouldn’t have been an honest depiction.

I felt it crucial to portray the essence of my own story – one of personal loss – in order to help the book resonate with others. As you said, it works on a number of levels and I believe people will find what is relevant to them.

Who is the ideal reader of The Fox & The Star? What would you like them to take away from it?

I tried to make it a story for everyone. I have stepped into the world of children’s illustration but the aesthetic and words are complex and nuanced. I wanted to blur the boundaries between children’s books and more design-led adult work to tell a universal fable rather than pander to a particular audience or age group.

Ideally I would like the reader to be left with the understanding that the challenges we face in our lives are not insurmountable. Though at times they can be heart-breaking, they lead to new – often better – ways of living and of seeing the world.

You were inspired by William Blake’s Eternity in the creation of the book. Can you tell us a little about this work and your book’s connection with it?

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

I wanted to write a story that embodied the idea contained in this poem.

I was given Eternity at a pivotal moment and it inspired me to change the direction my life was taking.

This enabled me to take risks – namely becoming a designer, which was best decision I could have made. I had to accept life’s constant changes in order to gain the necessary courage to move forward.

The influence of William Morris in your work is tangible. Who else inspires you in the creation of your design work?

I tend to look back in time. I find it comfortable and familiar. Design rules are timeless. To name a few influences: William De Morgan, Owen Jones, Rockwell Kent, Josef Frank, Edmund Dulac, William Blake.

Who are your top five favourite authors?

It’s very difficult to narrow it down to a list of five but as I have to, these are the authors I return to time and time again:

Tove Jansson

Philip Pullman

George Orwell

Charlotte Brontë

Hans Christian Anderson

Give us an idea of what your next project is going to be.

I am working on an idea for another graphic book, but it’s so unformed at the moment I can’t share anything as it would sound really strange. I am also working on book covers for Proust to go in the clothbound Penguin Classics series. Reading Proust is taking up a fair amount of my time.

The Fox And The Star is published by Particular Books, priced at £14.99, as a clothbound hardback edition.